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

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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

Making hay …….. in St George’s Bay

The 23-storey Pender Gardens high-rise is nearly completed, after nearly 10 years of continuous construction activity. The application for the 31-storey Mercury House was approved last month and next Thursday, the Planning Authority Board will consider planning application PA2478/16 submitted by Garnet Investments Limited in respect of a substantial stretch of land along St George’s Bay on the outskirts of Paceville St Julian’s.

The applicant has requested the following: “Demolition of all existing buildings forming part of St. George’s Bay Hotel and ancillary facilities, Dolphin House, Moynihan House and Cresta Quay. Construction of Parking facilities, Hotels and ancillary facilities, Commercial Area, Multi Ownership holiday accommodation, Bungalows, Language school with accommodation. Restoration of the Villa Rosa and upgrading of the facilities including parking facility, kitchen and toilets all below existing site levels within the Villa Rosa Area to address catering facilities/wedding hall.”

The project includes mixed-uses covering a total site area of 48,723 square metres, a building footprint of 18,345 square metres and a total gross floor area of 82,917 square meters.

It is a small part of the area that was tentatively tackled by a draft Masterplan for Paceville which, after being rejected by public opinion was sent back to the drawing board. I consider it highly unethical for the Planning Authority to proceed with considering this application after the clear and resounding verdict of public opinion. As a minimum, the consideration of this application should have been postponed until a new, reasonable and acceptable Masterplan has received the go-ahead. A minimum effort at achieving consensus as to what development is acceptable is essential.

The Planning Authority is unfortunately insensitive to public opinion. It is amply clear that it, and those who appoint most of its Board members, are on the same wavelength as the development lobby, which is hell-bent on making hay while the sun shines. At this point in time, it is the turn of the St George’s Bay area.

The project is obviously recommended for approval in the 43-page report from the Planning Directorate.

The basic point of contention with such large-scale projects is that they are considered in isolation. Most of them would never get off the drawing board (real or virtual) if the consolidated impact of all neighbouring projects (existing or in the pipeline) are taken into account. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to address similar concerns to the EIA public consultation on the db Group ITS site project.

Five large-scale projects are earmarked for St George’s Bay. Each will generate considerable havoc from excavation throughout construction and right through operation in the whole St George’s Bay area. Cumulatively it will be hell. Who cares?

Way back in 2006, when the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive of the EU was about to be implemented in Malta, the Lawrence Gonzi – George Pullicino tandem rushed through the approval of the Local Plans in such a manner as to ensure that the accumulated environmental impact resulting from their implementation was not scrutinised and acted upon. The present state of affairs is the direct result of that irresponsible Gonzi-Pullicino action 12 years ago.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) occasionally tries to patch things up. For example, within the framework of the ITS EIA exercise ERA suggested that the traffic assessment of the ITS and the Villa Rosa projects be consolidated. This has, however, been avoided: a case of too little, too late.

So where do we go from here?

The development lobby is maximising its efforts to make hay while the sun shines. In reality, a consolidated mess is taking shape with massively built-up areas in a relatively restricted space punctured by high rises mimicking phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes spread all over the place. Pender Place has 23 floors. Mercury House will have 31. The ITS phallus will have a 37-floor residential tower. The Villa Rosa/Cresta Quay project will have more modest heights.

Next Thursday, the Planning Authority has the opportunity to scrutinise the proposal for this Villa Rosa-Cresta Quay project. We will see once more the extent to which the concrete lobby still holds the Authority by its balls – obviously where this is applicable.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 February 2018

From the Farm to the Fork

 

 

The local vegetable and fruit supply chain was under the spotlight last month. On 12 October, environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Malta organised a round-table at Vincent’s Eco-Farm at Żebbiegħ and published Agro-Katina, the result of its research tracking the food we consume, from apricots to zucchini. The report can be downloaded at https://foemalta.org/wp-content/uploads/AgroKatina-Report.pdf .

Maltese agriculture is characterised by small farm holdings, with three quarters of registered farmers working an area less than one hectare. With a hectare covering ten thousand square metres, this means that most local agricultural holdings are slightly less than nine tumoli in size.

Agriculture contributes a miniscule amount to the GDP – less than two per cent – but it is, however, essential to ensure the preservation of the rural characteristics of the Maltese islands.

