Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (5) Development and Land Use

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The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 14 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

Development and Land Use.

The results of the 2011 Census have not yet been published. It is however very clear that when the result is known the number of vacant residential properties shall be well in excess of the 53,000 vacant dwellings documented in the 2005 Census. This clearly shows how the building industry was given a free rein, building in an uncontrolled manner with substantially more land being built up.

The Census results should be taken note of and lessons should be learnt. It should not be ignored as the 2005 Census was in relation to building and land use.

In view of this large number of vacant residential units AD insists that there is no need of large scale residential projects and it shall thus propose a moratorium on this type of development. It is also necessary that the rationalisation exercise through which additional land for development was identified in 2006 should be reversed in all those cases where land so identified has not yet been developed.

The increase in permissible heights for development in various localities which was brought into effect by the Local Plans approved in 2006 should be reversed. In these cases land speculators are placing in the shade various residential areas and as a result they are ruining investments which Maltese families have made in solar energy technology.

The construction of penthouses should be discouraged in order that roofs can be better used for the generation of solar energy.

L-Estratt segwenti hu mehud kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 14 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

Il-Bini u l-Użu tal-Art

Ir-rizultat taċ-ċensiment tal-2011 għadu mhux ippubblikat. Iżda huwa ċar li meta ser joħroġ dan ir-riżultat in-numru ta’ postjiet residenzjali vojta ser ikun ferm ikbar mit-53,000 li kienu irriżultaw fiċ-ċensiment tal-2005. Dan juri kemm l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tħalliet għal riħha, tibni bl-addoċċ u bir-riżultat li iktar art inbniet.

Ir-riżultat taċ-ċensiment irridu nieħdu l-lezzjonijiet minnu, mhux kif ġara bir-riżultat taċ-ċensiment tal-2005 li prattikament ġie injorat fil-qasam tal-bini u tal-użu tal-art.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan in-numru ta’ postijiet vojta, Alternattiva Demokratika tinsisti illi ma hemmx ħtieġa ta’ proġetti residenzjali ġodda fuq skala kbira u għaldaqstant qed tipproponi moratorju fuq dan it-tip ta’ żvilupp. Hemm ħtieġa ukoll li l-proċess li bih żdiedu bosta artijiet għall-iżvilupp fl-2006, magħruf bħala l-proċess tar-razzjonalizzazzjoni, safejn ma bediex il-proċess ta’ bini fuq dawn l-artijiet għandu jitreġġa’ lura.

Għandu jitreġġa’ lura l-għoli ta’ bini permissibli f’diversi partijiet ta’ Malta li sar permezz tal-Pjanijiet Lokali approvati fl-2006 u li bħala riżultat tagħhom spekulaturi qed jidfnu diversi żoni residenzjali fid-dell u jagħmlu ħerba minn investimenti tal-familji Maltin fit-teknoloġija tal-enerġija solari.

Il-bini tal-penthouses għandu jkun skoraġġit u dan biex il-bjut ikunu jistgħu jintużaw għall-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija solari.

You know where we stand

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You know where we stand. This statement distinguishes Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green party in Malta, from the other political parties. Greens in Malta are, and have always been, clear as to the political agenda which they champion. In contrast, there are a number of issues on which both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party are silent or evasive.

One important issue will be missing from AD’s 2013 electoral manifesto for the first time since the 1992 general election. I am referring to proposals for the introduction of divorce legislation. The PN and the PL always shied away from taking a stand on divorce. They were, however, faced with the inevitable when PN maverick MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, (later joined by Labour MP Evarist Bartolo) took a leaf out of AD’s 2008 electoral manifesto and presented a Private Member’s Bill on divorce. The Bill was approved after the need for divorce legislation was endorsed by popular support expressed in a referendum notwithstanding the resistance of a number of fundamentalist MPs.

Much has been written about the matter but it is necessary at this point in time to underline that on this basic issue both the PN and the PL failed to be clear with the electorate. They tried to avoid the issue to pander to fundamentalist sentiment.

AD has always been very clear on the issues it supports or opposes. It will remain so.

Today, AD will present to the public its team of candidates, which, once more, will be contesting all 13 electoral districts in the March 2013 general election. Eventual Green members of Parliament will ensure a responsible approach to the country’s challenges.

Instead of political pique and unnecessary confrontation, Green MPs will advocate a policy of consensus based on consistency, responsibility and progressive politics.

Greens in Malta will continue to be the strongest defenders of what is left of Malta’s environmental heritage and will strive towards having public spaces that are accessible to all.

Greens, in contrast to the others, have already proven themselves of not being hostage to big business, hunters, trappers, firework fanatics, Armier squatters and greedy land developers.

We insist on the need for sustainable policies. With over 70,000 vacant dwellings resulting from a land use policy that is anything but sustainable, Greens in Parliament after the March 2013 election will champion the immediate reversal of the rationalisation exercise that has extended unnecessarily the permissible development boundaries.

