Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex: lil hinn mill-ponta ta’ mneħirna

Il-mina taħt il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex ser tkun mina għall-karozzi u mhux mina għan-nies. Biex din tagħmel sens ekonomiku ser ikollha tiddependi minn żieda fit-traffiku bejn il-gżejjer u għaldaqstant tikkontradixxi l-ispirtu tal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport sas-sena 2025.

Tajjeb li niftakru li l-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport imfassal fl-2016 mill-Gvern Laburista jenfasizza li l-linja politika dwar it-transport u l-ippjanar tiegħu f’Malta baqgħet qatt ma ħares fit-tul. Dan ikkaġuna “nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni strateġika u n-nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu ndirizzati materji diffiċli, bħar-restrizzjonijiet dwar karozzi privati.”

Minflok ma jippresenta politika maħsuba biex tindirizza t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati mit-toroq tagħna, l-Gvern u l-aġenziji tiegħu baqgħu għaddejin b’ħidma li tkompli ssaħħaħ id-dipendenza mill-karozzi privati. Dan qed isir permezz ta’ investiment eċċessiv fl-infrastruttura tat-trasport lokali. Dan l-investiment qed isir bil-għan li jżid iżjed karozzi minn kemm filfatt jesgħu t-toroq tal-pajjiż, u dan biex jissodisfa lin-negozjanti tal-karozzi. Importanti ukoll li nirrealizzaw li ladarba l-emmissjonijiet mit-trasport jirrappreżentaw l-ikbar kontribut tagħna għaż-żieda tal-karbonju fl-arja, dawn qegħdin ixekklu l-politika dwar it-tibdil fil-klima li kull Gvern sensibbli jenħtieg isegwi. Dan minkejja li l-Gvern jiftaħar li kien minn tal-ewwel li segwa u beda jimplimenta l-konklużjonijiet tas-summit ta’ Pariġi dwar il-klima.

Fil-konferenza stampa il-Ministri Ian Borg u Justyne Caruana saħqu li l-investituri li ser jinvestu fil-mina għandhom jimmiraw lejn mina li tkun kapaċi tiffaċilita l-moviment ta’ 9,000 karozza kuljum bejn il-gżejjer. Dan ifisser illi jiġi ġġenerat livell ta’ traffiku li jlaħħaq it-tripplu ta’ dak li għandna illum, b’mod konsistenti mal-projezzjonijiet tal-istudju li għamlet id-ditta E-cubed rigward il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-proġett. Dan l-istudju kien ġie kkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Kamra Għawdxija tal-Kummerċ.

Il-ħlas li jkun meħtieġ li jsir għall-użu tal-mina, jiġifieri t-toll, jiddetermina kif jinġabru lura l-ispejjes biex tiġi żviluppata l-mina u biex din tibqa’ topera tul is-snin. Dan kollu jiddependi minn kemm il-mina tintuża mill-karozzi. L-esiġenza li mill-mina jgħaddi l-ikbar traffiku possibli hija l-bażi li ssejjes l-esistenza tal-mina, għax mingħajr dan it-traffiku ma jinġabrux il-flejjes li għandhom jagħmlu tajjeb għall-ispejjes u l-profitti ta’ min ser jidħol għal dan “l-investiment”. Imma dan min-naħa l-oħra jmur kontra objettiv bażiku tal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport li bi kliem ċar jispjega li t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq hu essenzjali jekk tassew irridu nħarsu lil hinn mill-ponta ta’ mneħirna.

L-ammont ta’ ħlas li ser jinġabar mill-utenti tal-mina ser jiddependi mill-ispiża meħtieġa biex din tiġi żviluppata u mill-ħtieġijiet tal-operat tagħha. Ir-rapporti tal-konferenza stampa li saret iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ma taw l-ebda indikazzjoni dwar l-istima ta’ din l-ispiża. F’dan l-istadju dan jinftiehem għax għadu ma ġie iffinalizzat l-ebda diżinn. Hemm ukoll raġuni partikolari oħra. L-informazzjoni dwar il-ġejoloġija tal-Fliegu inġabret biss dan l-aħħar u mhemm l-ebda dubju li ser ikun meħtieġ iżjed iżjed tagħrif speċifiku rigward iż-żoni problematiċi. L-istudji mistennija li jkollhom impatt kemm fuq id-disinn finali u kemm fuq l-ispiża li tirriżulta u allura fuq il-ħlas li jkun meħtieg li jintalab mill-utenti tal-mina.

