Il-mużika ta’ matul il-lejl

Ir-ritratti mis-satellita juru kemm hu kbir it-tniġġiż mid-dawl f’Malta. Fil-fatt, dan hu komparabbli mat-tniġġiż miż-żoni urbani fil-kontinent Ewropew! It-tniġġiż mid-dawl ma jħallix li nisimgħu l-mużika ta’ matul il-lejl. Joħnoqha u jżommna milli napprezzaw is-sbuħija tal-lejl li bil-mod jurina dak li jostor. Hekk jemfasizza l-Ħares tal-Opra (Phantom of the Opera) fix-xogħol tejatrali kapulavur ta’ Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Xi snin ilu waqt dibattitu dwar il-baġit ġie varat proġett biex id-dwal tat-toroq ikun ikkontrollat b’mod elettroniku. Proġett li meta jkun implimentat għandu jkun ta’ kontribut sostanzjali biex fil-gżejjer Maltin jonqos it-tniġġiż mid-dawl. Imma sfortunatament ftit li xejn smajna dwar xi progress seta’ kien hemm dwar din il-materja mill- 2013 lil hawn, meta tħabbar il-proġett.

Id-dawl eċċessiv użat matul il-lejl mhux biss hu użu ħażin u ineffiċjenti tal-enerġija imma jagħti kontribut konsegwenzjali għal emissjonijiet tal-karbonju li jistgħu jkunu evitati. B’dan il-ħajja fin-natura tul il-lejl qed tiġi ddisturbata u potenzjalment ukoll hi kawża għal ħsara lis-saħħa umana.

Fl-2007, il-Birdlife f’Malta ippubblikat studju dwar l-impatt tad-dwal bil-lejl fuq l-għasafar li jgħixu fl-irdumijiet u qrib il-baħar kif ukoll speċi oħra li jpassu bil-lejl. L-istudju hu intitolat Light Pollution and its effects on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. Il-kuntest tal-istudju kien proġett fl-iskema EU Life fl-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa fl-inħawi magħruf bħala l-Irdum tal-Madonna, sit li hu kolonja tal-garni, għasfur li jgħix mal-baħar.

L-osservazzjonijiet fir-rapport u s-soluzzjonijiet proposti jistgħu faċilment iservu ta’ bażi għal pjan ta’ azzjoni biex fil-gżejjer Maltin nibdew nindirizzaw bis-serjetà t-tniġġiż mid-dawl billi dan f’Malta mhux biss hu ta’ theddida għall-garnija (Yelkouan Shearwater)imma ukoll kawża ta’ emissjonijiet ta’ karbonju bla bżonn u theddida għall-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Bħala riżultat tad-densità qawwija ta’ popolazzjoni, t-tniġġiż mid-dawl matul il-lejl għandu impatt konsiderevoli kemm fuq iż-żoni urbani kif ukoll fuq dawk rurali tal-gżejjer Maltin. Ekologikament għandu impatt fuq l-għasafar, friefet u insetti kif ukoll friefet il-lejl imma ukoll fuq l-imġieba tal-annimali b’mod ġenerali. Lil hinn mill-ħajja naturali, it-tniġġiż mid-dawl joħloq leħħ qawwi li jweġġa’ l-għajn u li għandu impatt fuq is-sigurtà fis-sewqan. Jeffettwa lil min isuq, lil min jimxi, kif ukoll lil min juża’ r-rota u jagħti kontribut mhux żgħir fl-inċidenti tat-traffiku li jseħħu matul il-lejl.

Il-każ dwar it-tniġġiż mid-dawl fid-Dwejra deċiż mit-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar nhar is-27 ta’ Ġunju hu każ rari fejn deċiżjoni tajba tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp tinbidel mit-Tribunal fl-appell: ġeneralment bil-maqlub jiġri. Meta jinbidlu, s-soltu jkunu d-deċiżjonijiet il-ħżiena li jinbidlu, mhux dawk tajbin! Fil-fatt il-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp kienet irrifjutat l-applikazzjoni oriġinali minħabba li l-inħawi tad-Dwejra huma żona ta’ importanza ekologika. Sfortunatament it-Tribunal ittratta it-tniġġiż mid-dawl b’mod leġġer u kien insensittiv għall-impatti ekoloġiċi.

Li l-15-il għaqda ambjentali ngħaqdu biex jiġbru l-fondi ħalli tkompli l-ġlieda b’appell fil-Qrati hu pass tajjeb ‘il-quddiem. Il-ħarsien tas-siti tan-Natura 2000 hi għadma iebsa, imma jeħtieġ li jibqa’ għaddej. Imma li jsir appell minn din id-deċiżjoni skandaluża tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass.

Għandna nirrejalizzaw li l-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi għandha l-poter u l-awtorità taħt id-Direttiva Ewropea dwar l-abitati li mhiex tagħmel użu tagħhom sewwa. L-ERA għandha tasserixxi ruħha u tenforza r-regoli, u jekk hemm bżonn tibqa’ għaddejja minn fuq l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kif tista’ u għandha tagħmel kull meta dan ikun neċessarju.

