ODZ lessons : from  Żonqor to Għargħur

 

A planning application (PA3592/16)  to construct a home for the elderly in the area between Naxxar and Għargħur was due to be discussed by the Planning Authority Board on Thursday. Less than five hours before it was due to begin, however, the public hearing was postponed. There may be valid reasons for the postponement but, so far, such reasons – if they exist – are still unknown.

For the past few months, Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party in Malta, has been supporting the residents who are opposed to the development of this privately-owned  home in their neighbourhood since the planning application was first published.

There are various reasons which justify opposition to this proposed development. When faced with such a proposal, the first reactions understandably relate to the direct impact that it will have on the residential community – during both the construction phase and  the operational phase of the proposed facility. During the construction phase, this impact would include excavation noise and vibration, the nuisance caused by airborne dust during construction and the general inconvenience resulting from a large construction site very close to a residential community.

Once the home is in use, the traffic generated at all times of the day – as well as the occupying of residents’ parking spaces by visitors – will be one of the most pressing concerns to justify opposition to the proposal.

These are sensible reasons which justify opposition to the proposed development, even though some mitigation of these impacts is generally possible.

In my opinion, however, before even considering the proposal, it has to be emphasised that the construction of a home for the elderly outside the development zone (ODZ) between Naxxar and Għargħur is a good reason for objection in principle.

On the grounds of social policy, to continue encouraging the institutional care of the aged by way of residential homes does not hold water. It makes much more sense to help the older members of our society to remain in their homes as an integral part of the community, close to their roots, as long as this is possible. This should be the preferred option, rather than forcing them to abandon their roots and move away to the outskirts of our towns and villages.

The Social Policy Ministry harps on about the integration of the elderly in the community while the authority responsible for land use planning is facilitating their segregation. Obviously, somewhere there is a lack of understanding and coordination.

Locating homes for the elderly on the edges of our towns and villages is, in the long term, unsustainable. In addition to fostering segregation, instead of encouraging inclusion, it creates an environmental deficit by encouraging the displacement of a number of the residents of our town and village centres to what is now considered as ODZ land. As a result, this leads to an increase in the number of vacant residential properties while simultaneously adding to the built footprint of the Maltese islands – as if we do not have more than enough developed land!

The 2011 Census identified Għargħur as having a 28.5 per cent residential property vacancy rate. The rate for Naxxar was 24.5. These official statistics, which include both vacant properties and partially vacant properties, will undoubtedly get much worse.

This leads to another argument against the proposal to provide a home for the elderly in this particular area.  How can we justify taking up ODZ land for further development when even the site selection exercise, carried out as part of the application process, identified alternative sites within the development zone?

It seems that not enough lessons have been learnt as a result of the Żonqor debacle.  Is it not about time that the Planning Authority puts its house in order?

Policy coordination between the Ministries concerned with social policy, sustainable development, the environment and land use planning is obviously the missing link and should be addressed immediately.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 June 2017

M’għandekx għalfejn tagħżel bejniethom

 

 

Meta tiġi biex tivvota, nhar is-Sibt, mgħandekx għalfejn tagħżel bejniethom.

Mhux importanti min hu l-iżjed jew l-inqas korrott.

Mhux importanti min hu l-iżjed jew l-inqas inkompetenti.

Mhux importanti min hu imċappas l-iktar jew l-inqas.

Mhux importanti min kellu jirreżenja, imma ma rreżenjax fuq iżżewġ naħat.

 

Il-każ tal-Panama Papers u l-kumpaniji ta Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri hu wieħed ta gravitá kbira. Daqskemm huma gravi l-allegazzjonijiet dwar is-sid ta Egrant Inc. u l-flus li waslu mingħand il-familja ta Aliyev fil-kontijiet fil-Bank Pilatus.

Mhux gravi ħafna ukoll il-fatt li Claudio Grech, l-Onorevoli tal-Partit Nazzjonalista nesa jekk qattx iltaqa ma George Farrugia, dak tal-iskandlu tażżejt?

Mhux gravi ukoll kif Beppe Fenech Adami spiċċa Direttur tal-Capital One Investment Limited u ma kien jaf xejn dwar it-taħwid li qed jirriżulta dwar din l-istess kumpanija?

U xi ngħidu għar-rapporti tal-Awditur Ġenerali dwar il-qaddis miexi fl-art Jason Azzopardi?

