The Planning Authority and its “principles”

Searching through the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED), the term “principle” is not found in any shape or form. We are slightly luckier if we conduct a similar search in the Development Planning Act (DPA) of 2016: there are three references to principles – guiding principles – which should be observed by the Maltese state in promoting a “comprehensive, sustainable, land use planning system”.

These guiding principles are briefly explained in article 3 of the 2016 DPA. Their objective is to enhance the quality of life for the benefit of present and future generations and is qualified by the standard Brundtland quote from her UN report Our Common Future: ” ………without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” That means that sustainability is included in the actual wording of the 2016 DPA. Actually, as we are all aware, this is lip-service in its worst form, because in real life we know full well that Malta’s Planning Authority does not seek the benefit of either the present or future generations.

Article 3 of the 2016 DPA lists various measures which need to be taken. They are specific and range from the need “to preserve, use and develop land and sea for this and future generations”, to ensuring that “planning policies are unambiguous”. Then Article 4 of the 2016 DPA states that we cannot go to a Court of Law to directly enforce the principles announced in the previous article, but, it is underlined that these principles are of a fundamental nature and have to be employed in the interpretation of planning law and policies.

This begs the question as to what extent the Planning Authority, as government’s land use planning agent, observes these basic principles and, in particular, whether the various planning policies in use are actually meant to enhance the quality of life of present and future generations.

There have been various political declarations that land use planning should be more friendly to developers, obviously assisting them to “make hay while the sun shines”. The developers, we are repeatedly told, need to be assured of reasonable expectations, as, poor fellows, they have to earn a living – even if this is at the expense of our quality of life.

As an example, may I ask to what extent is, for example, the Fuel Service Station Policy compatible with the basic principles that the Planning Authority is obliged to apply? In recent weeks I have written extensively about the matter because, to me, it is crystal clear that this Policy is not in any way compatible with the Planning Authority’s basic principles. In neither its present form, nor in the slightly diluted format proposed by the Environment and Resources Authority, does the Fuel Service Stations Policy respect the basic principles enshrined in the 2016 DPA.

The government knows this because, as far back as last September, it announced that “shortly” a public consultation exercise would commence on the manner of implementing a policy to ban cars having an internal combustion engine from being used on our roads.

After almost eight months, this “shortly” to be announced public consultation has still not commenced. The announcement that the public consultation would be announced “shortly” was not made by a new Minister, enthusiastic and overwhelmed by a difficult portfolio; it was made by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in one of his Sunday sermons – the one delivered at the Rialto Bormla on 10 September 2017.

If we will not have cars on our roads running on petrol or diesel “shortly” why does the Planning Authority consider it necessary to permit more fuel service stations? It is certainly not in the interest of future generations.

The Planning Authority is entrusted to defend the interests of future generations. In my opinion it has failed in observing its brief as it has lost sight of its basic principles.

Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 April 2018

Advertisements

The Environment Authority is becoming a sick joke

The current public debate about fuel stations is a wake-up call.

Earlier this week, the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) produced a (sick) joke of a proposal which could reduce the maximum permissible size of a “new fuel station” to 2000 square metres from the current 3000 square metres.

The joke becomes a fully-fledged farce when Environment Minister Josè Herrera declared that the 14 pending applications for fuel stations will not be subject to the amended policy.

The ERA should have objected to the Fuel Stations Policy in principle, and come up with a proposal for a no-nonsense moratorium as, at this point in time, we do not need any more fuel stations. We have had more than enough compromise with only one net result: the further accelerated rape of the environment in Malta. With its proposal, the ERA has joined the queue of boot-lickers justifying the unjustifiable.

If, at some point in time, flesh is put on the bare-bones of the government declared policy of doing away with cars running on an internal combustion engine, we will need even fewer fuel stations – and eventually we will not need even one. So why does the ERA not take the bull by the horns and confront head-on the never-ending compromise that always finds some form of excuse in order to justify the rape of our environment?