Water has been mismanaged over the years such that the water table is severely depleted and treated sewage effluent is discarded, being considered as a waste product rather than as an important resource. In the long term, all boreholes in private use should cease to be operational and steps have to be taken to ensure that it is clear to all that the water table is public property.

In contrast to the above, the PN and the PL have taken an ambivalent attitude towards the environment. They bend backwards making efforts to be pleasant to environmentalists, yet, simultaneously echo the demands of those who have been plundering natural resources.

Greens have always stood up for animal rights.

Greens call for socially just economic and social policies, such as the need to increase the minimum wage as well as socially just pensions, including adequate disability pensions. To counter speculation and to discourage the unsustainable use of property, Greens propose taxing vacant properties, from the third property onwards.

AD will continue to be the progressive party, championing humane social policies and equal rights for all: persons with disability, LGBT persons as well as alternative families.

AD is for gender equality, in favour of the right of access to IVF without discrimination, full equality in marriage and family rights for same-sex couples. AD is against all forms of discrimination, including that based on race.

AD will advocate the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use while insisting on the necessity that society helps drug victims to overcome their addiction rather than criminalise them.

Green MPs will be ready to work with MPs from other political parties on the basis of an agreed joint programme and will work to ensure its implementation when in Parliament.

As a minor partner, Greens will strive to develop politics by consensus, conscious that this is a prerequisite essential to the creation of a stable political environment.

Voting for AD is a vote for change in the method of governance that has been corrupted by the two-party system. If you believe in giving priority to social justice, civil rights, environmental justice, sustainable development, ecological modernisation, and, last but not least, the reform in the institutional set-up for the enhancement of democracy, you know where you stand with the Greens.

Voting for the PN and PL signifies voting for a stagnant two-party system.

AD can deliver change. The other parties cannot: they are compromised.

You know where we stand.

published originally in Times of Malta on January 12, 2013

Magħna taf fejn qiegħed

new identity

 Il-ġimgħa d-dieħla nisimgħu s-suffara li ssejjaħ elezzjoni ġenerali.

Alternattiva Demokratika ser terġa tkun hemm fuq id-Distretti kollha. F’uħud b’kandidat wieħed, f’oħrajn b’iktar.

Il-programm elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika bħal dejjem ser ikun ċar fuq issues li partiti oħra jevitaw. Hekk ġara fil-passat dwar id-divorzju u r-riforma tal-liġijiet tal-kera. Il-partiti l-oħra evitaw dawn is-suġġetti fil-kampanja elettorali imma mbagħad kellhom jiffaċċawhom fil-Parlament.

Alternattiva Demokratika m’hi ostaġġ ta’ ħadd, għalhekk titkellem ċar.

AD tkompli tkun l-akbar difensur ta’ dak li baqa’ mill-wirt ambjentali Malti, tistinka għal aktar spazji pubbliċi u infrastruttura aħjar. AD mħiex ostaġġ tal-kaċċaturi u n-nassaba, l-iffissati fil-logħob tan-nar, l-abitanti illegali tal-Armier, u spekulaturi u żviluppaturi bla rażan. Issejjaħ għal politika sostenibbli dwar l-art u l-ilma, għal politika ekonomika progressiva, bħal żieda fil-paga minima u taxxa mit-tielet proprjetà vojta lil hinn.

AD hi favur politika soċjali umana u drittijiet ugwali għal kulħadd, fosthom il-minoranzi fil-politika soċjali u tal-familja, bħall-persuni b’diżabilità, il-persuni LGBT u kull tip ta’ familja. AD hi favur ugwaljanza bejn is-sessi, id-dekriminalizzazzjoni tad-drogi għall-użu personali, u l-għajnuna għall-vittimi tad-droga minflok kriminalizzazzjoni.

AD lesta biex taħdem ma’ ħaddieħor, skont programm konġunt maqbul. Taħdem biex dak miftiehem jitwettaq meta nkunu fil-Parlament. Bħala sieħeb minuri, AD tistinka biex tkun żviluppata il-politika bil-kunsens u ma theddidx li tgħaddi tagħha akkost ta’ kollox, konxja mill-fatt li dan iġib l-instabilità.

Vot għal Alternattiva Demokratika jkun vot għall-bidla fil-mod ta’ tmexxija u favur stabbilità.

Jekk temmen li għandhom jkunu fuq quddiem il-ġustizzja soċjali, id-drittijiet ċivili, il-ġustizzja ambjentali, l-iżvilupp sostenibbli, il-modernizzazzjoni ekoloġika u, fuq kollox, ir-riforma tal-istituzzjonijiet għat-tisħiħ tad-demokrazija, mela taf fejn qiegħed mal-Alternattiva Demokratika. Vot għall-PN jew għall-PL ifisser vot għas-sistema staġnata taż-żewġ partiti.