Even though we are far from self-sufficient, agriculture can increase our self-reliance, thereby reducing our vulnerability to outside shocks.

It has been observed in the report that specific localities are linked to specific products: Rabat and Dingli are linked with onions, pumpkin with the northern agricultural region – primarily Mosta, Mġarr and Mellieħa – with cauliflowers being linked to Siġġiewi and Żebbuġ.

The report refers to the introduction in the local market of long, dark-skinned zucchini contrasting with the local round (or long) varieties of a lighter shade. As consumers overcame their hesitancy to a new product introduced to the market, local farmers started experimenting with growing it locally and, to their surprise, discovered that this variety (commonly found in Sicily and Southern Italy) had the advantage of being well adapted to the local climate.

Seasonality is still an important factor in agricultural planning, even though this is gradually on the decline primarily as a result of the competition from imported products which are available throughout the year. This seasonality is rightfully observed in the various village celebrations focusing on the availability of specific products: Manikata (pumpkins) and Mgarr (strawberries) readily come to mind. They educate consumers and contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of agriculture’s contribution to the country.

The report briefly refers to the “local vs imported produce” issue. It is emphasised that it only takes around 24 hours for locally grown fruit and vegetables to travel from the farm to the fork, hence ensuring that they are fresh, ripe and in season. This is not only reflected in a fresh appearance but also in an unmistakable advantage in terms of natural flavour and nutritional value, compared to imported produce.

Agriculture is the main user of water in Malta. It is also the major polluter of our water table. A study carried out in 2008 by the British Geological Survey on the nitrate contamination in Malta’s groundwater, commissioned by the then Malta Resources Authority, concluded that groundwater nitrate had been stable for the last 30-40 years. Notwithstanding, this has resulted in the contraction of the agricultural sector in the same timeframe.

The challenges facing agriculture in the immediate future are various. Climate change and the water crisis top the list. The changes in weather patterns will undoubtedly be a major headache. This will necessarily impact the viability of some crops, maybe bringing about changes to the season/s during which these crops are available. It will also possibly create the conditions for new crops.

The average age of the farmer is now around 55 – and this is not just in Malta, but across the EU. There is a growing awareness that we may be close to losing our farming community, in fact the impact of this loss is already being felt as it is fairly obvious that there are substantially fewer people protecting our countryside on a day to day basis.

The distance between the farm and the fork is increasing.

This is not good news.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 November 2017

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

Wiċċu bla żejt

 

Persuna li ma tistħix ngħidulha li jkollha wiċċ bla żejt. Taġixxi b’mod sfaċċat, qiesu ma ġara xejn. Bħall-membru parlamentari tal-PN David Agius.

David Agius, meta kien membru parlamentari fuq in-naħa tal-Gvern kien, flimkien ma oħrajn, ivvota favur li art f’diversi partijiet ta’ Malta, fil-parti l-kbira tagħha art verġni, tingħata għall-iżvilupp. Issa qasam fuq in-naħa l-oħra u qiegħed jappoġġa lir-residenti li qed jipprotestaw kontra dan l-iżvilupp li hu ivvota favur tiegħu.

F’Ħ’Attard, fl-inħawi magħrufa Tal-Idward, fil-periferija taż-żona tal-iżvilupp, David Agius jappoġġa lir-residenti li qed jipprotestaw biex art agrikola ma tkunx żviluppata. Ir-residenti huma rrabjati għax issa hemm it-tieni applikazzjoni biex ikun determinat kif tista’ tkun żviluppata l-art fl-inħawi tal-Idward.

David Agius kien hemm, kważi ċass, bla espressjoni f’wiċċu. Ħdax-il sena ilu, fil-Parlament kien ivvota favur l-istess żvilupp li issa kien qed jipprotesta kontra tiegħu!

L-istorja kollha hi dwar dak li hu magħruf bħala l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li permezz tiegħu meded kbar ta’ art imxerrda mal-gżejjer Maltin, sa dakinnhar barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp, saru tajbin għall-bini. Bil-vot tiegħu favur dan kollu David Agius għin biex dan ikun possibli li jsir. David Agius mhux waħdu. Fuq il-bankijiet tal-Opposizzjoni għad hemm diversi kollegi tiegħu li għamlu bħalu.

