Planning is for people

Land use planning should, and can, be developed into an effective tool to combat the impacts of climate change. This can be done by effectively encouraging development which contributes to reducing climate change impacts.

Apparently, it is too much to expect from our authority responsible for land use planning.

The development of large commercial centres may make economic sense, but do they make environmental and social sense?

This is what sustainable development is all about: that economic development must continuously factor in environment impacts as well as social considerations. The term sustainable development is on everyone’s lips, but it is definitely and continuously ignored when push comes to shove. When decisions are taken, unfortunately it is the euros which take a priority over sustainability.

It is not just about the actual land to be developed, or the buildings to be redeveloped. Much more has to be taken into consideration in each and every decision taken.

Consider for example the Lidl network or another multiple supermarket competitor chain currently planning an alternative network in Malta. Their impacts are multiple. There is definitely an impact on the existing commercial community which can be gauged by a retail impact assessment. There are however also widespread social and environmental impacts which are generally minimised or ignored by all the decision takers.

The social impact definitely needs a meticulous assessment. The changing nature of our residential neighbourhoods through the squeezing out of the small outlets, both commercial and artisanal, and consequently forcing all residents to look far beyond the community and its neighbourhoods for their needs, at times even their basic daily needs, is a major impact. This has and is still transforming our localities and consequently our communities such that at times you need to travel from one locality to another to satisfy your basic needs. This is not a positive development, yet it has been continuously ignored.

A direct impact of all this is that the expense to satisfy our needs is now increased to include the environmental impact of travel with the consequential contribution to climate change. Expenses are not only those which are paid in euro. These specific expenses are a charge debited to our ecological account.

Sustainable land use planning can put an end to all this. Unfortunately, it is not, as climate change impact has not been embedded as an essential element to be addressed by local land use planning!

Current land use planning practice needs to be turned on its head in order to prioritise community needs and impacts on the ecology over the requirements of the economy.

This is what the 15-minute city concept is all about! In reality it is nothing new as it signifies having our basic necessities close by, as in times gone by, when our localities were smaller and alive with vibrant communities. Small is beautiful we were told some years back by Erst Schumacher. The full title of his opus is more revealing: “Small is Beautiful. Economics as if people mattered.” People should be the focus of all our activity. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

I still vividly remember the phrase “planning is for people” in one of the André Zammit’s first urban planning lectures I attended at university. It was a phrase lifted from the UK Skeffington report drawn up in 1969 and examining the participation of the public in land use planning!

Where are the people and their needs in our land use planning? Following the various land use planning cases as they develop, it is clear that as practised locally, land use planning is more a compendium of rights relative to property development than a process regulating the use of land for the ultimate benefit of the whole community. Planning is for people, not for profit!

Land use planning: as if people really mattered!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 8 May 2022

Urban open spaces and climate change

After a free-for-all building spree during which the development of multiple private gardens in our towns and villages were targeted, mostly successfully, our towns and villages have been promised open spaces. This, it is being stated, will bring nature closer to people! A shining sun which will hopefully produce less hay!

The implementation of the first such proposal for an open space is nearing conclusion. An open space in the Tar-Rabbat Housing Estate in Ħamrun has been partially built-up to produce an artificial garden on concrete stilts! The area below the concrete stilts is being reserved for parking of cars! This is definitely not an open space.

The open spaces which we need should not add to the concrete jungle which has developed unabated around us over the years. The open spaces should be free from any form of construction and should be the opportunity to squeeze out cars from the urban environment, preferably relegating them to the periphery of our towns and villages. The open spaces are meant to re-introduce nature into our lives, even if in a very limited way.

Our urban areas have been left to develop on their own for quite too long. As a result, they have been guided by business-friendly or market-friendly authorities, producing the mess of an urban jungle we have to face every day. This is a mess resulting from political decisions which have ensured that profits repeatedly have a priority over people and their quality of life.

The availability of funds to introduce open spaces in our urban areas is a unique opportunity to redesign the urban environment such that it becomes people-friendly. It is also an opportunity to bring urban planning in line with the requirements of climate change mitigation policy.

Earlier this month the latest report on climate change was published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). The document, almost 3000 pages long, emphasises that without profound changes to our lifestyle the Paris 2015 Climate Summit objectives will not be attained.