Jekk vera trid il-bidla, ivvota Alternattiva. Magħna taf fejn qiegħed.

Ħalluna naħdmu ………ħalluna ngħixu

Ħalluna naħdmu.

Hekk qal l-iżviluppatur Sandro Chetcuti waqt laqgħa organizzata man-nies tan-negozju mill-Partit Laburista. Dan hu slogan li qed jintuża issa biex ifisser ġlieda kontra l-burokrazija. Fost oħrajn kontra l-hekk imsejħa burokrazija fil-MEPA.

Qalulna li fil-Ġermanja permess ta’ żvilupp joħroġ fi tlett xhur iżda f’Malta jieħu ta’ l-inqas tmien xhur.

Li ma qalulniex li f’Malta l-industrija tal-bini tħalliet għal snin sħah tagħmel prattikament dak li trid. Bil-konsegwenza li presentement hawn iktar minn 70,000 post residenzjali vojt. Dawn il-postijiet vojta huma ekwivalenti għal 9 darbiet daqs iż-żona residenzjali ta’ B’kara.

Ma qalulniex li minkejja l-attaparsi kontrolli l-MEPA ħarġet permessi li qatt ma kellhom joħorġu.

Il-Lidl ta’ Ħal Safi inbena bħala riżultat ta’ permess ta’ żvilupp li qatt ma kellu joħroġ. Tant li wara li l-Uffiċjal tal-Verifika (Audit Officer) tal-MEPA fi Frar 2008 ikkonkluda l-investigazzjoni tiegħu kienet irreżenjat il-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp.

Il-Lidl ta’ Ħal-Luqa mhux biss nbena f’żona li ma kienx permess li jsir dan il-bini talli l-parkeġġ tiegħu qiegħed sitwat taħt l-aħħar parti tal-flight path għall-mitjar internazzjonali ta’ Malta. Jiena infurmat li waqt li kien għaddej ix-xogħol ta’ kostruzzjoni fis-sit tal-Lidl f’Ħal-Luqa minħabba l-jib tal-krejnijiet li kien hemm fil-parking area l-aċċess għall-mitjar ingħalaq għal xi ħin. Huma u neżlin l-ajruplani tant ikunu fil-baxx meta jkunu fuq il-parkeġġ tal-Lidl ta’ Ħal-Luqa li kien hemm periklu serju ta’ inċident minħabba dawn il-krejnijiet.

Il-problemi konnessi mal-MEPA huma is-swaba politiċi li hemm fiha l-ħin kollu. Ir-riforma tal-MEPA ma indirizzatx l-iżjed element essenzjali u ċjoe kif jinħatru dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dwar dan Alternattiva Demokratika fil-manifest elettorali li ser tippreżenta għall-elezzjoni ġenerali li għandna wara l-bieb ser terġa’ tipproponi soluzzjoni li lill-politiku toħorġu l-barra mill-proċess li permezz tiegħu preżentement qiegħed involut direttament fid-deċiżjonijiet u minflok issaħħaħ ir-rwol tiegħu (tal-politiku) fejn tidħol is-sorveljanza.

Il-MEPA għandha rwol importanti. Sfortunatament m’hiex titħalla taqdi dan ir-rwol. Tkun tista’ taqdi dan ir-rwol meta jinħatru persuni kapaċi fit-tmexxija tal-MEPA. Dawn il-persuni jeħtieġ li jkunu disponibbli biex kontinwament jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom. Ir-rwol tal-MEPA mhux biss li toħroġ jew iżżomm il-permessi tal-iżvilupp. Fuq kollox għandha l-obbligu li fid-deċiżjonijiet tagħha u permezz tagħhom tassigura li l-kwalita’ ta’ ħajja li ngħixu lkoll kemm aħna titjieb.

Biex dan ikun jista’ jsir il-MEPA trid trabbi is-snien mal-Gvern u l-awtoritajiet pubbliċi. (Għax fost l-agħar deċiżjonijiet tal-MEPA hemm dawk fejn huwa involut il-Gvern: il-power station f’Delimara, il-Freeport f’Birzebbuga, l-impjant tal-iskart ta’ Sant’ Antnin f’Marsaskala……) Meta dan ikun jista’ jsir, imbagħad  ikun possibli li jingħad li l-MEPA qed taqdi l-missjoni tagħha.

Ħalluna ngħixu!

Malta’s Nine Ghost Towns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

published in The Times on 29 September 2012

Dom u Daphne : l-ewwel miraklu ?

Kellu jkun Dom Mintoff u l-art li nnegozjaw uliedu Yana u Anne biex Daphne tikteb artiklu imqanqal dwar l-ambjent. Dwar art li kellha tibqa’ barra iż-żona ta’ żvilupp imma daħħluha.  Mhux soltu li qalba taħraqha għall-ambjent! Miraklu?