For some that may be wishful thinking but it is, however, the only way forward.

Once upon a time we had a National Sustainable Development Strategy. It was drafted after an extensive exercise in public consultation and carried out after considerable in-depth discussions between all the relevant stakeholders. The public sector and the private sector, as well as the voluntary sector, were all involved.

This strategy produced a blueprint for action which was, unfortunately, generally ignored.

Among the issues addressed in the National Sustainable Development Strategy was that of sustainable mobility: an integrated transport strategy encompassing sustainable mobility is required that takes into consideration efficiency in transporting people, the protection of the environment, the promotion of public health and safety, and social inclusion.

What does ‘sustainable mobility’ mean? Put simply, it is the model that enables movement with minimal territorial and environmental impact: planning our mobility requirements such that negative impacts are the least possible.

We need to address the causes of the current transport policy mess and not tinker with the effects. Rather then playing about with fly-overs and tunnels, the Ministry for Transport needs to address the issue of car-ownership: the cause of the mess. Instead of initiating measures to reduce the number of cars on Malta’s roads from the current staggering figure, Malta’s Ministry of Transport is determined to make it easier for cars to keep increasing their dominance of those roads.

The infrastructural projects to ease traffic congestion at Kappara and Marsa, or the proposed Santa Luċija tunnels, for example, will only serve to increase the capacity of our roads – which means more cars on our roads. Traffic congestion may be addressed in the short term by these infrastructural projects, but they will, however, also increase the traffic on our roads, until another flyover or another tunnel is deemed necessary!

This shifts the problem to the future, when it will be much worse and more difficult to address.

The government is acting like an overweight individual who ‘solves’ the problem of his expanding wasteline by changing his wardrobe instead of going on a painful but necessary diet.

Within this context the Fuel Stations Policy serves the purpose of ensuring the servicing of an ever-increasing number of cars on our roads. Who is benefitting from such a policy? If this madness is not stopped, there is no way we will – as a country – be in a position to implement the declared policy of reducing from our roads vehicles running on internal combustion engines.

As a result, we will not be honouring our commitment to decarbonise the economy.

The Planning Authority has lost sight of its mission statement long ago. Unfortunately, the Environment and Resources Authority has followed in its footsteps.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 April 2018

Making hay …….. in St George’s Bay

The 23-storey Pender Gardens high-rise is nearly completed, after nearly 10 years of continuous construction activity. The application for the 31-storey Mercury House was approved last month and next Thursday, the Planning Authority Board will consider planning application PA2478/16 submitted by Garnet Investments Limited in respect of a substantial stretch of land along St George’s Bay on the outskirts of Paceville St Julian’s.

The applicant has requested the following: “Demolition of all existing buildings forming part of St. George’s Bay Hotel and ancillary facilities, Dolphin House, Moynihan House and Cresta Quay. Construction of Parking facilities, Hotels and ancillary facilities, Commercial Area, Multi Ownership holiday accommodation, Bungalows, Language school with accommodation. Restoration of the Villa Rosa and upgrading of the facilities including parking facility, kitchen and toilets all below existing site levels within the Villa Rosa Area to address catering facilities/wedding hall.”

The project includes mixed-uses covering a total site area of 48,723 square metres, a building footprint of 18,345 square metres and a total gross floor area of 82,917 square meters.

It is a small part of the area that was tentatively tackled by a draft Masterplan for Paceville which, after being rejected by public opinion was sent back to the drawing board. I consider it highly unethical for the Planning Authority to proceed with considering this application after the clear and resounding verdict of public opinion. As a minimum, the consideration of this application should have been postponed until a new, reasonable and acceptable Masterplan has received the go-ahead. A minimum effort at achieving consensus as to what development is acceptable is essential.

The Planning Authority is unfortunately insensitive to public opinion. It is amply clear that it, and those who appoint most of its Board members, are on the same wavelength as the development lobby, which is hell-bent on making hay while the sun shines. At this point in time, it is the turn of the St George’s Bay area.