As islands, Malta and Gozo should be at the forefront in the international climate change debate. Climate change is already here. Extremes of temperature, long periods of drought or sudden floods are no longer a rare occurrence in the Maltese islands. We have experienced this repeatedly over the past years.

A sea-level rise will impact our coastal areas. Large stretches of our coastline are developed and used for residential purposes or else they are utilised for the maritime and tourism industries. A sea level rise, dependent on its extent, would severely impact all this activity. It is in our interest that any sea level rise resulting from climate change would be minimal, if at all. This can only happen if the climate mitigation targets agreed to at the Paris Summit are adhered to the soonest.

One of the ideas doing the rounds in the climate change debate is to rethink our urban design strategy as one of the basic tools with which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as “the 15-minute city” by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris Mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away on foot or by bike! Consequently, our dependency on the car would be done away with, as a result even claiming back our streets. The open spaces initiative could fit in perfectly within the parameters of the “15-minute city”.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyle within this framework?

The Covid-19 pandemic has given most of us a taste of working from home. If this could become a permanent feature of our urban lifestyle, some of us would not need not travel to work every day. This would address and potentially reduce our addiction to the car. Over a period of time this would impact our carbon emissions.

Our contribution to climate change mitigation as a result of which we can accelerate our path to carbon neutrality could be achieved without impacting our mobility. Through a judicious use of public transport, and the facilitation of other sustainable mobility options our mobility can in fact be substantially improved as a result.

Come October all public transport will be free of charge. Hopefully it will also be reliable and efficient. If adequately planned this could be a turning point in climate change mitigation measures as over a period of time it can lead to a reduction of cars from our roads. Initially such a reduction would necessarily be of a temporary nature. Eventually we can move towards a permanent change.

Within this context open spaces adequately planned have a pivotal role. They improve our quality of life by bringing it closer to nature in our 15-minute cities.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 24 April 2022

Il-President George Vella stenbaħ

Iva stenbaħ issa!

Qalilna li fiż-Żejtun, fit-triq fejn trabba u qed jgħix ser isir żvilupp (ta’ blokk appartamenti). Jinsab maħsud, qal, u diżappuntat b’dan in-nuqqas ta’ sensittività u rispett lejn it-tessut urban f’din il-parti taż-Żejtun.

Appella biex il-permess jerġa’ jkun ikkunsidrat mill-ġdid. Il-belt tagħna, qalilna, jixirqilha iktar rispett!

L-eċċellenza tiegħu mid-dehra għadu ma ndunax li partijiet kbar ta’ Malta diġa laqqtuha. In-nuqqas ta’ rispett u sensittività lejn it-tessut urban ta’ kull rokna ta’ Malta ilu magħna.

Mhux iż-Żejtun biss jixraqlu ir-rispett. Kull parti ta’ Malta jixirqilha tkun rispettata.

L-eċċellenza tiegħu issa stenbaħ, għax il-herba waslet wara l-bieb.

Il-pandemija u l-kummerċ tal-Milied

Bħala riżultat tal-pandemija Covid-19, dan il-Milied ser ikun wieħed differenti minn dawk li ġew qablu.  Normalment il-Milied  huwa ż-żmien meta  nissoċjaliżżaw iktar mill-bqija tas-sena. Żmien li fih niltaqgħu iktar mal-ħbieb u mal-familjari. Huwa ż-żmien li fih hu normali li niltaqgħu fi gruppi għal attivitajiet differenti.  

Dan hu kompletament bil-maqlub tal-mod kif issa jeħtieġ li naġixxu biex nikkumbattu kontra l-coronavirus. Li nnaqqsu drastikament u possibilment nevitaw il-kuntatti tagħna hu l-minimu meħtieġ f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi biex tonqos l-imxija tal-coronavirus.  Bosta minna hekk jagħmlu, minkejja li l-Gvern kontinwament jagħtina sinjali konfliġġenti.   

Wieħed minn dawn is-sinjali konfliġġenti ngħata waqt il-konferenza stampa biex ikun imniedi  Christmas in the City iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa. Il-Ministri  Josè Herrera u Julia Farrugia-Portelli, imwieżna miċ-Chairman tas-Super One Jason Micallef, u oħrajn, tkellmu dwar il-ħinijiet tax-xiri u dwar kemm ser ikun faċli l-parking għal min jitħajjar imur il-Belt biex jixtri r-rigali tal-Milied. L-ispirtu tal-Milied xejn ma jiddependi mis-siegħat ta’ xiri fil-ħwienet. L-anqas ma jiddependi minn kemm ikollna aċċess faċli għall-parking.  