Rari ħafna li proġetti bħal dawn isegwu l-istima tal-ispejjes. Pereżempju, rigward il-każ tal-mina bejn il-power station tal-Marsa u dik ta’ Delimara nafu li l-ispiża finali kienet viċin id-doppju tal-istima iniżjali u dan minħabba in-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni ġeoloġika. Minħabba dan sfrondaw partijiet mill-mina waqt li kien għaddej ix-xogħol u kellhom isiru ħafna iżjed xogħolijiet, fosthom ċerti bidliet f’partijiet mir-rotta tal-mina nifsha!

Min-naħa l-oħra l-ispiża fuq iċ-Channel Tunnel bejn Folkestone f’Kent u Coquelles ħdejn Calais qabżet l-istima b’madwar 80 fil-mija u dan minkejja li kienu saru studji ġeoloġiċi dettaljati.

Fl-aħħar l-ispiża reali ser tkun bejn is-600 miljun u biljun euro, u din ser tiddependi mid-disinn finali u mid-diffikultajiet ġeoloġiċi li ser jaffaċċja t-tħaffir tal-mina taħt il-Fliegu.

Dejjem jekk isir, dan il-proġett ser iħalli impatti ambjentali sinifikanti, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex, fosthom li qerda tal-villaġġ trogloditiku fl-Għerien, fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa.

Hemm soluzzjonijiet oħra li jistgħu jindirizzaw b’mod adegwat il-mobilità bejn il-gżejjer Maltin. Irridu nkunu kapaċi naħsbu b’mod kreattiv sabiex insibu soluzzjoni għall-problema reali tal-mobilità tan-nies, iżjed minn dik tal-karozzi. Dan jista’ jseħħ biss jekk nieħdu inizjattivi li bihom naslu ninfatmu mid-dipendenza tagħna mill-karozzi. Dment li ma naslux sa dan il-punt m’aħniex ser inkunu nistgħu nsibu soluzzjoni sostenibbli.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Jannar 2020

 

Gozo tunnel depends on maximising car movements

The Gozo-Malta undersea tunnel is a tunnel for cars, not for people. It is, in fact, the antithesis of the underlying theme of the National Transport Master Plan for 2025.

It is pertinent to remember that the Transport Master Plan, drawn up in 2016 by the present government, emphasises that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has, to date, generally been short-term in nature. This “has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.”

Instead of presenting a rigorous policy addressing private vehicle restraint, the government and its agencies are continuously seeking to reinforce car-dependency through the encouragement of excessive investments in the local transport infrastructure. This investment aims at increasing the capacity of our roads and consequently dances to the tune of the car lobby. Also, knowing that emissions originating from transport are currently the major contributor to carbon emissions in Malta, encouraging car-dependency is directly opposite to the climate change policy which any sensible government should follow at this point in time.

The Gozo-Malta undersea tunnel is no exception. This week’s press conference by Ministers Ian Borg and Justyne Caruana emphasised the fact that the brief for would-be investors is a tunnel that should have a capacity of 9,000 vehicle movements on a daily basis. This is three times the current movement of vehicles between the islands and is in line with the projections of the 2015 E-cubed study commissioned by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber dealing with an economic cost benefit analysis of the available strategic options.

The toll to be charged – and, consequently, the tunnel’s economic performance – is dependent on generating the maximum traffic possible. Maximising traffic underpins the very existence of the tunnel. This runs counter to the basic objective of the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which – in crystal clear language – spells out the reduction of cars from our roads as the long-term objective of Malta’s National Transport Policy.

The toll which will eventually have to be paid is also dependent on the costs to be incurred in the development and the operation of the tunnel. Reports on this week’s press conference do not indicate any estimated cost which is, at this stage,  understandable in view of the fact that the design of the tunnel is not yet cast in stone. There is, however, a specific reason for this: geological information of relevance has been compiled very recently and it will undoubtedly require additional studies focusing on problem areas, which studies will have a significant bearing on both the actual design as well as the eventual cost and consequently the toll expected.

This type of projects very rarely follow estimated costs; the tunnel linking the Marsa and Delimara powers stations in Malta, for example, overshot its projected costs by around 100 per cent due to the absence of adequate geological information. As a result, parts of the tunnel caved its construction, necessitating a substantial amount of additional work, including redirecting parts of it.

On the other hand, expenditure on the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles near Calais exceeded the projected estimates by around 80 per cent, notwithstanding the availability of detailed geological studies.