The project is obviously recommended for approval in the 43-page report from the Planning Directorate.

The basic point of contention with such large-scale projects is that they are considered in isolation. Most of them would never get off the drawing board (real or virtual) if the consolidated impact of all neighbouring projects (existing or in the pipeline) are taken into account. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to address similar concerns to the EIA public consultation on the db Group ITS site project.

Five large-scale projects are earmarked for St George’s Bay. Each will generate considerable havoc from excavation throughout construction and right through operation in the whole St George’s Bay area. Cumulatively it will be hell. Who cares?

Way back in 2006, when the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive of the EU was about to be implemented in Malta, the Lawrence Gonzi – George Pullicino tandem rushed through the approval of the Local Plans in such a manner as to ensure that the accumulated environmental impact resulting from their implementation was not scrutinised and acted upon. The present state of affairs is the direct result of that irresponsible Gonzi-Pullicino action 12 years ago.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) occasionally tries to patch things up. For example, within the framework of the ITS EIA exercise ERA suggested that the traffic assessment of the ITS and the Villa Rosa projects be consolidated. This has, however, been avoided: a case of too little, too late.

So where do we go from here?

The development lobby is maximising its efforts to make hay while the sun shines. In reality, a consolidated mess is taking shape with massively built-up areas in a relatively restricted space punctured by high rises mimicking phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes spread all over the place. Pender Place has 23 floors. Mercury House will have 31. The ITS phallus will have a 37-floor residential tower. The Villa Rosa/Cresta Quay project will have more modest heights.

Next Thursday, the Planning Authority has the opportunity to scrutinise the proposal for this Villa Rosa-Cresta Quay project. We will see once more the extent to which the concrete lobby still holds the Authority by its balls – obviously where this is applicable.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 February 2018

Is-sit tal-ITS f’Pembroke : l-art pubblika, profitti tal-privat

L-iżvilupp tas-sit preżentement okkupat mill-Istitut tal-Istudji Turistiċi f’Pembroke reġa’ fl-aħbarijiet. Is-settur pubbliku jipprovdi l-art filwaqt li l-Grupp dB jimpala l-euro, bil-miljuni.

Matul din il-ġimgħa l-media tkellmet dwar il-miljuni li qed jiġi miftieħem li jitħallsu għall-bejgħ eventwali ta’ sulari sħaħ fit-torrijiet tal-Grupp dB. Dawn m’humiex flejjes li ser jitħallsu għal xiri ta’ propjetà fuq il-pjanta, għax s’issa la hemm permessi u l-anqas għad m’hemm l-ebda pjanta ffinalizzata. L-awtoritajiet tal-ippjanar għadhom fl-istadji inizzjali fl-eżami tagħhom tal-proġett propost: l-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) għadha kif bdiet il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni statutorja dwar l-Istudju tal-Impatt Ambjentali (EIA) li għandu għaddej sat-12 ta’ Frar. Minkejja li l-ERA għad tista’ tirrakkomanda tibdil, żgħir jew kbir, fil-proġett wara li tkun ikkunsidrat bir-reqqa l-EIA, qiesu li l-iżviluppaturi huma ċerti li mhu ser ikun hemm l-ebda konsiderazzjoni ta’ ippjanar jew ambjent li ser ixxekkel dak li bosta jqiesu li hu proġett żejjed u mhux meħtieġ.

Id-dokumenti ppreżentati għall-iskrutinju pubbliku huma sostanzjali u voluminużi. Imma possibilment fihom in-nieqes u għaldaqstant diġa ktibt lill-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi biex tirrimedja u tippubblika dak li ġie identifikat bħala nieqes s’issa.

Dokument ta’ interess li insibuh fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA huwa l-Project Description Statement (PDS) li tħejja minn ditta (partnership) ta’ periti li ftit kienet magħrufa s’issa. Din id-ditta iġġib l-isem ta’ Landmark Architects u jirriżulta li titmexxa mill-ekx-Ministru tat-Trasport il-Perit Jesmond Mugliett.

