A stinking amnesty

It smells

 

The planning amnesty which Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri launched last week to regularise development illegalities that cannot be addressed through a proper application of planning policies is a throwback to the Stone Age of land use planning in Malta.

While land use planning in Malta has been and  always will be the most controversial of activities of public bodies, it has to be stated that, since 1992, the Planning Authority (warts and all) has developed into the most transparent government authority. It could be much more transparent but no one in his right senses doubts that, to date, it still surpasses all the other government departments and authorities in issues of transparency.

Applications for the issuance of a development permit are publicised through a site notice and on the Planning Authority website, as well as in the Malta Government Gazette. On the Planning Authority website one can also examine the exact proposal, as all the drawings submitted can be viewed online. On the basis of this available  information, it is possible to submit to the Planning Authority observations about – and objections to – the development proposal , which observations and objections have to be addressed when the final report on the particular application is drawn up recommending approval or refusal of the development proposal.

To date there is one exception, commonly referred to as the DNO  (Development Notification Order) application which is a fast-track application process. Generally, this type of application is non-controversial and involves minor or straightforward applications. However, recently the Planning Authority considered that it was advisable to reduce the number of cases to which the DNO process applies, thereby widening the number of proposals for development which are subject to public consultation.

Legal Notice 285 of 2016, published under the authority of Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri, stands in stark contrast to all this and stinks. Entitled Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations 2016, these regulations establish the procedures to be followed in order to regularise existing development illegalities. We have to thank Dr Schembri for small mercies, as she excluded illegal ODZ developments from the regularisation process. However, she did not consider it appropriate to similarly exclude illegal developments in UCAs (Urban Conservation Areas) or illegalities concerning scheduled or protected properties.

Nor is there a distinction between minor illegalities and major illegalities. Had the proposed regularisation process sought to sanction minor illegalities, matters would have been substantially different and most probably the proposal would have been acceptable. This would be so even though most of the minor illegalities would most probably not require an amnesty. Most can easily be dealt with within the parameters of existing policies and regulations. These cases of minor illegalities are, in fact, the perfect camouflage for the major illegalities.

To ensure that this camouflage works as planned, Legal Notice 285 of 2016 makes short shrift of the transparency process by ensuring that it is not applicable to applications for the regularisation of illegal developments. The legal notice, in its regulation 5, emphasises only one exception, which is those cases where an illegal development was subject to an enforcement order. In such cases where an enforcement order would have been issued “following the submission of a formal complaint by third parties” the said third parties will be informed that an application has been submitted for the regularisation of the illegalities and they will be given the opportunity to be considered “interested parties”.

In all other cases, contrary to the provisions of the Development Planning Act of 2016, no one has the right to be considered an interested party. This can be stated with certainty as being a specific objective in view of the fact the regulation 3 of Legal Notice clearly spells out its objectives, which are: “to lay down procedures by which any person may request the regularisation of an existing irregular development.”

The legal notice makes no provision either for access to information about the proposals submitted or on the timeframe for submissions of observations and/or objections by interested third parties other than by the solitary exception referred to previously.

This is the state of affairs which led four environmental NGOs – Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth (Malta) and Ramblers Association – to submit in Court a judicial protest in which they insisted that the government cannot ignore the transparency provisions of the Development Planning Act 2016 when considering whether to regularise illegal development. These applications have to be publicised and the public has a right to scrutinise them as well as submit comments and objections when they consider these to be appropriate.

There is only one simple question to ask: why this stink?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 4 September 2016

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Taqta’ fejn taqta’ joħroġ id-demm

racetrack

L-argument dwar iċ-ċirkwit tal-tlielaq tal-karozzi qiegħed jiġi mpoġġi ħażin.

Uħud qed jgħidu li dan iċ-ċirkwit m’għandux jitqiegħed f’ODZ. Dan hu argument li min qed jagħmlu m’jafx x’inhu jgħid. Għax l-ebda ċirkwit tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi ma jsir ġo żona ta’ żvilupp.

Jiena nħares lejn il-materja b’mod ħafna differenti.

Nistaqsi: Għandna biżżejjed art għal din l-attività? Nafu li din l-attività tirrikjedi kwantità kbira ta’ art?

