Tackling the green skills gap

green skills 3

Launching the public consultation on the Green Economy last month, Ministers Leo Brincat and Evarist Bartolo emphasised the need to address the green skills gap in the process leading to a Green Economy strategy and action plan.

It is estimated that 20 million jobs will be created in the Green Economy between now and 2020 within the European Union. Capacity building is the greatest challenge: ensuring that more working men and women are adequately equipped with green skills.

The Green Economy includes activities in different sectors. It is possible to go about activity in these sectors in a manner which reduces their environmental impacts, is socially inclusive and economically rewarding.

Various sectors have been identified as being of key importance in the transition to a Green Economy. The basic characteristics which distinguish the Green Economy are a reduction of carbon emissions, the reduction of all forms of pollution, energy and resource efficiency, prevention of biodiversity loss  and the protection of eco-system services.

The United Nations Environment Programme  has repeatedly emphasised that the transition to a Green Economy enables economic growth and investment while increasing environmental quality and social inclusiveness. A Green Economy is one which respects the eco-system and recognises that there are natural limits  which, if exceeded, endanger the earth’s ecological balance. In effect it means that the transition to a Green Economy signifies addressing all of our environmental impacts in all areas of activity. Addressing impacts in one area would still signify progress although this would be of limited benefit.

An agriculture which forms part of the Green Economy is one which works with nature, not against it. It uses water sustainably and does not contaminate it. Green agriculture does not seek to genetically modify any form of life nor to patent it.

Energy efficient buildings, clean and renewable energy together with the sustainable use of land are also basic building blocks of the Green Economy. We cannot speak of the Green Economy whilst simultaneously tolerating  large scale building construction. Having a stock of 72,000 vacant dwellings, (irrespective of the reasons for their being vacant) signifies that as a nation we have not yet understood that the limited size of the Maltese islands ought to lead to a different attitude. The green skills of politicians and their political appointees on MEPA is what’s lacking in this regard.

Maritime issues are of paramount economic importance to Malta’s economy. The depleted fish stock and the quality of sea water are obvious issues. But the impacts of organised crime through the dumping of toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea is not to be underestimated as has been evidenced time and again in the exploits of the eco-mafia reign to our north.

Heavy industry is fortunately absent in Malta. New industries like the pharmaceutical industry are more eco-conscious. However we still require more inputs on resource efficiency and eco-design.

Greening tourism is essential in order to ensure that more of tourism’s environmental impacts are addressed.  The consumption of tourism is 50% more per capita than that registered for a resident, indicating that there is room for considerable improvements.

Public transport is still in shambles. The effects of this state of affairs is evident in the ever increasing number of passenger cars on our roads which have a major impact on air and noise pollution in our communities. Greening transport policies signifies that the mobility of all is ensured with the least possible impacts.  Still a long way to go.

Waste management has made substantial improvement over the years even though it is still way  behind EU targets. It is positive that the draft waste management strategy has established the attaining of a Zero Waste target by 2050. However we still await the specifics of how this is to be achieved. It is achievable but the commitment of all is essential.

Our water resources have been mismanaged, year in, year our. Discharging millions of litres of treated sewage effluent into the sea is just the cherry on the cake. The contaminated and depleted water table which still contributes around 40% to Malta’s potable water supply is in danger of being  completely lost for future generations if we do not act fast.

All the above have been dealt with in various policy documents. One such document is the National Sustainable Development Strategy which establishes the parameters for the action required. Implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy is the obvious first step in establishing a Green Economy.  It is here where the real green skill gap exists. Decision makers lack green skills. This skill gap exists at the level of Cabinet, Parliament, the top echelons of the civil service and in the ranks of the political appointees to Boards and Authorities where decisions are taken and strategies implemented.