Fil-paġna 5 ta’ dan id-dokument, il-Perit Mugliett jikteb hekk “Nhar it-2 ta’ Frar 2017, il-Gvern u s-soċjetà dB San Gorg Property Limited iffirmaw il-kuntratt għat-trasferiment tal-art li dwarha ħarġet sejħa pubblika għall-proposti. Kemm il-Gvern ta’ Malta kif ukoll is-soċjetà dB San Gorg Property Limited jaqblu li l-evalwazzjoni tal-proġett ta’ żvilupp m’għandhiex iddum iktar mill-perjodu minimu stabilit mill-leġislazzjoni tal-ippjanar. (On the 2nd of February 2017, the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited signed the contract for the granting of the RFP site. Both the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Ltd. agree that evaluation of the project development should not extend beyond the minimum time frames established by Planning Law.) Fil-fehma tiegħi dan ifisser li l-Gvern diġa rabat idejn l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar dwar kif din għandha topera f’dan il-kaz.

L-iżviluppatur donnu mhux inkwetat li l-Masterplan imfassal għal Paceville ġie skartat u beda l-proċess biex dan jitfassal mill-ġdid u dan wara l-konsultazzjoni pubblika mqanqla li kellna lejn tmiem l-2016. L-awtur tal-PDS fil-fatt jinfurmana li “L-Gvern ta’ Malta u s-soċjetà dB San Gorg Property Limited komplew bin-negozjati, u eventwalment qablu li ma kienx fl-interess tal-proġett, tal-industrija Maltija tat-Turiżmu u tal-ekonomija Maltija li joqgħdu jistennew li jkun konkluż dan il-Masterplan.” (The Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited continued with negotiations, eventually coming to an agreement that it was not in the interest of the project, the Maltese Tourism Industry and the Maltese economy to wait for the conclusion of this masterplan.)

Dan, fil-fehma tiegħi jimmina l-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika. Għax liema huma r-regoli u policies tal-ippjanar li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ser isegwi fuq is-sit illum okkupat mill-Istitut tal-Istudji Turistiċi? Il-proposta diġa tidher ċar li tmur kontra dak li jipprovdi l-pjan lokali tal-2006 li hu applikabbli. Allura fuq liema kriterji ser tkun ivvalutata l-proposta ta’ żvilupp?

Xi żmien ilu konna infurmati li l-ebda żvilupp fl-inħawi m’hu ser jitħalla jibda sakemm ikun konkluż Masterplan ġdid għal Paceville. Dakinnhar kien emfasizzat li l-proposti dwar is-sit tal-ITS f’Pembroke seta jkun evalwat biss wara l-approvazzjoni tal-Masterplan ġdid għal Paceville.

Din hi wegħda li kienet skartata kompletament!

Kien ukoll ġie mwiegħed li l-Masterplan il-ġdid ma kienx ser ikun imniġġes minn kunflitti ta’ interess. Tgħid din il-wegħda ser tkun injorata ukoll?

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd : 21 ta’ Jannar 2018

Pembroke ITS site : public land – private profits

 

The redevelopment of the site currently occupied by the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS) in Pembroke is again in the news: the public sector is providing the land while the dB Group will rake in the profits – amounting to millions of euro.

During the week various media outlets focused on the millions being forked out for the eventual purchase of entire floors in the dB Group towers. These are not the price for purchase of property still on plan, because no permits have yet been issued, nor have the plans as yet been finalised. The examination of the proposed development by the planning authorities is still in its initial stages: the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has just kicked off the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) statutory consultation period, which is scheduled to run until 12 February. Notwithstanding the fact that the ERA may recommend changes to the planned project as a result of its consideration of the EIA, it seems that the developers are sure that there will be no planning or environmental issues which can put the breaks to what most people consider an ill-advised project.