Tkun fejn tkun l-art ser toħloq xi forma ta’ impatt. Tista’ teffettwa raba’ li qed jintuża jew kien jintuża għall-agrikultura. Tista’ minflok teffettwa xagħri u allura l-impatt ikun iżjed wieħed fuq riżorsi naturali u bijodiversità. Dan apparti wirt storiku jew arkejoloġiku li jiddependi minn fejn tkun l-art.

Jekk min-naħa l-oħra l-proposta tkun viċin wisq l-abitat (kemm jekk ODZ kif ukoll, agħar jekk ġoż-żona ta’ l-iżvilupp) l-impatti fuq ir-residenti ser ikunu ta’ natura sostanzjali. Hemm l-impatti kkawżati mill-istorbju kif ukoll mit-tniġġiż tal-arja bħala riżultat tal-użu ta’ kwantità kbira ta’ fuel fit-tlielaq.

L-istorbju ma jeffettwax biss lill-bniedem. Jeffettwa ukoll lin-natura. Jeffettwa ukoll l-annimali fl-irziezet. Hemm diversi regoli u liġijiet dwar dan li jirrestrinġu ċerta attività bħalma hi dik tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi.

Jiġifieri taqta’ fejn taqta’ joħroġ id-demm.

L-art li ser tkun meħtieġa hi waħda sostanzjali. Qabel l-aħħar elezzjoni d-delettanti tal-isport tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi kienu taw indikazzjonijiet li l-art meħtieġ tista’ tkun bejn it-33 tomna u 40 tomna.

Mhux kull art li tista’ tkun magħżula ser ikollha l-istess impatt. Irridu nistennew u naraw għax tkun liema tkun l-art li ser tintagħżel ser toħloq problema. Peró din bil-fors ser tkun ODZ – barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp! Għax ma tista’ tkun imkien iktar.

Meta nisma’ proposti bħal din dwar iċ-ċirkwit tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi huwa ċar li uħud donnhom għad ma jridux jaċettaw iċ-ċokon tal-pajjiż. Minħabba dan iċ-ċokon attività bħat-tlielaq tal-karozzi fl-opinjoni tiegħi ma jagħmlux sens.

2 miljun metru kwadru, rigal tal-PN lill-ispekulaturi

euros .....

Qabel mal-Partit Nazzjonalista joqgħod jippontifika dwar kemm għandu għal qalbu l-ODZ ikun tajjeb li jiftakar li kien il-PN fil-Gvern li ittrasforma 2 miljun metru kwadru ta’ art barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp (ODZ) u ġiebha art tajba għal bini. Dan permezz tal-iskema magħrufa bħala tar-rationalisation.

L-effetti ta’ din id-deċiżjoni ħażina għadna qed inħossuhom kuljum prinċipalment minħabba li l-parti l-kbira minn dawn iż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru għadhom ma nbnewx.

Riċentement, per eżempju, f’Ħ’Attard qamet il-polemika dwar waħda minn dawn l-artijiet. L-ipokrezija tal-PN f’dan il-każ kienet bla limitu għax wieħed mill-membri Parlamentari li kien ivvota favur li dawn iż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art ODZ isiru tajbin għall-bini kellu l-wiċċ jiġi jipprotesta mar-residenti.

Kif tistgħu titwemmnu li tridu tappoġġaw lir-residenti, jekk dejjem tajtu l-appoġġ inkundizzjonat tagħkom lill-ispekulaturi?

 

Għal iktar informazzjoni, ara fuq dan il-blog:

Ħ’Attard: dmugħ tal-kukudrilli.

Il-bikja tal-kukkudrill tkompli ………. dwar l-art f’Ħ’Attard.

 

 

 

 

Joseph : ABŻ mill-ODZ

euros-loads-of-money

 

Bl-iktar mod solenni  waqt l-aħħar kampanja elettorali Joseph Muscat wiegħed li l-Labour fil-Gvern mhux ser imiss il-linja tal-iżvilupp. B’mod partikolari waqt laqgħa mal-kuntratturi (li uħud isejħu lilhom infushom żviluppaturi) u mal-Periti kien wiegħed li mhux bi ħsiebu jmiss il-linja tal-ODZ.

Bil-proposta ta’ żvilupp ta’ l-Università taż-Żonqor Muscat mhux ser imiss il-linja tal-ODZ iżda ser jinjorha kompletament.