At the end of the day, the actual costs of the tunnel will be anything between 600 million and one billion euros, depending on the actual design as well as the geological issues encountered below the Gozo Channel.

If the tunnel materialises, it will result in significant environmental damage in both Malta and Gozo, including the obliteration of the troglodytic village at l-Għerien in the limits of Mellieħa.

There are other solutions which can adequately address the mobility between Malta and Gozo. It does however require thinking outside the box and focusing on the real issue: people mobility. This would require a bold initiative of addressing head-on car-dependency in both Malta and Gozo. Until we take the decision to start shedding our car- dependency, however, no solution can be achieved.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 January 2020

Eco-schools programme: seeding the future

The environmental education of our younger generation is the most rewarding investment and the eco-schools programme run by local environmental NGO Nature Trust, is one such fruitful investment.

In Malta, the eco-schools programme has been in existence for some 17 years. As a result, 76 Maltese schools are flying a Green Flag – a symbol of environmental awareness and commitment. This is an investment in our country’s future that will yield so much in the years to come.

Introducing this year’s ceremony, during which a number of schools were awarded a Green Flag for their environmental achievements, Nature Executive President Vincent Attard emphasised the fact that “The Eco-Schools programme is instrumental at providing students with tools to think about environmental issues and come to conclusions and solutions. This can be witnessed that, today, it is the younger generations that are questioning the actions of the country’s leaders and putting pressure on them. This awareness is growing each year and the sooner leaders take heed of these calls, the faster we will start mitigating not only environmentally but also socially and economically. Quoting the children themselves in the last EkoSkola parliament – We want to be heard not just liked.”

Eco-School is a global programme currently engaging 19.5 million young people across 67 countries. For nearly 25 years Eco-Schools have been empowering young people to improve their environmental awareness and, in so doing, receive the international Eco-Schools Green Flag award.

The Eco-School programme develops the skills of our younger generation, raises environmental awareness, improves the school environment and creates a whole host of other benefits not just for our educational institutions but, moreover, for our community at large.

The eco-school seven steps educational process targets a change of lifestyle and the guidelines available on implementing these seven steps is very informative.

The first basic step is to set up a participative democracy in our schools through which all stakeholders are actively involved, with the students taking a democratic lead. Assisted by educators, students interact with the different stakeholders and, in so doing, identify the environmental issues that need to be addressed in their own little world and beyond. They are then trained to think, discuss and ultimately arrive at conclusions and results.

Reading through the list of initiatives taken in our schools as a result of the Eco-School Programme is quite impressive. The programme has identified issues relating to water, waste, recycling, energy efficiency and climate change, heritage appreciation, and many more. The lessons learnt first-hand by our students are then taken from the school to their homes, their families and society in general.

Environmental education is about much more than a respect for nature. Nature is not something separate, isolated and compartmentalised during excursions: it also features in our way of life.

As a result of the environmental education which the eco-schools programme provides for our students, our younger generation is being equipped with the knowledge and awareness that environmental damage can be reversed. They are learning that they can be active agents of the change we so desperately require in halting – and eventually reversing – the accumulated environmental damage.

These are indeed the seeds of a bright future.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3rd November 2019

Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex: il-qerda finali t’Għawdex wara l-bieb

Nhar l-Erbgħa festa pubblika. Hi ukoll id-data tal-egħluq għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika li qed tagħmel l-Awtoritá tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) fuq it-termini ta’ referenza għall-istudju dwar l-impatt ambjentali (EIA) tal-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex.

Is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA jippreżenta żewġ dokumenti sabiex jassistu lil dawk li qed jipparteċipaw f’din il-konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dawn id-dokumenti jispjegaw il-proposta u jidentifikaw numru ta’ fatturi li jistgħu jkunu jeħtieġu investigazzjoni, u dan biex dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjoni jkunu megħjuna jagħmlu l-“aħjar” għażla.

F’dawn id-dokumenti hemm numru ta’ nuqqasijiet li jistunaw u juru kemm Transport Malta tiġi taqa’ u tqum mill-wirt ambjentali tagħna.

Transport Malta tibbaża l-proposti tagħha fuq ir-rapport ta’ Mott MacDonald, datat Marzu 2012 u intitolat: Preliminary Analysis: Assessment of Road Tunnel Options between Malta and Gozo. Wara li kkunsidrat erba’ proposti differenti għall-mina kif imfisser fir-rapport ta’ Mott MacDonald, Transport Malta ddeċidiet li tagħżel il-proposta numru 4 b’emenda: hi proposta li tkun tikkonsisti f’mina waħda b’żewġ karreġjati u tibda mill-inħawi taħt Ta’ Kenuna fin-Nadur Għawdex u tispiċċa fl-Imbordin biswit il-Wied tal-Pwales f’San Pawl il-Baħar.