The documents presented for public scrutiny are voluminous, but possibly incomplete, and I have already written to ERA to complete the missing information gaps, at least those identified to date.

A basic document of interest, available on the ERA website, is the Project Description Statement (PDS) – the work of an as yet unknown partnership of architects going by the name of “Landmark Architects”. It transpires that this partnership is headed by former Transport Minister Jesmond Mugliett, who writes on page 5 of the PDS : “On the 2nd of February 2017, the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited signed the contract for the granting of the RFP site. Both the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Ltd. agree that evaluation of the project development should not extend beyond the minimum time frames established by Planning Law.” To my mind this signifies that the government has already tied the Planning Authority’s hands as to how it should operate in this case.

The developer is not (apparently) worried that the Paceville Master Plan was sent back to the drawing board after the agitated public consultation late in 2016. The author of the PDS, in fact, informs us that “The Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited continued with negotiations, eventually coming to an agreement that it was not in the interest of the project, the Maltese Tourism Industry and the Maltese economy to wait for the conclusion of this masterplan.”

Does this not undermine the whole consultation process? What planning rules and/or policies will the Planning Authority follow at the former ITS site? On what criteria will the development proposal be evaluated – it already clearly goes beyond what is permitted in the applicable 2006 local plan.

Some time ago, we were informed that no new developments in the area would be given the go-ahead until such time as a new draft Paceville Master Plan was launched. It was then emphasised that the proposals for the Pembroke ITS site can only be properly assessed when the Paceville Master Plan is in place.

This pledge has been blatantly ignored by the development proposal.

It was also pledged that the new proposed Master Plan will not be tainted by conflicts of interest as was the original one. Will this pledge also be ignored?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 January 2018

F’Pembroke, il-proġett ta’ Silvio Debono : konsultazzjoni ta’ bil-fors?

 

Nhar it-12 ta’ Jannar 2018 l-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi fetħet il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar l-impatti ambjentali tal-proġett f’Pembroke fuq is-sit magħruf bħala tal-ITS. Fi ftit kliem il-proġett kontroversjali ta’ Silvio Debono tas-Seabank Group tal-Mellieħa.

Niftakru fil-kontroversja ta’ madwar sena ilu fejn kien sar magħruf li t-team legali ta’ Silvio Debono kien immexxi minn Mario de Marco, sal-2013 Ministru għall-Ambjent.

Il-perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni ambjentali ser jibqa’ sejjer sat-12 ta’ Frar 2018, imma oqgħodu attenti u ngħidilkom għaliex.

Fost il-kwantità kbira ta’ rapporti li wieħed isib aċċess għalihom hemm il-Project Description Statement dwar il-proġett propost, datat April 2017 u miktub mid-ditta Landmark Architects – ditta ta’ periti immexxija mill-ex-Ministru Jesmond Mugliett.

Fil-paġna 5 ta’ dan ir-rapport insibu dawn il-kliem:

“On the 2nd of February 2017, the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited signed the contract for the granting of the RFP site. Both the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Ltd. agree that evaluation of the project development should not extend beyond the minimum time frames established by Planning Law.”

Dan, fil-fehma tiegħi ifisser ħaġa waħda: li l-proċess li jista’ jwassal għall-ħruġ tal-permess tal-iżvilupp m’għandux jittawwal. Il-minimu huwa biżżejjed, ftehmu l-Gvern u Silvio Debono.

Għalina li nsegwu u li nippruvaw nagħtu kontribut, sakemm iħalluna dan kollu jfisser pressjoni żejda.

Jekk hemm min jista’ jagħti daqqa t’id jagħmel differenza kbira. Għax jekk ser nibqgħu kulħadd jaħdem għal rasu, jiġru bina. Dan hu każ ieħor fejn il-konsultazzjoni hi finta, taparsi u ta’ bilfors.

Arvid Pardo : 50 years on

Going by the Prime Minister’s address to the EU Conference held in Malta this week on the protection of the oceans. it would be reasonable to assume that, as a maritime nation, Malta’s commitment is second to none.

