Land use planning : beyond rhetoric

Freeport 2015


There is a common thread running through a number of local land-use planning controversies: they are tending to either ignore or give secondary importance to environmental, social and/or cultural issues, focusing instead on economic considerations.

On this page I have discussed the impact of the Freeport Terminal on  Birżebbuġa a number of times. The basic problem with the Freeport is that its impact on the Birżebbuġa community were ignored for a very long time. In fact, an attempt to include a Social Impact Assessment as an integral part of the EIA which was carried out some years ago was given the cold shoulder by MEPA. The end result was that the decision-taking process was not adequately informed of the impact of the terminal extension, both those already apparent and those which were yet to come. In particular, no assessment was made of the disintegration of the sports infrastructure in the area that has  slowly been eaten up – primarily by the Freeport.

Most of this could have been avoided through an active engagement with the local community over the years at the various stages of the project’s planning and implementation. This is why plans for the Freeport’s expansion, as indicated by the Freeport Corporation’s CEO  earlier this week in an interview with The Business Observer, should be explained  immediately. Even at this early stage it must be ascertained that the situation for  Birżebbuġa residents will not deteriorate any further.

No one in his right mind would deny that, over the years, the Freeport has made a significant contribution to Malta’s economic growth. Few, however, realise that the price paid for this economic success has been the erosion of the quality of life of the Birżebbuġa community. This is certainly unacceptable but it will only get worse, once the gas storage tanker for the Delimara Power Station is parked within Marsaxlokk Bay in the coming months, very close to the Freeport terminal.

The same story is repeating itself in other areas. Consider, for example, the 38-floor tower proposed at Townsquare and the 40-floor tower proposed for the Fort Cambridge project, both on the Tignè Peninsula in Sliema. The Townsquare assessment process is reaching its conclusion, whilst the one in respect of Fort Cambridge is still in its initial stages. Yet both are linked to the same fundamental flaw: the lack of consideration of the cumulative impact of the development of the Tignè Peninsula – which includes the MIDI development as well as the individual small scale projects in the area.

The adoption of plans and policies which have made it possible for the authorities to consider the development of the Tignè Peninsula were not subject to a Strategic Impact Assessment and, as a result, the cumulative impact of implementing these plans and policies were not identified and assessed. The end result is that the proposed towers are justifiably considered as another disruptive and unwelcome intrusion by the Tignè and Qui-Si-Sana communities.

The developers and their advisors focus exclusively on the impacts which are generated by their proposals, with the authorities generally avoiding the consideration of the big picture at the earliest possible stage.

Preliminary indications from the proposed Gozo Tunnel and the Sadeen “educational” setup at Marsaskala/Cottonera are already pointing in the same direction. In both cases, the alternatives that were generally brushed aside are the very options that need to be examined in detail in order to ensure that the challenges that will be faced in 2016 and beyond have not been prejudiced by myopic considerations in 2015.

Planning failures have serious consequences on those of our local communities that have to bear the brunt of the decisions taken for a long period of time. These can be avoided if the authorities refocus their efforts and realise that the economy is a tool which has to be a servant, and certainly not a master.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 20 December 2015

Better safe than sorry

Delimara floating gas stirage terminal

Its been twelve months since Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party pointed out that safety and risk assessment will be the sticking point for the liquid natural gas (LNG) driven power station at Delimara. We were then told  that Labour’s plan had already factored in all issues pertaining to the Seveso Directive.

Well, plans have been changed. What were originally plans to have land based LNG storage facilities have been changed to a floating gas storage facility. The issue of safety has however remained. It was unaddressed then and is still not addressed now.

Other countries have taken the matter quite seriously. In Livorno, for example,  as a result of proper risk assessment studies a floating gas storage facility of a size comparable to that being considered for Delimara was sited 22.5 kilometres from the coastline. In addition a security area of an 8 kilometre radius was established. This security area which is under strict control to ensure that no unauthorised access occurs serves the purpose of reducing and containing the damage caused by a possible incident.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday February 22, 2014

No such security areas have been established in the Delimara proposal such that whilst the probability of an incident has been identified as 1 in 10,000 years its impacts on the residential community as well on economic facilities could be devastating if such an accident occurs.

