After the agricultural fair has ended

The onslaught on agricultural land is continuous. It is unfortunately many a time abated by land use planning operatives. It would be an understatement to emphasise that they should know better.

Among the countless examples faced on a continuous basis I can list the following: the over-development of road infrastructure, quarries, boatyards, solar farms and fireworks factories proposed in rural areas and in lieu of agricultural land. Added to these examples one can add the craze of changing the use of agricultural land into picnic or barbeque areas. This creation of recreational areas is squeezing out agriculture! All this would not happen without the complicity of the Planning Authority and those appointed to lead it.

The agricultural fair organised last week exposed another aspect: the anguish of the farming community. A discussion organised within the precincts of the grounds of the agricultural fair focused on food security. The spiralling cost of imported animal feed fuelled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well as international business pressures are adding to the problems of those involved in animal husbandry.

Farmers are being pushed out of the land they have been tilling at an increasing rate. No one in his right senses would dare invest in the modernisation of an agricultural holding in such a climate. The banks, on the other hand, emphasised the farmers who took part in the discussion, are not forthcoming with loans to facilitate matters, most probably as they consider the risks involved too high.

In the meantime, eviction of farmers from the land they have tilled for generations continues unabated as government takes too long to come up with a reform of the agricultural lease legal setup.

Government has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the agricultural community. In addition, it has repeatedly carved agricultural land into new or widened roads. The irrigated agricultural land at Attard had to make way for the so-called Central Link. Shortly more agricultural land on the outskirts of  Qormi will make way for improvements to the Mrieħel bypass project.  Add this to the planned havoc continuously emanating from the Planning Authority and you can easily understand what the agricultural community has to bear.

It is indeed ironic that a government which boasts of a programme which is intended to create more open spaces is at the same time determined to ruin more natural open spaces on the outskirts of our towns and villages.

It is clear that government has taken a basic political decision: cars have a priority over agriculture. This decision is clearly manifested in the manner of operation of Infrastructure Malta which is gobbling up extensive agricultural land which stands in the way of its projects. It is further manifested in the absolute silence of the Agricultural Ministry when it is faced with this behaviour. The agricultural minister is apparently more interested in our heritage which leaves him little time to focus on the needs of agriculture and the farmers who depend on it for their livelihood.

Given the ever-increasing population on these islands it was always very clear that local agriculture could never, on its own, suffice to cater for our needs. Supplementing local agricultural produce with imported produce should be done with care as there is always a danger that the local market can be flooded with low priced goods which make the life of our farmers more miserable than it already is!

The organisation of the agricultural fair was a good idea. It must however be supplemented with a heavy dose of good faith which is missing in the attitudes of the holders of political office in the Ministry of Agriculture through the rest of the year, that is when there is no agricultural fair!

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 May 2022

Urban open spaces and climate change

After a free-for-all building spree during which the development of multiple private gardens in our towns and villages were targeted, mostly successfully, our towns and villages have been promised open spaces. This, it is being stated, will bring nature closer to people! A shining sun which will hopefully produce less hay!

The implementation of the first such proposal for an open space is nearing conclusion. An open space in the Tar-Rabbat Housing Estate in Ħamrun has been partially built-up to produce an artificial garden on concrete stilts! The area below the concrete stilts is being reserved for parking of cars! This is definitely not an open space.

The open spaces which we need should not add to the concrete jungle which has developed unabated around us over the years. The open spaces should be free from any form of construction and should be the opportunity to squeeze out cars from the urban environment, preferably relegating them to the periphery of our towns and villages. The open spaces are meant to re-introduce nature into our lives, even if in a very limited way.

Our urban areas have been left to develop on their own for quite too long. As a result, they have been guided by business-friendly or market-friendly authorities, producing the mess of an urban jungle we have to face every day. This is a mess resulting from political decisions which have ensured that profits repeatedly have a priority over people and their quality of life.

The availability of funds to introduce open spaces in our urban areas is a unique opportunity to redesign the urban environment such that it becomes people-friendly. It is also an opportunity to bring urban planning in line with the requirements of climate change mitigation policy.

Earlier this month the latest report on climate change was published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). The document, almost 3000 pages long, emphasises that without profound changes to our lifestyle the Paris 2015 Climate Summit objectives will not be attained.

As islands, Malta and Gozo should be at the forefront in the international climate change debate. Climate change is already here. Extremes of temperature, long periods of drought or sudden floods are no longer a rare occurrence in the Maltese islands. We have experienced this repeatedly over the past years.