When this skill gap is addressed, the rest will follow and we will be on the way to establishing  a green economy.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 14 December 2013

F’Tal-Mirakli : theddid u twissija

rape

(ritratt ta’ Newsbook.com.mt)

 

Dalgħodu Alternattiva Demokratika indirizzat konferenza stampa dwar il-bini li beda fl-area tal-Mirakli ġewwa Ħ’Attard fuq art li sal-2006 kienet barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Il-krew tal-PBS x’ħin kienu fi triqithom għal din il-konferenza kienu mhedda minn persuni li kienu qed jaħdmu fuq is-sit ta’ kostruzzjoni li dwaru saret il-konferenza stampa. Ara r-rapport tal-PBS hawn.

L-istqarrija maħruġa minn Alternattiva Demokratika wara l-konferenza stampa intqal kif ġej :

Il-proprjeta’ vojta: sinjal ta’ twissija

L-ammont ta’ proprjetajiet residenzjali vojta hu sinjal ta’ twissija. Bi 72,150 unit residenzjali vojt ma nistgħux nibqgħu nibnu iżjed art li sa ftit ilu kienet barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp. Hekk qal Carmel Cacopardo, Deputat Chairperson u kelliemi ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli u l-Intern, fl-inħawi Tal-Mirakli f’Ħ’Attard huwa u jindirizza konferenza stampa dwar il-pjani lokali u r-razzjonalizzazzjoni tal-iskemi ta’ żvilupp.

Il-konferenza stampa saret quddiem medda art li saret skedata għall-bini bħala riżultat tal-proċess ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li l-Gvern immexxi mill-PN wettaq fl-2006. Din l-art sa dakinnhar kienet parti minn “green belt” . Fuq din l-art fit-18 ta’ Lulju 2013 il-MEPA ħarġet permess biex jinbnew 24 garage u store fil-basement u 19 il-unit residenzjali fil-ħames sulari l-oħra (6 maisonettes, 9 flats u 4 penthouses).

Cacopardo żied jgħid li “dan kollu qed isir minkejja li preżentement f’Malta hawn 72,150 unit residenzjali vojt. Żieda sostanzjali fuq it-53,136 proprjeta’ vojta fl-2005 u l-35,723 fl-1995.”

“Alternattiva Demokratika,” kompla jgħid Cacopardo “ma taqbilx li dawn l-artijiet jinbnew. Pajjiżna ma jistax jibqa’ jissagrifika iktar art biex fuqha jinbnew iktar residenzi meta fiċ-ċensiment ta’ sentejn ilu kienu identifikati 72,150 post residenzjali vojt. M’għandniex bżonn nibnu fuq skala kbira għal ħafna snin. Fil-kuntest tar-reviżjoni tal-pjani lokali Alternattiva Demokratika jidhrilha li għad baqa’ cans żgħir biex nirrimedjaw. Dan jista’jsir billi l-iskema tar-razzjonalizzazzjoni tispiċċa u l-art li kienet hekk identifikata ma tibqax tajba ghall-bini. Huwa importanti ukoll li nifhmu li ma jagħmilx sens li jkollna iktar proġetti massiċċi ta’ żvilupp residenzjali. Il-kwantita’ ta’ propjeta’ residenzjali vakanti għandha tkun fattur ewlieni u l-bażi ta’pjani lokali ġodda.”

Ralph Cassar, Segretarju Generali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika u Kunsillier fil-Lokalita ta’ Ħ’Attard qal li “l-bini bla rażan li għaddej kif ukoll il-fatt illi hawn numru kbir ta’ proprjetajiet vojta qed joħloq pressjoni żejda fuq l-infrastruttura tal-lokalitajiet. Ħ’Attard mhux eċċezzjoni għal dan. Il-flejjes li ser ikunu meħtiega għall-izvilupp u ż-żamma f’kundizzjoni tajba tal-infrastruttura li taqdi dawn it-72,150 post residenzjali vojt setgħu faċilment intużaw biex titjieb l-infrastruttura eżistenti. Iż-żieda fin-numru ta’ propjetajiet residenzjali vojta,” ikkonkluda Cassar, “barra milli toħloq impatti ambjentali inaċċettabbli, hi ukoll ħela ta’ fondi pubbliċi.”