U l-villa ODZ li Toni Bezzina ried jibni fl-istess ħin li kien qed jikteb il-politika ambjentali tal-PN?

It-tnejn jgħidu kif għandhom qalbhom ġunġliena għall-ambjent.

Imma t-tnejn iridu l-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex.

It-tnejn iridu l-korsa tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi.

It-tnejn jilgħaqu l-kaċċaturi u n-nassaba.

It-tnejn jappoġġaw il-boathouses tal-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa (Armier, Little Armier u Torri l-Abjad).

Xhemm xtagħżel bejniethom?

Wara kollox mgħandekx għalfejn tagħżel bejniethom!

Lil hinn mill-ġebla u l-kaċċa

 

Illum l-ambjent sar parti essenzjali mil-lingwaġġ politiku li jużaw il-partiti politiċi ta’ kuljum. Imma jekk dan hux kaz ta’ konvinzjoni jew konvenjenza, hu storja oħra.

L-ippjanar bl-addoċċ tal-użu tal-art tul is-snin flimkien mal-kaċċa irresponsabbli u insostenibbli kienu fuq quddiem fl-agenda ambjentali għal ftit taż-żmien mhux ħażin. Ġa ktibt b’mod estensiv dwar dan. Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent iżda, jfisser ħafna iktar minn hekk, avolja fiċ-ċirkustanzi partikolari ta’ pajjiżna kemm l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kif ukoll il-kaċċa ser jibqgħu fuq nett fl-aġenda ambjentali.

Żewġ oqsma li bla dubju ser ikunu fuq quddiem nett fl-aġenda ambjentali tal-pajjiż fix-xhur u s-snin li ġejjin huma l-kwalitá tal-arja u l-iskart li niġġeneraw.   Materji li ilna nitkellmu dwarhom is-snin bħala oqsma kruċjali li għandhom impatt fuq il-kwalitá tal-ħajja.

Il-kwalitá tal-arja f’pajjiżna hi effettwata prinċipalment mill-emmissjonijiet tal-karozzi. Teħtieġ li tkun indirizzata permezz  ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li tinkoraġixxi forom alternattivi ta’ aċċess sostenibbli bejn l-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna.

Il-metro li qed tiġi proposta ta’ min jikkunsidraha minkejja li s’issa għad ma hemmx dettalji biżżejjed dwar il-proposta nnifisha. Din il-proposta tal-metro, għandu jkun sottolinejat, tista’ tagħmel sens biss jekk tkun marbuta ma azzjoni simultanja li l-ewwel tnaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq b’mod sostanzjali u li sussegwentement tassigura li fit-toroq tagħna jkun hemm biss karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku.

Ma jagħmilx sens li tipproponi l-introduzzjoni ta’ metro u fl-istess ħin tibqa’ għaddej bi programm ta’ bini ta’ flyovers jew twessigħ ta’ toroq għax programm ta’ din ix-xorta filwaqt li jnaqqas il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku b’mod temporanju jżid il-kapaċitá tal-istess toroq li jieħdu iktar traffiku u dan minn innifsu jwassal għal iktar konġestjoni tat-traffiku.

L-użu ikbar tar-rota tradizzjonali kif ukoll tal-pedelecs ukoll jagħti kontribut sostanzjali għal iktar mobilitá u anke għal kwalitá tal-ħajja aħjar. Imma dan jeħtieġ investiment sostanzjali fl-infrastruttura. Dan jinkludi mhux biss toroq aħjar għal dawk li jużaw ir-rota imma ukoll faċilitajiet ta’ showers fil-post tax-xogħol flimkien ma postijiet addattati fejn titqiegħed ir-rota fiż-żoni riżervati għall-parkeġġ.

Il-mezzi differenti ta’ trasport pubbliku għandhom ikunu imħeġġa biex jagħmlu użu minn sorsi nodfa ta’ enerġija. Dan jista’ jsir billi, pereżempju l-karozzi tal-linja eżistenti jkunu konvertiti biex jaħdmu bil-metan.