Fejn jidħol l-ambjent Joseph paroli biss. ABŻ mill-ODZ.

A future for our past

Fort-Ricasoli

 

The proposal for the setting up of an American University at Marsaskala  as presented  by the government is not one that is sustainable.  DePaul University of Chicago has denied involvement in the selection of the site: it is a responsibility that has to be shouldered exclusively by the government and its advisors.  Whilst the proposal itself may be beneficial, the selected site should be discarded and replaced.

At the time of writing we are aware from media reports that the site at iż-Żonqor in Marsaskala, outside the development zone, was selected by MEPA on the basis of parameters identified by the government. We have been informed that  the government opted for an ODZ site in order to reduce the financial outlay for the project. In fact, 89% of the land is government-owned whilst the remaining 11% belongs to private individuals, a number of whom are well known for their activities in previous years.

This points to a serious shortfall in the reasoning of the government which  apparently considers that the costs that need to be taken into consideration are limited to those of a financial nature. Environmental costs do not seem to be factored in at this stage – except in the form of a nature park sweetener accompanying the proposed destruction of agricultural land. On the other hand, by identifying the site in the political south, the government thinks that it is addressing social considerations as it is trying to imply that this will lead to the generation of employment opportunities in the area.

Employment opportunities will definitely be created both directly by the academic activity of the University and through the presence on the islands of the foreign students who will be attracted here.  These employment opportunities will certainly be a long term benefit for the Maltese economy.

Hopefully, other impacts on the local population will be considered in detail at a later stage when the detailed plans of the project are analysed. However, even at this point it is obvious that the generation of increased traffic will be problematic and will create considerable difficulties for the localities of Ħaż-Żabbar and Marsaskala.

Earlier this week, Alternattiva  Demokratika-The Green Party proposed to the government that instead of considering the site at Żonqor Point in Marsaskala it should look at Fort Ricasoli in Kalkara. This proposal was also reflected in separate comments made by environmental NGOs as well as by Labour MP Marlene Pullicino, who emphasised the need to make use of forts, coastal towers and buildings of huge historical significance which, if adequately restored, could provide much more space than is needed for the campus of this American University.

In addition to Fort Ricasoli, Dr  Pullicino referred to Fort St Leonard,  Fort St Rocco, The Cottonera Lines  and Fort San Salvatore in Vittoriosa.

I understand that there is some reluctance regarding the Fort Ricasoli proposal – currently partly utilised by the film industry, which considers it as an essential backbone of its infrastructure. Whilst this may be the case, unfortunately this use of the Fort has not to date led to any visible improvement on the state of repair of this national treasure.  I am informed that currently  sections of the fort require immediate intervention as they are considered to be in a dangerous state. Information available also indicates that the film industry has been drawing the attention of the authorities for years on end to the state of Fort Ricasoli but unfortunately no action has been taken.

These proposals to utilise Malta’s historical heritage as an alternative to the planned destruction of 90,000 square metres of agricultural land is much more than a proposal to change the location of the American University in Malta. It aims to channel the available investment into regenerating our historical heritage by restoring it and identifying a use of relevance to the 21st century. Using restored buildings appropriately is the best way in which we can protect our historical heritage.

Other countries have been there before us with considerable success.  Many Universities in Europe are situated on a campus consisting of immaculately preserved buildings, combined with state-of-the-art facilities for research, learning and recreation.

All the above Maltese  historical buildings offer easy access to the infrastructural services which will be required on a university campus.

Why proceed with the destruction of agricultural land when the proposal for an American University in Malta can be achieved through creating  a future for our past? This is a unique opportunity which should not be discarded.

published in The Independent on Sunday, 10 May 2015

L-Università Amerikana f’Marsaskala: insalvaw il-ftit art li baqa’

 

MSkala.SLP.Environmental Constraints2

Il-Gvern qed jippjana li tinbena Università immexxija mill-Amerikani barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ)  f’Marsaskala. Qed jgħid li din ser tokkupa area ta’ madwar 90,000 metru kwadru (9 ettari). Aħna ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika naħsbu li l-art użata eventwalment ser tkun ferm ikbar milli qed jgħid il-Gvern, madwar id-doppju. Imma billi s’issa għad ma ġie ippubblikat xejn huwa diffiċli li tgħid b’ċertezza dwar x’inhu l-qies ippjanat.