Fid-dokumenti jgħidulna li l-ewwel tliet proposti kienu skartati għax setgħu jikkawżaw ħsara ambjentali sostanzjali, f’qiegħ il-baħar jew lir-riżerva naturali tal-Għadira. Imma la Transport Malta u l-anqas l-ERA ma ħassew il-ħtieġa li jgħidulna fid-dokumenti li ippubblikaw li meta ntagħżlet il-proposta numru 4 u ġġebbdet sal-Imbordin biswit il-Wied tal-Pwales din ġiet viċin wisq tar-riżerva naturali l-oħra, tas-Simar, u tgħaddi dritt mill-Miżieb, mal-pjan tal-ilma.

Ir-riżerva naturali tas-Simar hi sit ikklassifikat bħala Natura 2000 tal-UE, u l-pjan tal-ilma tal-Miżieb hu l-unika wieħed sura li fadlilna. Allura hemm il-possibilitá kbira li din il-proposta għal mina tmur kontra żewġ direttivi importanti tal-Unjoni Ewropea: id-Direttiva Qafas dwar l-Ilma u d-Direttiva dwar il-Abitat.

Fl-2015 il-medja ta’ movimenti ta’ karozzi bejn Malta u Għawdex, kif jirriżulta mill-istatistika uffiċjali, hi ta’ madwar 3000 kuljum. Id-diversi studji u rapporti ppubblikati sal-lum jikkalkulaw li l-mina, meta tkun lesta, tista’ twassal sabiex in-numru ta’ karozzi li jaqsmu bejn iż-żewġ gżejjer jitla’ bejn 9000 u 10000 kuljum. Gordon Cordina minn Ecubed fir-rapport tiegħu kkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija jindika li ser tintlaħaq iċ-ċifra ta’ 9000 karozza kuljum, fil-waqt li r-rapport Mott MacDonald jipponta lejn l-10,000 karozza kuljum.

Din iż-żieda konsiderevoli fil-moviment ta’ karozzi teħtieġ li tkun analizzata fil-kuntest tal-politika kurrenti dwar it-trasport. Il-master plan dwar it-trasport addottat mill-Gvern preżenti u ffinanzjat mill-Fond Ewropew għall-Iżvilupp Reġjonali hu ċar. Dan il-pjan jgħid li matul l-għaxar snin li fih ser ikun effettiv (2016-25), wieħed mill-oġġettivi ewlenin tal-politika tat-trasport f’Malta hi emfasi fuq l-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi għall-karozzi privati u li fil-gżejjer Maltin jonqos l-użu tal-karozza privata.

Mela Transport Malta, għan-nom tal-Gvern Malti fl-2016, tistabilixxi politika dwar it-trasport biex tkun indirizzata l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku billi tinkoraġixxi bdil fl-imġieba favur mobilitá sostenibbli, u mbagħad toħroġ bi proposti bħal dawn tal-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex, li biex jagħmlu sens, jirrikjedu żieda enormi fit-traffiku.

Id-dokumenti fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA għall-informazzjoni ta’ dawk li jridu jipparteċipaw f’din il-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex jinjoraw kompletament il-politika dwar it-trasport.

Din hi s-sitwazzjoni li għandna illum. Drajna b’awtoritá tal-ippjanar sinkronizzata mal-lobby favur l-iżvilupp. Sfortunatament jidher li l-Awtoritá dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi miexja fuq l-istess passi. Il-jiem huma magħduda. Bla dubju dan ser iwassal għall-qerda ta’ Għawdex ukoll.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 12 t’Awwissu 2018

The Malta-Gozo tunnel: the final countdown to Gozo’s plunder starts now

Next Wednesday is a public holiday. It is also the closing date of the public consultation being carried out by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) on the terms of reference for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be carried out on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel.

The ERA website presents two documents to assist those participating in the public consultation. These documents explain the proposal and highlight a number of issues that will require further investigation in order to assist the decision-takers in choosing for the “optimum” solution.

There is a number of glaring deficiencies in these documents which indicate the contempt that Transport Malta has for our environmental heritage.