Is-sinifikat propju tal-Milied hu tal-istaġun tas-solidarjetà li fiċ-ċirkustanzi preżenti, maħluqa mill-pandemija, hu importanti iktar minn qatt qabel.

Fl-istess ħin li l-Ministri Herrera u Farrugia-Portelli kienu kienu qed jitkellmu dwar Christmas in the City, epidemologisti kienu qed iwissuna li matul ix-xahar ta’ Diċembru r-rata tal-imwiet f’Malta mill-Covid-19 mistenni li tiżdied bi tlett darbiet: minn żewgt imwiet kuljum għal sitta kuljum. In-numru tal-imwiet mill-Covid-19 diġa żdied b’mod konsiderevoli sa minn meta tnaqqsu r-restrizzjonijiet f’Lulju li għadda. Fil-ħin li qed nikteb in-numru ta’ mwiet ħtija tal-Covid-19 laħaq il-108, u sa x’ħin dan l-artiklu jinqara n-numru sfortunatament ikompli jikber.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan ma jagħmilx sens li tistieden lin-nies biex jinżlu l-Belt għax-xiri tar-rigali tal-Milied. Huwa l-waqt li nagħmlu eżatt bil-maqlub:  innaqqsu l-moviment tan-nies bit-tama li dan jgħin fit-trażżin tal-pandemija.  Huwa dan li messu qed iħeġġeġ il-Gvern.

Ikoll nirrikonoxxu li l-pandemija kellha impatt qawwi u negattiv fuq l-għixien ta’ bosta.  Is-setturi tal-ikel u tal-ospitalità  kellhom sfida qawwija matul ix-xhur tas-sajf. Iż-żmien meta normalment imorru tajjeb, kien iż-żmien meta qalgħu l-ikbar daqqa.  Iktar ma noqorbu lejn il-Milied mhux talli l-pandemija ma naqqsitx, talli donna iktar irrankat. L-irkupru ekonomiku jidher li għad baqalu.

In-numru ta’ dawk li qed ikunu infettati qiegħed jikber.  Fl-istess ħin lkoll nifhmu li l-iskop wara x-xewqa li jkunu mħajra n-nies lejn il-Belt u ċ-ċentri kummerċjali hi motivata mill-ħtieġa tad-dinja tal-kummerċ biex ittaffi d-daqqa li qalgħet billi tipprova issarraf ftit mill-kummerċ li normalment jiġġenera l-Milied. Il-konsiderazzjonijiet ta’ saħħa, imma, għandhom dejjem jibqgħu l-prijorità: issa mhux iż-żmien li jkunu nkoraġġiti l-ebda tip ta’ celebrazzjonijiet.  Flok ma ninkoraġixxu lin-nies biex tersaq lejn ic-ċentri kummerċjali l-Gvern għandu jkun fuq quddiem biex iħeġġeġ l-attenzjoni u prudenza. Mhux Ministru wieħed, imma l-Gvern kollu! Il-vouchers, l-għotjiet, l-għajnuniet u s-supplimenti għall-pagi li l-Gvern qed iqassam f’isimna lkoll, wara kollox, għandhom l-iskop li jtaffu dan il-piz li nħoloq bħala riżultat tal-pandemija.

Għalfejn f’dan il-mument kritiku narmu l-kisbiet li ġibna bis-sagrifiċċji ta’ bosta? Għax huwa dan li nkunu qed nagħmlu kull meta jingħata ħjiel li wara kollox tajjeb li ninġabru u niċċelebraw. Issa mhux il-waqt għal dan.

Il-Covid-19 mhux ser joqtol il-Milied jekk inqas nies jixtru ir-rigali! L-ispirtu tal-Milied ma jitkejjilx  mill-volum ta’ rigali li jinxtraw imma minn kemm aħna kapaċi nkun solidali mal-vulnerabbli tal-lum.

U issa?

L-ikbar att ta’ solidarjetà, bħalissa, hu li harsu lill-vulnerabbli fostna billi nimxu mad-direttivi tal-awtoritajiet tas-saħħa intenzjonati biex iżommu lill-pandemija milli tkompli tixtered.  Il-vaċċin jidher li hu fil-qrib. Dan inissel tama li possibilment matul l-ewwel nofs tas-sena l-ġdida nibdew l-ewwel passi fil-mixja bil-mod lejn in-normalità.  