Ikun ferm aħjar kieku l-Ministru għall-Ambjent jinsisti mal-ERA biex din tieħu ħsieb iż-żoni ekoloġiċi sewwa. Ovvjament għandu jassigura li jkunu ipprovduti riżorsi adegwati.

Il-kaz tad-Dwejra hu każ speċifiku li fih l-ERA tista’ tieħu l-mazz f’idejha. X’ser tagħmel?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 7 ta’ Lulju 2019

 

 

 

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The music of the night

Satellite photos clearly indicate the extent of light pollution in Malta: it is comparable to that in most urban areas in the European continent. As a result, the music of the night is made inaudible. The night is being “impeded from unfurling its splendour”, as the Phantom of the Opera repeatedly emphasises in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece.

Some years back, during the budget debate, a project related to intelligent street lighting was launched. When implemented, such a project would be an effective contribution to the reduction of light pollution all over the Maltese islands. Unfortunately, we have not heard of any substantial progress on the matter since late 2013, when the project was first announced.

Excessive artificial lighting used during the night is not only an inefficient use of energy, and the consequential contribution to additional carbon emissions which can be avoided, it is also a disturbance of nocturnal animal life and potentially injurious to human health.

Way back in 2007, Birdlife in Malta had published a study on the impact of night lighting on seabirds and nocturnal migrant species. The study is entitled Light Pollution and its effects on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. The context of the study is the EU Life project site at l-Aħrax in Mellieħa, in the area known as l-Irdum tal-Madonna, the site of a seabird colony.

The observations made and the solutions proposed in the study could easily form the basis for an action plan applicable to all of the Maltese islands to address light pollution because, in Malta, this is a serious problem not just for shearwaters but also in terms of carbon emissions and our quality of life.

As a result of Malta’s high population density, nocturnal light pollution has a considerable impact on both urban and rural areas all over the Maltese Islands. Ecologically, it has an impact on birds, moths and bats but it also has a considerable impact on animal behaviour in general. Beyond wildlife, light pollution creates glare which is a road safety issue and has an impact on drivers, pedestrians and cyclists and is known to play a considerable part in nocturnal traffic accidents.

The Dwejra light pollution case decided by the Environment and Planning Revision Tribunal on the 27 June is a rare case when a sensible decision was taken by the Planning Control Commission only for it to be reversed on appeal: normally it is the other way round! In fact, the Planning Control Commission had refused the original application on the basis that the Dwejra area is an area of ecological importance. Unfortunately, the Tribunal treated the issue of light pollution very lightly and was insensitive to its ecological impacts.

The coming together of fifteen environmental NGOs to crowd-fund the fight on appeal in Court is a good step forward. Protecting Natura 2000 sites is a tough fight but it needs to go on. Appealing against the scandalous decision of the Environment and Planning Revision Tribunal should, however, only be a first step. It should be realised that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has powers and authority under the provisions of the EU Habitats Directive that it does not make sufficient use of. The ERA should assert itself and enforce the rules, bulldozing through the Planning Authority whenever this is necessary.

It would be much better if the Hon. Minister for the Environment insists that the ERA manages areas of ecological importance appropriately. Obviously, he must ensure that adequate resources are provided.

This Dwejra case is a specific example of where the ERA can have the final word. Will it?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 July 2019

Kunflitt ta’interess fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Il-validità tal-permess tal-ippjanar dwar il-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke ġie ikkontestat fuq bażi ta’ tmintax-il raġuni differenti, li jvarjaw minn kunflitt ta’ interess sa miżinterpretazzjoni u/jew applikazzjoni żbaljata tar-regoli dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

F’dan l-istadju, l-Qorti hi hu tħassar il-permess dehrilha li ma kienx neċessarju li tidħol fid-dettall dwar kull waħda minn minn dawn it-tminatax-il raġuni: waqfet fl-ewwel waħda, il-kunflitt ta’ interess tal-membru tal-Bord tal-Ippjanar Matthew Pace u l-interess tiegħu f’aġenzija li ġġib il-quddiem il-negozju tal-propjetà. Żewġ interessi li b’mod ovvju, għal kulħadd ħlief għal Pace, l-Awtorità u l-Gvern, ġie meqjus li huma konfliġġenti. L-aġenzija li fiha Matthew Pace għandu interess kienet diġa qed tirreklama l-bejgħ tal-appartamenti sa minn qabel mal-permess tal-ippjanar ġie approvat, bil-vot tiegħu stess favur l-applikazzjoni.

Il-Qorti użat il-frażijiet “kunflitt ta’ interess” u “nuqqas ta’ trasparenza”. Fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, imma, b’Malti sempliċi u li jinftiehem mill-ewwel dan hu kaz ta’ regħba da parti tal-membru tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li hu nvolut kif ukoll inkompetenza grassa da parti ta’ dawk li ħatruh fuq l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar meta l-interessi tiegħu kienu diġà magħrufa.