Ic-Chairperson ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika, il-Prof  Arnold Cassola, ikkonkluda  billi qal: “Bil-konċessjoni ta’ żieda ta’ żewg sulari lil-lukandi, bit-tiġdid awtomatiku sa Marzu 2014 tal-permessi ta’ żvilupp li l-MEPA ħarget minn Awwissu 2006 lil hawn, kif ukoll bil-ħrug ta’ diversi permessi għal żvilupp insostenibbli bħal dak ta’ Sqaq Żbibu f’San Gwann, il-MEPA għan-nom tal-gvern qed turi bil-fatti li ma jimpurtahiex mid-drittijiet tar-residenti. Jidher li issa huwa ż-żmien tal-ħlas lura ta’ dak dovut lill-industrija tal-bini talli għenet lill-partit illum fil-gvern qabel l-elezzjoni.”

Tajjeb li ma ninsewx. Il-froġa tal-MEPA f’Wied il-Għasel il-Mosta

Din hi froġa oħra tal-MEPA li saret fl-2009. Dakinnhar ħareġ il-permess tal-iżvilupp f’Wied il-Għasel il-Mosta, taħt il-pont ħdejn Casa Arkati.  L-anqas fl-appell ma nbidlet d-deċiżjoni.

L-effett ta’ dik id-deċiżjoni issa beda jidher.

Araw ftit.

Fil-bidu, qabel il-froġa tal-MEPA, hekk kienu l-affarijiet:

Wied il-Ghasel 0a

 

Tneħħiet il-ħamrija, tqatta’ l-blat ……………………..

 

Wied il-Ghasel 5b.DSCF4602

 

……….. u iktar blat …………

 

Wied il-Ghasel 8a.DSCF6019

 

u issa araw ftit x’għandna:

 

Wied il-Ghasel. 11. IMG_20130903_163927

 

Dan hu l-kontribut tal-industrija tal-bini lill-pajjiż. Inkomplu inżidu mat-72,150 post reżidenzjali vojt.

 

Froġa oħra tal-MEPA.

Biex niġu f’sensina

ostrich

Il-pjani lokali li jsiru m’humiex hemm għal dejjem. Jeħtieġ li jkunu aġġornati minn żmien għal żmien skond dak li jkun jeħtieġ il-pajjiż.

Mhux kulħadd jagħti prijorita’ lill-istess affarijiet.

Min iħares sal-pont ta’ imnieħru, (short term) bħalma qed jagħmel il-Gvern Laburista li għandna illum kif ukoll kif għamel il-Gvern Nazzjonalista ta’ qablu, jagħti prijorita’ lill-industrija tal-bini għax iqies l-kontribut li  suppost illi din l–industrija qed tagħti lill-ekonomija tal-pajjiż.

Bħalma ġara f’pajjiżi oħra b’konsegwenzi diżastrużi, l-investiment fil-propjeta’ hu bużżieqa li f’pajjiżna ukoll għad trid tinfaqa’ u meta tinfaqa’ ser iweġġgħu ħafna nies. J’alla ddum ma tinfaqa’ u sa dakinnhar nittama li min għandu jiftaħ għajnejħ ikun fetaħom beraħ u  jkun diġa beda jirrimedja.

Hemm bżonn urġenti li nifhmu li l-industrija tal-bini għandha bżonn tkun ristrutturat. Ma tistax tibqa’ tipproduċi iktar propjetajiet reżidenzjali  biex il-parti l-kbira minnhom jibqgħu vojta. Hemm ħtieġa li din l-industrija tkun mgħejjuna tfittex toroq oħra. Hemm ħafna modi kif dan jista’ jsir.

Il-programm elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għall-elezzjoni ta’ Marzu 2013 kien ċar fuq din il-materja. Kien l-uniku wieħed li tkellem ċar fuq l-industrija tal-bini u dwar il-ħtieġa li ma jkollnix iktar proġetti massiċċi ta’ kostruzzjoni reżidenzjali.