Imma sadakinnhar hu obbligu tagħna li nħarsu kemm lilna nfusna kif ukoll lil ħaddieħor b’imġieba prudenti. Din hi s-solidarjetà prattika li dan l-istaġun tal-Milied jistenna minn għandna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Novembru 2020

Covid-19 and the City

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this Christmas is essentially different from all past ones.

Christmas is normally time for meeting with friends and family, for socialising. It is the time when we normally gather in large groups for a variety of purposes. This is exactly the opposite of what is required to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Avoiding and reducing unnecessary contacts to the bare minimum helps to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. That is what we all say and believe, notwithstanding government’s continuous conflicting signals. 

One of the last such conflicting signals was given during a Press Conference launching Christmas in the City earlier this week. Ministers Josè Herrera and Julia Farrugia-Portelli, buttressed by Super One Chairman Jason Micallef and others spoke about shopping hours and parking requirements when launching Christmas in the City.  The Christmas spirit is not dependent on shopping hours, nor does it have any parking requirements.

In my book Christmas is the solidarity season which in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic assumes additional significance.

Almost simultaneously with the Christmas in the City launching, epidemiologists were warning us that the daily number of deaths from Covid-19 in Malta was expected to triple during the month of December: from two to six deaths daily. At the time of writing the Covid-19 death count is 106 and rising. The death count has increased substantially since restrictions were reduced in July 2020.

Within this context it is not on to encourage large numbers to descend on Valletta for their Christmas shopping. It is the time to do exactly the opposite: discourage movements, hoping that as a result, movements are restricted to the bear minimum.

All of us acknowledge that Covid-19 has seriously impacted the livelihood of many. Economic sectors such as the food and the hospitality industries have experienced severe challenges during the summer season, when ordinarily this business would have been booming. As we approach Christmas, the pandemic not only does not show any sign of slowing down: it may well spike once more. An opportunity for economic recovery remains under threat.

More people are succumbing to the virus every day. The desire to draw people to Valletta and other commercial centres in an effort to tap the Christmas spirit for commercial gain, thereby providing a lifeline to businesses is understandable. Health considerations should however take priority: now is however not the time to encourage celebrations of whatever nature. Instead of encouraging people to get out to the commercial centres, government should encourage more cautious behaviour. Government handouts and wage supplements have the specific purpose of helping shoulder the burden created by all this.

Why do we threaten the sacrifices of the many at this critical time by encouraging unreasonable behaviour?

Covid-19 will not kill Christmas if fewer people do their Christmas shopping. The Christmas spirit is not measured in terms of the volume of Christmas shopping but in terms of our acts of solidarity.

Where do we go from here?

The greatest act of solidarity, at this time, is to protect the vulnerable amongst us by following the advice of the health authorities intended to contain the Covid-19 spread as much as possible. A vaccine may be on the horizon, possibly heralding the beginning of a slow return to normality in the first half of the new year.

Until then, it is our duty to take care of ourselves and others by ensuring cautious behaviour. This is the practical solidarity expected from all of us this Christmas season.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 November 2020

Lil hinn mir-rapport tal-KPMG dwar l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni

Kif mistenni, ir-rapport tal-KPMG dwar l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni jpinġi stampa sabiħa tal-industrija. Dan minkejja li l-awturi tar-rapport jikkonċedu li l-informazzjoni fir-rapport faċli li tintuża biex biha tasal għal konklużjonijiet ferm differenti minn tagħhom.

Jiena eżaminajt ir-rapport biex nara kemm dan jitkellem dwar numru ta’ affarijiet importanti bħall-iżvilupp esaġerat (over-development), ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni, l-ambjent u l-klima. Kien ikun importanti kieku konna infurmati dwar il-veduti tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni dwar dawn il-materji u oħrajn. Imma ftit li xejn hemm kummenti dwarhom, skond l-awturi tar-rapport.