L-iskart li niġġeneraw huwa wġiegħ ta’ ras ambjentali kbira li fl-aħħar qed jingħata iktar attenzjoni. Presentement qed ikun indirizzat l-iskart organiku ġġenerat mill-qasam domestiku. Jekk dan l-iskop jintlaħaq dan jista’ jagħti riżultati tajbin għax l-iskart organiku jammonta għal madwar nofs l-iskart li niġġeneraw mid-djar tagħna. Imma hemm ħtieġa urġenti ukoll li l-awtoritajiet tat-turiżmu jiffukaw ftit attenzjoni fuq l-iskart organiku li jiġġeneraw ir-restoranti u faċilitajiet simili għax dan il-qasam kien traskurat għal ftit taż-żmien mhux ħażin.

Il-qasam tal-iskart jista’ jiġġenera ħafna impiegi ambjentali (green jobs) f’industrija tar-riċiklaġġ li għad tista’ tikber għax għandha potenzjal kbir. Din hi problema li kibret magħna tul is-snin minħabba traskuraġni: nistgħu bi ftit attenzjoni nittrasformawha f’opportunitá li mhux biss tissarraf fi kwalitá tal-ħajja aħjar imma ukoll f’ġid ekonomiku.

ippubblikat fl-Illum  – 28 ta’ Mejju 2017

Green and clean :  beyond land use planning and hunting

It is obvious to everyone that the environment is nowadays an integral part of the political lexicon of all the political parties in Malta. Whether this is out of conviction or out of convenience is,  however, another story altogether. Irrespective of the objective, it is still however positive to observe this development.

Reckless land use planning over the years, as well as irresponsible and unsustainable hunting, have been at the forefront of the environmental agenda for quite some time and I have already written extensively on these topics. Caring for the environment signifies much more than this, even though both land use planning and hunting will, of necessity remain at the top of Malta’s environmental agenda.

However, competing for attention and resources, the quality of the air we breath – as well as the waste we generate – are two specific areas which will undoubtedly be on the environmental action agenda in the months and years ahead. These are areas which the environmental lobby has been emphasising for years on end as being crucial in determining a better quality of life for all.

Air quality has to be tackled head on through the formulation of a transport strategy that seeks to encourage alternative forms of sustainable access between our towns and villages. This will most probably be a combination of various means and actions.

The proposed metro is an option worth considering, even though details are currently not available. The metro will only be feasible if it is linked with focused action on reducing the number of cars from the road and ensuring that all remaining cars on the road, after a reasonable transition, are electric cars. It is useless promoting a metro and simultaneously retaining a substantial programme of road-widening and/or construction of flyovers. Improving the road network will only ease traffic congestion temporarily but it will simultaneously increase the capacity for more traffic leading in turn to more traffic congestion.

Encouraging the use of bicycles and pedelecs will contribute substantially to improved mobility and a better quality of life, including ever-improving air quality. Substantial investment in the bicycle infrastructure  is however required. This must include the provision of more bicycle friendly roads and shower facilities at places of work as an essential pre-requisite, together with more bicycle parking areas.

Different forms of public transport using clean energy should also be encouraged – for example, converting existing public buses to the use of methane as their primary fuel.

Waste management is another environmental headache, and which has, of late, been receiving more attention. An effort is currently under way to address the organic fraction of the household waste generated. If properly managed this could lead to substantial results as organic waste accounts for around 50 per cent of all the household waste generated. The tourism authorities must, however, seek to focus on the organic waste generated by bars and restaurants as MTA has neglected this matter for far to long.

Proper waste management can result in the generation of green jobs in the recycling industry – which is still in its infancy but holds a lot of potential.  It is an opportunity to transform a problem caused by neglect over the years  into an opportunity which will be both green and clean.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 28 May 2017

Ghost towns in the Maltese Islands

The last Census, carried out in 2011 – with results published in late 2014 – revealed that in the Maltese islands only 68.2 per cent of residential property is regularly occupied. The rest is either vacant (18.4 per cent) or else used seasonally or for some secondary use (13.3 per cent).

If we focus on the regional data, the situation is much clearer. The rate of occupied residential property varies – from 79.5 per cent in the Western Region (between Dingli, Siġġiewi and Balzan) to 46.4 per cent in the Gozo and Comino Region. Table 1 gives the full data. Property that is completely vacant varies from a rate of 16 per cent in the Northern Region (between Naxxar and Mellieħa) to 23.9 per cent in Gozo and Comino as shown it Table 2. Finally, property which is used seasonally or for some secondary use varies from an insignificant three per cent in the Southern Harbour Region (Valletta to Xgħajra, up to Paola and Luqa] to a staggering 29.7 per cent in Gozo, with the Northern Region (between Naxxar and Mellieħa) with a 25.9 per cent rate being a close second as shown in Table 3. This data has been extracted from the 2011 Census Final Report pages 221 and 222.