A sea-level rise will impact our coastal areas. Large stretches of our coastline are developed and used for residential purposes or else they are utilised for the maritime and tourism industries. A sea level rise, dependent on its extent, would severely impact all this activity. It is in our interest that any sea level rise resulting from climate change would be minimal, if at all. This can only happen if the climate mitigation targets agreed to at the Paris Summit are adhered to the soonest.

One of the ideas doing the rounds in the climate change debate is to rethink our urban design strategy as one of the basic tools with which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as “the 15-minute city” by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris Mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away on foot or by bike! Consequently, our dependency on the car would be done away with, as a result even claiming back our streets. The open spaces initiative could fit in perfectly within the parameters of the “15-minute city”.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyle within this framework?

The Covid-19 pandemic has given most of us a taste of working from home. If this could become a permanent feature of our urban lifestyle, some of us would not need not travel to work every day. This would address and potentially reduce our addiction to the car. Over a period of time this would impact our carbon emissions.

Our contribution to climate change mitigation as a result of which we can accelerate our path to carbon neutrality could be achieved without impacting our mobility. Through a judicious use of public transport, and the facilitation of other sustainable mobility options our mobility can in fact be substantially improved as a result.

Come October all public transport will be free of charge. Hopefully it will also be reliable and efficient. If adequately planned this could be a turning point in climate change mitigation measures as over a period of time it can lead to a reduction of cars from our roads. Initially such a reduction would necessarily be of a temporary nature. Eventually we can move towards a permanent change.

Within this context open spaces adequately planned have a pivotal role. They improve our quality of life by bringing it closer to nature in our 15-minute cities.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 24 April 2022

Lil hinn mir-rapport tal-KPMG dwar l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni

Kif mistenni, ir-rapport tal-KPMG dwar l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni jpinġi stampa sabiħa tal-industrija. Dan minkejja li l-awturi tar-rapport jikkonċedu li l-informazzjoni fir-rapport faċli li tintuża biex biha tasal għal konklużjonijiet ferm differenti minn tagħhom.

Jiena eżaminajt ir-rapport biex nara kemm dan jitkellem dwar numru ta’ affarijiet importanti bħall-iżvilupp esaġerat (over-development), ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni, l-ambjent u l-klima. Kien ikun importanti kieku konna infurmati dwar il-veduti tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni dwar dawn il-materji u oħrajn. Imma ftit li xejn hemm kummenti dwarhom, skond l-awturi tar-rapport.

Ma jiena bl-ebda mod sorpriż li l-KPMG ma qalulna xejn fir-rapport dwar l-iżvilupp esaġerat jew ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni. Dan ovvjament juri, għal min għadu ma ndunax, li l-industrija la jidhrilha li hemm żvilupp esaġerat u l-anqas ma għandha ebda interess fir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni. Kif diġa spjegat f’artiklu riċenti tiegħi (Illum 22 ta’ Settembru 2019: Sħab ma min iħammeġ), l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni ma għandha l-ebda interess li tirriċikla l-iskart li tiġġenera hi stess, meta dan ikun possibli: interessata biss li jkollha fejn tarmi l-iskart tagħha b’mod issussidjat.

Hi tħammeġ u int tħallas. KPMG jaqblu ma dan?

Fir-rapport tal-KPMG hemm żewġ referenzi ghall-ambjent. L-ewwel referenza hi dwar in-nuqqas ta’ użu ta’ materjal sensittiv ambjentalment fil-bini u jenfasizza li dan ma jsirx ħtija tal-konsumaturi li ma jinteressawhomx! It-tieni referenza hi dwar l-għaqdiet ambjentali u tisfidhom biex il-proposti li jagħmlu jkunu realistiċi!

L-awturi tar-rapport jinsistu li dawn is-suġġerimenti mhux biss għandhom ikunu realistiċi imma għandhom jirrikonoxxu li mhuwiex realistiku li twaqqaf il-kostruzzjoni u l-iżvilupp.

KPMG qed jgħixu fis-sħab għax kieku forsi kienu jirrealizzaw li l-ambjentalisti ilhom żmien twil iressqu proposti li l-gvernijiet kontinwament jinjoraw għax il-gvernijiet moħħhom biss f’kif jinkoraġixxu iktar bini a spejjes tal-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Ikkunsidraw pereżempju l-eżerċizzju tar-razzjonalizzazzjoni, approvat fl-2006 imma li l-impatti tiegħu għadna inħossuhom kuljum f’kull rokna ta’ dawn il-gżejjer. Il-ħsara li saret, u li għadha qed issir, mill-Gvern id f’id mal-iżviluppaturi, hi waħda enormi. Imma, dwar dan, skiet komplet mingħand KPMG.

It-tibdil fil-klima, skont ir-rapport ta’ KPMG, qiesha ma teżistix, għax fir-rapport ma hemm l-ebda referenza għaliha. Dan ovvjament ifisser li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni mhiex interessata fil-materja.