72,150 post residenzjali vojt ifisser ħela tar-riżorsi tal-pajjiż. Ifisser ħela ta’ art. Ifisser ħela ta’ kapital investit li seta’ faċilment ġie investit f’oqsma oħra iktar produttivi. Ifisser ħela ta’ riżorsi umani li huma dedikati biex jipproduċu bini destinat li jibqa’ vojt. Riżorsi umani li l-pajjiż jeħtieġ f’oqsma iktar produttivi. Għall-ġid tagħhom, għall-ġid ta’ familtom, għall-ġid tal-pajjiż.

L-industrija tal-bini għandha impatti negattivi ekonomiċi, soċjali u ambjentali.

Ir-reviżjoni tal-pjani lokali hi l-opportunita tad-deheb biex nibdew mexjin fi triq li fuq medda ta’ żmien hi inqas problematika. Triq iebsa u diffiċli. Triq ta’ sagrifiċċju.  Triq li tirrikonoxxi li ġaladarba hawn dan il-bini kollu vojt ma nistgħux nibqgħu nibnu bl-istess ritmu. Ifisser ukoll li jeħtieġ li jonqsu l-impieġi fl-industrija tal-bini u jinħolqu f’oqsma oħra.  Mhux faċli. Imma l-problema saret daqshekk kbira għax Gvern wara l-ieħor għaddas rasu fir-ramel, bħan-ngħam.

Hi l-unika triq li tagħmel sens. Għax ikunu ifisser li bħala pajjiż bdejna ġejjin f’sensina.

kif gie ippubblikat fuq iNews nhar l-Erbgha 4 ta’ Settembru 2013

€9 biljuni mitluqa?

building industry Malta

In-numru ta’ propjetajiet reżidenzjali  vojta qiegħed dejjem jiżdied.

Iċ-ċensiment tal-1995 kien wera li   f’Malta u Għawdex kien hawn 35,723 propjetá reżidenzjali vojta. Għaxar snin wara,  fl-2005 dan in-numru żdied sewwa u laħaq 53,136. L-uffiċċju nazzjonali tal-istatistika diġa’ indika li fiċ-ċensment ta’ Novembru 2011 dan in-numru kompla jiżdied u laħaq it-72,150 post reżidenzjali vojt.

Din il-propjeta’ vojta għandha valur ta’ biljuni ta’ euros. Snin ilu kienet stmata b’valur ta’ €5 biljuni. B’żieda sostanzjali ta’ propjeta’ vojta l-valur issa hu iktar qrib id-€9 biljuni. Dan hu kapital mejjet.  Investiment li sar jew li intiret u ġie mitluq.

Uħud jirraġunaw li x’jiġri (jew ma jiġrix) minn propjetá vojta m’hu affari ta’ ħadd ħlief tas-sidien tal-istess propjetá. Dan ir-raġunament  hu wieħed żbaljat għax il-fatt li propjetá ma tkunx qed tintuża u titħalla vojta għandu impatt fuq il-komunita kollha.

Waqt li hawn 72,150 propjetá reżidenzjali vojta għandna mat-3,000 familja jfittxu saqaf diċenti għal fuq rashom!

Meta propjetá titħalla vojta din toħloq pressjoni biex tinbena iktar art għall-ħtiġijiet li jinqalgħu minn żmien għal żmien. Dan meta dawn il-ħtiġijiet jistgħu faċilment ikunu sodisfatti b’uħud mill-propjetajiet vojta.  L-art li għandna hi limitata u ma nistgħux nibqgħu nibnu iktar art.  Il-pressjoni biex tinbena iżjed art iġġib magħha l-ħtieġa ta’ iktar toroq kif ukoll il-bżonn li jkunu estiżi s-servizzi: is-sistema tad-drenagg, is-servizz tad-distribuzzjoni tal-ilma u tal-elettriku kif ukoll id-dwal fit-toroq.  Dawn is-servizzi huma diġa ipprovduti għall-propjetajiet vojta.  L-ispiża saret imma għal xejn, għax il-propjetá vojta! L-ispiża trid terġa’ issir għall-propjetá li qed tkompli tinbena biex b’hekk inkomplu nżidu ċ-ċimiterju ta’ propjetajiet vojta.

It-72,150 post reżidenzjali vojt f’Novembru 2011 jokkupaw spazju 9 darbiet daqs B’Kara!

