A financial surplus, yet an environmental deficit

As was expected, last Monday’s budget speech solemnly announced a budget surplus for the first time in many years. However, the environmental deficit was, as usual, hidden between the lines.

The budget is aptly titled Preparing for the Future (Inlestu għall-Futur). In dealing with environmental issues, the budget speech does not lay down clearly the path the government will be following. At times, it postpones matters – proposing studies and consultations on subjects that have been in the public domain for ages.

On the subject of vacant properties, the government prefers the carrot to the stick. In order to get dilapidated and empty properties in village centres back on the rental market, it is offering a €25,000 grant to renovate such properties, but then rightly insists that, once renovated these should be made available for social housing for a minimum of 10 years. In previous budgets, various other fiscal incentives have been offered to encourage such properties being placed back on the market.

After offering so many carrots, it would also make sense to use the stick by way of taxing vacant properties in situations where the owner is continuously ignoring the signals sent regarding the social, economic and environmental impacts of empty properties.

The budget speech announced improvements to rental subsidies. However, it then opted to postpone the regulation of the rental market. It announced a White Paper on the subject which, when published, will propose ways of regulating the market without in any way regulating the subject of rents. In view of the currently abnormal situation of sky-high rents, this is sheer madness.

It is fine to ensure that the duties and responsibilities of landlords and tenants are clearly spelt out. Does anyone argue with that in 2017? It should have been done years ago. Instead of a White Paper a Legal Notice defining clear-cut duties and responsibilities would suffice: there is no need to wait.

It is, however, too much to bear when a “social democrat” Finance Minister declares  that he will not even consider rent control. There are ways and means of ensuring that the market acts fairly. Other countries have done it and are still doing it, as rental greed has no preferred nationality. Ignoring this possibility is not a good omen. The market should not be glorified by the Finance Minister; it should be tamed rather than further encouraged to keep running wild with the resulting social havoc it has created.

This brings us to transport and roads. The Finance Minister sends a clear message when he stated (on page 44 of the budget speech) that no one should be under the illusion that upgrading the road infrastructure will, on its own, resolve the traffic (congestion) problem. Edward Scicluna hints on the following page of his speech that he is not too happy with the current situation. He laments that the more developed countries encourage active mobility through walking, cycling and the use of motorbikes, as well as various means of public transport, simultaneously discouraging the use of the private car. However, he does not then proceed to the logical conclusion of his statement: scrapping large-scale road infrastructural projects such as the proposed Marsa flyover or the proposed tunnels below the Santa Luċija roundabout announced recently by Minister Ian Borg.

These projects, like the Kappara flyover currently in its final stages, will only serve to increase the capacity of our roads. And this means only one thing: more cars on our roads. It is certified madness.

While the Government’s policy of increasing the capacity of existing roads through the construction of flyovers and tunnels will address congestion in the short term, it will lead to increased traffic on our roads. This moves the problem to the future, when it will be worse and more difficult to tackle. 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.

This cancels out the positive impact of other policies announced in the budget speech such as free public transport to young people aged between 16 and 20, free (collective) transport to all schools, incentives for car-pooling, grants encouraging the purchase of bicycles, pedelec bicycles and scooters, reduction in the VAT charged when hiring bicycles as well as the introduction of bicycle lanes, as well as encouraging the purchase of electric or hybrid vehicles.

All this contributes to the current environmental deficit. And I have not even mentioned issues of land use planning once.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 15 October 2017

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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

Għall-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar il-profitti tal-ispekulatur huma prijoritá

Id-deċiżjoni li ħa l-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar nhar il-Ħamis b’għaxar voti kontra tlieta biex 4,748 metru kwadru ta’ art barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ) ikunu żviluppati f’Dar għall-Anzjani fin-Naxxar hi preċedent ikrah li l-Awtoritá għad jiddispjaċiha li ħaditu.

L-applikazzjoni bin-numru PA 3592/16 ġiet ippreżentata biex jitwaqqa’ bini li tela’ qabel l-1978 u floku tinbena faċilitá għall-kura tal-anzjani fuq art “ġa disturbata”.

