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

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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

Moratorium : fl-interess tagħna lkoll

moratorium

Huwa meħtieġ li jkun hawn moratorium fuq l-iżvilupp ta’ proġetti kbar. Li dan isir, illum qabel għada, hu fl-interess tagħna lkoll.

Meta fl-2006 ġew approvati bl-għaġġla l-pjani lokali ittieħdet deċiżjoni ħażina li għadna nbatu l-konsegwenzi tagħha sal-lum.

Sa nofs l-2006 il-proċess tal-konsiderazzjoni tal-pjani lokali kien miexi bil-mod tant li tnejn biss (minn 7) kienu għadhom ġew approvati. Imma indunaw li kienet ser tidħol fis-seħħ direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea imsejħa Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive. Din id-direttiva tesiġi li qabel ma jkun approvat pjan jew programm li jħejji l-qafas ta’ żvilupp għall-futur għandu jkun studjat l-impatt kumulattiv ta’ dak propost.

Studju tal-impatt kumulattiv tal-pjani lokali ma sarx. Li kieku dan l-istudju sar il-pjani lokali kienu jkunu ezaminati dettaljatment. Ir-regolamenti dwar is-suġġett fil-fatt jgħidu li l-iskop hu  li “jipprovdi għal livell għoli ta’ ħarsien tal-ambjent, u li jikkontribwixxi għall-integrazzjoni ta’ konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali fil-preparazzjoni u l-adozzjoni ta’ pjanijiet u programmi bil-għan li jiġi promoss l-iżvilupp sostenibbli, billi jiġi żgurat li, skont dawn ir-regolamenti, titwettaq stima ambjentali strateġika dwar ċertu pjanijiet u programmi li x’aktarx ikollhom effetti sinifikanti fuq l-ambjent.” [ara Regolamenti dwar Stima Ambjentali Strateġika. 549.61] L-iskedi ta’ dawn ir-regolamenti jispjegaw dettaljatament dwar il-kriterji u l-impatti li għandhom ikunu ikkunsidrati.

Biex dan l-istudju ma jsirx il-Gvern u l-MEPA għaġġlu biex fis-sajf tal-2006 jkunu approvati l-pjani lokali li kien baqa’ flimkien mal-eserċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li żied maż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru fiż-żona tal-iżvilupp. B’din l-approvazzjoni ta’ malajr il-Gvern u l-MEPA fl-2006 għamlu għażla ċara li għalihom l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tiġi qabel il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Għalhekk hemm bżonn il-moratorium, il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll tkun tista’ terġa’ tingħata prijorità.

Land use planning : beyond rhetoric

Freeport 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 20 December 2015

Malta’s EU story : the environment

JOINT SEMINAR BY THE OFFICE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT IN MALTA AND THE TODAY PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE

Friday 3 October 2014

address by Carmel Cacopardo

eu-flag

 

Since Malta’s EU accession there has been a marked contrast of interest in issues related to environmental governance.

EU accession has generally had a positive influence on Maltese environmental governance.  A flow of EU funds has been applied to various areas which Maltese governments throughout the years did not consider worthy of investing in.  On the one hand we had governments “occasionally” applying the brakes, seeking loopholes, real or imaginary,  in order to ensure that lip service  is not accidentally translated into meaningful action. On the other hand civil society has, in contrast, and  as a result of EU accession identified a new source of empowerment, at times ready to listen, however slow to react and at times ineffective.

Land use planning and abusive hunting/trapping have for many years been the main items on the local environment agenda. Water, air quality, climate change, alternative energy, biodiversity, noise, light pollution, organic agriculture, waste management and sustainable development have rightfully claimed a place in the agenda during the past 10 years. Some more frequently, others occasionally.

Land use planning has been on the forefront of civil society’s environmental agenda for many years. Abusive land use planning in the 80s fuelled and was fuelled by corruption. It led to various public manifestations in favour of the environment then equated almost  exclusively with the impacts of land development. Many such manifestations ended up in violence. Whilst this may be correctly described as history, it is occasionally resurrected  as in the recent public manifestation of hunters protesting against the temporary closure of the autumn hunting season.