Ilkoll nafu li l-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jinħatru direttament mill-Prim Ministru, u allura ma nistgħux inkunu iktar ċari minn hekk: huwa u jaħtar lil Matthew Pace bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, il-Prim Ministru naqas milli jifhem il-konsegwenzi tal-ħatra ta’ agent tal-propjetà fuq il-bord li jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art.

Nhar it-Tlieta, l-Qorti annullat deċiżjoni waħda tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li fiha ipparteċipa Matthew Pace. Kemm ilu li nħatar fuq il-Bord, sa mill-2013, Matthew Pace, ħa sehem f’numru sostanzjali ta’ deċiżjonijiet oħra li ttieħdu mill-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-mistoqsija loġika hi dwar il-każi l-oħra li dwarhom ukoll kellu interess u li anke hawn dan l-interess ma ġiex iddikjarat. In-numru ta’ każi kontroversjali deċiżi mhux żgħir imma din il-mistoqsija qatt ma saret s’issa, ta’ l-inqas fil-pubbliku.

Il-każ, kif emfasizzat il-Qorti, hu wieħed li jiffoka fuq l-imġieba ta’ dawk li jokkupaw ħatra pubblika.

Il-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għandhom l-obbligu li jissottomettu dikjarazzjioni annwali dwar l-assi u l-interessi tagħhom. Ikun ferm interessanti kieku l-pubbliku jkollu informazzjoni preċiża dwar x’sar mid-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-membri kurrenti tal-Bord. Is-Segretarju tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, huwa u jixhed quddiem it-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar qal li dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet ma setgħux jintbagħtu, kif suppost, lill-Awditur Ġenerali, għax dawn ma ġewx aċċettati min-naħa tiegħu. Imma, jirriżulta minn tweġibiet elettroniċi tal-Awditur Ġenerali, li wkoll ġew ippreżentati bħala xhieda, li dan mhux il-kaz: l-Awditur Ġenerali qatt ma irrifjuta li jaċċetta dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet dwar l-assi u l-interessi tal-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Minn dan kollu jqum il-punt dwar kemm huma effettivi l-kontrolli stabiliti mil-liġi dwar il-posizzjoni etika ta’ dawk maħtura bħala membri tal-Bord. Id-dikjarazzjoni tal-assi u l-interessi, sal-lum meqjusa bħala għodda importanti qiesha saret ta’ bla ebda siwi u dan minħabba li wara li ġiet sottomessa ma kienitx eżaminata mill-Awditur Ġenerali. Dan iħarbat il-proċess kollu ta’ kontroll, għax hu ovvju li l-Awditur Ġenerali ġie ostakolat milli jeżamina d-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru u għaldaqstant ma setax jiġbed l-attenzjoni għall-konflitti ovvji li jirriżultaw meta taħtar agent tal-propjetà biex jiddeċiedi fuq materji dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Nittama li l-Awditur Ġenerali, anke issa, jipprova jirrimedja billi jeżamina d-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru ħalli l-kontrolli jkunu applikati sakemm u safejn hu umanament possibli.

L-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art hu diġa, minnu innifsu, kontroversjali, għax kważi dejjem jinvolvi numru mhux żgħir ta’ interessi konfliġġenti. Tal-inqas għandna nassiguraw li dawk maħtura biex jiddeċiedu jimxu bir-reqqa.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 23 ta’Ġunju 2019

Managing conflict of interest at the Planning Authority

The validity of the planning permit in respect of the dB project at Pembroke has been contested on the basis of eighteen different reasons, ranging from conflict of interest to misinterpretation and/or wrongful application of land use planning policy.

In its decision, declaring the dB Pembroke permit null and void earlier this week, the Court did not consider it necessary, at this stage, to delve into each and every one of these 18 reasons: it stopped at the first one: the conflict of interest of one member of the Planning Board, Matthew Pace, whose interest in an estate agency was found to be an obvious no-go area. Apparently the conflict is obvious to everyone, except Pace, the Authority and Government. Even before the final planning decision, his estate agency was already advertising the sale of the apartments – the construction of which was yet to be approved –  with the support of his vote.

The legal terms used in the Court decision are “conflict of interest” and “lack of transparency”. In the end, however, it all boils down to greed on the part of the Planning Authority Board Member and consequently gross incompetence on the part of those appointing him as a member of the Planning Authority Board when his interests were well known.

We all know that the PA Board members are appointed directly by the Prime Minister, so I cannot be clearer than this: in the appointment of Matthew Pace as a member of the Planning Authority Board, the Prime Minister failed to understand the implications of appointing an estate agent as a land-use planning decision-taker.