A thorough reading of the risk assessment study carried out by Roberto Vaccari and forming part of the Environment Impact Assessment for the Delimara LNG driven power station clearly identifies serious risks. Whilst Vaccari defines his study as being of a preliminary nature his conclusions, however, are clear enough pointers that the apprehension of 91% of the local population documented in the Delimara project Social Impact Assessment is more than justified.

Roberto Vaccari, for example, concludes on the possibility of an incident as a result of which a cloud of gas accumulates in the area in front of the Freeport Terminal, the fairway,  precisely where ships manoeuvre prior to their berthing to unload their shipment of containers. Just this possibility, on its own, should have been sufficient to lead to the conclusion that the proposed solution for the generation of electricity through the use of gas stored on a ship is a serious threat to the secure operation of the Freeport Terminal.

Roberto Vaccari justifiably points out that Marsaxlokk Bay, very close to the residential communities of Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk,  already harbours most of the Maltese sites subject to Major Hazard Regulatory control under the provisions if the EU Seveso Directive. The Delimara Power Station itself, the Birżebbuġa fuel storage depot, Oil Tanking facilities, the Wied Dalam installation, the Mediterranean Offshore Bunkering and the San Lucian facilities as well as the recent addition of the Gasco facilities at Bengħajsa are too close for comfort. Roberto Vaccari points out to the domino effect potential which could be triggered on each of these sites by an LNG incident at Delimara.

The mooring of the floating gas storage unit along the Delimara coast also gives rise to a serious conflict with existing uses in Marsaxlokk Bay. It conflicts with the operational requirements of the Freeport Terminal situated at the entrance to the Bay. The conflicts are of a navigational nature as the area currently utilised by container vessels to manoeuvre until they berth, the fairway, overlaps with the navigational requirements of the floating gas storage unit in particular during refuelling. It is known that container vessels at the Freeport Terminal do require tugboat assistance particularly when strong North-Easterly winds are prevalent. The navigational requirements in such circumstances for an increased activity require much more space (and tugboats) than is available in Marsaxlokk Bay. As far as is known this has not yet been considered.

Both the authorities as well as the EIA have also been particularly silent on the impacts which the floating gas storage unit will have on the fishing community in Marsaxlokk. It is unofficially known that plans are in hand to severely curtail all maritime movements within Marsaxlokk Bay during refuelling of the floating gas storage unit. The refuelling process which may take up to 48 hours  ten times annually will be a severe handicap not just on the operations of the Freeport Terminal but it may also deal a fatal blow to the livelihood of the fishing community at Marsaxlokk.

All of the above should have led to the conclusion that the unloading and storage of LNG at Marsaxlokk Port is an unnecessary source of danger to both residents and the country’s economy.

Malta is still in time to seriously explore other options. Ignoring political pique the only practical solution is to utilise a gas pipeline which a PN led Government had unfortunately refused when offered by Italy in 1999.

What is sure is that safety is priceless. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Bomba tal-ħin f’Delimara

Il-proposta ta’ Power Station f’Delimara li taħdem bil-gass flok bil-Heavy Fuel Oil ser twassal għal titjib fil-kwalita’ tal-arja f’Marsaxlokk, Birżebbuga u l-inħawi tal-madwar. Imma huwa ukoll ċar li l-preokkupazzjoni tar-residenti kif espressa fl-istudju dwar l-impatti soċjali għadha m’hiex qed tiġi indirizzata b’mod adegwat. L-istudju dwar ir-riskji mill-gass maħzun fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk m’huwiex wieħed konvinċenti.

Huwa neċessarju, anzi huwa essenzjali, li l-ħażna tal-gass għall-użu tal-Power Station tinħareg il-barra mill-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi konxja li s-soluzzjonijiet tekniċi neċessarji jirrikjedu kemm iż-żmien kif ukoll spejjeż addizzjonali sostanzjali. Huwa importanti għaldaqstant li titwarrab l-għaġġla żejda biex ikunu jistgħu jsiru dawk l-istudji addizzjonali li huma neċessarji biex ma jibqa’ l-ebda dubju li r-riskji kollha li għalihom il-komunitajiet ta’ Marsaxlokk u Birżebbuġa ġew esposti jkunu indirizzati b’mod sodisfaċenti.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi konsistenti. Dan il-kliem qalitu diversi drabi, anke waqt il-kampanja elettorali tal-elezzjoni ta’ Marzu 2013 wara li l-Partit Laburista ħareġ bil-proposti tiegħu li, dakinnhar, kienu nieqsa minn informazzjoni essenzjali.

