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

Bezzina’s almond grove

 site-notice-affixed

Planning application PA7854/16 submitted to the Planning Authority by Toni Bezzina PN spokesman on Agriculture, was downright misleading. This was underlined by environmental NGO  Din l-Art Ħelwa in its objection to the application it submitted on 31 January.

Bezzina’s development proposal emphasised that it was a “rehabilitation and restoration of almond grove”. However, on examining the submitted drawings it is immediately apparent that  the proposal actually includes the construction of a basement garage as well as a three-bedroomed villa with swimming pool.

In a normal scenario I believe that the Planning Authority decision-making process would have ultimately resulted in a rejection of such an application. I would not, however, have been surprised if it had been approved, as consistency in the interpretation of planning rules is still an ever-present issue.

The public outcry, however, has pre-empted all this and justifiably focused on the fact that Bezzina co-authored the recently launched PN environmental policy document entitled A Better Quality of Life for You. In that document Bezzina and others, on behalf of the PN, emphasised that development outside the development zone was to be an exceptional step that should only be permitted by Parliament and subject to approval by a qualified majority.

It was reasonably expected that Bezzina, as co-author of the policy document, should have been the first one to honour the commitment made. However he completely ignored it.

To make matters worse he was defended by the Leader of the Opposition who, after ensuring that Bezzina had taken steps to withdraw the application, did his best to minimise the inconsistency.

Unfortunately, this matter brings to the fore a very important consideration as to whether the policy documents issued  by the Nationalist Party have an significance at all. The very fact that PN spokesmen such as Bezzina ignore such documents gives credence to the point made that this was, after all, another PN green-washing exercise to which we have become accustomed in recent years. It is just more of the same.

After examining Bezzina’s application, the Environment and Resources Authority  had this to say:  “The substantial increase in the structure’s footprint and additional land take-up from other commitments, including the enlargement of the entrance, formation of a hard-surfaced access path, the creation of a turning circle, etc. will result in the formalisation of the entire site. Such development is not typical of a rural landscape such as the one in question and thus the proposal is considered to be unfit for the context especially when noting that the site is scheduled as an Area of High Landscape Value (AHLV).”

This is the level of commitment to environmental protection of one of the co-authors of the PN’s environmental policy. You can easily understand the commitment of the rest!

While the publication by the Nationalist Party of its policy document was a positive step,  proof of its commitment is yet to come, if it ever does!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19th February 2017

Lil Simon, tista’ tieħdu bis-serjetá?

 simon-busuttil

 

Il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Simon Busuttil ipprova jiddefendi ftit lill-Onorevoli Toni Bezzina.

Simon qalilna li l-Onorevoli Toni Bezzina ma għamel xejn ħażin meta ippreżenta l-applikazzjoni ta żvilupp biex anke hu jkollu villa ODZ. Applikazzjoni perfettament legali, skond il-policies tal-ippjanar, qalilna l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni.

Li ma qalx Simon Busuttil hu li Toni Bezzina kien wieħed mill-awturi tad-dokument dwar il-politika ambjentali li l-Partit Nazzjonalista ippubblika ftit ilu intitolat A Better Quality of Life for You. Fdan id-dokument jgħidulna li fl-ODZ il-PN hu tal-fehma li ma jista jinbena xejn ħlief bdeċiżjoni tal-Parlament u dan biss jekk dan ikun fl-interess nazzjonali!

Meta tikteb dawn l-affarijiet (u iktar) li hemm fid-dokument ambjentali tal-PN u imbagħad tinjorhom mill-ewwel, ifisser li inti stess ma tkunx temmen fihom.

Il-mistoqsija li teħtieġ tweġiba hi dwar kemm nistgħu nemmnu dak li jgħid il-Partit Nazzjonalista meta huwa jaġixxi bdan il-mod? Nistgħu nieħduh bis-serjetá?

Sfortunatament,  dan ma jgħoddx biss għall-ambjent.

Il-PN jgħatti x-xemx bl-għarbiel ?

Voting Rationalisation YES

(nota : ir-ritratt hu estratt mill-minuti tal-Parlament li juri l-ismijiet tal-Membri Parlamentari li vvutaw favur l-estensjoni tal-limiti tal-iżvilupp, rationalisation, fl-2006 ) 

 

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista ippubblika l-proposti tiegħu dwar l-ambjent fi ktejjeb intitolat  : A Better Quality of Life for You.  Dan hu bla dubju pass ‘il quddiem, kienu x’kienu r-raġunijiet li wassluh għal dan il-pass.