Ma jiena bl-ebda mod sorpriż li l-KPMG ma qalulna xejn fir-rapport dwar l-iżvilupp esaġerat jew ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni. Dan ovvjament juri, għal min għadu ma ndunax, li l-industrija la jidhrilha li hemm żvilupp esaġerat u l-anqas ma għandha ebda interess fir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni. Kif diġa spjegat f’artiklu riċenti tiegħi (Illum 22 ta’ Settembru 2019: Sħab ma min iħammeġ), l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni ma għandha l-ebda interess li tirriċikla l-iskart li tiġġenera hi stess, meta dan ikun possibli: interessata biss li jkollha fejn tarmi l-iskart tagħha b’mod issussidjat.

Hi tħammeġ u int tħallas. KPMG jaqblu ma dan?

Fir-rapport tal-KPMG hemm żewġ referenzi ghall-ambjent. L-ewwel referenza hi dwar in-nuqqas ta’ użu ta’ materjal sensittiv ambjentalment fil-bini u jenfasizza li dan ma jsirx ħtija tal-konsumaturi li ma jinteressawhomx! It-tieni referenza hi dwar l-għaqdiet ambjentali u tisfidhom biex il-proposti li jagħmlu jkunu realistiċi!

L-awturi tar-rapport jinsistu li dawn is-suġġerimenti mhux biss għandhom ikunu realistiċi imma għandhom jirrikonoxxu li mhuwiex realistiku li twaqqaf il-kostruzzjoni u l-iżvilupp.

KPMG qed jgħixu fis-sħab għax kieku forsi kienu jirrealizzaw li l-ambjentalisti ilhom żmien twil iressqu proposti li l-gvernijiet kontinwament jinjoraw għax il-gvernijiet moħħhom biss f’kif jinkoraġixxu iktar bini a spejjes tal-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Ikkunsidraw pereżempju l-eżerċizzju tar-razzjonalizzazzjoni, approvat fl-2006 imma li l-impatti tiegħu għadna inħossuhom kuljum f’kull rokna ta’ dawn il-gżejjer. Il-ħsara li saret, u li għadha qed issir, mill-Gvern id f’id mal-iżviluppaturi, hi waħda enormi. Imma, dwar dan, skiet komplet mingħand KPMG.

It-tibdil fil-klima, skont ir-rapport ta’ KPMG, qiesha ma teżistix, għax fir-rapport ma hemm l-ebda referenza għaliha. Dan ovvjament ifisser li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni mhiex interessata fil-materja.

M’aħniex qed nistennew lill-awturi tar-rapport ta’ KPMG jispjegawlna kif l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni ħarbtet pajjiż bi żvilupp esaġerat u l-pretensjoni tagħhom li aħna, l-bqija, nħallsu d-djun ambjentali tagħhom. Il-ġungla tal-konkos li qed tiżviluppa madwarna qed tifgana. L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni kontinwament trid iktar art għal żvilupp li donnu ma jintemm qatt.

L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni hemm bżonn li tiġi f’sensiha. Ilkoll jeħtieġilna nifhmu, qabel ma jkun tard wisq, li dan il-bini li għaddej kullimkien mhux sostenibbli u li l-progress ma jitkejjilx bil-bini, bit-toroq jew bin-numru ta’ karozzi li ma jispiċċaw qatt.

Il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna għandha titkejjel bl-ispazji miftuħin li jipperpettulna li niskopru mill-ġdid l-egħruq naturali tagħna fil-ħajja naturali li l-urbanizzazzjoni bla limitu qed teqred ftit ftit.

L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni hi determinata li tisfrutta dan il-mument fejn qed titħalla tagħmel prattikament dak li trid: tibqa’ għaddejja b’bini bla limitu sakemm timla kull ċentimetru possibli, inkluż il-baħar, fuq skala li jħabbatha ma Dubaj! Dik hi l-viżjoni.

Imma għada jasal għal kulħadd, mhux biss għal dawk li jridu jisfruttaw is-sitwazzjoni illum li tippermettilhom iħaxxnu bwiethom bi ħsara għall-komunità kollha. Nittama li meta jasal jibqalna l-enerġija u l-kapaċità li nsewwu l-ħsara enormi li qed issir lil kulħadd.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 6 t’Ottubru 2019

 

Beyond the KPMG construction industry report

As expected, KPMG’s report on the construction industry paints a very rosy picture of it, although its authors concede that “others may arrive at a different conclusion” on the basis of the information contained therein.

I have searched through the report to identify the incidence of a number of important expressions like “over-development”, “re-cycling” (of construction waste), “the environment”, and “the climate”. The views of the construction industry on these terms (and others) would have been quite interesting, had they been expressed. According to the authors of the report, however, practically none of them were.