L-ewwel punt ta’ interess hu dan il-bini ta’ qabel l-1978 li hemm fuq is-sit. Ir-rapport dwar l-applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp jiddeskrivi din l-art bħala “razzett mitluq u fi stat ta’ abbandun”. Meta inbena, dan ir-razzett kien meħtieġ fl-interess ta’ l-agrikultura. Issa li dan ir-razzett hu abbandunat kien ikun iktar għaqli kieku l-art ġiet irrestawrata għall-istat oriġinali tagħha biex tieħu lura postha bħala parti mill-pajsaġġ rurali. Minflok qed tintuża bħala għodda biex twaqqa’ għar-redikolu l-politika dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art.

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar skont dak li jipprovdi l-Pjan Strateġiku għall-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (SPED: Strategic Plan for Environment and Development) talbet lill-applikant biex jikkummissjona studju ħalli jiġi stabilit jekk fiż-żona ta’ żvilupp, fil-viċinanzi, kienx hemm art tajba għall-iżvilupp li setgħet tintuża għall-iskop mixtieq u ċioe biex tinbena dar għall-anzjani.

Dan ir-rapport (site selection report), datat Mejju 2016, fil-fatt identifika żewġ siti li t-tnejn kienu ikbar milli meħtieġ. Ir-rapport jgħid li s-siti identifikati kellhom “potenzjal kbir” bħala siti alternattivi għall-proġett taħt konsiderazzjoni. L-ewwel sit kellu qies ta’ 11,287 metru kwadru fil-waqt li t-tieni sit kellu qies ta’ 6,844 metru kwadru. It-tnejn kienu fin-Naxxar viċin tas-sit taħt konsiderazzjoni.

Wara, l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar talbet lill-applikant biex jipproduċi studju dwar l-impatti finanzjarji tal-proġett. Dan l-istudju kien lest fi ftit żmien tant li hu datat 30 ta’ Mejju 2016. Fi ftit kliem dan ir-rapport ta’ sitt paġni, miktub minn accountant, jikkonkludi li billi l-art tajba għall-iżvilupp tiswa’ ferm iktar minn art ODZ (li m’hiex normalment ikkunsidrata għall-iżvilupp) il-proġett seta jrendi biss jekk tkun użata art ODZ!

Fid-diskussjoni waqt is-seduta pubblika ta’ nhar il-Ħamis tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, iċ-Ċhairman Eżekuttiv tal-istess Awtoritá qal li l-istudju dwar l-impatt finanzjarju tal-proġett kien ivverifikat mill-konsulenti tal- Awtoritá li wara aċċettatu u talbet lill-applikant biex jibda jikkunsidra art fl-ODZ.

Din id-deċiżjoni tal- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar taqleb ta’ taħt fuq il-politika dwar l-użu tal-art u prattikament tfisser li minn issa l-quddiem proġetti kbar barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp mhu ser ikollhom l-ebda diffikulta biex ikunu approvati. M’hemmx ħtieġa li tkun professor biex tifhem li minn issa l-quddiem kull żvilupp ODZ jista’ jkun iġġustifikat mill- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar a bażi tal-fatt li l-art ODZ tiswa’ ferm inqas mill-art tajba għall-iżvilupp.

Jekk inħarsu ftit sewwa lejn ir-rapport tal-accountant insiru nafu li l-art ODZ kellha l-prezz ta’ €1,200,000 fil-waqt li l-art l-oħra tal-qies meħtieġ għall-proġett kellha prezz ta’ madwar €5 miljuni u nofs f’kull każ. Differenza ta’ madwar 4 darbiet!

Bħala riżultat ta’ din id-deċiżjoni, fl-opinjoni tiegħi, l- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar irmiet ix-xogħol utli li numru kbir ta’ professjonisti tal-ambjent u tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art għamlu tul dawn l-aħħar ħamsa u għoxrin sena. Hi deċiżjoni li tmur kontra l-emfasi kontinwa dwar il-ħtieġa li l-art limitata li għandu l-pajjiż tintuża b’mod sostenibbli. L- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għal darba oħra baxxiet rasha: il-kilba għall-profitti reġgħet rebħet fuq il-ħtieġa tal-ħarsien ambjentali. Il-bilanċ fil-kont tal-bank tal-ispekulatur hu iktar importanti għall- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar mill-użu sostenibbli tal-art f’pajjiżna.