Last Tuesday, the Court annulled one planning decision in which Matthew Pace had participated. Since his appointment as a member of the Planning Authority Board in 2013, Matthew Pace has participated in a large number of planning decisions. The logical question to ask is in what other cases did he have a conflict of interest that was also not declared. There is a countless list of controversial cases decided upon over the years, but this issue has never arisen, at least not in public.

The case, as emphasised by the Court in its decision, is one that puts the focus on the behaviour of those appointed to public office.

The members of the Board of the Planning Authority are duty bound to submit an annual declaration regarding their assets and interests . It would be interesting if reliable information was available regarding what has happened to the declarations submitted by the current Board members. The Secretary of the Planning Authority Board, when giving evidence at the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, stated that these declarations could not be sent – as required – to the Auditor General, as they were not accepted at that end. However, it is known from replies to emails by the Auditor General, also presented as evidence, that this is not the case.

This raises the serious question as to the effectiveness of the checks required by law on the ethical suitability of the Board members. One such tool – the declaration of assets and interests – has been rendered useless as clearly it is not being examined by the Auditor General when submitted. This stultifies the whole process as the Auditor General was obviously impeded from examining the declarations made and, consequently, could not draw attention to the obvious conflicts arising as a result of having an estate agent appointed to make decisions regarding land-use planning applications.

It is hoped that, even at this late stage, the Auditor General will consider it appropriate to examine the matter in order that adequate checks are as effective as is humanly possible. Land-use planning will always be controversial because it involves numerous conflicting interests. The least we can do is to ensure that those entrusted with taking these decisions act correctly.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 June 2019

Kaxxa tal-ittri

Uħud mill-awtoritajiet li jikkonċernaw l-industrija tal-bini draw jiffunzjonaw qieshom kaxxa tal-ittri, letter-box: jirċievu ittri u dokumenti mingħajr (ġeneralment) ma jieħdu passi dwarhom. Tant huma passivi li rrendew lilhom infushom ineffettivi.

Disa’ xhur ilu, propju minħabba dan il-fatt, il-Gvern ippubblika dokument konsultattiv bl-intenzjoni speċifka li jikkonsolida f’awtorità waħda r-Regolatur dwar il-bini u l-kostruzzjoni, l-entitajiet regolatorji eżistenti u ċioè l-l-BICC (Kumitat Konsultattiv dwar l-Industrija tal-Bini), l-BRO (l-Uffiċċju dwar ir-Regolamentazzjoni tal-Bini), the BRB (l-Bord li Jirregola l-Bini) u l-Bord tal-Bennejja. Proposta li bla dubju ilha tinħass li hi neċessarja!

Il-frammentazzjoni kurrenti tal-funzjonijiet regolatorji fuq l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni wasslet biex dawn saru ineffettivi. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-ilmenti kontinwi tar-residenti dwar kif l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni qed tħarbtilhom ħajjithom ġew ġeneralment injorati. Bosta drabi huma l-awtoritajiet infushom li ma jagħtux kaz tal-ilmenti li huma rifless ta’ ambjent urban ikkontaminat u li qiegħed jirriżulta mill-iżvilupp intensiv fiz-zoni residenzjali.

Il-kollass ta’ tlett binjiet, tnejn minnhom din il-ġimgħa stess, in konnessjoni ma skavar fuq siti ta’ kostruzzjoni bla dubju jnissel tħassib kbir. Imma ħadd ma għandu jkun sorpriż li ġraw. Fortunatament din id-darba ma miet ħadd!

Mhux l-ewwel darba li ġraw dawn l-inċidenti: drabi oħra mietu ukoll in-nies! Li dawn l-inċidenti ma jiġrux iktar spiss hu riżultat ta’ professjonisti dedikati li jagħmlu ħilithom biex jegħlbu l-problemi li jiffaċċjaw kontinwament. Ċertament li f’dan ma għandhom l-ebda mertu l-awtoritajiet li huma passivi għall-aħħar.

Is-sospensjoni temporanja da parti tal-Gvern ta’ kull xogħol ta’ twaqqiegħ ta’ bini jew skavar, apparti milli hi applikazzjoni abbużiva tal-liġi hi ukoll riżultat ta’ reazzjoni ta’ paniku li tipprova fatt wieħed bażiku: l-awtoritajiet regolatorji tal-industrija tal-bini m’għandhomx ir-riżorsi biex iwettqu r-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom u li minnhom ilhom is-snin li abdikaw.

Dwar kull waħda mit-tlett binjiet li waqgħu matul dawn il-ġimgħat hu fatt magħruf li r-residenti kienu ilhom jilmentaw żmien: l-ebda awtorità ma eżaminat l-ilmenti tagħhom u aġixxiet fuqhom, la direttament u l-anqas billi rreferiethom b’mod urgenti f’fora oħra addattati.