Whilst hunting and land use planning may still be the main items on Malta’ environmental agenda the ecological deficit which we face is substantially deeper and wider.  It is generally the result of myopic policies.

For example it is well known that public transport has been practically ignored for the past 50 years, including the half-baked reform of 2010. This is the real cause of Malta’s very high car ownership (around 750 vehicles per 1000 population). As the Minister of Finance rightly exclaimed during a pre-budget public consultation exercise earlier this week traffic congestion is a major issue of concern, not just environmental but also economic. Impacting air quality, requiring additional land uptake to construct new roads or substantial funds to improve existing junctions traffic congestion is a drain on our resources. May I suggest that using EU funds to improve our road network  will delay by several years the shifting of custom to public transport, when we will have one which is worthy of such a description.

The mismanagement of water resources over the years is another important issue. May I suggest that millions of euros in EU funds have been misused  to institutionalise the mismanagement of water resources. This has been done through the construction of a network of underground tunnels to channel stormwater to the sea.  The approval of such projects is only possible when one  has no inkling of what sustainable management of water resources entails. Our ancestors had very practical and sustainable solutions: they practised water harvesting through the construction of water cisterns beneath each and every residence, without exception. If we had followed in their footsteps the incidence of stormwater in our streets, sometimes having the smell of raw sewage due to an overflowing public sewer, would be substantially less. And in addition we would also avoid overloading our sewage purification plants.

Our mismanagement of water resources also includes the over-extraction of ground water and the failure to introduce an adequate system of controls throughout the years such that  most probably there will be no more useable water in our water table very shortly. In this respect the various deadlines established in the Water Framework Directive would be of little use.

Whilst our Cabinet politicians have developed a skill of trying to identify loopholes in the EU’s acquis (SEA and Birds Directive) they also follow bad practices in environmental governance.

It is known that fragmentation of environmental responsibilities enables politicians to pay lip service to environmental governance but then creating real and practical obstacles in practice.

Jean Claude Juncker, the President elect of the EU Commission has not only diluted environmental governance by assigning responsibility for the environment together with that for fisheries and maritime policy as well as assigning energy with climate change. He has moreover hived off a number of responsibilities from the DG Environment to other DGs namely Health and Enterprise.

In Malta our bright sparks have anticipated his actions. First on the eve of EU accession they linked land use planning with the Environment in an Authority called MEPA with the specific aim of suffocating the environment function in an authority dominated by development. Deprived of human resources including the non-appointment of a Director for the Environment for long stretches of time, adequate environmental governance could never really get off the ground.

Now we will shortly be presented with the next phase: another fragmentation by the demerger of the environment and planning authority.

In the short time available I have tried to fill in the gaps in the environment section of the document produced by The Today Public Policy Institute. The said document rightly emphasises various achievements. It does however state that prior to EU accession the environment was not given its due importance by local policy makers. Allow me to submit that much still needs to be done and that the progress made to date is insufficient.

Id-dokument tal-MEPA dwar il-bini għoli: bla ma sar SEA

tall buildings

Id-dokument li ippubblikat il-MEPA riċentment dwar il-kostruzzjoni ta’ bini għoli kellu jkun soġġett għal stima ambjentali strategika, dak li normalment nirreferu għalih bħala Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA). Dan huwa studju, li l-Unjoni Ewropeja tobbliga li jsir dwar il-pjanijiet (plans) li jifformula Gvern u dan biex ikunu identifikati b’mod ġenerali l-impatti ambjentali u b’hekk dawn l-impatti ikunu jistgħu jkunu indirizzati minn qabel ma jinqalgħu.

Id-dokument tal-MEPA dwar il-bini għoli jidentifika l-lokalitajiet u l-parametri permissibli għall-iżvilupp ta’ bini għoli (bini ta’ iktar minn għaxar sulari) kif ukoll ta’ bini ta’ għoli medju (bini sa għoli ta’ għaxar sulari).