This amounts to more ten times the size of residential Birkirkara, meaning that the vacant or underutilised properties in Malta and Gozo at this time are equivalent to 10 ghost towns – each of which is equivalent to Birkirkara, the largest locality in the Maltese Islands. This represents a substantial waste of public funds. As a minimum it means that funds spent on the development of the infrastructure (roads, electricity, water, drainage and telecommunications) for these 10 ghost towns went down the drain and could have been mostly avoided.

While all this built-up residential property is vacant or under-utilised, the building industry keeps building more – thereby adding to the glut. They call this progress and a significant contribution to the economy. Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party and the environment lobby in Malta has been vociferous about this over-development of the Maltese Islands. This state of affairs has been worsening, with neither the Labour Party nor the Nationalist Party giving a fig about the consequences.

Instead of addressing the issue, the PN government increased the size of the development zone through the addition of the so-called “rationalisation” exercise. On the other hand, the Labour Party has, during the past four years, encouraged more development.

Last March I had the opportunity to represent a number of Mosta residents in opposing the scheming of a large tract of land at Tad-Durumblat, Mosta. This concerned 38,600 square metres of land which formed part of the rationalisation exercise piloted in 2006 by a PN-led government. Mosta has a sizable vacant and under-utilised residential area consisting of 19.4 per cent of the housing stock as in November 2011. The Executive Council of the Planning Authority accepted my arguments and rejected the relative planning control application, thereby saving – at least temporarily – this large tract of land from the greedy forces of development.

Faced with this situation, AD considers that the number of vacant properties in any locality should be an important criterion in determining whether development applications for larger areas are approved or not. This should also apply to the large tracts of land forming part of the rationalisation exercise, in respect of which the determination of the applicable scheme should not be decided if the number of vacant properties is substantial.

It is about time that this situation is addressed and for this purpose, AD’s election manifesto is making this specific proposal: in those localities where the number of vacant properties is substantial, large-scale residential projects will not be permitted.

This would be a good first step in addressing Malta’s ghost towns, ensuring that their enlargement is restrained and thereby applying a significant brake to over-development in the Maltese Islands.

 published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 14 May 2017

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 29,107 75.9
Northern Harbour 46,181 72.9
South Eastern 22,279 71.6
Western 19,584 79.5
Northern 23,989 58.1
Gozo and Comino 11,630 46.4

Table 1: Occupied property by Region 

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 1,113   3
Northern Harbour 6,650 10.5
South Eastern 3,294 10.6
Western 6,33  2.6
Northern 10,692 25.9
Gozo and Comino 7,444 29.7

Table 2: Property used seasonally or for secondary use by Region

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 8,126 21.2
Northern Harbour 10,556 16.7
South Eastern 5,552 17.8
Western 4,420 17.9
Northern 6,582 16.0
Gozo and Comino 5,996 23.9

 Table 3: Vacant Property by Region

Prof. Josef Lauri asked me : so what is the solution ? My answer.

 

 

The basic difficulties for the formation of a coalition, as I view them, are three :

1st: there is an issue of credibility. The PN is not credible when it speaks against corruption and in favour of good governance, unless it clears the deck and solves its current issues, as highlighted in my article published today: Coalition building: beyond the arithmetic.

2nd : there is the format in which a coalition could take shape: forming part of the PN is no coalition at all, it is also not acceptable to AD; it is possible to form a separate structure specifically for the elections, but time is running out for such an option;

3rd : there are various issues of policy in respect of which there may be sharp disagreement, particularly in respect of environmental issues.  The proposed tunnel between Malta and Gozo, and the proposed car-racing track as well as spring hunting, all of which are supported by the PN but which are objectionable in principle to AD readily come to mind. There are also a number of other issues of a social and economic nature which could also be contentious.

 

All the above requires considerable time and goodwill, both of which are in short supply.

 

(The above is a reply I gave on one of my blogposts in reply to a question by Prof. Josef Lauri earlier today.)