Il-Gvern issa hu ppreokkupat. Kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku din il-preokkupazzjoni wrieha iktar kmieni billi pprovda r-riżorsi lill-Uffiċċju għar-Regolamentazzjoni tal-Bini (BRO) mhux biss biex ikun jista’ jaqdi l-inkarigu tiegħu, imma ukoll billi jassigura li l-awtoritajiet kollha jieħdu interess u jinvestigaw l-ilmenti li jirċievu mingħajr dewmien.

Disa’ xhur ilu, il-konsultazzjoni pubblika li saret kellha l-iskop li jkun assigurat li “l-inċidenti” tal-ġimgħat li għaddew ikunu evitati kemm jista’ jkun billi jkunu kkonsolidati u msaħħa l-istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa li għandna illum.

Dawn huma l-inċidenti li nafu bihom. Kemm kien ikollna iktar inċidenti li kieku dawn ma ġewx evitati b’intervent f’waqtu minn numru ta’ professjonisti ddedikati?

Ir-regolamenti ta’ emerġenza li l-Gvern ħabbar li ser jippubblika fil-ġranet li ġejjin jistgħu joffru rimedju għal żmien qasir. Li neħtieġu huma soluzzjonijiet fit-tul: riżorsi adegwati ffukati fuq il-ħtieġa li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tkun issorveljata b’mod kontinwu. Din hi l-unika triq li biha nistgħu naslu ħalli dawk li ma għandhom l-ebda rispett lejn il-komunità residenzjali fiz-zoni urbani tagħna jinġiebu f’sensihom.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 16 ta’ Ġunju 2019

Letter-box authorities

A number of authorities involved with the construction industry have become accustomed to functioning as a letter-box: receiving letters and documents without (generally) taking any action. They are too passive to the extent that they have rendered themselves ineffective.

Nine months ago, in recognition of this basic fact, the government published a consultation document with the specific intent of consolidating into one authority – a Building and Construction Regulator – the existing regulatory entities, namely the BICC (Building Industry Consultative Council), the BRO (Building Regulation Office), the BRB (Building Regulation Board) and the Masons Board. This proposal is certainly overdue!

The current fragmentation of the regulatory functions over the building industry have led to their being ineffective. The end result is that the continuous complaints of residents regarding the damaging intrusion of the building industry in their daily lives are generally ignored. Often it is the authorities themselves that turn a blind eye towards these complaints – which are a reflection of a contaminated urban environment that is proliferating as a result of the intensive developments carried out in residential areas.

The collapse of three buildings, two of which in the first half of this very week, linked with excavation activity on building sites, is a cause of great concern. No-one should be surprised that these accidents actually did happen. We are indeed very lucky that no lives were lost this time!

It is not the first time that this type of accident has happened: on other occasions they even resulted in deaths. The fact that these accidents do not occur more frequently is due to the dedicated professionals in the building industry who do their best to work properly – at times and against all odds. It is certainly not the result of the authorities who, more often than not, are as passive as can be.

The temporary suspension by the government of all demolition and excavation work, is – apart from being an abusive application of the law – the result of a panic reaction and proves one basic fact: the building industry regulatory authorities do not have the resources to carry out their responsibilities, from which they have abdicated over the years.

In respect of each of the three buildings that have collapsed in recent weeks, it is common knowledge that the residents had been complaining for quite some time and no authority took up their complaints to have them acted upon, either directly or by being  urgently referred to more competent fora.

The government is now preoccupied. It would have been much better had this preoccupation was manifested previously – not only by ensuring adequate resourcing of the Building Regulation Office (BRO) to enable it to carry out its duties and responsibilities, but also by ensuring that all the authorities take an interest in, and investigate without delay, the complaints received.

Nine months ago, a public consultation was launched specifically to ensure that the “accidents” of the past weeks are avoided as much as possible through a consolidation of the existing weak institutions.

These are the accidents we know of. How many more accidents would have occurred, had they not been prevented as a result of the timely intervention of dedicated professionals?

The emergency regulations to be published by government in the coming days can temporarily patch up the current mess. What is required is a long-term vision: sufficient resources focused on the continuous and adequate monitoring of the construction industry. This is the only way to ensure that those who have no respect for the residential community in our urban areas are brought to their senses.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 16 June 2019

Bejn prezz u valur

Kien Oscar Wilde li madwar mitt sena ilu kiteb li hawn uħud li jafu l-prezz ta’ kollox imma m’għandhomx l-iċken idea tal-valur ta’ dak li hemm madwarhom. Illum l-affarijiet huma ferm iktar soffistikati minn hekk. Għandna studji kkumplikati li janalizzaw il-benefiċċju miksub ikkomparat mal-infieq li jsir u studji dwar impatti ta’ kull xorta li bihom tista’ tipprova tiġġustifika dak li trid, dejjem sakemm tkun ippreparat biex tħallas minn imnieħrek għal dan il-privileġġ.

Illum il-ġurnata prattikament kollox hu ridott għal valur monetarju. Meta nitkellmu dwar spiża, prattikament kulħadd jifhem nefqa f’termini ta’ flus. Li titkellem dwar spiża ambjentali jew spiża soċjali donnu li hi xi ħaġa stramba, qisu diffiċli biex tinftiehem.