Fid-daħla għad-dokument ippubblikat, il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni jagħmel dikjarazzjoni importanti. Jgħid: “Bnejna l-istituzzjonijiet u b’mod ġenerali fassalna politika tajba – imma bosta drabi ma assigurajniex li din tkun implimentata, inkella qgħadna nduru mal-lewża u ħloqna wisq eċċezzjonijiet.”

Dan, fil-fehma tiegħi ifisser, li, wara kollox,  hu ċar għal kulħadd li mhux biss hu meħtieġ li tfassal il-politika t-tajba, imma li huwa essenzjali ukoll li l-istituzzjonijiet li jkunu fdati bl-implimentazzjoni ta’ din il-politika jkunu f’posizzjoni li jistgħu jwettqu r-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom. Għax kif jistgħu jiffunzjonaw dawn l-istituzzjonijiet jekk f’posizzjonijiet ta’ tmexxija kruċjali jkollhom persuni partiġjani jew persuni ta’ fiduċja tal-Ministru, flok persuni mħarrġa u teknikament kompetenti?

Wara kollox, it-twettieq tal-politika ambjentali jiddependi fuq tmexxija tajba (good governance) li ilha nieqsa mill-istituzzjonijiet għal perjodu mhux żgħir.

X’jiswa’ li jkollok il-politika tajba dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art biex imbagħad il-Gvern immexxi mill-PN iċedi għall-pressjoni tal-spekulaturi tal-art meta mexxa ‘l quddiem proposta imsejħa skema dwar ir-razzjonalizzazzjoni li permezz tagħha l-limiti tal-iżvilupp ġew estiżi b’mod orizzontali?  Biex tkompli tgħaqqadha, fl-istess ħin, il-PN fil-Gvern estenda ukoll il-limiti tal-iżvilupp f’direzzjoni vertikali. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, il-PN fil-Gvern injora l-poltika dikjarat tiegħu kif ukoll l-informazzjoni miġbura fid-diversi ċensimenti li kienu juru ċar li l-bini vojt kien qed jiżdied.

Il-politika ambjentali hi intrinsikament marbuta ma diversi oqsma oħra. L-estensjonijiet bl-addoċċ għal-limiti ta’ żvilupp ħolqu ħafna diffikultajiet lil diversi residenti Maltin li jridu jiġġeneraw l-enerġija alternattiva permezz tal-pannelli foto-voltajċi fuq il-bjut. Waqt li l-Ministru responsabbli mill-politika dwar l-enerġija alternattiva kien qed ifittex li jħajjar lin-nies biex jistallaw il-pannelli foto-voltajċi, min-naħa l-oħra l-Ministru għall-Ippjanar tal-Użu tal-Art kien mehdi jilgħab bl-għoli permissibli tal-bini f’diversi lokalitajiet. Kif nistgħu nippjanaw sewwa għal ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija alternattiva jekk l-aċċess għax-xemx f’diversi lokalitajiet m’huwiex garantit b’għoli permissibli ta’ bini li ma jinbidilx?

Nitkellmu ukoll dwar il-ħtieġa li nassiguraw titjib fil-kwalitá tal-arja, imma fl-istess ħin ma hemm l-ebda ħeġġa biex ikun indirizzat in-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna li qed jikber b’mod astronomiku. Dawn il-karozzi huma l-kawża ewlenija ta’ kwalitá tal-arja li sejra dejjem għall-agħar, f’uħud mil-lokalitajiet tagħna. Minflok ma nindirizzaw din il-problema reali, gvern wara l-ieħor ipprefera li jagħmilha iktar faċli biex il-karozzi jibqgħu jiddominaw it-toroq tagħna u dan billi jroxxu l-miljuni fi proġetti infrastrutturali għal toroq mhux meħtieġa. Dawn il-proġetti jservu biss biex iżidu l-karozzi fit-toroq, meta l-oġġettiv ta’ gvern serju għandu jkun l-oppost: li dawn jonqsu.

Marbuta ma dan kollu hemm in-nuqqas ta’ attenzjoni lit-trasport pubbliku tul is-snin. Filwaqt li għandna nirrikonoxxu li matul dawn l-aħħar sitta u tletin xahar kien hemm titjib fis-servizz, dan xorta għadu ferm ‘il bogħod minn dak mistenni f’pajjiż żgħir fejn id-distanzi bejn il-lokalitajiet huma minimi. Dan ukoll kien falliment ieħor fit-twettiq ta’ “politika tajba”.