Għad irid jittieħed ukoll konsiderazzjoni tat-toroq li jkunu meħtieġa illi jinbnew, kif ukoll tal-infrastruttura u servizzi neċessarji.

Din l-Universita’ hi ppjanata għan-naħa taż-Żonqor (ara pjanta ta’ hawn fuq, fiċ-ċirku aħmar) f’żona li hi waħda agrikola imma li hi viċin ħafna ta’ żona protetta, żona ekoloġikament sensittiva. Il-Gvern qed jgħid li l-art agrikola hi abbandunata, jiġifieri ilha ma tinħadem. Dan fil-fehma tiegħi ma jiġġustifikax li ma tibqax art agrikola. Hu argument ħażin li għax l-art m’għadhiex tinħadem għandna nikinsu l-ħamrija u nibnu minn flokha.

L-art agrikola f’Malta ilha tonqos is-snin. Ittieħdet wisq raba’ għall-bini tul is-snin.

Mhux korrett li jingħad li l-proġett hu wieħed edukattiv. Il-proġett hu wieħed ta’ negozju, fejn studenti barranin ser ikunu offruti tagħlim Universitarju bi ħlas. Ħlas sostanzjali. L-idea mhiex ħażina. Hi l-art identifikata mill-Gvern li mhiex addattata għal dan l-iskop.

Ikun iktar għaqli li jinstab sit alternattiv fejn l-idea tista’ tkun żviluppata. Hawn ħafna bini pubbliku abbandunat jew mhux użat li jista’ jkun riabilitat u jkun utli ħafna għall-użu bħala Università.

Imma ejja nħarsu ż-żona barra mill-linja tal-iżvilupp. Il-Gvern għandu jagħti l-eżempju. Għax jekk il-Gvern jibqa’ jiġi jaqa’ u jqum, kif nistennew li cowboys fl-industrija tal-bini ma jippretendux l-istess trattament?

Alternattiva Demokratika hi pożittiva dwar l-idea tal-proġett. Hi l-għażla li għamel il-Gvern dwar l-art li jrid jiżviluppa li m’hiex addattata.

Kif għidt dal-għodu fil-konferenza stampa ta’ AD dwar dan is-suġġett, jekk il-Gvern irid, Alternattiva Demokratika lesta li tagħti l-kontribut tagħha biex tgħin ħalli tkun tidentifikata art jew bini alternattiv fejn tista’ issir din l-Università fin-Nofsinnhar tal-pajjiż.

Irridu imma nifhmu darba għal dejjem li Malta ma tistax titlef iktar art. Il-ftit art li baqa’ jeħtieġ li nsalvawha.

(Nota: Il-pjanta ta’ hawn fuq hi meħuda mill-Pjan Lokali għan-Nofsinnhar ta’ Malta: Marsascala environmental constraints Map. Il-kulur oranġo jindika art agrikola filwaqt li l-kulur aħdar jindika art ta’ importanza ekoloġika jew siti ta’ importanza xjentifika.

Il-pjanta oriġinali tista’ issibha fuq is-sit tal-MEPA hawn.)

 

 

Għawdex presepju?

circular economy

L-aċċess liberu u immedjat bejn Malta u Għawdex mhux xi ħaġa li bdejna nargumentaw dwarha issa. L-argument ilu għaddej is-snin. Niftakar, meta kont għadni żgħir nisma’ l-argumenti sħan dwar il-possibilita’ ta’ pont bejn Malta u Għawdex fis-snin 60. Riċentement l-argument issoffistika ftit ruħu u hemm min hu mħajjar mill-ħolqien ta’ mina taħt il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex.

Qabel iżda ma wieħed iqies jekk proġett bħal dan jistax isir, kif ukoll kemm jiswa’ u minn fejn ser jitħallas, ikun għaqli li nifhmu ftit xi skop irridu li jintlaħaq bi proġett bħal dan, u dan qabel ma nibdew biss nidħlu fid-dettall biex nikkunsidraw l-impatti ambjentali.