L-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin dejjem trid iktar. B’pariri minn xi professjonisti, inkluż eks uffiċjali anzjani tal-ippjanar, issa l-iżviluppaturi qed jippreżentaw it-talbiet tagħhom billi jilgħabuha tal-vittmi tar-regolamentazzjoni. Imma fis-sustanza t-talbiet tagħhom huma dejjem l-istess: biex jimmassimizzaw il-frott tar-rebgħa.

Kważi fl-istess ħin sirna nafu li l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija tal-Ilma żarmat. Okkazjoni bħal din hi dejjem waħda ta’ dieqa. Imma r-realtà tibqa’ li f’Malta hawn ftit wisq attivisti ambjentali f’numru ta’ għaqdiet ambjentali li mhux wieħed żgħir. Forsi l-għaqdiet ambjentali jirrealizzaw illi l-multiplikazzjoni tagħhom ma tagħmilx ġid lill-kawża li jmexxu l-quddiem. Lanqas ma jagħmel ġid li dawn l-għaqdiet iħarsu lejn il-konsulenti tal-iżviluppaturi l-kbar huma u jfittxu tmexxija ġdida. Il-kredibilità tagħhom, naħseb, li tista’ tieħu daqqa ta’ ħarta.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent hu għadma iebsa. Bosta ma jirrealizzawx li l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna jiddependi minn din il-ħidma. Ir-riżultati tal-ħidma favur il-ħarsien tal-ambjent, jew in-nuqqas tagħha, jidhru ġeneralment fuq tul ta’ żmien, ma jidhrux malajr. Dan inevitabilment iwassal biex ma tidhirx b’mod ċar ir-rabta bejn il-kawża u l-effett u bħala  konsegwenza ma jkunx hemm biżżejjed interess f’dak li qed jiġri, sakemm ikun tard wisq.

Illum bosta qed jirrealizzaw x’inhuma l-impatti konsiderevoli tal-ezerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni tal-art li nieda l-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi fl-2006 li bħala riżultat tiegħu madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art madwar dawn il-gżejjer saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp mil-lum għal għada. Ftit jiftakru li l-Partit Laburista, dakinnhar, kien ħa posizzjoni kontra l-proposta ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni u kien anke ivvota kontra tagħha fil-Parlament. Illum il-ġurnata, imma, l-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern ħalla kollox kif kien, għax, wara kollox, hu komdu li meta kkritikat tkun tista’ twaħħal f’ ta’ qablek u b’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali tiddikjara li ma tista’ tagħmel xejn, għax sadanittant hemm min laħaq rabba’ l-ġust!

Din l-aħħar manuvra tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi li jilgħabuha tal-vittmi mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida. Kif spjega dak li kien Direttur tal-Ippjanar, u li illum mid-dehra hu konsulent tal-Assoċjazzjoni, l-Perit Stephen Farrugia, l-proposta tinvolvi tpartit ta’ arja f’żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana ma drittijiet ta’ żvilupp iktar vantaġġjuż xi mkien ieħor. Bażikament it-talba tal-Assoċjazzjoni hi biex il-membri tagħha jkunu kkumpensati għar-restrizzjonijiet fiż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana kif ukoll fil-konfront ta’ bini protett. Kif intqal f’artiklu ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa mill-President tal-Assoċjazzjoni Sandro Chetcuti t-talba hi biex dak li mhux jitħallew jiżviluppaw jibqa’ għandhom bi dritt li jkun trasferit fuq art oħra fejn ma hemmx l-istess restrizzjonijiet. S’issa ma ippubblikawx dettalji imma hu ovvju li l-proposta qed tfittex li jinħolqu ammont sostanzjali ta’ drittijiet ta’ żvilupp li jkompli jżid mal-madra li diġa hawn.

L-Assoċjazzjoni bil-proposta tagħha qed tmur kontra dak li hu bażiku fl-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art għax qed tassumi b’mod żbaljat li kull sid ta’ propjetà għandu dritt ugwali biex jiżviluppa rrispettivament mil-livell ta’ protezzjoni applikabbli. Hi proposta li tfisser biss taħwid, iktar milli diġa hawn.

X’baqa’ jiġri?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 24 ta’ Marzu 2019

Knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing

It was Oscar Wilde who over 100 years ago coined the expression on “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing”. Today matters are more sophisticated, with “cost benefit analysis” and impact studies of all sorts which seek to justify practically anything, as long as you can pay for the privilege.

Reducing everything to a monetary value seems to be the order of the day. When we speak of costs, we are only understood as having spoken about financial outlays. Environmental costs or social costs seem to be something out of this world: apparently, they are so difficult to comprehend.