I am not surprised that the terms “over-development” and “recycling” do not feature in the report. This obviously indicates that the industry does not consider there is any “over-development” and, in addition, that the industry is not bothered about recycling its construction waste. As explained in a recent article of mine (TMIS, 22 September 2019 entitled In cahoots with the polluter), the construction industry is not interested in recycling its waste, when this is possible; it is only interested in subsidised dumping sites. They pollute, you pay. Does KPMG endorse this?

There are two references to the environment in the KPMG report. The first points fingers at consumers and emphasises that there is a lack of environmentally-friendly materials in properties because there is no demand for them! The second focuses on environmental lobby groups and challenges them to come forward with realistic suggestions! The authors of the report, however, point out that “such suggestions should be grounded in reality, and recognise that halting all construction and development is not a realistic option.”

KPMG is apparently reporting from the moon as it would have otherwise realised long ago that the environmental lobby has brought forward a multitude of proposals which have been generally ignored by governments, which have continuously sought to ensure that development is facilitated at the expense of our quality of life. It would suffice for a moment if they were to consider, for example, the rationalisation exercise introduced way back in 2006 but the impacts of which are still being felt still being felt up to this very day all around our islands. The damage done by government in cahoots with the developers is enormous but KPMG is, however, completely silent on the matter.

Climate change does not feature at all in the report, meaning that the construction industry is generally not bothered.

We do not expect the authors of the KPMG report to explain how the construction industry has been a major force in ruining this country through over-development and through expecting us to foot their environmental bills.

The concrete jungle developing all around us is suffocating. It is fuelled by a construction industry which has no idea of where to stop and that continuously wants more land for development.

It is about time that the construction industry is cut down to size. We should all realise, before it is too late, that the ongoing building spree is unsustainable and that progress is not measured in terms of buildings, roads or the enormous number of cars on our roads.
Our quality of life is actually measured through the open spaces we can enjoy and through rediscovering our natural roots, which have been obliterated as a result of the ever-expanding urban boundaries.

The construction industry is bent on making even more hay while the sun shines: on building more and more for as long as their Dubaification vision remains in place.

The sun rises for everyone, not just for those seeking to make hay while it shines. When it sets, we rest – preparing for tomorrow and hoping that, when it comes, there will still be time to repair the extensive damage being done to us all.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 October 2019

 

Kaxxa tal-ittri

Uħud mill-awtoritajiet li jikkonċernaw l-industrija tal-bini draw jiffunzjonaw qieshom kaxxa tal-ittri, letter-box: jirċievu ittri u dokumenti mingħajr (ġeneralment) ma jieħdu passi dwarhom. Tant huma passivi li rrendew lilhom infushom ineffettivi.

Disa’ xhur ilu, propju minħabba dan il-fatt, il-Gvern ippubblika dokument konsultattiv bl-intenzjoni speċifka li jikkonsolida f’awtorità waħda r-Regolatur dwar il-bini u l-kostruzzjoni, l-entitajiet regolatorji eżistenti u ċioè l-l-BICC (Kumitat Konsultattiv dwar l-Industrija tal-Bini), l-BRO (l-Uffiċċju dwar ir-Regolamentazzjoni tal-Bini), the BRB (l-Bord li Jirregola l-Bini) u l-Bord tal-Bennejja. Proposta li bla dubju ilha tinħass li hi neċessarja!

Il-frammentazzjoni kurrenti tal-funzjonijiet regolatorji fuq l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni wasslet biex dawn saru ineffettivi. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-ilmenti kontinwi tar-residenti dwar kif l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni qed tħarbtilhom ħajjithom ġew ġeneralment injorati. Bosta drabi huma l-awtoritajiet infushom li ma jagħtux kaz tal-ilmenti li huma rifless ta’ ambjent urban ikkontaminat u li qiegħed jirriżulta mill-iżvilupp intensiv fiz-zoni residenzjali.

Il-kollass ta’ tlett binjiet, tnejn minnhom din il-ġimgħa stess, in konnessjoni ma skavar fuq siti ta’ kostruzzjoni bla dubju jnissel tħassib kbir. Imma ħadd ma għandu jkun sorpriż li ġraw. Fortunatament din id-darba ma miet ħadd!