Bla dubju l-iskop ta’ min imexxi l-quddiem l-idea ta’ għaqda fiżika permezz ta’ pont jew mina  hu li din l-għaqda fiżika tnaqqas il-ħin biex persuna residenti Għawdex tasal għax-xogħol jew għal-istudju l-Universita’ f’Malta. Tiffaċilita’ ukoll il-ħidma tal-industrija li jonqsulha d-diffikultajiet biex twassal il-prodotti tagħha lejn is-swieq, kemm dawk lokali kif ukoll dawk barranin. Fi ftit kliem min imexxi l-quddiem l-idea ta’ pont jew mina jara dawn l-aspetti posittivi li jirriżultaw mill-fatt li Għawdex ikun parti integrali minn Malta. Pero’ sfortunatament jinsa’ l-bqija. Ma tistax u m’għandex, biex tmexxi l-quddiem l-idea tiegħek tarmi l-ideat ta’ ħaddieħor.

Ma nafx jekk qatt ġiex ikkunsidrat l-impatt fuq it-turiżmu tal-proposta ta’ mina jew pont. Għax b’mina jew pont, lit-turist ftit jibqa’ xi jħajjru biex jibbaża ruħu f’Għawdex waqt il-mawra tiegħu f’dawn il-gżejjer. B’pont jew mina, l-attrazzjoni ta’ Għawdex għat-turist tkun kważi identika bħal dik ta’ reġjuni oħra fil-gżejjer Maltin. Filwaqt li dan għalija hu ovvju, tajjeb li jsir eżerċizzju biex dan ikun ikkwantifikat biex meta jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet kulħadd ikun jaf x’inhu jagħmel, fejn qiegħed u x’inhuma l-konsegwenzi ta’ dak li nippjanaw u nagħmlu.

Għax fl-aħħar irridu bħala pajjiż niddeċiedu mhux jekk Għawdex ikunx magħqud ma’ Malta b’pont jew mina, imma dwar x’direzzjoni ekonomika għandha tieħu l-gżira Għawdxija. It-turiżmu f’Għawdex żgur li għandu potenzjal li jikber . Mhux qed nirreferi għat-turiżmu tradizzjonali iżda dak magħruf bħala eko-turiżmu.

L-eko-turiżmu għandu potenzjal kbir f’Għawdex. Jista’ faċilment jaħdem id f’id ma l-agrikultura u mal-ħarsien tal-ambjent. Inħarsu l-ambjent u nkattru x-xogħol permezz ta’ turiżmu li jirrispetta n-natura.

Bħalissa qed nitkellmu ħafna dwar l-agri-turiżmu fil-kuntest ta’ tibdil tal-politika tal-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art f’żoni agrikoli. Ma ġewx ippubblikati studji li jiġġustifikaw dak li ġie propost. Hemm ħafna potenzjal.

Per eżempju minn studji diversi li saru nafu li n-natura għandha effett terrapewtiku. Meta l-bniedem jirristabilixxi l-kuntatt dirett tiegħu man-natura iserraħ il-menti tiegħu u jikkalma. Il-kuntatt dirett man-natura tnaqqas l-istress.  Hemm branka ta’ xjenza magħrufa bħala eko-terapija li tistudja kif in-natura tista’ tkun utilizzata iktar fil-qasam tas-saħħa mentali. NGO Ingliża fil-qasam tas-saħħa mentali meta xi snin ilu ippubblikat ir-rapport tagħha intitolat Eco-therapy : A Green Agenda for Mental Health emfasizzat li n-natura għandha l-potenzjal li tkun għodda utli ħafna għall-futur tas-saħħa mentali tagħna lkoll. Dan jista’ jsir b’diversi modi: b’mixjiet fil-kampanja, tours ċiklistiċi, żjarat fir-rżiezet inkluż li ngħixu għall-perjodu ta’ żmien fost komunitajiet ta’ bdiewa jew sajjieda ………… u bosta ħidmiet oħra. Din hi ħidma li tfittex li tistabilixxi mill-ġdid ir-rabta bejn il-bniedem u n-natura. Din hi attivita’ li tnaqqas l-istress, ir-rabja, l-ansjeta’, l-għejja mentali u problemi diversi oħra ta’ saħħa mentali. (ara ukoll fuq l-istess suġġett il-blogpost tiegħi  Reconnecting to Our Roots)

Dan kollu hu fost il-potenzjal li għandu Għawdex. Potenzjal li joħloq ix-xogħol imma fil-ħolqien tiegħu jirrispetta l-ambjent. It-turiżmu flimkien mal-ambjent joffri futur interessanti għal Għawdex, ferm iktar milli jkun presepju.