The Malta Developers Association wants more. With advice from professionals, including former senior land use planning regulators, they are now sugar-coating their demands. Essentially, however they are still making the same point: they are seeking to maximise the fruits of greed.

Almost simultaneously, we get to know that the Malta Water Association has closed shop. It is always a sad day when an eNGO disbands, but the reality is that we have too few environmental activists and too many environmental organisations on this little rock. It is about time that all environmental NGOs come together, as the proliferation of eNGOs is not doing the environment lobby any good. Nor is it helpful to the environment cause to co-opt former advisors of mega-developers to lead eNGOs. Credibility may, in my view, be at stake.

Protecting the environment is a tough job because not many realise that our quality of life is dependent on it. The results of environment protection – or the lack of it – are generally only evident in the long term as they are not easily identifiable immediately. This inevitably leads to a lack of connection between cause and effect and consequently to a lack of interest in the issues which matter, until it is too late.

Today, many people are realising the considerable impacts of the rationalisation exercise on land use embarked upon by the Lawrence Gonzi administration in 2006, as a result of which around two million square metres of land spread around the Maltese islands became suitable for development overnight. Few remember that, at the time, the Labour Party had then taken a stand against the proposal, even voting against it in Parliament. Today, however, Labour leaves the rationalisation proposals in place because, when faced with rampant over-development, it is most convenient to be able to continuously shift the blame on your predecessors, sanctimoniously declaring that you cannot do anything about it, as, in the meantime, vested rights have taken root!

The latest MDA land use planning gimmick is a well-known strategy of playing the role of the victims. As explained by the former Director of Planning – now apparently a consultant to the Association, architect Stephen Farrugia – this MDA proposal will involve trading in airspaces in urban conservation areas in order to acquire more advantageous planning rights elsewhere instead. Basically, it is a request by the MDA for its members to be compensated for planning restrictions in Urban Conservation Areas as well as in respect of limitations on the potential development of protected buildings. The MDA seeks the possibility, as stated earlier in an article published this week by its President Sandro Chetcuti, to transfer the potential unused gross floor area from buildings whose development is restricted to areas where it is not. The details are not yet out but it is obvious that this proposal seeks to create a substantial amount of development rights which will further increase the unbridled development to which we have become so accustomed to.

The MRA proposal negates the very basics of land use planning as it assumes that every property owner has an equal right to develop, irrespective of the level of protection afforded to specific properties. In practise the MDA proposal will signify deregulation and the sooner it is shot down, the better.

What next?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 24 October 2019

Pjani Lokali tal-lastku

Meta l-Pjani Lokali kienu approvati, kien l-ewwel darba li f’Malta sar attentat biex ikun regolat l-iżvilupp fuq livell lokali bis-serjetà. Il-ħtieġa kienet ilha tinħass is-snin. L-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art b’mod professjonali, f’Malta, beda fl-1989 bil-proċess iwassal għall-ħolqien tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Għall-bidu, kif jispjega b’mod ċar fil-pjan ta’ struttura, kien ippjanat li jkun hemm 24 pjan lokali għall-Malta u Għawdex, imma imbagħad spiċċajna b’sebgħa. Ħames Pjani Lokali kienu approvati fl-2006, bit-tnejn l-oħra jkunu approvati iktar kmieni: dak dwar il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk fl-1995 u dak dwar il-Port il-Kbir fl-2002.

Meta l-pjani lokali kienu mfassla, oriġinalment għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika, kienu meqjusa bħala restrittivi għax ftit kienu jħallu lok għal diskrezzjoni. Sa dakinnhar ħadd ma kien għadu fassal il-politika dwar l-użu tal-art b’mod hekk ċar, b’mod li jnaqqas il-lok għall-abbuż kif ukoll il-poter assolut vestit f’persuna waħda:il-politku. Dakinnhar kien hemm resistenza konsiderevoli li l-affarijiet isiru b’dan il-mod. Dan jispjega għaliex dawn il-pjani lokali damu ħafna ma saru. Hija ukoll ir-raġuni li wasslet għal dak li nirreferu għalih bħala l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li bħala riżultat tiegħu meded kbar ta’ art, madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru, fil-parti l-kbira art agrikola, fl-2006, kienu ddikjarati mill-Parlament bħala li tajbin għall-iżvilupp.

Il-pjani lokali huma essenzjalment dokumenti miktuba li fihom hemm spjegata l-politika lokali dwar l-użu tal-art flimkien ma mapep li jillustraw din il-politika. Tul is-snin dawn il-pjani lokali ġew ikkumplimentati b’dokumenti oħra dwar materji speċifiċi. Kważi kollha b’ċertu ammont ta’ kontroversja marbuta magħhom. Dwar dawn ktibt diversi drabi f’dawn il-paġni.