Searching through the website of the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) reveals a number of reports required by the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) from EU member states. However, perusal of the relative EU website reveals that Malta’s reports were not presented within the timeframes established by the Directive.

Clearly, notwithstanding what the Prime Minister says, we still need to pull our socks up.

As an island state, it is essential that we lead rather than follow in maritime matters. There was a time when Malta was the leader, when Malta’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Arvid Pardo, presented the ground-breaking initiative to consider the seabed resources as the common heritage of mankind. That was 50 years ago, in November 1967, at a session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Arvid Pardo’s initiative on behalf of Malta was, for a considerable time, pushed to the sidelines by a Labour-led government, permitting other countries to take the lead instead. In fact, when push came to shove, Jamaica squeezed Malta out and was selected to host the International Seabed Authority in Kingston. Malta had, for some time, indicated that it was no longer interested in pursuing its own initiative.

Malta has a maritime vocation. As an island nation, it needs to consider maritime politics as both a duty as well as an opportunity. The implications of all this is explained in some detail in a marine economic and social analysis report commissioned by the ERA in terms of article 8 of the MSFD and available on its website.

Sub-titled “an initial assessment”, the 133 page report concludes that 15.4 per cent of the Maltese economy makes use of the marine environment either as a provider of resources, as an input in the product or service provided or as a sink function. This enormous importance of the marine environment to the Maltese economy is further increased when one bears in mind that in other European Union member states this same statistic varies between three per cent and five per cent.

The report further states that the 15.4 per cent contribution of the marine environment to the economy does not include the use of bathing areas as well as the use of the sea as the primary source of potable water in Malta.

Over the years, I do not recall other political parties giving any weight to the significance of the marine environment in their political discourse. It is about time that this changed, because it is imperative that we realise the central importance of the marine environment.

Malta should follow in Arvid Pardo’s footsteps and take the lead in maritime issues: there is so much to do. The fact that the Marine Framework Strategy Directive is still in its infancy offers a unique opportunity that was not sufficiently highlighted during the six month presidency of the EU held by Malta earlier this year.

In Arvid Pardo’s own words at the UN General Assembly on the 1st November 1967: we are naturally vitally interested in the sea which surrounds us and through which we live and breathe.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 October 2017

Ħerba mill-ballut ta’ Ħal-Lija

Is-siġar tal-ballut f’Ħal-Lija dejquhom! Għamlu ħerba biex iwessgħu t-triq, biex jagħmlu l-wisa’ għal iktar karozzi. Bħal dak li qalu li m’hawnx biżżejjed minnhom! Għamlu ħerba għal xejn.

Kif jispjega l-ambjentalist veteran Alfred Baldacchino, kien hemm soluzzjonijiet oħra jekk riedu li bil-fors iwessgħu t-triq. Setgħu faċilment salvaw dawn is-siġar, kieku riedu. Uħud minn dawn is-siġar, probabbilment kellhom iktar minn 100 sena.

Sadanittant, l-Awtoritá dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi tibqa’ ċassa.

Bezzina’s almond grove

 site-notice-affixed

Planning application PA7854/16 submitted to the Planning Authority by Toni Bezzina PN spokesman on Agriculture, was downright misleading. This was underlined by environmental NGO  Din l-Art Ħelwa in its objection to the application it submitted on 31 January.

Bezzina’s development proposal emphasised that it was a “rehabilitation and restoration of almond grove”. However, on examining the submitted drawings it is immediately apparent that  the proposal actually includes the construction of a basement garage as well as a three-bedroomed villa with swimming pool.

In a normal scenario I believe that the Planning Authority decision-making process would have ultimately resulted in a rejection of such an application. I would not, however, have been surprised if it had been approved, as consistency in the interpretation of planning rules is still an ever-present issue.