L-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art hu strument li għandu jkun użat fl-interess tal-komunitá kollha, u mhux fl-interess tal-ftit. Sfortunatament, illum, ħdax-il sena wara huwa ċar iktar minn qatt qabel kemm l-eżerċzzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni injora lill-komunitajiet residenzjali tagħna madwar il-pajjiż kollu biex jaġevola lill-ispekulaturi.

Meta l-Parlament approva li meded kbar ta’ art barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp isiru żviluppabbli kien jaf li ma kien sar l-ebda studju biex ikunu mkejla l-impatti kumulattivi li rriżultaw minn din id-deċiżjoni. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-impatti tat-traffiku, l-kwalitá tal-arja, l-għargħar, id-dellijiet fuq bini diġa armat b’pannelli fotovoltajċi kif ukoll in-numru dejjem jiżdied ta’ propjetá vojta kienu fatturi injorati kompletament meta l-Parlament iddeċieda li japprova l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni.

Sfortunatament, l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, minkejja li kienet taf b’dan in-nuqqas baqgħet għaddejja u ma ppruvatx tagħmel tajjeb għan-nuqqas tal-Parlament.

Sadanittant, fil-Parlament, il-Ministru Ian Borg huwa u jwieġeb għall-kritika ta’ din id-deċiżjoni tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar ipponta subgħajh lejn l-Opposizzjoni. Imma dan mhux biżżejjed għax anke l-Partit Laburista wara 4 snin fil-Gvern ma għamel xejn dwar dan kollu.

Bosta minna niftakru li meta l-Partit Laburista kien fl-Opposizzjoni, fil-Parlament, kien ivvota kontra dan l-eserċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni. Dan iwassal għall-mistoqsija inevitabbli dwar jekk il-Partit Laburista bidilx fehmtu. Għax ħlief għal ftit kummenti waqt il-kampanja elettorali l-Partit Laburista qatt ma qal xejn dwar dan kollu. Dan x’jfisser? Għandna ninterpretaw in-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni mill-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern bħala qbil mal-ezerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni?

Sa fejn naf jiena, Alternattiva Demokratika biss indirizzat dan kollu waqt il-kampanja elettorali li għadha kif intemmet. Dan billi pproponiet li dawn it-tip ta’ permessi m’għandhomx joħorġu f’dawk il-lokalitajiet fejn hemm numru konsiderevoli ta’ propjetajiet residenzjali vakanti.

Jidher imma li l-partiti fil-parlament issa bidlu ir-rwol tagħhom. David Agius hu l-eżempju ovvju: meta l-partit tiegħu kien fil-Gvern jappoġġa l-ispekulazzjoni, u issa li qiegħed fl-Opposizzjoni taparsi jappoġġa lir-residenti.

ippubblikat fl-Illum il-Ħadd  9 ta’ Lulju 2017

David Agius’s mental gymnastics

 

David was always into sport – primarily basketball, if I remember correctly. He has, however, now dedicated considerable time to the practice of mental gymnastics.

In Attard, in the area known as Tal-Idward – which is just outside the development zone – David has time and again publicly manifested his support of the residents’ cause: opposition to the development of agricultural land. The residents have now vented their anger in a pubic protest against a second planning control application that seeks to identify what would be permissible development in the tal-Idward area at Attard, the first application having been turned down around three years ago.

David Agius, the Opposition Whip, stood there, with a poker face, not batting an eyelid. Eleven years ago, in Parliament, he voted in favour of permitting the same development against which he is now demonstrating!

The issue is the so-called “rationalisation exercise” as a result of which considerable tracts of ODZ land all over the Maltese islands will henceforth to be considered as developable land. In 2006, with his favourable vote in Parliament, David Agius, contributed to making this possible. On the Opposition benches, he is accompanied by a number of other MPs who likewise voted in favour of more virgin agricultural land being given up for development.

Land-use planning should keep in mind the interests of the whole community and not only the interests of a select few. Unfortunately, eleven years down the line, it is now more clear than ever that the rationalisation exercise has  completely ignored the interests of the residential communities all over the islands in order to satisfy the greed of land speculators.

When Parliament considered the approval of removing ODZ status of large tracts of land, primarily (but not exclusively) agricultural land, it did so in full knowledge of the fact that the cumulative impacts of such a decision had not been assessed. Such an assessment, which is prescribed in the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU, would have been mandatory had Parliament’s decision been taken some days later than it actually was.