Ibbazat fuq il-kummenti ippubblikati f’Illum : il- Ħadd 29 ta’ Dicembru 2013

Il-MEPA tippjana l-iżvilupp fil-kampanja

 

vinja

Nhar il-Ġimgħa li għaddiet għalaq il-perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar id-dokument ippubblikat mill-MEPA fuq l-ippjanar tal-iżvilupp fil-kampanja, intitolat Outside Development Zone – Policy and Design Guidance.

Dan id-dokument fih proposti li l-konsegwenzi tagħhom jistgħu jkunu sostanzjali u dan minħabba li jinkoraġixxu żvilupp, anke jekk dan hu limitat, fil-kampanja.

Kien fil-fehma tiegħi essenzjali li flimkien ma’ dan id-dokument ta’ proposti ta’ politika dwar żvilupp fl-ODZ il-MEPA tippubblika ukoll studji dwar x’wassal għal dawn il-konklużjonijiet.

Kemm hu kbir in-numru ta’ irziezet abbandunati? Fejn qegħdin? Hemm żoni fejn hemm konċentrazzjoni ta’ dawn l-irziezet abbandunjati? Jekk il-MEPA għandha din l-informazzjoni messha ippubblikata. Jekk min-naħa l-oħra din l-informazzjoni ma’ nġabritx ma nistax nifhem kif u għaliex ġie ippubblikat dan id-dokument.

Dan id-dokument jiftaħ il-possibilitajiet għal żvilupp fil-kampanja għall-agrituriżmu. Jorbot din il-possibilita ma sittin tomna art. Imma mbagħad jgħaddi biex jikkonċedi l-possibilta’ tal-bini ta’ mhux iktar minn għaxart ikmamar li komplessivament ikollhom qies li ma jaqbiżx l-400 metru kwadru. X’jiġġustifika din il-proposta?  X’tip ta’ agrituriżmu hu ipproġettat?

Wisq nibża’ li għall-awtriċi tad-dokument (u min assistiha) l-agrituriżmu hu t-trasferiment ta’ numru ta’ sodod tal-lukandi f’ambjent rurali. Fil-fatt hu ferm differenti. Il-punt tat-tluq tal-agrituriżmu hu esperjenza tal-ħajja rurali fi-raba’ jew f’irziezet li fihom jitrabbew il-bhejjem.

Għax ma nħarsux ftit lejn l-esperjenza fl-Italja u nippruvaw nitgħallmu ftit. Dawn l-esperjenzi juru li d-daqs medju ta’ lokal agrituristiku hu wieħed li jiprovdi għaxar sodod, jiġifieri madwar ħamest ikmamar. Il-qofol tal-esperjenza agrituristika hi l-agrikultura mhux it-turiżmu.  Magħha tista’ iżżid esperjenzi oħra ta’ natura kumplimentari bħall-mixjiet fil-kampanja u apprezzament u/jew l-istudji  tan-natura.

Id-dokument propost mill-MEPA qed jagħmel żball fundamentali. Kien ikun aħjar għal kulħadd, l-iktar għall-bdiewa infushom li fl-ewwel snin il-politika dwar l-ODZ tiffoka fuq l-użu tal-bini agrikolu vojt kif ukoll fit-tindif tal-kampanja u taż-żoni rurali minn bini illegali. Proposta ta’ din ix-xorta kienet tkun waħda leġittima u kien ikollha l-appoġġ ta’ kulħadd. Imbagħad wara numru ta’ snin kien ikun ġustifikat li jkunu eżaminati r-riżultati miksuba u minn hemm wieħed ifassal kull azzjoni oħra li tista’ tirriżulta meħtieġa.

Ikun għaqli jekk id-dokument propost mill-MEPA jkun revedut b’mod li jelimina l-possibilita li jsir bini ġdid fil-kampanja. Hu b’hekk biss li l-ODZ tibqa’ żona barra l-linja ta’ l-iżvilupp. Dan fl-interess ta’  kulħadd. Inkluż tal-bdiewa.

ippubblikat fuq iNews it-Tnejn 9 ta’ Diċembru 2013

Green acres for the tourists

festa frawli 2013

The planning authority has commenced the process of consolidating policies applicable to land use outside the development zones (ODZs) into one policy document. This includes policies applicable to agriculture.