Is-saħħa u is-sigurta tar-residenti ta’ Marsaxlokk u Birżebbuga għandhom jiġu qabel kull konsiderazzjoni oħra.

Il-kunsens nazzjonali dwar il-ħtieġa tal-użu tal-gass fil-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku għandu jitwettaq f’rispett sħiħ lejn ir-residenti. Jekk dan ma jsirx jista’ jwassal biex fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk tkun istallata bomba tal-ħin.

Il-gass għal Delimara: nħarsu s-saħħa u s-sigurta tar-residenti

Delimara.gas terminal

Il-ħidma biex il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku ma tibqax bl-użu ta’ żejt li jħammeġ (Heavy Fuel Oil) iżda bil-gass, minn dejjem kienet appoġġjata minn-Alternattiva Demokratika.

Kwalita’ aħjar tal-arja u traħħis fil-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma huma l-konsegwenzi diretti ta’ dan il-pass.

F’dawn il-ġranet għaddejja d-diskussjoni dwar l-istudju fuq l-impatt ambjentali ta’ dan il-proġett. Hemm qbil ġenerali fuq ħafna mill-kontenut ta’ dan l-istudju.

Mill-istudju dwar l-impatt soċjali tal-power station bil-gass iżda, toħroġ b’mod ċar il-preokkupazzjoni tar-residenti ta’ Marsaxlokk għall-ħażna tal-ġass fuq opra tal-baħar speċjalizzata (floating gas storage facility). Huwa stmat li 91% tar-residenti ta’ Marsaxlokk ma jaqblux li l-gass għall-użu tal-power station jinħażen ġol-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk.

L-istudju ippreżentat dwar ir-riskju li l-ħażna tal-gass fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk, biswit il-power station u faċċata r-raħal ta’ Marsaxlokk, ma jikkonvinċi lil ħadd. In-nies m’hiex konvinta illi r-riskju għal saħħithom, għal ħajjithom u għall-propjeta’ tagħhom hu wieħed minimu. Mhux konvinti li r-riskju hu wieħed minimu. Mhux konvinti li r-riskju hu aċċettabbli.

Kien għalhekk f’waqtu dak li qal il-koordinatur tal-EIA li ser isir studju iktar approfondit tar-riskji involuti. Huwa tajjeb li ser isir dan l-istudju addizzjonali imma hu meħtieġ ukoll illi ma jittieħdux deċiżjonijiet mgħaġġla  qabel ma jkun konkluż dan l-istudju.  Għax sakemm ma jkunx konkluż studju konvinċenti, l-anqas temporanjament m’hu aċċettabbli li l-ħażna tal-gass għall-użu tal-power station tkun ġol-Bajja ta’ M’Xlokk.

Waqt il-konsultazzjoni pubblika ta’ nhar it-Tnejn intqal illi l-Enemalta m’għandiex flus għal soluzzjonijiet oħra, li jiswew ferm iktar kif ukoll li jieħdu iktar żmien biex jitwettqu.

Il-ħarsien tas-saħħa u l-ħajja tar-residenti ta’ M’Xlokk u Birżebbuġa kif ukoll is-sigurta’ tagħhom u ta’ ħwejjiġhom huma importanti iktar minn kollox, inkluz mill-flus li jkun meħtieġ illi jintefqu għall-proġett. Nittama biss li qabel ma jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet ikollna f’idejna l-studju li jgħarbel sewwa r-riskji u dan biex ħadd ma jibqagħlu iktar dubji.

Alternattiva Demokratika ilha żmien tgħid li din hi d-diffikulta unika u reali tal-proġett tal-Power Station f’Delimara li jaħdem bil-gass. Is-saħħa u s-sigurta’ tar-residenti jiġu qabel kollox.

ippubblikata fuq iNews l-Erbgħa 29 ta’ Jannar 2014