Iffaċċjat b’din is-sitwazzjoni l-Gvern immexxi mill-Partit Nazzjonalista mexxa l-quddiem politika irresponsabbli għax meta fl-2006 ikkonkluda l-pjani lokali flok fittex li jikkkontrolla l-firxa esaġerata tal-bini ġieb il-quddiem politika li tinkoraġixxi iktar bini li m’għandniex bżonnu. Fl-2006 l-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi kellu quddiemu r-riżultat taċ-ċensiment tal-2005 li kien juri żieda sostanzjali fin-numru ta’ propjetá reżidenzjali vojta (minn 35,723 fl-1995 għal 53,136 fl-2005). Flok ma applika l-brejkijiet: żied b’mod sostanzjali l-art li tista’ tinbena, żied in-numru ta’ sulari li jistgħu jinbnew f’ħafna lokalitajiet u għamilha iktar faċli li jinbnew il-penthouses!

Is-sitwazzjoni illum bħala riżultat tal-politika żbaljata tal-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi hi ħafna agħar! Iċ-ċifra ta’ 72,150 post residenzjali vojt f’Novembru 2011 hi allarmanti u tfisser li l-pajjiż m’għandux bżonn ta’ żieda fil- bini reżidenzjali għal snin kbar.

Presentement għaddejjin proċeduri biex ikunu reveduti l-Pjani Lokali. Ikun ġenn jekk dan il-fatt ma jingħatax piż sostanzjali huma u jitħejjew il-Pjani Lokali ġodda.  Ir-reviżjoni tal-Pjani Lokali għandha titlaq minn dan il-punt.

Iż-żmien jagħtina parir jekk il-Gvern immexxi minn Joseph Muscat hux ser ikun irresponsabbli daqs dak immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi jew jekk hux ser jibda jsewwi l-problemi.  Id-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru s’issa li l-industrija tal-bini hi meqjusa mill-Partit Laburista bħala pilastru importanti għall-ekonomija tal-pajjiż m’huwiex ta’ awgurju tajjeb.

Flok nibnu iktar ikun aħjar li nagħmlu użu aħjar minn dak li hu diġa mibni. Hawn propjeta’ reżidenzjali  mibnija iżda mhiex użata li tista’ isservi l-ħtiġijiet tal-pajjiż  għal snin twal.

ippubblikat oriġinalment fuq iNews nhar it-Tlieta 27 t’Awwissu 2013

Local plans, and not regional

grand-harbouraerial

MEPA has embarked on a process which will lead to a revision of the seven existing  Local Plans. Five were approved in 2006. Two of them were approved earlier: the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (1995) and the Grand Harbour Local Plan (2002).

With the exception of the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (which regulates  Birżebbuġa, Marsaxlokk and their surrounding areas) all the Local Plans cover extensive areas. The Structure Plan, approved in 1990 and currently subject to revision, had identified the need for 24 Local Plans addressing urban areas, as well as other unspecified plans for Rural Conservation Areas. Initially when MEPA approved the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan it started along this path but then it opted for plans which are more regional than local in nature.

Local Plans are necessary in order that planning policy is appropriately applied at a local level where one can focus on practical considerations. Though there may be overlaps between Local Plans covering similar areas there will also be variations resulting from the specific nature of the different localities. There will be inevitable similarities between, for example, a Local Plan addressing Valletta and Floriana on one hand and another one addressing the Three Cities due to the fact that both contain vast stretches of fortifications.  However the planning issues arising may also lead to different considerations both in respect of what is to be prohibited as well as in what ought to be encouraged.

Local Plans are not neutral policy instruments. Departing from the common need to ensure a continuous maintenance programme for the fortifications (which programme is currently in hand)  Local Plans may explore different potential uses to which the fortifications in two completely different areas may be put. This would be dependent on the infrastructural services in the area  and on the impacts generated by the potential use  on the surrounding amenities and localities. It would be much easier to ensure that this is done through two separate local plans, one specifically addressing Valletta and Floriana and the other addressing just the Three Cities.