Il-politika ambjentali hi dwar għażliet u deċiżjonijiet. Tul is-snin Alternattiva Demokratika, il-partit ekoloġiku f’Malta, fittex li jqiegħed dawn l-għażliet fuq l-agenda nazzjonali biex il-Maltin ikun f’posizzjoni li jiddeċiedu.

Wara ħafna snin, il-Partit Nazzjonalista stenbaħ għar-realtá ambjentali ta’ madwarna. Waqt li dan, minnu innifsu hu sinjal tajjeb, nistennew li l-PN  jibda l-proċess biex jirrevedi l-bqija tal-politika tiegħu u jġibha konsistenti mal-proposti ambjentali mħabbra. Meta dan iseħħ, forsi nkunu f’posizzjoni li niffurmaw opinjoni dwar jekk il-proposti ambjentali tal-PN humiex frott ta’ konvinzjoni inkella jekk għal darba oħra humiex jippruvaw jgħattu x-xemx bl-għarbiel.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 5 ta’ Frar 2017

Environmental policy is about political decisions

The Nationalist Party has recently published its proposals for the environment in a document entitled A Better Quality of Life for You. This is a step forward, irrespective of the reasons motivating it.

In the foreword to the published document, the Leader of the Opposition makes a very important declaration. He states: “We built the necessary institutions, and generally put in the right policies – but all too often we did not ensure they were fully implemented, or we circumvented them, and made too many exceptions.”

This signifies a recognition of the fact that, at the end of the day, the real issue is not just the identification of the “right policies”,  but of ensuring that the institutions entrusted to implement them are in a position to carry out their responsibilities. How can these institutions function when key posts are filled with partisan cronies, or so-called “persons of trust” instead of competent technical people?

At the end of the day, the successful implementation of environmental policy is dependent upon a favourable climate of good governance which has been conspicuous by its absence for quite a long time.

What purpose does it serve to have the “right policies” on land use planning when, as a result of pressures from the land speculation lobby, the PN in Government adopted a rationalisation scheme extending the limits of development in a horizontal direction? To make matters worse, simultaneously the PN in government also extended the limits of development in a vertical direction. As a result it ignored both its own sanctimonious declarations as well as the clear indications from data collected and analysed by official bodies that the net result of its actions was a continuous increase in the number of vacant properties.

Environmental policy is intrinsically linked to various other policy areas. The haphazard extensions of the limits to development – the horizontal ones as well as the vertical ones – have, and still are, wreaking havoc on the capacity of Maltese households to generate alternative energy through the placing of photo-voltaic panels on the rooftops of their homes. While the Energy Minister advocates the need to generate alternative energy through the installation of photo-voltaic panels, the Minister responsible for land-use planning has been playing around with flexible permissible building heights in various localities. How can we adequately plan the generation of alternative energy if solar rights are not guaranteed through rigid height limitation regulations?

Similarly, we speak of the need to ensure an improvement in air quality but simultaneously there is a reluctance to address the spiralling number of cars on our roads – the major contributor to poor air quality in a number of areas. Instead of addressing the matter head-on, successive governments have sought to make it easier for car owners to dominate our roads by sprinkling millions of euros on the unnecessary development of the road infrastructure. In my view, such developments are unnecessary, as the end result will be a further increase in the number of cars when the real and only solution is an immediate reduction.

Linked to all this is the lack of importance given to public transport. While acknowledging that there has been an improvement in the use of public transport during the past 36 months, this is still considerably way off what it should be in a small country where distances between localities are minimal. This, too, is a failure to implement the “right policies”.

Environment policy is about making choices and taking decisions – some of which may be difficult and contentious. Over the years, it has been the objective of Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party in Malta, to place these choices on the national agenda so that our citizens are in a position to consider them and decide.

After many years, the Nationalist Party has woken up to the environmental realities around us. While this is positive, I await the revision of the PN’s other policies, which are inconsistent with their environmental proposals. When that happens, we may be able to form a definite opinion as to whether the publication by the Nationalist Party of its environment proposals is for real, or else another green-washing exercise in which matter the Nationalist Party has accumulated considerable experience.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 February 2017

The rental markets

The liberalisation of the rental market over the years has not served its objective. Those who own property are still reluctant to rent out to Maltese tenants and the rental market is, albeit slowly, developing in such a manner as to mostly serve non-Maltese residents and ignore the locals.