Transport Malta bases its proposals on the Mott MacDonald Report of March 2012 entitled: Preliminary Analysis: Assessment of Road Tunnel Options between Malta and Gozo. After considering the four options for a tunnel as resulting from the Mott MacDonald report, Transport Malta opted for an amended version of option number 4 which is proposed as consisting of a single bore two lane tunnel between the area below Ta’ Kenuna in Nadur, Gozo and L-Imbordin along the Pwales Valley in St Paul’s Bay in Malta.

We are told in the published documentation that the first three options were discarded because they could be the cause of considerable environmental damage to the seabed, as well as to the Għadira Nature Reserve. However, neither Transport Malta nor the ERA considered it appropriate to mention that the selected option, an amended option 4, stretches the Malta portal of the proposed tunnel to the Pwales valley very close to the Simar Nature Reserve and right through the Miżieb perched aquifer.

The Simar Nature Reserve is an EU Natura 2000 site, while the Miżieb perched aquifer is the only part of our water table that is still in a relatively good state. Consequently, two important EU Directives will most probably be infringed: The Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive.

Based on NSO statistics, in 2015 average number of daily vehicular crossings between Malta and Gozo was around 3,000. The various studies and reports published to date indicate that it is estimated that a tunnel between the two islands would trigger an increase to between 9,000 and 10,000 vehicle crossings daily. Gordon Cordina of Ecubed in his report commissioned by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber indicates a 9,000-daily mark, while Mott MacDonald points towards the 10,000 mark.

This considerable increase in vehicular movements needs to be analysed in terms of current transport policy. The Transport Master Plan, adopted by the current government and funded by the European Regional Development Fund, is very clear. It lays down that during its 10-year lifespan (2016-25) it will be an operational objective of transport policy in Malta to aim to provide alternatives to the use of private vehicles and to reduce the role of the private car as a means of transport in the Maltese Islands.

So, Transport Malta, on behalf of the Maltese government, spells out transport policy in 2016 aimed at addressing traffic congestion in Malta by encouraging a modal shift towards sustainable mobility. Yet it then comes out with proposals such as the Malta-Gozo Tunnel, which can only be feasible if there is an astronomical increase in vehicular traffic on our roads.

The documents placed by the ERA on its website to feed the public consultation process on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel ignore transport policy altogether.

This is the current state of affairs. By now we are accustomed to having a Planning Authority acting in synch with the development lobby. Unfortunately, it seems that the Environment and Resources Authority is closely following in its footsteps. The final countdown is on. It will inevitably lead to the plunder of Gozo as well.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 August 2018

Il-karba tal-art ……….. il-karba tal-fqir

Boff. Grito da Terra    laudato_si_

L-enċiklika li ppubblika l-Papa Franġisku l-bierah m’hiex biss enċiklika ħadra. Hi fuq kollox nisġa ta’ argumenti li jispjegaw kif u għaliex il-ħsara ambjentali  u l-inġustizzja soċjali jimxu id f’id. Preċiżament l-argument ta’ Leonardo Boff għoxrin sena ilu fil-ktieb tiegħu : Il-karba tal-art, il-karba tal-fqir. [Grito da Terra, Grito dos Pobres.] [Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor.]

L-enċiklika hi imsejħa “Laudato Si”, l-ewwel żewġ kelmiet fl-edizzjoni Latina. Huma ukoll l-ewwel żewġ kelmiet tal-Kantiku tal-krejaturi ta’ Franġisku ieħor, ta’ Assisi, li jfissru jkun imfaħħar (il-Mulej).

Oħtna d-dinja qed issofri ħsara kbira riżultat tal-użu ħażin mill-bniedem tar-risorsi ta’ din l-art. Il-ftit ħsara ekoloġika ta’ kull wieħed minna għalkemm tista’ tidher żgħira, meta tinġabar flimkien tammonta għal ħsara ferm ikbar.

Oħtna d-dinja marida minħabba fina. Dan il-mard hu rifless fl-art, fl-ilma, fl-arja u f’kull forma ta’ ħajja fuq din l–art. Hu manifestat ukoll fil-bdil fil-klima li hi riżultat tal-ħidma tal-bniedem.

Hemm relazzjoni mill-qrib bejn il-fqar u l-fraġilità tad-dinja. Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent u l-ħarsien tal-fqar u l-vulnerabbli jimxu id f’id. Il-fqar jgħidilna Franġisku huma mċaħħda minn dak li hu essenzjali biex jgħixu b’dinjità fil-waqt li l-għonja jiffangaw. Il-qerda ekoloġika hi l-ħolqa bejn it-tnejn.