Talbet inkjesta għax hu skandlu kif art li sal-1989 kienet barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp, mill-1989 il-quddiem setgħet  tinbena. Il-pjanta l-ġdida ta’ kif setgħet tinbena l-art fiha bħal ħotba, qiesha riedu jdaħħlu biss l-art tal-familja tal-Perit.

Naqbel 100% magħha li dik l-art qatt ma messha ġiet permessa li tkun żviluppata. Imma jiena u Daphne motivati minn raġunijiet differenti.

Il-motiv ta’ Daphne hu Mintoff: għaliha dak li għandu x’jaqsam miegħu Mintoff hu kollu ħażin.

Il-motiv tiegħi hu ambjentali: jiena motivat  mill-fatt li m’għandniex bżonn bini ta’ iktar residenzi għax għandna iktar minn biżżejjed. Bħalissa għandna il-fuq minn 70,000 post residenjali vojt u żgur li m’għandniex bżonn iktar.

L-art b’faċċata fuq Triq iż-Żejtun Marsaxlokk daħlet fl-ischeme tal-bini fl-1989. Dakinnhar  iddaħħlu fl-ischeme tal-bini kwantitajiet kbar ta’ artijiet imxerrda ma Malta kollha. Uħud kien jagħmel sens li jidħlu. Oħrajn le. Irrispettivament ta’ min huma. Mhux ta’ ulied il-Perit Mintoff biss. Ta’ l-oħrajn ukoll.

Għalhekk mhux skandlu. Iżda skandli. Plural mhux singular. Jiena u Alternattiva Demokratika interessati fil-plural, mhux fis-singular. Imma Daphne hi interessata biss u esklussivament fuq il-każ ta’ Marsaxlokk. Hekk jidher ta’ l-inqas.

Dawn l-iskandli ma sarux biss fuq art f’Marsaxlokk. L-anqas ma saru biss fl-1989. Saru ukoll taħt id-direzzjoni ta’ George Pullicino fl-2006 b’dak il-proċess magħruf bħala “rationalisation”. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan il-proċess kompliet tiżdied l-art li tista’ tinbena madwar Malta kollha.

Anke dwar dan saret spekulazzjoni.   Anke hawn kien hawn pluralita’ ta’ skandli. Imma dakinhar il-miraklu kien għadu ma sarx. Alternattiva Demokratika u l-għaqdiet ambjentali biss fetħu ħalqhom!

Ħaddiehor żamm għajnejh magħluqa, meta messhom huma miftuħin beraħ il-ħin kollu. It-tnejn li huma.

Imma l-miraklu ta’ kuxjenza ambjentali ta’ Daphne għalissa jidher li hu limitata għal Triq iż-Żejtun Marsaxlokk.

Progress? Ma nafx!

The accumulated cost of incompetence

After last Monday’s storm the usual comments were read and heard: the damage sustained, the cost to the insurers, the cleaning operations, the near misses.

There was no comment on the real culprit for a substantial part of the damage.

No one commented on the excessive building development taking over agricultural land over the years. No one commented on the building in and along valleys. No one commented on the lack of water cisterns in residential units which although a legal requirement since 1881 is more honoured in the breach.

Who is responsible for all this?

Successive governments and the public administration in the last 50 years is responsible for this mess. It is in fact the cost of incompetence.

The storm would have happened anyway, but :

If all residential units are provided with rainwater cisterns there would certainly be less stormwater gushing around in the streets. Certainly no overflowing sewers as still happens in a number of localities.

If less building development was permitted over the years there would be more land available for the recharge of the aquifer.  We would also have substantially less vacant dwellings

If rubble walls along valleys are properly and regularly maintained there would be less obstruction to the natural flow of water.

If  no dumping of waste occurs in valleys, there would be less obstruction to the natural flow of storm water.

But this has not been so.  Hence the scale of the damage.

The damage caused by last Monday’s storm is the accumulated cost of incompetence.

 

published at di-ve.com on 7 September 2012

Its time to halt the process

 

The objective of a census is to collect data to accurately inform decision-makers. The 2005 census identified 53,136 vacant properties in the Maltese islands; 24,295 units (45.7 per cent) of these were flats and penthouses, 13,872 were terraced houses and 9,857 were maisonettes. Most were identified as being in either a good state of repair or else as requiring only minimum repairs in order to be habitable.

It also resulted that 5,724 units (10.8 per cent) of the vacant dwellings were in a shell state. Twenty per cent of the vacant dwellings were identified as summer residences, a substantial number in Gozo.

Comparing the 2005 census with that taken in 1995, one notes that the number of vacant dwellings in the 10-year period increased from 35,723 to 53,136, up 48.74 per cent. Faced with such an increase in vacant dwellings a responsible government would have applied the brakes to the construction of residential units. In particular, it would have either reduced the land available for development or, as a minimum, it would have retained the status quo.

Faced with this information the Nationalist government, a few months after the 2005 census, ignored the results and instead increased the land available for development. It did this through three specific measures.