I have no quarrel with non-Maltese residents renting residential property in whatever form or shape. The problem is, however, that as a result the high rents demanded have squeezed out of the market the small numbers of Maltese residents who, not having the means to purchase, must perforce rent out.

The rental market was dormant for over 60 years and was resurrected primarily as a result of the 2008 overhaul of rent legislation. It was a process that started with earlier amendments to the law in 1995. Unfortunately, there was no real preparation for the impact of its resurrection in the residential sector.  The end result was that the residential rental market is functioning in a warped manner, catering for the high (foreign) earners and ignoring those at the lower end of the scale: the low wage earner who lives from hand to mouth.

Malta and Gozo are being incessantly raped to produce more residential units, primarily for renting out to non-Maltese employees in the financial services and betting sectors that are mushrooming to benefit from favourable taxation rates. Yet the properties that can be rented out to the locals are being left vacant, as can be ascertained by an examination of the information published as a result of the last census.

Subsidies dished out by the Housing Authority may be of some help in reducing the resulting social pain. However, what is required is a radical overhaul that would place all vacant properties on the market. Ideally, this should be done through fiscal incentives that would encourage owners to shoulder their social obligations. A number of incentives have been or will be rolled out to encourage the rehabilitation of dilapidated property. The carrot will certainly function in a number of instances and a number of vacant properties will, as a result, return to the marketplace.

However, after the carrot has carried out its duty, it should be the turn of the stick. Properties vacant for a long time, say for more than 5 years (or some other reasonable length of time), should be taxed until they are put back to use. In such a small country we cannot afford to waste any of our scarce resources. Ensuring that this waste is avoided is everybody’s business.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 January 2017

Marsa: a planning mess

turkish-cemetry-marsa-malta2

The Chamber of Architects has taken the Planning Authority to task on the piecemeal local plan reviews that it has been churning out, one at a time. The latest tirade was with reference to a partial review of The Grand Harbour Local Plan (originally published in 2002) specifically with respect to a Marsa Park Site.

We have just concluded a public discussion on a Masterplan for Paceville, which was shredded by public opinion and sent back to the drawing board.

Earlier, we had the Planning Authority itself contesting whether Local Councils, NGOs and the Environment and Resources Authority  had a right to contest the decision to permit high-rises in Townsquare Sliema and in Imrieħel.

To make matters worse, instead of consolidating the environmental regulatory functions of the state, this government has opted to deliberately fragment them, thereby ensuring their reduced effectiveness by design.  In a small country such as Malta, it pays to have one consolidated authority  directed by environment professionals through whom land use planning responsibilities should be accountable.

Land use planning needs to be more focused but holistic in nature. The Chamber of Architects aptly makes the point that focusing the efforts of the partial review of the Grand Harbour Local Plan specifically on “a Marsa Business Park” without considering this within the context  of a much needed regeneration of Marsa would be a futile exercise. The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity and this will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through comprehensive planning “which ought to include community needs, road transport re-alignment, environment improvement and flooding mitigation measures”.

These are the basic issues which should be addressed by a local plan review concerning Marsa. Tackling major infrastructural and social problems facing the Marsa community should take precedence over any proposal for the redevelopment of the Marsa Park site. It is the whole of Marsa that should be addressed and not just one tiny corner.

The partial local plan review is ignoring the local community, just like its cousin the Paceville Masterplan did some months ago. Many years ago we learned that “planning is for people”. This seems to be no longer the case as, according to the Planning Authority, planning is apparently for business hubs, high-rises and, obviously, for developers. They seem to be very well connected, thereby ensuring that they occupy the first items of this government’s land use planning agenda.

Marsa has been forgotten over the years. With the closure of the Marsa power station now is the appropriate time to consider the various accumulated impacts on the Marsa community in order that an integrated approach to addressing them is identified. Planning is for people. That means that the Marsa community should be actively involved when these plans are being formulated, including at the drawing board stage. Land use planners should stimulate the Marsa community to speak up and involve itself in drawing up a blue print for its future.

The regeneration of Marsa is an urgent matter which should not be left unattended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 January 2017

Paceville: protecting the underdogs

paceville-mp-land-use

As the short time allotted for public consultation on the proposed first draft of the Paceville Masterplan approaches its conclusion, it is time for some commonsense to prevail at the Planning Authority.