M’aħniex qed nistennew lill-awturi tar-rapport ta’ KPMG jispjegawlna kif l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni ħarbtet pajjiż bi żvilupp esaġerat u l-pretensjoni tagħhom li aħna, l-bqija, nħallsu d-djun ambjentali tagħhom. Il-ġungla tal-konkos li qed tiżviluppa madwarna qed tifgana. L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni kontinwament trid iktar art għal żvilupp li donnu ma jintemm qatt.

L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni hemm bżonn li tiġi f’sensiha. Ilkoll jeħtieġilna nifhmu, qabel ma jkun tard wisq, li dan il-bini li għaddej kullimkien mhux sostenibbli u li l-progress ma jitkejjilx bil-bini, bit-toroq jew bin-numru ta’ karozzi li ma jispiċċaw qatt.

Il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna għandha titkejjel bl-ispazji miftuħin li jipperpettulna li niskopru mill-ġdid l-egħruq naturali tagħna fil-ħajja naturali li l-urbanizzazzjoni bla limitu qed teqred ftit ftit.

L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni hi determinata li tisfrutta dan il-mument fejn qed titħalla tagħmel prattikament dak li trid: tibqa’ għaddejja b’bini bla limitu sakemm timla kull ċentimetru possibli, inkluż il-baħar, fuq skala li jħabbatha ma Dubaj! Dik hi l-viżjoni.

Imma għada jasal għal kulħadd, mhux biss għal dawk li jridu jisfruttaw is-sitwazzjoni illum li tippermettilhom iħaxxnu bwiethom bi ħsara għall-komunità kollha. Nittama li meta jasal jibqalna l-enerġija u l-kapaċità li nsewwu l-ħsara enormi li qed issir lil kulħadd.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 6 t’Ottubru 2019

 

Beyond the KPMG construction industry report

As expected, KPMG’s report on the construction industry paints a very rosy picture of it, although its authors concede that “others may arrive at a different conclusion” on the basis of the information contained therein.

I have searched through the report to identify the incidence of a number of important expressions like “over-development”, “re-cycling” (of construction waste), “the environment”, and “the climate”. The views of the construction industry on these terms (and others) would have been quite interesting, had they been expressed. According to the authors of the report, however, practically none of them were.

I am not surprised that the terms “over-development” and “recycling” do not feature in the report. This obviously indicates that the industry does not consider there is any “over-development” and, in addition, that the industry is not bothered about recycling its construction waste. As explained in a recent article of mine (TMIS, 22 September 2019 entitled In cahoots with the polluter), the construction industry is not interested in recycling its waste, when this is possible; it is only interested in subsidised dumping sites. They pollute, you pay. Does KPMG endorse this?

There are two references to the environment in the KPMG report. The first points fingers at consumers and emphasises that there is a lack of environmentally-friendly materials in properties because there is no demand for them! The second focuses on environmental lobby groups and challenges them to come forward with realistic suggestions! The authors of the report, however, point out that “such suggestions should be grounded in reality, and recognise that halting all construction and development is not a realistic option.”

KPMG is apparently reporting from the moon as it would have otherwise realised long ago that the environmental lobby has brought forward a multitude of proposals which have been generally ignored by governments, which have continuously sought to ensure that development is facilitated at the expense of our quality of life. It would suffice for a moment if they were to consider, for example, the rationalisation exercise introduced way back in 2006 but the impacts of which are still being felt still being felt up to this very day all around our islands. The damage done by government in cahoots with the developers is enormous but KPMG is, however, completely silent on the matter.

Climate change does not feature at all in the report, meaning that the construction industry is generally not bothered.

We do not expect the authors of the KPMG report to explain how the construction industry has been a major force in ruining this country through over-development and through expecting us to foot their environmental bills.

The concrete jungle developing all around us is suffocating. It is fuelled by a construction industry which has no idea of where to stop and that continuously wants more land for development.

It is about time that the construction industry is cut down to size. We should all realise, before it is too late, that the ongoing building spree is unsustainable and that progress is not measured in terms of buildings, roads or the enormous number of cars on our roads.
Our quality of life is actually measured through the open spaces we can enjoy and through rediscovering our natural roots, which have been obliterated as a result of the ever-expanding urban boundaries.

The construction industry is bent on making even more hay while the sun shines: on building more and more for as long as their Dubaification vision remains in place.