Firstly, through the rationalisation exercise it extended the limits of development in most localities. Secondly, it increased the permissible heights for development in a number of localities. Thirdly, it changed the rules for the development of penthouses. Instead of being constructed over a four-storey high building they could now be constructed over a three-storey building.

This has resulted in a further increase in the number of vacant dwellings, which have now been estimated as being in excess of 70,000. The results of the latest census are awaited with trepidation.

The 2005 census had identified that there were a total of 192,314 residential units on the Maltese islands. This means that the 53,136 vacant dwellings then identified amounted to 27.63 per cent of the housing stock.

The number of vacant residential properties in Malta and Gozo in 2005 was equivalent to seven times the size of Birkirkara, which, then, had 7,613 residential units. The number of vacant residential properties in 2011 is estimated to be even larger: nine times the size of 2005 Birkirkara.

This means that today approximately one third of the existing dwellings in Malta are vacant. Additionally, it signifies that expenditure for the development and maintenance of part of the islands’ infrastructure (currently servicing vacant properties) could have been avoided and instead channelled to maintain the infrastructure that services utilised properties. This applies to roads, public sewers and the networks distributing/servicing electricity, water, street lighting and telecommunications.

Millions of euros have been thrown down the drain to keep the construction industry happy.

In view of the above, when the construction industry boasts of its contribution to the gross national product one is justified in being sceptical. When a contribution to the economic development of the country is manifested in such negative results (thousands of vacant dwellings) one starts to question whether the GNP is in reality an adequate means of measurement.

The present crisis facing the construction industry is a unique opportunity for the government to embark on its inevitable and long overdue restructuring. The large number of vacant dwellings is the proverbial writing on the wall that does not require any special deciphering skills. The construction industry should be cut down to size in order to avoid further environmental damage and to channel part of its labour force towards activity of tangible benefit to the economy.

Restructuring will lead to a migration of jobs, especially those that do not require any particular skill. Offering retraining now to the unskilled segment would be an appropriate policy initiative. This would ease the social impacts of restructuring and facilitate the migration from one sector o another.

Now is the time to halt the development of uncommitted land. In particular, the rationalisation exercise of 2006, the relaxation of permissible building heights and penthouse regulations require immediate reversal.

A positive signal was forthcoming from the 2012 Budget through the introduction of incentives for the rehabilitation of village cores and protected buildings.

These incentives were first mentioned when the Rent Reform White Paper was launched in the summer of 2008. Unfortunately, the gestation period of this initiative was of elephantine proportions.

The availability of incentives to encourage the rehabilitation of the historic heritage in towns and villages is not enough. It must be coupled with an increased commitment to train on a continuous basis the required tradesmen and women who need to be at the forefront of this effort. The industrialisation of the construction industry over the years has been the cause of the loss of much skilled labour. It is time to halt the process.

This is the way forward. The economy has been toxically dependent on the construction industry for far too long. I look forward to the time when all this would be history.

A Happy New Year to all.

 

originally published in The Times of Malta – December 31, 2011

9 ghost towns in Malta

 
 
Malta has nine ghost towns each of them being equivalent in size to B’Kara.
 
I made this statement when addressing an environmental conference organised by the Church Environment Commission on Friday afternoon at Floriana.
 

The 2005 census had identified 53,000 vacant properties. It is estimated that the current census would identify a substantial larger number which would be well above 70,000. 

The Census is intended to aid policy makers by providing information relevant to their decision-making. Unfortunately when the 2005 Census was concluded Government ignored the information available. The 2005 Census had identified that in the 10 years leading to 2005 vacant properties had increased by 17,413. Yet Government went on to increase substantially land available for developement through three specific measures. This was done notwithstanding that there was a large amount of vacant property.

The three measures through which additional land was released for development were :

1) the extension of the development zones through the rationalisation exercise,

2) the increase in the permissible height of development in various localities.

3) the relaxation of the height at which a penthouse can be constructed. A penthouse can now be constructed when the maximum permissible height is three floors.   This was previously permissible when the permissible height was four floors.

When faced by such a quantity of vacant property it does not make sense to encourage more building construction through a relaxation of land use policy. Government’s land use planning policy has resulted   in more than 70,000 vacant properties. These are the equivalent to 9 ghost towns each  of which is the size of B’Kara.

The full text of the delivered address which was delivered in Maltese is the following :

_______________________________________________________________________

 

Kummissjoni Interdjoċesana Ambjent

 

Konferenza dwar ir-riżorsi u l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

 

 Biżżejjed għal kulħadd ? 

 

minnCarmelCacopardo

 

kelliemi ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

 

dwar l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli u l-Intern

 

 

 

Tajjeb li nibda bil-frażi “biżżejjed għal kulħadd” li jeħtieġ li tkun iċċarata ftit. Il-kliem kif imqiegħed jinftiehem illi dak li hawn madwarna qiegħed hemm biex naqsmuh bejnietna. Għalhekk meta jingħad li hawn “biżżejjed għal kulħadd” speċi qed jingħad li m’hemmx għalfejn tinkwieta għax sehemek tista’ tieħdu inti ukoll.