F’Jannar 2013, wara perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni kif trid il-liġi, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kellha f’idejha dokument ieħor li kien approvat: nirreferu għalih bħala l-politka tal-flessibilità. Huwa intitolat : Partial Review of Subsidiary Plans: General Policy relating to Regeneration/Consolidation initiatives. L-iżviluppaturi (u l-periti tagħhom) flimkien mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jinterpretaw dan id-dokument bħala li jagħtihom mano libera biex jiddeċiedu dwar liema huma dawk il-partijiet tal-Pjani Lokali li għandhom jinjoraw.
Sfortunatament uffiċjali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, spiss wisq, jaġixxu qieshom għandhom xi dritt divin li jiddeċiedu dwar liema huma dawk ir-regoli tal-ippjanar li għandhom japplikaw u liema huma dawk li għandhom jinjoraw.

Kaz speċifiku qam quddiem il-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa dwar żvilupp propost fuq biċċa art kbira fil-Mellieħa. Il-Pjan Lokali tal-Majjistral jipprovdi li ma jistgħux jinbnew lukandi fiż-żona residenzjali fejn hemm din l-art. Imma l-uffiċjali tad-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar, friski daqs ħassa, jirreferu għall-politika dwar il-flessibilità bl-addoċċ u jirrakkomandaw li l-lukanda proposta hi aċċettabbli. .

L-applikazzjoni tal-politika dwar il-flessibilità fl-ippjanar hi limitata mill-kundizzjonijiet fid-dokument imsemmi iktar il-fuq. Il-limitazzjoni prinċipali hi li l-flessibilità ma tistax tmur kontra l-linja ġenerali stabilita fil-Pjani Lokali. Għax il-politika dwar l-ippjanar għandha tkun flessibli imma mhux tkun tal-lastku!

Numru ta’ deċiżjonijiet li ħadet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ibbażati fuq din l-interpretazzjoni skorretta tal-politika tal-flessibilità kienu kkontestati fit-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni għall-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar u fil-Qrati u kienu mħassra. Fid-dawl ta’ dawn id-deċiżjonijiet, jiena ma nistax nifhem kif l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma tikkoreġix il-posizzjoni tagħha.

Inizzjalment l-applikazzjoni inkorretta tal-politika tal-flessibilità fl-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art setgħet titqies bħala żball. Imma meta dan l-iżball jibqa’ jkun repetut ma jibqax żball iżda jsir abbuż ta’ poter li għandu jkun indirizzat immedjatament.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 3 ta’ Marzu 2019

The elasticity of the Local Plans

The Local Plans currently in force, when they were approved, were a first serious attempt in these islands to regulate development at a local level. The need had been felt for far too long. Professional land use planning in Malta started in earnest in 1989 with the process leading to the setting up of the Planning Authority.

Originally, as clearly explained in the Structure Plan, it was planned to have 24 local plans for the Maltese Islands, but we ended up with just seven. Five local plans were approved in 2006, with the other two having been approved earlier: the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan in 1995 and the Grand Harbour Local Plan in 2002.

When the local plans were originally drafted for public consultation they were considered as highly restrictive. It was then unheard of to clearly define policy, reducing loopholes and absolute power vested in one person, the politician. There was then considerable resistance to such a course of action. This is the major reason for the long gestation period of these plans. It is also the reason which led to what is known as the rationalisation exercise as a result of which large stretches of land, around two million square metres, mostly agricultural land, was in 2006 declared by Parliament as suitable for development.

Local plans are essentially written statements containing local land use policies and policy maps illustrating the said policies. Over the years the local plans have been buttressed by supplementary guidance with specific policy documents containing a varying degree of controversy, about which I have written extensively in these columns over the years.

In January 2013, after the statutory consultation period, planning policy acquired an additional document, commonly referred to as the flexibility policy. It is entitled: Partial Review of Subsidiary Plans: General Policy relating to Regeneration/Consolidation initiatives. Developers (and their architects) as well as the Planning Authority tend to interpret this policy document as giving them a free hand in determining the extent to which they may depart from provisions of the Local Plans.

Unfortunately, Planning Authority officials tend to assume too often that they have some God-given right to decide which planning policies to apply and which to ignore.

A specific case came before the Planning Authority Board earlier this week relative to a large site in Mellieħa. The North West Local Plan provides that no new hotels can be developed in the residential area of which this site forms part. Yet, invoking the above-quoted flexibility policy officials at the Planning Directorate did not bat an eyelid and recommended that the proposed hotel was acceptable development.

Application of the planning flexibility policy is limited by the conditions set out in the policy, primarily that the general thrust or direction given by specific policies in the Local Plan is not to be superseded. Planning policy may be flexible but it should certainly not be elastic!

A number of decisions taken by the Planning Authority based on such an incorrect interpretation of the flexibility policy have been contested in the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal as well as in Court and were reversed. Faced with such decisions I fail to understand why the Planning Authority does not correct its ways.

Initially the incorrect application of the planning flexibility policy could have been considered as a case of wrongful interpretation of policy. Repetition can only be construed as an abuse of authority and should be dealt with accordingly.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 3 March 2019