The sun rises for everyone, not just for those seeking to make hay while it shines. When it sets, we rest – preparing for tomorrow and hoping that, when it comes, there will still be time to repair the extensive damage being done to us all.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 October 2019

 

L-appell dwar il-permess tad-dB f’Pembroke

 

L-appell kontra l-permess tad-dB biex iħarbat is-sit tal-ITS ġie sottomess.
Ir-raġunijiet għall-appell, fil-qosor huma s-segwenti:

1) Il-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Matthew Pace, membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar u fl-istess ħin b’interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetá,
2) Il-kunflitt ta’ interess tal-Membru Parlamentari Clayton Bartolo, membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar,
3) In-nuqqas ta’ skrutinju tal-presentazzjoni sħiħa minn Jacqueline Gili li twasslet għal-laqgħa tal-Bord bil-jet,
4) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá tal-proposta ta’ żvilupp mal-Height Limitation Adjustment Policy for Hotels,
5) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá tal-proposta ta’ żvilupp mal-Planning Policy Guide on the use and applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR), artiklu 5.9 dwar l-ispejjes konnessi mal-iżvilupp tal-infrastruttura,
6) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá tal-proposta ta’ żvilupp mal-Planning Policy Guide on the use and applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR), u dan dwar diversi dettalji tal-policy kif imfissra dettaljatament fid-dokument tal-appell,
7) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá dwar policies li jikkonċernaw l-impatt viżiv,
8) Hemm appartamenti li huma inqas fid-daqs minn dak stabilit mill-policies tal-ippjanar,
9) is-Social Impact Assessment ma sarx sewwa,
10) L-iżvilupp propost ma jikkonformax ma policies, liġijiet u obbligi internazzjonali dwar il-ħarsien tal-wirt storiku,
11) L-iżvilupp propost jikser diversi policies u liġijiet dwar il-ħarsien tal-kosta,
12) L-iżvilupp propost ma jsegwix policies intenzjonati biex iħarsu l-ispazji miftuħa,
13) L-impatt tat-traffiku mhux ikkunsidrat b’mod adegwat; ma sarux studji neċessarji u kien hemm nuqqas ta’ konsultazzjoni bi ksur tal-Konvenzjoni ta’ Aarhus,
14) Ma ġietx osservata l-liġi tad-Dimanju Pubbliku u dan dwar il-ħarsien tal-kosta,
15) Nuqqas ta’ konsiderazzjoni u piz mogħti lil materji diversi relevanti dwar ambjent, estetika u sanitá,
16) Nuqqas ta’ development brief u Master Plan,
17) Nuqqas ta’ ħarsien ambjentali dwar protezzjoni ta’ bijodiversitá, flora u fawna fuq l-art u fil-baħar, siti Natura 2000 u Għarq Ħammiem
18) Nuqqas ta’ osservanza ta’ liġijiet diversi dwar tniġġiż u emmissjonijiet kif ukoll dwar skart riżultanti mill-proġett.

IVA jew LE għall-iżvilupp?

The Towers Sliema

X’irridu?

Bini fil-għoli, iva jew le?

Bini fl-ODZ, ċertament li le.

Żvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ żoni dilapidati: hemm resistenza qawwja għar-riġenerazzjoni urbana.

Bini fuq il-baħar (land reclamation), ċertament li le.

X’irridu eżattament?

Ħaga li jeħtieġ li tinftiehem sewwa hi li l–art f’Malta hi limitata u allura kull binja żejda tagħmel il-ħsara bla bżonn. Ikun tajjeb kienu naqblu li ż-żoni żviluppati, jew li jistgħu jiġu żviluppati, huma diġa kbar wisq u li jeħtieġ li jibdew jonqsu mhux jiżdiedu.

L-unika ħaġa ċerta hi li hawn ftit iktar minn 70,000 post residenzjali vojt, inkluż dawk użati għall-villeġġatura, li b’mod ġenerali jagħmlu disa’ xhur tas-sena vojta. Din waħedha hi raġuni biżżejjed għal moratorium dwar proġetti kbar residenzjali. Tista’ min-naħa l-oħra tkun ukoll inċentiv għal proġetti ta’ riġenerazzjoni urbana li permezz tagħhom jinħolqu spazji miftuħa sostanzjali f’żoni residenzjali. Spazji li huma tant meħtieġa biex iż-żoni urbani tagħna li huma mitluqin jingħataw il-ħajja.

Il-bini għoli jista’ jkun aċċettabbli (jew le) skond il-kuntest li fih ikun propost. Importanti li jingħataw piz lill-impatti akkumulati fuq il-komunitajiet tagħna. Għax li jsir żvilupp ta’ bini għoli mingħajr ma jagħti każ bis-serjetà tar-residenti, bħad-diversi torrijiet li qed jinbtu qieshom simboli falliċi mxerrda mal-pajjiż, huwa ta’ ħsara kbira.