 

Naħseb li dan hu mod żbaljat kif infissru l-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Għax dak li hawn madwarna la hu tagħna u l-anqas ma hu għalina biss. Xi darba forsi nifhmu li aħna l-bnedmin ma nippossjedux id-dinja iżda qegħdin hawn u niffurmaw parti minn eko-sistema.  Aħna parti minn xi ħaġa ikbar: m’aħniex waħedna. Hawn ħlejjaq oħra madwarna. Xi wħud mill-bnedmin għarfu dan u irrikonoxxew li aħna parti minn familja kbira li fiha hemm ukoll ħuna x-xemx, oħtna l-qamar u ħlejjaq oħra. Dawn huma sentimenti li ma ġewx espressi biss minn persunaġġi reliġjużi bħal San Franġisk t’Assisi iżda insibuhom fl-egħruq tal-komunitajiet indiġeni imxerrda mal-erbat irjieħ tad-dinja.    

 

Sfortunatament id-dinja żviluppat b’mod differenti minn hekk għax il-bniedem fittex li jaħtaf u jiddomina kemm fuq il-bnedmin kif ukoll fuq in-natura. U n-natura li issa xebgħet bdiet tirritalja u bil-ħerba li qed tnissel permezz tal-bidla fil-klima qegħda tkaxkar minn nofs kull ma issib. Jeħel ma rasha kulħadd, mhux biss min ħarbat.

 

L-iżvilupp jista’ jkun sostenibbli meta nifhmu dan kollu u naġixxu fuqu. Hu sostenibbli meta nifhmu li hemm limiti li l-eko-sistema timponi (li l-ebda Gvern ma jista’ jeżentak minnhom) u li meta dawn il-limiti jinqabżu hemm il-konsegwenzi mhux biss għalik iżda għal kulħadd fuq firxa ta’ żmien. L-iżvilupp hu sostenibbli meta l-bniedem jimxi b’rispett lejn kull ma hemm madwaru: rispett kemm lejn in-natura kif ukoll lejn il-bnedmin l-oħra. Għandna l-obbligu ukoll li nirrispettaw il-ħidma ta’ ħaddieħor. Obbligu li jimmanifesta ruħu fil-mod kif il-bniedem jorganizza l-ħidma tiegħu (l-ekonomija) kif ukoll fil-mod kif in-natura torganizza l-ħidma tagħha f’dak li nsejħu l-habitats naturali. L-ekonomija tal-bniedem m’hiex iktar importanti mill-ekonomija tan-natura. Jekk inħalluhom iżda jistgħu jimxu id f’id.

 

Uħud jitkellmu fuq bilanċ bejn l-ekonomija, l-ambjent u l-politika soċjali biex juru kemm fehmu u li huma fuq quddiem nett fit-triq tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Min jitkellem fuq dan il-bilanċ immaġinarja għadu ma fehem xejn. Il-qerda ambjentali li issir kontinwament f’isem dak li jissejjaħ żvilupp ma tista’ qatt titqies ġustifikata mit-tkabbir ekonomiku.  Ekonomija li tikber b’dan il-mod m’għandniex bżonnha.

 

Dan iġibni għas-suġġett tal-lum. Il-bini ta’ madwarna.

 

Qed jingħad li hawn biżżejjed għal kulħadd. Iżda waqt li hawn eluf ta’ units residenzjali vojta hawn ftit iktar minn 2,000 persuna reġistrati mal-Awtorita’ tad-Djar għax m’għandhomx saqaf diċenti fuq rashom. Ma dawn l-2000 persuna hemm oħrajn li qatgħu qalbhom mis-sistema u ma jfittxux l-għajnuna. Dan hu qasam li fih il-politika falliet għax filwaqt li ntqal minnkollox biex jiġġustifika bini bl-adoċċ fl-erbat irjieħ ta’ Malta u Għawdex għandna ammont kbir ta’ bini li hu vojt. Iżda xorta għandna soċjeta’ li m’hiex kapaċi tipprovdi għad-dgħajjef.

 

Iċ-ċensiment tal-2005 kien identifika il-fuq minn 53,000 post vojt. Iċ-ċensiment li għaddej bħalissa ser jidentifika numru ferm ikbar ta’ postijiet vojt, numru li uħud qed ibassru li ser jaqbeż sew is-70,000.

 

Iċ-ċensiment isir biex tinġabar l-informazzjoni li iktar tard tista’ tkun ta’ għajnuna lill-awtoritajiet biex jieħdu deċiżonijiet li jkunu meħtieġa. Sfortunatament meta sar iċ-ċensiment tal-2005 il-Gvern ma tax każ tal-informazzjoni li inġabret.