It is not just an issue of fortifications. The large number of vacant properties, currently totalling  over 72,000 cannot be addressed adequately at a regional level. Different policies and different targets have to be identified at a local level as both the causes as well as the extent of the problem vary from one locality to another.

Boundaries of a number of Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs) were substantially revised in 2006 on the understanding that it is better to limit the extent of a UCA to that which is necessary and essential. Consequently it should stand to reason that a smaller UCA is much better to regulate and monitor.

A number of vacant properties lie within UCAs as it costs much more to bring such properties to an adequate state compatible to modern standards of living. This is an area which has already been explored in the last years with various fiscal incentives being offered to encourage rehabilitaton and the reuse of such properties. Much more needs to be done. The revision of the Local Plans is another opportunity to re-examine the way forward in tackling the ever increasing number of vacant properties. The proposed policies must however be focused and local in nature as otherwise they will fail to have any impact at all.

As emphasised by eNGOs  the Local Plans should also be an opportunity to consider the integration of environmental policy and its applicability at a local level. Whilst all environmental policy is of relevance to our localities two particular areas easily spring to mind: air quality and noise pollution.

Both air quality and noise control standards can be undoubtedly upgraded if action is taken at a local level. Traffic generated is a major contributor to both. Heavy traffic through residential areas has to be reduced. If the Local Plans address this issue they will be simultaneously contributing to a better air quality and less acoustic pollution in urban areas.

From declarations made in the past weeks it is obvious that one of the controversial issues to be tackled, (most probably in a plan addressing rural areas) would be agro-tourism.  This is a very sensitive matter . If the point of departure is to seek to establish new development zones on the pretext of tourism than such proposals would be unacceptable. If on the other hand such a Rural Plan addresses the use of existing  agricultural holdings aiming to maximise the use of their existing footprint, provide a different touristic experience as well as  provide alternative or additional employment opportunities to our agricultural communities then there is room for considerable discussion.

The Local Plans to be produced will have an impact on our quality of life for the next ten years. It is hence imperative to not only ensure a high level of participation in the consultation process but that the resulting proposals are given due consideration.

This article was published in The Times of Malta, Saturday August 10, 2013

Vacant properties and solar rights

solar rights

Parliamentary Secretary Michael Farrugia has announced that MEPA  will be launching the process which ought to lead to a revision of all seven Local Plans.

The Environment and Development Planning Act 2010 provides for such a revision which in the view of many is long overdue. The difference of opinion will arise when the nature of the revisions to be put in place are announced.

It is obvious that the proposals for revision will result from the process of consultation just launched. But it is also pretty obvious that the direction which government would like such revisions to take  is one which encourages the construction industry. This is where we part company.

Any environmentalist worth his salt is aware that the unbridled development encouraged during the past years has resulted in a large stock of vacant residential properties. It is estimated that this is well in excess of 70,000 and still rising, even though at a reduced rate.

This glut of vacant residential properties should be the primary motivation directing those seeking the way forward for the seven Local Plans.

It is in view of Malta’s small size that as a Nation we cannot afford to take up more land for building development. We should rather seek to maximize the use of the building stock already in hand. This signifies that revised Local Plans should restrict additional development of virgin land. This can be done by reversing the rationalisation exercise carried out in 2006, by declaring a moratorium on large scale residential development and by reducing permissible heights to what they were in 2006.

The revised Local Plans should focus on the utilisiation of the existing building stock, with an emphasis on rehabilitation and redevelopment where necessary.

The revised Local Plans must also protect solar rights. This aim can be achieved through discarding the increased permissible building heights introduced  in 2006 as well as by subjecting the possible  development of penthouses to the solar rights of residents in the same residential block.

Reducing the potential for development means that the building construction industry would reduce its activity to a sustainable level. It will require help to pursue such a road. This would be the first step which should not be postponed. The revision of the Local Plans is the optimum time for such a step: to commence the restructuring of the building industry.

Land Reclamation and the construction industry

land reclamation 01

The issue of land reclamation should be tackled in a responsible manner.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

In Malta land reclamation was used in the past to create the Freeport Terminal at Kalafrana in the limits of Birżebbuġa.