Mhux l-ewwel darba li ġraw dawn l-inċidenti: drabi oħra mietu ukoll in-nies! Li dawn l-inċidenti ma jiġrux iktar spiss hu riżultat ta’ professjonisti dedikati li jagħmlu ħilithom biex jegħlbu l-problemi li jiffaċċjaw kontinwament. Ċertament li f’dan ma għandhom l-ebda mertu l-awtoritajiet li huma passivi għall-aħħar.

Is-sospensjoni temporanja da parti tal-Gvern ta’ kull xogħol ta’ twaqqiegħ ta’ bini jew skavar, apparti milli hi applikazzjoni abbużiva tal-liġi hi ukoll riżultat ta’ reazzjoni ta’ paniku li tipprova fatt wieħed bażiku: l-awtoritajiet regolatorji tal-industrija tal-bini m’għandhomx ir-riżorsi biex iwettqu r-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom u li minnhom ilhom is-snin li abdikaw.

Dwar kull waħda mit-tlett binjiet li waqgħu matul dawn il-ġimgħat hu fatt magħruf li r-residenti kienu ilhom jilmentaw żmien: l-ebda awtorità ma eżaminat l-ilmenti tagħhom u aġixxiet fuqhom, la direttament u l-anqas billi rreferiethom b’mod urgenti f’fora oħra addattati.

Il-Gvern issa hu ppreokkupat. Kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku din il-preokkupazzjoni wrieha iktar kmieni billi pprovda r-riżorsi lill-Uffiċċju għar-Regolamentazzjoni tal-Bini (BRO) mhux biss biex ikun jista’ jaqdi l-inkarigu tiegħu, imma ukoll billi jassigura li l-awtoritajiet kollha jieħdu interess u jinvestigaw l-ilmenti li jirċievu mingħajr dewmien.

Disa’ xhur ilu, il-konsultazzjoni pubblika li saret kellha l-iskop li jkun assigurat li “l-inċidenti” tal-ġimgħat li għaddew ikunu evitati kemm jista’ jkun billi jkunu kkonsolidati u msaħħa l-istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa li għandna illum.

Dawn huma l-inċidenti li nafu bihom. Kemm kien ikollna iktar inċidenti li kieku dawn ma ġewx evitati b’intervent f’waqtu minn numru ta’ professjonisti ddedikati?

Ir-regolamenti ta’ emerġenza li l-Gvern ħabbar li ser jippubblika fil-ġranet li ġejjin jistgħu joffru rimedju għal żmien qasir. Li neħtieġu huma soluzzjonijiet fit-tul: riżorsi adegwati ffukati fuq il-ħtieġa li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tkun issorveljata b’mod kontinwu. Din hi l-unika triq li biha nistgħu naslu ħalli dawk li ma għandhom l-ebda rispett lejn il-komunità residenzjali fiz-zoni urbani tagħna jinġiebu f’sensihom.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 16 ta’ Ġunju 2019

Letter-box authorities

A number of authorities involved with the construction industry have become accustomed to functioning as a letter-box: receiving letters and documents without (generally) taking any action. They are too passive to the extent that they have rendered themselves ineffective.

Nine months ago, in recognition of this basic fact, the government published a consultation document with the specific intent of consolidating into one authority – a Building and Construction Regulator – the existing regulatory entities, namely the BICC (Building Industry Consultative Council), the BRO (Building Regulation Office), the BRB (Building Regulation Board) and the Masons Board. This proposal is certainly overdue!

The current fragmentation of the regulatory functions over the building industry have led to their being ineffective. The end result is that the continuous complaints of residents regarding the damaging intrusion of the building industry in their daily lives are generally ignored. Often it is the authorities themselves that turn a blind eye towards these complaints – which are a reflection of a contaminated urban environment that is proliferating as a result of the intensive developments carried out in residential areas.

The collapse of three buildings, two of which in the first half of this very week, linked with excavation activity on building sites, is a cause of great concern. No-one should be surprised that these accidents actually did happen. We are indeed very lucky that no lives were lost this time!

It is not the first time that this type of accident has happened: on other occasions they even resulted in deaths. The fact that these accidents do not occur more frequently is due to the dedicated professionals in the building industry who do their best to work properly – at times and against all odds. It is certainly not the result of the authorities who, more often than not, are as passive as can be.