 

Ħa nispjega ftit.

 

Iċ-ċensiment tal-2005 wera li l-propjetajiet vojta kienu jammontaw għal 53,136     Mhux biss. Iżda ċ-ċensiment wera ukoll li matul l-għaxar snin 1995-2005 il-propjetajiet vojta kienu  żdiedu minn 35,723 għal 53,136. Minkejja din iż-żieda ta’ 17,413 propjeta’ vojta fis-suq fuq perjodu ta’ 10 snin il-Gvern 9 xhur wara ċ-ċensiment kompla jillaxka l-politika tiegħu dwar l-ippjanar għall- użu tal-art bi tlett miżuri partikolari.

 

L-ewwel estenda ż-żoni ta’ żvilupp billi żied ammont konsiderevoli ta’ artijiet bil-politika ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni taż-żoni ta’ żvilupp. It-tieni fil-Pjani Lokali approvati f’Awissu 2006 estenda l-għoli permssibli f’diversi żoni residenzjali. It-tielet illaxka r-regoli dwar il-bini tal-penthouses billi ppermetta li dawn ikunu jistgħu jinbnew ukoll fejn l-għoli permissibli hu ta’ tlett sulari (b’żieda mat-tlett sulari) flok kif kien qabel f’zoni fejn l-għoli permissibli kien ta’ erba’ sulari.

 

F’sitwazzjoni fejn il-propjetajiet vojta żdiedu b’medja ta’ 1,800 propjeta fis-sena ma jagħmilx sens li tinkoragixxi iktar bini.

 

Il-bini vojt fl-2005 kien jikkonsisti primarjament fi flats u penthouses (24,295 – 45.7%). Kien hemm ukoll 13,872 terraced house u 9,857 maisonette. Il-parti l-kbira minn din il-propjeta’ kienet jew fi stat tajjeb ta’ manutenzjoni inkella kienet tirrikjedi ftit li xejn tiswija.

 

5,724 (10.8%) mill-postijiet vojta kienu għadhom fi stat ta’ ġebel u saqaf.

 

Il-posizzjoni illum hi agħar milli kienet fiċ-ċensiment ta’ sitt snin ilu. L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni hi konxja minn dan u fil-fatt naqsu l-ammont ta’ applikazzjonijiet għal permessi ta’ żvilupp kif ukoll per konsegwenza naqsu n-numru ta’ permessi li qed jinħarġu.

 

Il-kriżi li qed tiffaċċja l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni toffri l-opportunita’ lil din l-istess industrija biex tirristruttura ruħha. Huwa l-mument li tieqaf tibni art verġni jew twaqqa’ l-bini u tiżviluppah mill-ġdid iżda b’mod iktar intensiv. Hu meħtieġ li l-industrija titfa ħarsitha lejn ir-riabilitazzjoni ta’ bini qadim u r-riġenerazzjoni tal-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. L-iskemi imħabbra mill-Gvern fl-aħħar budget huma fid-direzzjoni tajba, iżda għandhom jitqiesu biss bħala l-bidu. Biex dan isir hemm ħtieġa ta’ taħriġ fis-snajja li bħala riżultat tal-industrializzazzjoni tal-kostruzzjoni intilfu jew naqsu konsiderevolment.

 

Din hi l-isfida. Li inħarsu l-art li baqgħalna flimkien mal-bini qadim. B’madwar 70,000 post vojt ftit li xejn hemm ħtieġa ta’ bini ġdid fis-snin li ġejjin. Huwa neċessarju li nużaw aħjar dak li għandna.

 

Hemm bżonn inċentivi biex il-bini vojt ikun utilizzat. Hemm bżonn li nifhmu ukoll li l-bini li jinżamm vojt jitfa piż fuq l-infrastruttura tal-pajjiż. Meta wieħed iqis li fl-2005 kien hawn ftit iktar minn192,000 unit residenzjali dan ifisser li 70,000 post vojt ifissru li l-ispejjes għat-toroq, elettriku, ilma u drenaġġ għal bejn kwart u terz tal-pajjiż huma spejjes moħlija li faċilment setgħu ntużaw biex itejbu l-infrastruttura tal-bqija tal-pajjiż.

 

Meta wieħed iqies li miċ-ċensiment tal-2005 jirriżulta li f’B’Kara kien hemm 7,613 propjeta’ residenzjali ifisser illi bil-propjeta’ vojta li hawn illum qiesu għandna 9 lokalitajiet daqs B’Kara vojta (speċi ta’ ghost towns).  U biex inbnew dawn il-propjetajiet vojta ġiet sagrifikata raba’ u ġonna ta’ propjeta qadima fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna li kienu jservu bħala l-pulmun tagħhom.  