Meta ttieħed il-vot finali, tlieta biss kienu l-membri tal-Bord tal- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li ivvutaw kontra: is-Sindku tan-Naxxar Anne Marie Muscat Fenech Adami, iċ-Chairman tal- Awtoritá tal-Ambjent w ir-Riżorsi Victor Axiaq kif ukoll r-rapprezentanta tal-għaqdiet ambjentali – Annick Bonello It-tlieta li huma mmotivaw id-deċiżjoni tagħhom li jivvutaw kontra l-proposta ta’ żvilupp minħabba li mhux aċċettabbli li tkun użata art ODZ għal dan l-iskop.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 23 ta’ Lulju 2017

Planning Authority says: develop ODZ, it is cheaper!

The decision taken by the Board of the Planning Authority last Thursday, with ten votes in favour and three votes against the development of 4,748 square metres of land Outside the Development Zone (ODZ) for a home for the elderly in Naxxar, will come back to haunt it in the very near future.

Application number PA 3592/16  was submitted in order to demolish a pre-1978 existing building and construct a facility for the care of the elderly and nursing home on disturbed land.

The first point of interest is the existing pre-1978 building on site. The Development Permit Application report describes this as an unoccupied derelict farm. When it  was constructed, this building was necessary in the interests of agriculture. Now that it is in a derelict state, the land should have been returned to its former state, rehabilitated as part of the rural landscape. Instead it is being used as a tool through which to ridicule land use planning policy.

Applying the provisions of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) policy document, the Planning Authority requested the applicant to commission a site selection exercise in order to ascertain whether, within the development zone, there existed land in the vicinity that could be developed for the desired purpose – a home for the elderly. 

The site selection report, dated May 2016, identified two sites – both of which were larger than required.  Specifically, the report states that the identified sites offered very good potential as alternative sites for the project under consideration.  The first site had an area of 11,287 square metres, while the second had an area of 6,844 square metres. Both sites are in Naxxar, very close to the site that is the subject of the application.

The Planning Authority next proceeded to request the applicant to produce a financial feasibility study. This study was produced days after the site selection exercise was completed. In fact, it is dated 30 May 2016. Briefly, the six page study – drawn up by a certified public accountant – concludes that, due to the fact that land within the development scheme costs substantially more than ODZ land, the project would only be financially feasible if ODZ land were used.

During last Thursdays Planning Authority Board public hearing, the Authority’s Executive Chairman stated that the PA’s own consultants had check this feasibility study before accepting it and instructing the applicant to proceed with considering ODZ sites.

This PA decision turns land use planning policy on its head and practically gives the green light to large-scale ODZ development in the future. It does not require rocket science to arrive at a conclusion that this specific decision signifies that practically any ODZ development can be justified on the basis that ODZ land is cheaper than land in the development zone. Perusal of the feasibility study submitted by applicant to the Planning Authority indicates that the ODZ land to be developed for this project has been priced at 1,200,000. The alternative sites, of equal area to the ODZ site under consideration, were each priced at approximately 5,500,000 : a four-fold difference.

In my opinion, the result of this decision is that the Planning Authority has thrown into the dustbin the hard work of a large number of planning and environmental professionals over the last 25 years.   This decision contradicts the continuous policy emphasis on the need to use land in a sustainable manner. The Planning Authority has once more bowed its head when faced with gluttonous greed. Profit has once more carried the day, to the detriment of environmental protection. The speculators bottom line is more important to the Planning Authority than sustainable use of land resources.

When the final vote was taken, only three members of the Planning Authority Board voted against, namely the Mayor of Naxxar Anne Marie Muscat Fenech Adami, the Chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority Victor Axiaq and the environmental NGOs’ representative Annick Bonello. All three were motivated in their decision to vote against the proposal because they deemed it unacceptable to have the development in ODZ land.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 23 July 2017

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.)