The temporary suspension by the government of all demolition and excavation work, is – apart from being an abusive application of the law – the result of a panic reaction and proves one basic fact: the building industry regulatory authorities do not have the resources to carry out their responsibilities, from which they have abdicated over the years.

In respect of each of the three buildings that have collapsed in recent weeks, it is common knowledge that the residents had been complaining for quite some time and no authority took up their complaints to have them acted upon, either directly or by being  urgently referred to more competent fora.

The government is now preoccupied. It would have been much better had this preoccupation was manifested previously – not only by ensuring adequate resourcing of the Building Regulation Office (BRO) to enable it to carry out its duties and responsibilities, but also by ensuring that all the authorities take an interest in, and investigate without delay, the complaints received.

Nine months ago, a public consultation was launched specifically to ensure that the “accidents” of the past weeks are avoided as much as possible through a consolidation of the existing weak institutions.

These are the accidents we know of. How many more accidents would have occurred, had they not been prevented as a result of the timely intervention of dedicated professionals?

The emergency regulations to be published by government in the coming days can temporarily patch up the current mess. What is required is a long-term vision: sufficient resources focused on the continuous and adequate monitoring of the construction industry. This is the only way to ensure that those who have no respect for the residential community in our urban areas are brought to their senses.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 16 June 2019

Post-electoral reflections

When voters repeatedly elect a candidate accused of usury and money-laundering into public office, it is inevitable that I ask the question as to whether, really, the voters are always right.

In view of this reality it is inevitable that now, more frequently than ever, I ask myself why I am in politics. Following the electoral counting process presents the stark reality of the substantial number of spoilt ballot papers – with a variety of comments written in very colourful language.

Answering my daily question, now more than ever, I choose to stay on as I am driven by a sense of duty towards the ordinary man and woman who request continuous help in facing their daily problems caused by an insensitive state buttressed by a variety of colourful hangers-on.

It is unfortunate that immediate gain, as opposed to long-term benefits, is the obvious choice of a majority of voters, irrespective of the locality. Tomorrow is too far away to feature in today’s choices and, as a result, voters are continuously misguided instead of being assisted in making their choices.

I am obviously disappointed that no green local councillors were elected in the latest election. Moreover, the only green councillor currently in office, Ralph Cassar in Attard, was not re-elected. The result was affected by a low turnout, coupled with a reduced number of cross-party voters in the locality. Ralph has given sterling service to Attard for a considerable number of years, almost uninterruptedly since the 1990s.

The voters’ decision not to re-elect Ralph Cassar but then for voters in another locality to  repeatedly elect a person charged with usury and money-laundering is mind-boggling.
“Crooks are everywhere” could be too simplistic an explanation. They are certainly present but their presence is definitely not ubiquitous. It would be unfair to tar all those who stand for public office with the same brush, because most of them are drawn into public life through a sense of public service.

Why am I in politics? “To be of service to the community” is the answer which I have repeatedly and convincingly given since my youth. It is a service against an ever-intruding state. It is a service in favour of the betterment of our quality of life through ensuring the optimisation of policy-making and implementation, focusing on addressing the common good.

Throughout the past months and years, together with fellow greens, I have striven hard to ensure that more people are conscious of the need to prioritise ecological issues. Tackling environmental issues is a political matter because it involves continuous political decision-taking on a large variety of issues – ranging from food and pesticides to land-use planning in all its complexities or water management.

Those who continuously plead against linking environmental issues with politics are unfortunately not conscious that each and every decision impacting the environment is a political decision. Politics is also a service to the environment, ideally seeking to ensure that long-term views prevail over short-term egoistic decisions.

During the past weeks. Alternattiva Demokratika focused on several environmental issues regarding the need to improve our urban environment. The agenda is topped by a need to improve transport planning and reclaiming back our roads and ensuring adequate accessibility for all. Reducing the number of cars from our roads is an urgent requirement but there is no interest in achieving it as an objective. This will keep up the pressure on our public spaces which are either being taken up by more parking spaces or else by tables and chairs servicing catering establishments.

It is indeed unfortunate that the voters who share these objectives did not sufficiently support those who continuously strive to address them.

It is difficult to answer the question as to why I am in politics striving to attain environmental protection in order to better our quality of life, when everything seems to be pointing in a different direction. However, there is no alternative. Putting egoistic short-termism aside is an absolute priority.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 June 2019