Coalition building: beyond the arithmetic

It is pretty obvious that the primary – and possibly the only – objective that the Nationalist Party seeks to attain through its proposed coalition is to numerically surpass the Labour Party when the first count votes are tallied after  the forthcoming general election. Should this materialise, it could be a stepping stone on the basis of which, possibly, it could return to office on its own or in coalition.

The rest, that is to say beyond the first count vote tally, is all a necessary evil for the PN.

In contrast, Alternattiva Demokratikas objectives go beyond arithmetic. Alternattiva Demokratika favours a principle-based coalition, ethically driven,  in conscious preference to a pragmatic-based one that is driven exclusively by arithmetic considerations.

A principle-based coalition asks questions and demands answers continuously. The path to be followed to elect the first Green MPs is just as important as the objective itself. This is not simply  a minor inconsequential detail: it is a fundamental difference in approach.

Alternattiva Demokratika is continuously being tempted to discard its principled approach on the basis of a possible satisfactory result being within reach: now is the time, we are told, to join Simon Busuttils coalition in the national interest.  

Alternattiva Demokratika has always given way to the national interest. It is definitely in the national interest to discard (at the earliest possible opportunity) the two-party system that is the cause of the current political mess. In this context, at AD we do not view the PN (or the PL for that matter) as a solution. Both are an intrinsic part of the problem. Even if they are not exactly equivalent, together they are the problem. Parliament has been under the control of the two-party system  without interruption for the past 52 years. This is ultimately responsible for the current state of affairs as, due to its composition, Parliament has been repeatedly unable to hold the government of the day to account.

It is the worst kind of political dishonesty to pretend that the PN is whiter than white when criticising the Labour Partys gross excesses during the past four years. Labour has been capable of creating the current mess because the last PN-led government left behind quasi-toothless institutions, such that, when push came to shove, these institutions were incapable of biting back against abuse in defence of Maltese society: so much for the PNs commitment to good governance.

The PN is also  still haunted by its own gross excesses including:

1) Claudio Grechs incredible declaration on the witness stand in Parliaments Public Accounts Committee that he did not recollect ever meeting George Farrugia during the development of the oil sales scandal, George Farrugia being the mastermind  behind it all.   

2) Beppe Fenech Adamis role in the nominee company behind the Capital One Investment Group/Baltimore Fiduciary Services . In quasi similar circumstances, former Labour Party Treasurer Joe Cordina was forced to resign and was withdrawn as a general election candidate.

3) Mario DeMarcos error of judgement (with Simon Busuttils blessing) in accepting the brief of Silvio Debonos db Group in relation to the provision of advisory legal services on the Groups acquisition from Government of land at Pembroke, currently the site of the Institute for Tourism Studies, and this when his duty a Member of Parliament was to subject the deal to the minutest scrutiny and thereby hold government to account.

4) Toni Bezzinas application for a proposed ODZ Villa at the same time that, together with others, he was drafting an environment policy document on behalf of the PN in which document he proposed that this should henceforth  be prohibited.

5) Simon Busuttils alleged attempt to camouflage political donations as payment for fictitious services by his partys commercial arm, thereby circumventing the Financing of Political Parties Act.

How can the Nationalist Party be credible by declaring itself as the rallying point in favour of good governance and against corruption when it took no serious action to clean up its own ranks? Apologies are a good start but certainly not enough: heads must roll.

A coalition with a PN that closes more than one eye to the above is bound to fail, as the behaviour of the PN and its leadership is clearly and consistently diametrically opposed to its sanctimonious declarations.

These are very serious matters: they need to be suitably and satisfactorily addressed as a pre-condition to the commencement of any coalition talks.  Time is running out and this is being stated even before one proceeds to identify and spell out the red lines – ie the issues that are non-negotiable.

Addressing the arithmetic issues concerning the general election and then ending up with a new government with such an ambivalent attitude to good governance would mean that we are back to the point from which we started.    Nobody in his right mind would want that and Alternattiva Demokratika would certainly not support such double speak.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16 April 2017

Sens komun: fil-Mosta u f’Marsaxlokk

 

 

Matul dawn l-aħħar ġranet, Alternattiva Demokratika kienet qed tikkampanja kontra żvilupp massiċċ li ġie propost kemm fil-Mosta kif ukoll f’Marsaxlokk.  Din hi kampanja li ilha li bdiet ħdax-il sena, u tibqa’ għaddejja,  kontra t-tkabbir taż-żona żviluppabbli proposta minn George Pullicino, dakinnhar Ministru responsabbli għall-ambjent u l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Nhar il-Ġimgħa, f’Marsaxlokk, kien ta’ sodisfazzjoni li s-Sindku Horace Gauci, elett f’isem il-Partit Laburista, ingħaqad magħna ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika waqt konferenza stampa b’appoġġ għar-residenti Tal-Marnisi Marsaxlokk.