Dan kollu qed iwassal għal dejn ekoloġiku sostanzjali li hu l-wirt li ser inħallu lill-ġenerażżjonijiet futuri. Huma l-foqra li ser iħallsu dan id-dejn riżultat tar-regħba u l-ħela tar-riżorsi tad-dinja tul is-snin.

Dan hu l-messaġġ mifrux fuq il-184 paġna tal-enċiklika. Il-qerda ambjentali u l-inġustizzji soċjali huma ż-żewġ naħat tal-istess munita. Inkluż il-bdil fil-klima.

Ippubblikat  fuq iNews :  il-Ġimgħa 19 ta’ Ġunju 2015

Malta’s Nine Ghost Towns

The 2005 Census had revealed that 53,136 residential units in Malta were vacant. This was an increase of 17,413 units over the 35,723 vacant residential units identified during the 1995 Census. Faced with an increase of over 48 per cent in 10 years, a responsible government would have contained the development boundaries as existing supply can satisfy the demand for residential accommodation for many years to come.

In 2006, just nine months after the 2005 Census, the Nationalist Party-led Government defied common sense and, instead of applying the brakes, it further increased the possibilities for building development through three specific decisions. Through the rationalisation process, the PN-led Government extended the boundaries of development in all localities. Then it facilitated the construction of penthouses by relaxing the applicable conditions. If this were not enough, it increased the height limitations in various localities, intensifying development in existing built-up areas.

As a result of increasing the permissible heights, sunlight was blocked off low-lying residential buildings in the affected areas.

These residences were using sunlight to heat water through solar water heaters or to generate electricity through photovoltaic panels installed on their rooftops.

They can now discard their investments in alternative energy thanks to the PN-led Government’s land use policies!

The result of these myopic land use planning policies further increased the number of vacant properties, which is estimated as being in excess of 70,000 vacant residential units. (Mepa chairman Austin Walker, in an interview in June 2010, had referred to an estimated 76,000 vacant residential properties.)

The estimated total of vacant residential properties is equivalent to nine times the size of the residential area of Birkirkara, the largest locality in Malta, which, in 2005, had 7,613 residential units.

These ghost towns over the years have gobbled up resources to develop or upgrade an infrastructure that is underutilised. Spread all over the Maltese islands, these ghost towns have required new roads, extending the drainage system, extending the utility networks and street lighting as well as various other services provided by local councils.

The funds channelled to service ghost towns could have been better utilised to upgrade the infrastructure in the existing localities over the years.

The above justifies calls for an urgent revision of development boundaries through a reversal of the 2006 rationalisation exercise where land included for development in 2006 is still uncommitted.

Similarly, the relaxation of height limitations and the facilitated possibility to construct penthouses should be reversed forthwith.

All this is clearly in conflict with the efforts being made by the Government itself, assisted with EU funds, to increase the uptake of solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels.

I am aware of specific cases where decisions to install photovoltaic panels have had to be reversed as a result of the development permitted on adjacent property subsequent to the 2006 height relaxation decisions.

In its electoral manifesto for the forthcoming election, AD, the Green party, will be proposing a moratorium on large-scale development in addition to the reversal of the above policies as it is unacceptable that the construction industry keeps gobbling up land and, as a result, adding to the stock of vacant property.

The market has been unable to deal with the situation and, consequently, the matter has to be dealt by a government that is capable of taking tough decisions in the national interest.

Neither the PN nor the Labour Party are capable of taking such decisions as it has been proven time and again that both of them are hostages to the construction industry.

The slowdown of the activities of the construction industry is the appropriate time to consider the parameters of its required restructuring. It is clear that the construction industry has to be aided by the State to retrain its employees in those areas of operation where lack of skills exist.

There are three such areas: traditional building trades, road construction and maintenance as well as marine engineering.

Traditional building skills are required primarily to facilitate rehabilitation works of our village cores and to properly maintain our historical heritage. Our roads require more properly-trained personnel so that standards of road construction and maintenance are improved and works carried out in time. Our ports and coastal defences require a well-planned maintenance programme and various other adaptation works as a result of the anticipated sea-level variations caused by climate change.

The construction industry employs about 11,000 persons. It is imperative that its restructuring is taken in hand immediately.

In addition to halting more environmental damage, a long overdue restructuring will also serve to mitigate the social impacts of the slowdown on the families of its employees through retraining for alternative jobs both in the construction industry itself and elsewhere.

The so-called ‘social policy’ of the PN and the PL have neglected these families for years on end.

 

published in The Times on 29 September 2012