In-nuqqas tal-istima ambjentali strategika (SEA) joħloq dubju dwar il-validita’ tad-dokument ippubblikat mill-MEPA. Fi ftit kliem jeħtieġ li ssir din l-istima ambjentali strateġika (jiġifieri stima ambjentali dwar strateġija) u jekk jirriżulta li jkun meħtieġ għandu jkun hemm it-tibdil.

Din il-gwida dwar il-bini għoli (u bini ta’ għoli medju) li ġiet ippubblikata mill-MEPA hi immirata b’mod partikolari lejn ir-riġenerazzjoni ta’ siti b’bini dilapidat jew propjeta’ li mhiex użata biżżejjed jew b’mod adegwat u dan meta din il-propjeta qegħda barra miż-żoni storiċi, barra miż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana (UCAs) kif ukoll barra miż-żoni għal-prijorita’ residenzjali.

Sfortunatament iż-żoni identifikati huma kbar wisq. Dan hu fatt li huwa rikonoxxut mid-dokument tal-MEPA innifsu meta dan jgħid illi ser ikunu meħtieġa studji addizzjonali għall-applikazzjonijiet li eventwalment jidħlu.

Filwaqt li l-gwida tal-MEPA tidentifika l-istudji li ser ikunu meħtiega biex jiġu eżaminati l-applikazzjonijiet għall-izvilupp ta’ bini għoli jew ta’ għoli medju, l-parti l-kbira minn dawn l-istudji, inkluż kemm studji ambjentali kif ukoll il-kriterji stretti li huma meħtieġa kontra l-ħolqien ta’ dellijiet (shadowing) fuq il-propjeta’ residenzjali kellhom ikunu applikati qabel ma ittieħdu d-deċizjonijiiet dwar il-gwida tal-MEPA. Bħala riżultat in-numru ta’ lokalitajiet identifikati bħala ż-żoni magħżula kienu jkunu ferm inqas.

Id-dokument tal-MEPA kellu jkun iktar restrittiv u dan billi jillimita l-iżvilupp ta’ bini għoli jew ta’ għoli medju ghal dawk iż-żoni li jeħtieġu riġenerazzjoni. Dan kien ikun ta’ incentiv għall-industrija tal-bini biex din tassorbi u tiżviluppa mill-ġdid bini li għamel żmienu kif ukoll bini ta’ kwalita’ inferjuri li hu sitwat barra miż-Żoni ta’ Konservazzjoni Urbana (UCAs).

Resurrection of eco-Gozo

The Gozo Channel

There is much more to a Gozo Channel bridge than its financial cost calculated in euros. There are also social and  environmental costs.

The proposal to link Malta and Gozo permanently has been around for ages. It involves connecting the islands such that there are no physical obstructions to proceed from one island to the other.

Gozo’s connectivity is a serious matter. Yet Gozo’s double insularity may well be its greatest asset which has been misunderstood and ill-used throughout the years.

The improvement of existing transport links  by introducing more efficient means or through alternative  means of transport is one way of looking at the channel crossing-challenge. Almost all  alternatives have been tried out in the past. Fast sea links linking Mġarr Gozo directly with a central location have been tried and subsequently discontinued. Alternatively, air links through the use of amphibious small planes  and helicopters too have been tried.

Will Gozo be better off if it is permanently linked to Malta?  I think that those insisting on the bridge or the tunnel genuinely believe that because they themselves may be better off everyone else will possibly be better off too.

Reality, unfortunately, is considerably different as with a physical link between Malta and Gozo there will be both winners and losers.   The process leading to a decision has to be both honest and transparent if it is to be of any help.