This review exercise has various declared objectives and, possibly, some undeclared ones too. One particular declared objective deals with  agritourism and announces that it aims “to provide new opportunities for agricultural diversification by farm gate sales, visitor attractions and agro-tourism accommodation.”

Encouraging agritourism is good policy, which is long overdue. It has, however, to be developed on the correct lines from day one. In particular, it should be driven by the requirements of agriculture. Certainly it should neither  be tourism driven nor driven by the building construction industry.

Given that the first shot has been fired through a proposed review of land use planning policies it is clear that the initiatives being  considered (declared and undeclared) have more to do with the building industry.  This is more than just an impression.

Agritourism driven by agriculture can be an instrument for developing a sustainable rural development strategy. If properly planned, it can energise the agricultural community. In addition it may  incentivise some part-time farmers to switch back to full-time mode.

Agritourism can be developed on the basis of agricultural activity. It immerses the tourist into an agricultural community.  In view of the fact that most agritourism ventures are generally run by the farmers themselves assisted by their immediate families the tourist will never be just another number.

For his stay, a tourist will be part of the farmer’s family.  This is just a small part of the unique experience of agritourism, irrespective of the length of stay: be it one day, one week or longer.

Most seek agritourism  for their holidays in order to be  away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Agritourism can be linked with various other countryside and agricultural activities:  grape collection, olive picking, grape/olive pressing,  wine tasting,  bird watching, country walks or horse riding all fit in with agritourism.

It is a niche neglected for quite a long time.

Agriculture-themed activities such as the Strawberry Festival held annually in Mġarr are also part of the wider appeal of agritourism. They lay the foundations for a much wider eco-tourism policy.

In Italy, agritourism was recognised in 1985. Almost 30 years down the line it is developed and appreciated as a contributor to rural development as well as to tourism. Statistics for the year 2010 reveal that just under 20,000 agritourism operators in Italy have placed 200,000 beds on the tourism market, an average of 10 beds per operator.

In Malta, developing  agritourism almost  from scratch is a unique opportunity.  It  is also a challenge because, for some, agritourism will be just another excuse which they will try to utilise to justify more building development.  This is in my view one of the undeclared objectives of the policy review.

The ODZ policy review should aim to revitalise agriculture by providing farmers with the opportunity to increase their income through activities related to agriculture, including the provision of small scale accommodation.

Farm gate sales should be encouraged as should farmer-operated small restaurants offering local and traditional cuisine, making use of fresh produce, served directly from the farm to the fork.

Existing agricultural buildings validly built throughout the years should be properly utilised. There are quite a number of them, some having been abandoned years ago. If alterations to these buildings are required they should be considered, provided that the existing footprint of the buildings is not exceeded.

Agricultural buildings constructed illegally should not be sanctioned. Rather they should be demolished immediately.

It should be underlined that the ODZ review exercise should not be one which results in the shifting of bulldozers from an urban to a rural setting  but, rather, one intended to utilise as efficiently as possible the current stock of agricultural holdings and, as a result, benefitting first  agriculture and, as a consequence, tourism too.

If properly implemented, an agritourism policy will revitalise the agricultural community ensuring that its young generation takes charge, thereby halting its movement to other employment opportunities.

The process of revitalising agriculture through agritourism must be owned by the agriculture community in order to succeed. It must be ensured, as far as is possible, that greed and speculation, which have ruined our urban areas, converting most of them into urban concrete jungles, do not shift their attention to rural areas.  The pressure to cash-in on vacant agricultural properties will be enormous but it must be overcome.

Encouraging agritourism is a unique opportunity to plan integrated rural development. The focal point of such development must be the agriculture community and the sustainable use of natural resources. Embedding environmental responsibilities in the revised and consolidated policies applicable outside the development zones would ensure that the Maltese farmer once more actively takes up his responsibilities as the custodian of the rural environment.  This will be of great benefit not only to our present agricultural communities but future generations too.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday September 21, 2013

L-agri-turiżmu

Agritourism 1

L-agri-turiżmu ma jfissirx li jkollna l-lukandi fil-kampanja. L-agri-turiżmu hu ġabra ta’ attivitajiet u servizzi li l-komunitajiet rurali joffru biex jiġbdu l-viżitaturi. Dan it-turiżmu hu kkaraterizzat minn negozju ta’ daqs żgħir ġeneralment immexxi  b’mod dirett mis-sidien infushom (il-bdiewa) u jkun sitwat f’żoni fejn l-agrikultura hi l-użu predominanti tal-art.