 

L-isfida tal-pajjiż hi waħda kbira. L-ewwel li ma nistgħux nibqgħu nibnu iżjed art. It-tieni li r-riżorsi umani fl-industrija tal-bini (hemm madwar 11,000 ruħ li l-impieg tagħhom jiddependiminn din l-industrija) jkunu iħarrġa. It-taħriġ huwa meħtieg kemm għal xogħol fl-indutrija innifisha kif ukoll biex tkun iffaċilitata l-migrazzjoni għal xogħol ieħor. Dan hu inevitabbli jekk l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tirridimensjona ruħha għall-ħtiġjiet reali tal-pajjiż. Huwa hekk biss li naqbdu t-triq tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli, meta inħarsu fil-bogħod u nippjanaw b’mod li dak li nagħmlu illum ma jkunx biss ta’ ġid għalina illum iżda jservi ukoll biex il-ġenerazzjonjiet ta’ għada jkollhom huma ukoll il-possibilta li jippjanaw ħalli jilqgħu għall-isfidi l-ġodda li huma ukoll ser ikollhom.

 

S’issa bħala pajjiż ġejna naqgħu u nqumu minn għada. Inkunu bdejna nimxu l-quddiem meta nibdew inħarsu fit-tul u nibdew nagħtu importanza lill-għada daqs kemm nagħtu importanza lil illum.

 

9 ta’Diċembru 2011

The concrete jungle at Marsascala

 

Marsascala is fast becoming a concrete jungle. Houses have been pulled down and redeveloped over the past years with blocks of flats and garages taking their place. This is the manner in which the building industry is proceeding, raping what’s left of our built environment with the assistance of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. The number of vacant dwellings in the meantime keeps increasing. It has surpassed the 54,000 mark established in the 2005 census.

The latest addition to this jungle is the massive development at Ta’ Monita. Dwarfing the Marsascala parish church it ruins the skyline.

A letter entitled Marsascala Ruined Once And For All was published on March 22, 2011 in The Times. The online comments it generated are indicative of the perceived links between politics and the building industry. The fact that the Ta’ Monita Mepa permit was issued in April 2004, two years before the present Marsascala mayor was first elected, does not in any way diminish the seriousness of the perceived contamination.

George Vella, elected as member of Parliament for many years from the electoral district of which Marsascala forms part, made a very passionate intervention on the matter in the House of Representatives on April 11, 2011. He lamented the fact that a local council that has been under the guidance of his party’s local councillors appears insensitive to the manner in which the Ta’ Monita development is engulfing the Marsascala community.

While subscribing to most of what Dr Vella stated on the matter, I noted that during his intervention he did not consider it appropriate to refer to the impacts which the financing of electoral campaigns could have on the behaviour of politicians. It is an issue the Labour Party should seriously examine in order to determine whether any of its representatives has risked being domesticated as a result of the financing of electoral campaigns.

Dr Vella used his observations on the Ta’ Monita development to launch a pre-emptive strike on what could be another potential bombshell.

St Anne public garden in Marsascala has been devolved to the local council since November 2010. Rumours have been circulating for some time as to what uses are being considered for the area. The said rumours would also have us believe as to who will be favoured by decisions yet to be taken.

On March 15, 2011 the Marsascala local council was informed by its mayor that a call for “an expression of interest” on St Anne public garden would be issued shortly. He said that, while embellishment works would be one of the objectives, these would be in addition to the construction of administrative offices, some shops, an underground car park and linkage to the Church parvis in order to develop what is, to date, a missing village square. In addition, according to the council’s published minutes, the Marsascala mayor deems it essential to carry out a traffic survey. He also considers that the opening up of Triq il-Qrempuċ could ease traffic pressures on the waterfront, thereby permitting more leisurely commercial activity.

I have had the opportunity to ask the mayor various questions about the project. He is envisaging public consultation and an involvement of the private sector. According to the published minutes, decisions are to be taken by the local council at some time in the future after considering submissions by the private sector and comments from the community.

While the minutes of the local council are in conflict with the rumours in circulation, one never knows what can crop up in the form of proposals to be submitted by the “private sector”.

The Marsascala mayor is on record as stating that “nothing will be done outside public scrutiny”. It is submitted that this is not sufficient because it makes little difference to the community if its assets are ruined openly or in an underhand manner.

An open discussion is urgently required on the very parameters of the project in order that it be ensured that the community is the real beneficiary.

Given that the Local Plan applicable to Marsascala defines the area as being a “public urban open space”, the starting point of the debate should be the compatibility of the project with the Local Plan.

This exercise, when carried out, would reveal that most of the elements of the project, which may be of interest to the private sector, are in conflict with the provisions of the Local Plan for the area (vide South Local Plan policy SMSE 04). The project is hence a non-starter.

So, for the time being, the only matter the public is sure of is that the concrete jungle in Marsascala keeps being extended. Change for the better at times seems to get more distant in time. That is until you realise that you cannot achieve change if you do not vote for it..

Published in The Times of Malta, May 21  2011