It has to be honest as it has to consider all the anticipated impacts of each proposal under consideration. Improved connectivity for industry to deliver goods produced in Gozo to Malta and elsewhere also signifies improved connectivity for working men and women living in Gozo and working in Malta. This could suggest that there may then be no more scope in locating industry in Gozo as the labourforce would easily access their working place. To date, providing work for Gozitans in Gozo has been an important social and political objective. If a physical link materialises this may no longer be so. Gozo will then be a locality just like any other in Malta.

Double insularity, if ditched by choice, will no longer be able to justify subsidies and incentives to lure industry to Gozo.  Double insularity will no longer be justification for EU regional development funds as it will no longer exist. What purpose then for the projected Gozo office in Brussels?

What about the impacts on the tourism industry?  Tourism policy relative to Gozo has always focused on Gozo as the destination with a difference. Gozo’s potential as an eco-tourism destination has been occassionally tapped. Diving is a well-developed niche market for eco-tourism in Gozo. Agri-tourism in Gozo has substantial potential, which is to date largely untapped.

These are issues whose potential could and should have been developed within the context of the eco-Gozo project. Unfortunately, this project has been hijacked by those who, after plagiarising the idea from  Alternattiva Demokratika used it as a slogan and ignored it as a vision.

The contribution to tourism of cultural activities such as opera performances  in Gozo is not to be underestimated. Such cultural activities contribute substantially to the viability of hotel operations in Gozo through the generation of revenue in the winter months. The introduction of a permanent link will undoubtedly increase the potential audiences for opera and other cultural activities in Gozo. However, with a bridge or tunnel in place, the use of hotels in Gozo will not be required by opera enthusiasts as they would be in a position to drive back home immediately. This has already been evident when Gozo Channel increased its trips through the introduction of late night trips.

In addition one has to consider environmental impacts. Impacts on protected marine areas in the Gozo Channel would be substantial. Add visual impacts in the case of the bridge or over two million cubic metres of excavated material in the case of the tunnel.

And what about the geological features of the Gozo Channel? As the area is riddled with geological faults, the first logical step is obviously a detailed geological examination of the area.  But what is obviously a logical first step seems not to have been given due weight.

Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta advocates a different line of action. A connectivity strategy for Gozo considering in detail all the different options is to be drawn up. After subjecting it to a Strategic Environment Assessement in line with the EU environmental legislation such a strategy should be subject to a public consultation, not just with the Gozitans but on a national level.

Taking into consideration all impacts would ensure that the decison taken is a sustainable one. Not in the interests of one specific sector but in the interests of all. Resurrecting (the real) eco-Gozo in the process would not be a bad idea.

Published in The Times of Malta – Saturday June 29, 2013 

Għawdex tagħna ilkoll?

The Gozo Channel

Reggħet bdiet id-diskussjoni dwar il-konnettivita’ ta’ Għawdex.

Bridge jew mina? Ajruplan jew ħelikopter? Ajruplan li jtir mill-baħar (amphibian) jew wieħed li jtir mill-art?

Kull proposta li saret għandha l-merti tagħha. Kull waħda tindirizza xi aspett partikolari tas-sitwazzjoni Għawdxija. Ma ngħidx problema apposta, għax il-qagħda attwali m’hiex problematika għal kulħadd. Uħud iħarsu lejn is-sitwazzjoni preżenti bħala waħda problematika. Oħrajn iħarsu lejn is-soluzzjonijiet proposti bħala l-problemi reali.

Il-mistoqsija li ftit qed jistaqsu hi jekk il-qagħda attwali hiex waħda ta’ benefiċċju għal Għawdex. Jiġifieri l-fatt li Għawdex hi gżira maqtugħa għaliha waħeda hu ta’ ġid jew ta’ ħsara għal Għawdex?  Rajt kumment wieħed biss f’dan is-sens online. Korrispondent Irlandiż li jkun spiss Ghawdex ikkummenta online li l-insularita doppja ta’ Għawdex hi iktar opportunuta (asset) milli problema (liability).