The public outcry, however, has pre-empted all this and justifiably focused on the fact that Bezzina co-authored the recently launched PN environmental policy document entitled A Better Quality of Life for You. In that document Bezzina and others, on behalf of the PN, emphasised that development outside the development zone was to be an exceptional step that should only be permitted by Parliament and subject to approval by a qualified majority.

It was reasonably expected that Bezzina, as co-author of the policy document, should have been the first one to honour the commitment made. However he completely ignored it.

To make matters worse he was defended by the Leader of the Opposition who, after ensuring that Bezzina had taken steps to withdraw the application, did his best to minimise the inconsistency.

Unfortunately, this matter brings to the fore a very important consideration as to whether the policy documents issued  by the Nationalist Party have an significance at all. The very fact that PN spokesmen such as Bezzina ignore such documents gives credence to the point made that this was, after all, another PN green-washing exercise to which we have become accustomed in recent years. It is just more of the same.

After examining Bezzina’s application, the Environment and Resources Authority  had this to say:  “The substantial increase in the structure’s footprint and additional land take-up from other commitments, including the enlargement of the entrance, formation of a hard-surfaced access path, the creation of a turning circle, etc. will result in the formalisation of the entire site. Such development is not typical of a rural landscape such as the one in question and thus the proposal is considered to be unfit for the context especially when noting that the site is scheduled as an Area of High Landscape Value (AHLV).”

This is the level of commitment to environmental protection of one of the co-authors of the PN’s environmental policy. You can easily understand the commitment of the rest!

While the publication by the Nationalist Party of its policy document was a positive step,  proof of its commitment is yet to come, if it ever does!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19th February 2017

Marsa: a planning mess

turkish-cemetry-marsa-malta2

The Chamber of Architects has taken the Planning Authority to task on the piecemeal local plan reviews that it has been churning out, one at a time. The latest tirade was with reference to a partial review of The Grand Harbour Local Plan (originally published in 2002) specifically with respect to a Marsa Park Site.

We have just concluded a public discussion on a Masterplan for Paceville, which was shredded by public opinion and sent back to the drawing board.

Earlier, we had the Planning Authority itself contesting whether Local Councils, NGOs and the Environment and Resources Authority  had a right to contest the decision to permit high-rises in Townsquare Sliema and in Imrieħel.

To make matters worse, instead of consolidating the environmental regulatory functions of the state, this government has opted to deliberately fragment them, thereby ensuring their reduced effectiveness by design.  In a small country such as Malta, it pays to have one consolidated authority  directed by environment professionals through whom land use planning responsibilities should be accountable.

Land use planning needs to be more focused but holistic in nature. The Chamber of Architects aptly makes the point that focusing the efforts of the partial review of the Grand Harbour Local Plan specifically on “a Marsa Business Park” without considering this within the context  of a much needed regeneration of Marsa would be a futile exercise. The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity and this will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through comprehensive planning “which ought to include community needs, road transport re-alignment, environment improvement and flooding mitigation measures”.

These are the basic issues which should be addressed by a local plan review concerning Marsa. Tackling major infrastructural and social problems facing the Marsa community should take precedence over any proposal for the redevelopment of the Marsa Park site. It is the whole of Marsa that should be addressed and not just one tiny corner.

The partial local plan review is ignoring the local community, just like its cousin the Paceville Masterplan did some months ago. Many years ago we learned that “planning is for people”. This seems to be no longer the case as, according to the Planning Authority, planning is apparently for business hubs, high-rises and, obviously, for developers. They seem to be very well connected, thereby ensuring that they occupy the first items of this government’s land use planning agenda.

Marsa has been forgotten over the years. With the closure of the Marsa power station now is the appropriate time to consider the various accumulated impacts on the Marsa community in order that an integrated approach to addressing them is identified. Planning is for people. That means that the Marsa community should be actively involved when these plans are being formulated, including at the drawing board stage. Land use planners should stimulate the Marsa community to speak up and involve itself in drawing up a blue print for its future.

The regeneration of Marsa is an urgent matter which should not be left unattended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 January 2017