As a result, traffic impacts, air quality, flooding, the shadowing of existing residential property equipped with photo-voltaic panels and the issue of an ever increasing stock of vacant properties were completely ignored when Parliament approved the rationalisation exercise.

The Planning Authority, unfortunately, notwithstanding that it is aware of the shortcomings underpinning the rationalisation exercise, has failed to take steps to mitigate these shortcomings apart from minor cosmetic changes to the  proposals submitted on behalf of speculators.

In Parliament Minister Ian Borg rightly pointed his fingers at the Opposition when replying to criticism of the above-mentioned Planning Authority’s decision.  Blaming the Opposition is however not enough as the Labour Party had sufficient time to act on the matter in the past four years, but has not done so. Most of us remember that the Labour Party itself, when in Opposition, had voted against the rationalisation exercise in Parliament. This leads to the inevitable question as to whether or not Labour has since changed its mind as – with the exception of a few sympathetic comments on the eve of the June general election – it has never committed itself to changes to the rationalisation exercise. Are we to interpret the Labour Party’s non-action as a change of political position, signifying agreement with the rationalisation exercise in the form approved by Parliament in 2006?

As far as I am aware, Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party, is the only political party to propose a specific measure on changes to the rationalisation exercise. This was done once more during the recent electoral campaign. Such a measure proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika is linked to the large number of vacant properties, which should be a break applied by land-use planning regulators in order not to develop more land unnecessarily.

But is seems that the Labour Party and the PN have switched roles. Hence David’s mental gymnastics: supporting speculators when in government, supporting residents when in opposition.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 9 July 2017

Sens komun: fil-Mosta u f’Marsaxlokk

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ippubblikat f’ Illum –  2 t’April 2017

Green sense is common sense

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 April 2017

The farce continues

gas at Marsaxlokk

Tomorrow, the Environment and Resources Authority will meet in public to consider the approval of an amendment to the IPPC permit regulating the operations of the power station at Delimara. It is an amendment to an already existing permit as a result of which a definite decision concerning the switch-over to gas-operated turbines will be taken.

The Environment and Resources Authority has been in operation for some months – since February – but this will be the first time it will be possible to observe it in action in a public session.

Last Thursday the Authority, through its secretary to the ‘Environmental permitting-Development Control Commission’ informed those who had taken part in the public consultation that a 71-page document containing responses to feedback received during the public consultation was available online at http://era.org.mt/en/Pages/IPPC-Public-Consultation.aspx.

We are now accustomed to having important information being made available (if at all) at a very late hour and at a time when most people interested in the Delimara public debate are preparing for a well-earned Christmas break.

The document made available last Thursday afternoon, just one working day before the public hearing, is the only document containing the views of the Authority on the subject, even though these views are mostly expressed telegraphically. At the time of writing, I am not aware of the recommendation which the Environment Directorate has submitted for the consideration of the Board of the Authority, that is whether and to what extent it is satisfied with the documentation submitted for its consideration.

The said documentation runs to over 15,000 pages spread into around 300 files of different sizes which could not be adequately examined during the short time available for public consultation, even though this was slightly extended.

Public opinion is not worried about the change to LNG in the operation of the power station. It is, however, still worried about issues of safety. These worries are compounded by the fact that a document prepared by the Civil Protection Department regarding the External Emergency Plan for the Delimara Power Station has been partly excluded from the public consultation exercise. As already stated in a previous article (TMIS, 27 November: A Secret Plan for Delimara) this runs counter to the provisions of the Seveso III Directive of the European Union which has been transposed into the Maltese Statute book through the Control of Major Hazard Regulations of 2015 which provides that: “The Civil Protection Department shall ensure that the public concerned is given early opportunity to give its opinion on external emergency plans when they are being established or substantially modified.”

The Civil Protection Department is failing in its duty to consult. However, by failing to act on the Civil Protection Department’s dereliction of duty, the Environment and Resources Authority, as the ultimate regulator on the matter, is transforming this failure into an abusive exercise of its authority.

How is it possible to voice your opinion on a document that is still shrouded in secrecy?

This is only possible if what should be public consultation is transformed into a farce. The farce continues tomorrow – Monday.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 December 2016