Ovvjament mhux kulħadd jaqbel ma dan. Imma hemm setturi bħat-turiżmu f’Għawdex li huma mibnija prinċipalment fuq din il-karatteristika Għawdxija. Għawdex bħala gżira għandha diversi karatteristiċi li jagħmluha unika bħala destinazzjoni. Bidla li telimina din il-karatteristika tidfen għal kollox l-identita’ unika Għawdxija. Għawdex b’kuntatt dirett bħall-bridge jew mina ma jkun xejn differenti għat-turist mis-Siġġiewi, miz-Żurrieq jew minn Marsaskala.  Dan jista’ jeffettwa sostanzjalment l-industrija tat-turiżmu b’mod partikolari l-lukandi f’Għawdex.

Min-naħa l-oħra l-industrija tal-manifattura għandha bżonn aċċess immedjat għas-swieq tagħha u f’dan is-sens kuntatt dirett bħall-bridge jew mina jista’ jkun soluzzjoni kemm għall-industrija li hemm illum ġewwa Għawdex kif ukoll għal dik li tista’ titħajjar tibbaża ruħa f’Għawdex għada. L-istess jgħidu l-istudenti u dawk li jaħdmu f’Malta.

Il-konsumatur Għawdxi jieħu pjaċir b’aċċess dirett bħall-bridge jew mina għax tinfetħilhom l-għażla b’aċċess dirett u immedjat għall-ħwienet fit-tramuntana ta’ Malta. Imma naħseb li ħafna minn dawk li huma fil-kummerċ f’Għawdex ma jaħsbuwiex l-istess.

Is-soluzzjoni iżda m’hiex waħda li noqgħodu nfajjru l-proposti fl-ajru. Is-soluzzjoni tinstab fil-kalma u l-ħsieb, mhux kwalitajiet komuni ħafna fost dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet f’dan il-pajjiż – kemm dawk tal-lum kif ukoll dawk tal-bierah.

Ikun ahjar li flok mal-Gvern jiffoka fuq proposti individwali jara l-istampa kollha tal-konnettivita ta’ Ghawdex u l-impatti socjali, ambjentali u ekonomici b’mod olistiku. Jeħtieġ li niżnu sew l-affarijiet. Li naraw l-istampa kollha.

Il-Gvern tal-lum bħall-Gvern tal-bieraħ jaqbad il-problema minn sieqha.

Flok ma jkunu indirizzati waħda waħda, s-soluzzjonijiet taħt konsiderazzjoni għandhom ikunu kkunsidrati flimkien u dan fil-kuntest ta’ Pjan Strateġiku li jindirizza l-konnettivita’ tal-gżira Għawdxija u l-impatti soċjali, ekonomiċi u ekoloġiċi ta’ kull waħda mill-proposti. Ma jaghmilx sens  fil-kuntest tal-politika regjonali tal-Unjoni Ewropeja l-Gvern Malti jipprezenta posizzjoni u jinsisti għal fondi addizzjonali minħabba l-insularita’ doppja  u li imbagħad mingħajr konsiderazzjoni tal-impatti (ekonomiċi, soċjali u ekoloġiċi) jagħzel  li jelimina din l-insularita’ doppja b’għaqda fiżika bejn il-gżejjer. Għandu jkun innutat li l-politika tat-Turiżmu għal Għawdex hi bbażata fuq l-insularita doppja tal-gżira Għawdxija u li l-għaqda fiżika proposta tista’ tfisser id-daqqa tal-mewt ghat-turiżmu f’Għawdex.

Pjan Strateġiku ta’ din ix-xorta wara li jkun eżaminat skond il-proċeduri stabiliti mid-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar il-Valutazzjoni  Strateġika Ambjentali (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive) għandu imbagħad ikun soġġett għal konsultazzjoni pubblika mhux biss f’Għawdex iżda fuq livell nazzjonali.

Għax anke Għawdex, tagħna lkoll.

Ara ukoll :

Fuq dan il-blog: The right link that remains missing. 12 ta’ Frar 2012

Malta Today: Gozo’s connectivity issues should be tackled holistically. 16 ta’ Ġunju 2013