MEPA has during the recent past engaged consultants to assess the potential of land reclamation in Maltese waters.

A 2005 study was commissioned by MEPA and carried out by  Carl Bro. This study identified six relatively large coastal areas as search areas for potential land reclamation sites. The study had  recommended that these six areas, or a selection of them, be “investigated in further details in parallel with the execution of a pre-feasibility study, before a principal decision is taken on whether land reclamation is considered realistic under Maltese conditions. It is recommended that such investigations and studies be carried out by the Government prior to the involvement of the private sector in possible land reclamation projects.” (page 8 of report).

MEPA took up this proposal and commissioned ADI Associates together with Scott Wilson to carry out a detailed study on two of the identified coastal areas. These studies were finalised in 2007 and 2008 and consist of 4 volumes. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline.

These latter studies conclude with a detailed set of recommendations on more focused studies relative to environmental and economic impacts which would be necessary if land reclamation is to be further considered.

In Chapter 10 of its electoral manifesto the Labour Party is committed to utilise a programme of land reclamation as an important tool in the infrastructural development of the country.  The said electoral programme emphasises the environmental and economic sensitivity of such projects and underlines a  commitment to high standards in environmental, social, economic, land use planning and sustainable development fields.

In Parliament it has been declared that the next step would be for expressions of interest to be submitted by those proposing  projects for  development on reclaimed land. A call should be issued in the near future.

I believe that this is not the way forward.  On the basis of the studies carried out to date and such additional studies as may be required it would have been much better if government presents for public consultation a detailed draft land reclamation strategy.  Such a strategy would then be subjected to public consultation. A dialogue is required, not just with the developers but also with civil society, including most importantly with environmental NGOs.

The draft strategy would undoubtedly indicate the proposed permissible development on the reclaimed land. It would be interesting to note if the said strategy would consider the need for residential development in view of the over 70,000 vacant residential properties  on the islands. On the basis of existing and possibly additional studies the strategy would also seek to ensure that Malta’s coastline is protected much more effectively than Malta’s countryside has been to date.

All views should be carefully considered before such a strategy is finalised.

Once the strategy is finalised its environmental impacts should be carefully scrutinised  as is provided for in the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU. This Directive now has the force of law in Malta. It is only when this assessment has been finalised and the impacts identified are suitably addressed through changes in the draft strategy  itself (if required) that it would be reasonable to invite expressions of interest from interested parties.

Land reclamation is no magic solution to a construction industry which is in urgent need of restructuring. Even if land reclamation is permitted it cannot and will not offer a long term solution to an ailing construction industry which has been capable of contributing to an accumulating stockpile of vacant dwellings which are equivalent to 9 ghost towns, each the size of B’Kara.

The country would be economically and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would  be required  to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

This  would certainly be much more beneficial and sustainable than land reclamation.

published in The Times  on 27 April 2013 under the title: Land Reclamation and Building

Environmental Governance

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Having over 70,000 vacant residential properties is a very serious matter which both the Nationalist and the Labour parties have ignored in their electoral manifestos. Rather than being ignored this fact ought to serve as the launching pad for a different way of looking at land use planning issues.

The Housing Authority in the past months has opted not to build new social housing units but instead decided to tap the stock of vacant dwellings held by the private sector. It was a very positive decision pushed forward by Minister Chris Said on taking up his Ministerial responsibilities early in 2012.

In its electoral manifesto Alternattiva Demokratika has listed a number of specific proposals which would go a long way to address the land use planning chaos which will be inherited by the government that takes office after the 9 March general elections.

As a first step Malta requires a moratorium on large scale residential development. The building industry cannot keep constructing flats and maisonettes in hundreds, adding to the stock of vacant dwellings. The number of vacant residential properties is equivalent to 9 times the size of the residential parts of B’Kara.

While the Malta Environment and Planning Authority has issued development permits, the State has, through our taxes, been paying up for the development of the infrastructure (roads, public sewer, water and electricity distribution networks………) which is underutilised. These funds could have been put to better use than to service vacant dwellings.