On TV, last Thursday, we heard the Authority’s Executive Chairman Johann Buttigieg plotting the first steps of a U-turn on a number of contentious issues contained in the draft. This U-turn is welcome, as it is clearly being planned on the basis of the reactions of the public and the environmental NGOs to the proposed Paceville Masterplan.

The most serious point at issue is the extent to which the nine projects around which the Masterplan is woven will engulf properties belonging to residents and small scale business people. It will hopefully now be clear, once and for all, that no one will be coerced through threats of compulsory purchase (veiled or otherwise) to make way for any one of the nine projects.

Mr Buttigieg declared that “no-one would be forced to sell”. While this declaration is welcome, it is certainly not sufficient. Everyone is aware that there are many ways through which pressure may be brought to bear on residents and business people. It is certainly time for all stakeholders to be vigilant and present a common front.  Being constantly on the look-out may help  identify those triggering incidents such as that of the car which was recently set ablaze in St George’s Park at Paceville at the same time as residents were meeting elsewhere to discuss their reactions to the proposed Paceville Masterplan.

The Planning Authority should be proactive. It should be at the forefront when it comes to taking initiatives that make sense. A case in point is the need to implement the public domain legislation recently enacted by Parliament  in order to better protect both the coastline and the foreshore to a minimum distance of fifteen metres from the shoreline.

It is well known that there is just one stretch of coastline within the draft Paceville Masterplan boundaries that is not intensively developed: the Cresta Quay site, also referred to as the Villa Rosa site 3. This site is crying out for protection and it can be protected, yet the draft masterplan – ignoring public domain legislation  – earmarks this site for a number of high rise blocks.

This proposal, in addition to reducing the recently approved public domain legislation to hot air, runs counter to the draft masterplan philosophy of siting high-rise developments away from the coast. It seems that someone may have been pressured into having second thoughts when the Masterplan was being drafted. There is no other reasonable explanation for this contradiction.

The public consultation has revealed that the drafting of the Paceville Masterplan was flawed, as it ignored issues of fundamental importance.  However, there is till time for the Planning Authority to align the Masterplan to the expectations of stakeholders. The belated declaration by Johann Buttigieg that (after all) he too has reservations on some aspects of the Masterplan is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, this will be reflected in an overhaul of the draft and in the production of a new one which respects the stakeholders who have invested in Paceville over the years.

The investors promoting the nine projects which the Planning Authority identified may contribute to the regeneration of Paceville only if they tread carefully in full respect of residents and small-scale business people who have shaped the present-day Paceville, warts and all.

So far, this has not happened, as some of the developers think that they have some God-given right to ride roughshod over one and all. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority has generally obliged, as it has rarely been on the side of the those bearing the brunt of the bulldozer culture that has to date reigned supreme in land-use planning issues.

We await the second draft of the Paceville Masterplan, in the hope that the Planning Authority will turn a new page and assume its rightful place in protecting the underdogs.     

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 20 November 2016

Townsquare: qed jgħadduk biż-żmien?

Townsquare.Fawlty Tower 

Il-bieraħ kont preżenti għall-ewwel seduta tal-appell mid-deċiżjoni tat-torri ta’ Townsquare.

Ir-rappreżentant legali tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar nixxef lil kulħadd meta talab lill-membri tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni għall-Ambjent  l-Ippjanar [dak li sa ftit ilu kien il-Bord tal-Appell] biex jikkunsidraw li l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ tas-Sliema, l-għaqdiet ambjentali u l-Awtoritá tal-Ambjent ma kellhomx dritt li jippreżentaw  dan l-appell.

Tafu għaliex?

Għax kull wieħed minnhom kellu rappreżentant fil-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar meta din ħadet id-deċiżjoni dwar it-torri ta’ Townsquare.

Uħud minnkom forsi tiftakru kemm kien hemm min ftaħar li s-separazzjoni tal-Ippjanar mill-Ambjent kien ser iwassal għal iżjed attenzjoni u fuq kollox li l-Awtoritá tal-Ambjent kien ser ikollha id-dritt mhux biss li tipparteċipa fil-Bord imma li fuq kollox kien ser ikollha d-dritt li tappella mid-deċiżjonijiet tal-Ippjanar biex tħares l-ambjent aħjar.

L-Avukat Robert Abela jidher li għandu ideat differenti minn dawk li ħabbru diversi Ministri fil-Parlament.

Inkella, dawn l-istess Ministri ppruvaw jgħadduk biż-żmien!