M’hemmx agri-turiżmu jekk m’hemmx ukoll l-agrikultura.

L-agri-turiżmu għandu għaldaqstant tlett karatteristċi prinċipali: iseħħ flimkien mal-ħidma agrikola, jagħti esperjenza tal-ħidma agrikola lit-turist u joħloq iktar ħidma utli u li tirrendi lin-negozju agrikolu.

L-agri-turiżmu  ma jieħux post l-agrikultura iżda hu prodott ieħor tal-istess agrikultura.  It-turist  f’dan l-ambjent għal żmien qasir jifforma parti mill-komunita’ agrikola hu ukoll għaliex jgħix għal xi ġranet f’nofs komunita’ agrikola ħajja. L-agri-turiżmu hu turiżmu sostenibbli għax l-impatti tiegħu huma posittivi. L-impatti ambjentali huma minimi. L-impatti soċjali huma tajbin. L-impatti ekonomiċi huma eċċellenti. L –impatti kulturali tiegħu joħolqu rabta mal-komunita agrikola. It-turist m’huwiex sempliċiment qed jingħata servizz iżda għal żmien qasir isir parti mill-familja agrikola.

L-agri-turiżmu hu mod kif il-bdiewa jistgħu iżidu fid-dħul tagħhom u fl-istess ħin jibqgħu jaħdmu fir-raba’ tagħhom stess.

Fil-pajjiż ġar tagħna l-Italja, l-agri-turiżmu ġie rikonoxxut fl-1985. Illum għandhom agri-turiżmu żviluppat u varjat. Fl-2010 fl-Italja madwar 20,000 operatur agri-turistiku bejthom ipprovdew 200,000 sodda lis-suq turistiku Taljan. Offrew lit-turist fl-Italja prodott varjat:  minn razzett żgħir immexxi minn familja sa servizz ta’ lussu. Kif jidher miċ-ċifri l-medja hi ta’ 10 sodod għal kull operatur. Ċara ħafna li l-operaturi tat-turiżmu agrikolu huma operaturi żgħar li filwaqt li jibqgħu għaddejjin bil-ħidma agrikola normali tagħhom iżidu ftit fix-xogħol billi jipprovdu ukoll is-servizz ta’ ospitalita’.

Il-MEPA għadha kif ħabbret illi ser tikkonsolida f’dokument wieħed il-politika ta’ l-użu tal-art barra miż-żoni ta’ żvilupp  kif ukoll dik dwar l-agrikoltura. Fost l-iskopijiet li trid tilħaq hemm li jkun inkoraġġit l-agri-turiżmu. Minnu innifsu dan hu skop tajjeb dejjem sakemm ma jintużax biex jiġġustifika iktar żvilupp ta’ art barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp.

Hu necessarju li l-bini eżstenti fiż-żoni agrikoli tagħna nagħtuh użu li jgħin lill-komunita agrikola tissaħħaħ u per konsegwenza tkun f’posizzjoni aħjar li tħares l-art li tinħadem. Hemm bosta binjiet agrikoli abbandunati li jistgħu jerġgħu jingħataw il-ħajja kemm għall-ġid ta’ l-agrikultura innifisha kif ukoll għal turiżmu agrikolu. Huwa eżerċizzju iżda li jirrikjedi l-għaqal u l-paċenzja.

Jekk isir sewwa jagħti tifisira ġdida lill-karriera agrikola. Joħloq skop għal iktar investiment f’dan il-qasam u jiġbed’ lura lejn l-art lil bosta minn ulied il-bdiewa li dabbru rashom snin ilu. Fuq kollox jista’ jagħti l-ħajja lill-bini agrikolu li ilu mitluq għal snin twal.

Il-protagonist ta’ din il-bidla jrid ikun il-bidwi li filwaqt illi jibqa’ jaħdem l-art jew irabbi l-bhejjem jibda bil-mod joffri servizzi ġodda.

Dan hu l-mod li bih nimxu l-quddiem.

Ippubblikat fuq iNews nhar it-Tlieta 17 ta’ Settembru 2013