The boundaries of the development zone have to be rolled back. Those lands which, in August 2006, were included as land suitable for development as part of the so-called rationalisation exercise and have not yet been committed to development should return forthwith outside the development zone where they belong.

The construction industry, aided by a myopic MEPA, has made a havoc of our towns and villages through encouraging overdevelopment. In 2006, when the final decisions on most of the Local Plans were being considered,  the Government had access to the 2005 census results which determined the existence of 53,136 vacant dwellings. This was a substantial increase over the 17,413 vacant dwellings identified 10 years earlier as part of the 1995 census.

Publication of the 2011 census results on property is long overdue, but it is expected that the numbers this time will exceed the 70,000 mark substantially.

Faced with these numbers, a responsible government would never have proposed extending the development zones. The 2005 census result provided the evidence for their curtailment not for their extension. In addition to extending the development zones, the PN-led government increased the permissible building heights practically all over Malta, the end result being a further substantial increase in the number of vacant dwellings.

In addition, the height relaxation policy put in place in 2006 had another serious impact. It placed a number of dwellings in the shade of new buildings surrounding them, these being built in line with the new permissible heights. As a result, the residents in these dwellings cannot make use of solar energy. Not only the use of photovoltaic panels is out of the question but also their solar water heaters are in most cases no longer of any use!

Faced with this situation, it is political madness to propose considering the construction industry as an important and fundamental component of the economy, as the PL is proposing. The construction industry must shrink rather than expand. It must be assisted to manage its essential and unavoidable restructuring.

The construction industry can be directed towards three specific areas of activity: rehabilitation of old properties, road construction/maintenance and marine construction works. Each of these three areas of activity requires training in construction skills. Rehabilitation works require old building trades on the verge of disappearance. Roadworks, though improving in quality, still require a more skilled labourforce. We also need to take stock of our marine infrastructure which requires substantial improvement as well as regular maintenance.

The Government can assist the construction industry to change through providing training facilties for its labour force, thereby reducing the social impacts of change. Funds from the European Social Fund are available to assist in this exercise.

Land use planning should be subject to environmental governance rules. It is for this reason that AD considers it essential that rather then splitting up MEPA, the Government should go for a defragmentation, consolidating all environmental functions in one authority through the amalgamation of MEPA with the Resources Authority.

In such a consolidated authority, environmental considerations should be overriding and, in particular, land use planning should be put in its proper place: under the continuous supervision of a properly staffed Environment Directorate.

This is the basic change required in environmental governance. Placing the land use planning and the construction industry in their proper place and ensuring that environmental governance is defragmented.

published in The Times, Saturday 23rd February 2013

Restructuring the building industry

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Both Labour and the PN consider the building industry as a very important element of the economy. AD disagrees and considers that it is time for the building industry to be restructured.

In AD’s manifesto it is stated that : The current slow down of the building industry makes it ripe for restructuring. The first step would be acceptance of the fact that too much of the Maltese islands are built up and that the up-take of more land for building should cease forthwith. Nor can we continue demolishing the core of our towns and villages and replacing them with more intensive development. The restoration of old buildings and their adaptation to uses compatible with today’s needs is the necessary way forward.

With over 70,000 vacant properties it is about time that we take stock of the situation and finally decide that it does not make sense to keep adding to the stock of vacant dwellings.

The rationalisation exercise in 2006 extended the development zones when the 2005 Census  was already clearly indicating that the number of vacant dwellings was on the increase. Yet prodded by developers the PN in government (supported on this issue by the PL) not only increased the limits of development but also increased the permissible heights in various localities. Today the situation is even worse.

The need to restructure the building industry is consistent with AD’s electoral proposals for a moratorium on large scale residential development, and the reversal of the extension of the limits to development and the permissible building heights.   Instead of shedding its surplus labour force the building industry should be encouraged to seek alternative avenues. Applying usefully EU funds Government can assist through training programmes in such areas as traditional building skills, road building and marine construction works.

originally published at di-ve.com on Friday 15 February 2013