Hi kampanja biex is-sens komun favur l-ambjent jipprevali fuq id-deċiżjoni li kien ħa l-Parlament fl-2006 meta l-Gvern immexxi mill-PN mexxa ‘l-quddiem proposta biex żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp, ma jibqgħux iktar ODZ u minn dakinnhar jibdew jiffurmaw parti miż-żona ta’ żvilupp. Dan sar mingħajr ma ġew eżaminati l-impatti ta’ deċiżjoni bħal din, lejliet li kellha tidħol fis-seħħ id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar il-kejl tal-impatti strateġiċi ambjentali. Li ma sarx dan l-kejl, ifisser li l-impatti kumulattivi tal-iżvilupp li kien qed ikun propost kienu kompletament injorati.

Nhar it-Tnejn 20 ta’ Marzu l-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar ħa żewġ deċiżjonijiet kontrastanti dwar żewġ meded kbar ta’ art. Dwar l-ewwel waħda, art agrikola fil-Mosta tal-qies ta’ 38500 metru kwadru l-proposta bi pjan ta’ żvilupp kienet rifjutata filwaqt li dwar it-tieni waħda ukoll primarjament agrikola u b’qies ta’ 17,530 metru kwadru, l-propost pjan ta’ żvilupp kien approvat.

Fiż-żewġ każi ma sar l-ebda eżami tal-impatti soċjali, ekonomiċi u ambjentali u dan billi l-professjonisti tal-ippjanar li taw il-parir lill-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar kienu tal-fehma li d-deċiżjoni tal-2006 tal-Parlament kienet kemm ċara kif ukoll finali. Sfortunatament ma dehrilhomx meħtieġ li jeżaminhaw dan minn lenti kritika.

Fl-2006, il-Parlament kien iddeċieda li dawn iż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art ma kellhomx iktar ikunu meqjusa bħala barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ). Il-grupp parlamentari tal-PN kien ivvota favur din il-proposta, u dan jispjega l-għaliex dak li taparsi kkonverta favur l-ambjent, Simon Busuttil, għadu ma fetaħx ħalqu dwar dan kollu.  Imma l-Partit Laburista, dakinnhar fl-Opposizzjoni ma kienx qabel u kien ivvota kontra li din l-art tkun tista’ tingħata għall-iżvilupp. Għalhekk Joseph Muscat bħalissa qiegħed f’posizzjoni imbarazzanti.

Il-Partit Laburista għadu tal-istess fehma, jew bidel il-ħsieb? Għax issa waslet is-siegħa tal-prova. X’ser jagħmel? Għax anke jekk ikun meqjus li d-deċiżjoni tal-Parlament tal-2006 titfa’ ċerti obbligi fuq il-Gvern u fuq l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, xorta hu possibli li l-impatt tal-iżvilupp massiv li ġie propost ikun imtaffi.

Id-deċiżjoni tal-20 ta’ Marzu tal-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li biha l-applikazzjoni dwar l-art fil-Mosta kienet rifjutat hu l-mod kif għandhom isiru l-affarijiet. Hi deċiżjoni li s-Segretarju Parlamentari Deborah Schembri għandha żżomm quddiem għajnejha meta l-każ ta’ Marsaxlokk jiġi quddiema biex tikkunsidra jekk tagħtix l-approvazzjoni tagħha. Jiena naħseb li s-Segretarju Parlamentari Schembri għandha tibgħat il-każ ta’ Marsaxlokk lura quddiem l- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar biex ikun ikkunsidrat mill-ġdid.

Żvilupp massiv ta’ din ix-xorta m’għandux ikun possibli meta hawn tant propjetajiet residenzjali vojta. Anke f’Marsaxlokk stess l-aħħar ċensiment, dak tal-2011, juri li 18.7% tar-residenzi huma battala filwaqt li 5.9% tagħhom jintużaw biss kultant. Nistgħu nibqgħu nibnu bil-goff meta għandna din il-kwantitá ta’ propjetá vojta?

Għandna bżonn ftit sens komun fl-ippjanar ta’ l-użu ta’ l-art. Sens komun li jagħti piz u konsiderazzjoni tal-impatti fuq il-komunitá kollha qabel ma jittieħdu deċiżjoniiet bħal dawn.

Fiż-żewġ każi, l-Mosta u Marsaxlokk, qed nitkellmu dwar raba’ li kienet tinħadem u li issa intelqet minħabba l-pressjoni kkawżata mill-iżvilupp. Dan hu process li jeħtieġ li nwaqqfuh minnufih. Illum qabel għada.

 

ippubblikat f’ Illum –  2 t’April 2017

Green sense is common sense

 

In the last few days Alternattiva Demokratika-the Green Party- has been campaigning against over-development at both Mosta and Marsaxlokk. It is the renewal of an everlasting campaign, started 11 years ago against the increase in the development zone piloted by former Environment and Land Use Planning Minister George Pullicino.

In Marsaxlokk last Friday we were joined by Labour Mayor Horace Gauci who arrived at, and addressed an AD press conference in support of the residents of Il-Marnisi, Marsaxlokk, in view of the impact of the rationalisation exercise in the area.

It is a campaign to see green sense prevail over the rationalisation exercise, as a result of which, in 2006 on the proposal of a PN-led government, Parliament included around two million square metres of land within the development zone overnight. This was done without a strategic environment assessment having been carried out to examine the proposals. It was on the eve of the coming into force of the Strategic Environment Assessment EU Directive which, just days later, would have made such an assessment compulsory. Not carrying out such an assessment signifies that the cumulative impacts of development were ignored by not being factored into the decision-taking process.

On 20 March, the Planning Authority Executive Committee took two contrasting decisions in respect of two large tracts of land. Regarding the first – 38,500 square metres of agricultural land at Mosta –  the scheme for a development proposal was turned down, while in respect of the second – 17,530 square metres of largely agricultural land in Marsaxlokk – the proposal for development was approved.

In neither case was any assessment of the social, economic and environmental impact carried out, as the professional land-use planners advising the Executive Committee of the Planning Authority consider that Parliament’s decision in 2006 was definite and any assessment unnecessary. Unfortunately they did not think it appropriate to examine the matters before them critically.

In 2006, Parliament had decided that this two million square metre area of land, formerly considered as ODZ land, was henceforth to be part of the development zone. The PN Parliamentary group had  voted in favour of this proposal, which is why the pseudo-environmental convert Simon Busuttil is completely silent on the issue. However, the Labour Party Opposition voted against the proposal, thus placing Joseph Muscat in an awkward position today.

Has the Labour Party changed its views? The chickens are now coming home to roost.

When push comes to shove, and notwithstanding the PN mantra that “ODZ is ODZ”, the PN always seeks to consent to ODZ development, as long as such development is given the go-ahead when it is in the driving seat!

But what about the Labour Party today? Even if it factors in the views of those who maintain that the 2006 decision ties its hands, it can certainly take mitigation measures that would substantially reduce the negative impact of the 2006 parliamentary decision which favours such massive over-development.

The decision of the Executive Committee of the Planning Authority on the 20 March to reject the proposal for the development of the tract of land in Mosta is the way forward. It should be taken on board by Parliamentary Secretary for land use planning Deborah Schembri when the Marsaxlokk case is placed on her desk for her consideration. I respectfully ask Ms Schembri to request the Planning Authority to reconsider its decision and hence send it back to the drawing board.

The proposed reconsideration should be undertaken primarily because such massive development is not required: it is not necessary to sacrifice so much agricultural land. (I am informed that on the site there is also a small stretch of garigue with a number of interesting botanical specimens.) The results of the 2011 Census indicated that 18.7 per cent of Marsaxlokk’s housing stock was then vacant and 5.9 per cent of it only in occasional use.  Why should we keep adding to the vacant housing stock through proposals for massive development projects?

We need some green sense in the planning of land-use. We need some common sense in considering the impact on the whole community before far-reaching decisions are taken.  In both cases mentioned above, the land that has been the subject of proposed  development schemes is agricultural land that has fallen into disuse as a result of development pressures. This process should be reversed forthwith, and the sooner the better: it is only common sense.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 April 2017

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