L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet raqdet?

Id-dokument tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar intitolat Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Space kien approvat f’Ġunju 2016. Permezz ta’ dan id-dokument hu regolat it-tqegħid ta’ siġġijiet u mwejjed fi spazji pubbliċi minn stabbilimenti li jservu l-ikel. Fid-daħla għal dan id-dokument jintqal li l-possibilità li spazju pubbliku jintuża b’dan il-mod jgħin fit-tisħiħ tal-valur ta’ dawn l-istabilimenti li jservu l-ikel.

It-triq li wasslet biex ikun konkluż u approvat dan id-dokument kienet waħda meqjusa bħala proċess ta’ simplifikazzjoni tal-proċess burokratiku, biex is-sidien tan-negozju jinqdew malajr u ma joqgħodux jaħlu ħafna ħin jiġru minn uffiċċju għall-ieħor biex jinkiseb permess! Kien hemm diversi entitajiet involuti. Però, l-iktar importanti minnhom, l-Kunsilli Lokali, ma kienux hemm. Dan hu rifless fid-dokument innifsu għax dan iħares l-interessi tan-negozju iżda ftit li xejn jagħti kaz tal-interessi tar-residenti.

Id-dokument jipprovdi illi meta jkunu ikkunsidrati applikazzjonijiet għal permessi biex stabilimenti li jservu l-ikel jokkupaw spazju pubbliku b’imwejjed u siggijiet għandu jkun assigurat li jitħallew passaggi mhux okkupati biex minnhom ikun jista’ jgħaddi l-pubbliku mingħajr diffikulta. Għandu anke jkun assigurat li l-aċċess għal propjetà ta’ terzi kif ukoll għal servizzi pubbliċi jitħalla liberu. Id-dokument jinsisti ukoll li fuq bankini f’toroq li minnhom jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċità kbira m’għandhomx jinħarġu permessi għall-imwejjed u siġġijiet.

Minkejja dan kollu, ipprova imxi fuq il-bankina fix-Xatt tal-Gżira fid-direzzjoni lejn Tas-Sliema u mbagħad ipprova kompla għaddej lejn ix-Xatt ta’ Tignè. Ikollok diffikultà konsiderevoli biex tgħaddi għax il-ħwienet, bil-barka tal-awtoritajiet, irnexxielhom jittrasforma propjetà pubblika f’parti integrali min-negozju tagħhom. Jirnexxielek tgħaddi b’diffikultà kbira. Għar-residenti li joqgħodu fil-flats fuq dawn in-negozji id-diffikultà hi ferm ikbar.

Dan hu r-riżultat ta’ politika li tpoġġi l-interess tan-negożji qabel l-interess tar-residenti. Infrastruttura aċċessibli u sikura m’hiex prijorità fil-politika tal-Gvern u l-awtoritajiet pubbliċi.

Riċentement, fl-aħħar, l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet ħadet id-deċiżjoni tajba li tirrifjuta applikazzjoni mis-sidien ta’ lukanda fix-Xatt tal-Gżira biex zona riżervata għall-parking tkun tista’ tintuża ħalli fuqha jitpoġġew siġġijiet u mwejjed li minnhom isservi l-ikel.

Meta is-sidien tal-lukanda ikkontestaw id-deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet huma ngħataw deċiżjoni mit-Tribunal Amministrattiv li bħalha ma tantx ikollna. F’din id-deċiżjoni ġie emfasizzat li l-politika dwar it-tqegħid tal-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet fi spazji pubbliċi biex minnhom jisserva l-ikel tipprojibixxi li dawn jitqegħdu fil-viċinanzi ta’ toroq arterjali inkella minnfejn jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċità sostanzjali. In-nies, qalet id-deċiżjoni, għandhom ikunu mħarsa mit-traffiku, mill-istorbju kif ukoll minn arja mniġġsa.

L-inċidenti fil-fatt iseħħu. Madwar disa’ xhur ilu, f’Lulju 2018, Olandiż ta’ 25 sena li kien miexi għall-affari tiegħu tul ix-Xatt ta’ San Ġiljan ġie mtajjar minn karozza li kienet għaddejja b’veloċità esaġerata u li kienet misjuqa minn żgħażugħ ta’ 20 sena li skond ma kien rappurtat kien qabeż il-limitu permissibli ta’ alkoħol li seta jixrob. L-Olandiż miet. Oħrajn weġġgħu. Saret ukoll ħsara konsiderevoli.

Minkejja dan kollu għadna nistennew lill-Awtorità tal-Artijiet biex tieħu passi f’diversi lokalitajiet biex fejn fil-passat inħarġu permessi għal imwejjed u siġġijiet fuq bankini u spazji pubbliċi oħra li huma viċin wisq ta’ toroq li minnhom jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċita kbira, dawn il-permessi jkun ikkunsidrati mill-ġdid u jiġu rtirati. Jekk l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet ser iddum wisq ma tiċċaqlaq ser ikollha terfa’ r-responsabbiltà għall-ewwel karozza li tispiċċa tkaxkar filliera mwejjed bin-nies madwarhom.

Qatt mhu tard biex tikkoreġi l-iżbalji. Żbalji li setgħu faċilment ġew evitati kieku ġew ikkonsultati l-Kunsilli Lokali.

Meta ser tiċċaqlaq l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 7 t’April 2019

 

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When will the Lands’ Authority act?

The Planning Authority’s Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Space was approved in June 2016. This policy document regulates the placing of tables and chairs on the part of catering outlets in public open spaces. The foreword to the policy document considered that the provision of such areas was a “value-adding asset for catering establishments”.

The process leading to the adoption of this document was considered as one of simplification of the administrative process, providing a one-stop-shop and various public entities were involved in its formulation. However, the only entities of any relevance to the matter, Local Councils, were absent. This absence is very evident in the document produced as this is certainly business-friendly, but nowhere does it consider the interests of residents.

There is a proviso in the policy document that, when considering whether to permit outdoor catering areas in a public open space, passageways should not be obstructed. Nor must access to third party properties or public services be in any way obstructed when approving these outdoor catering areas.

Reading through the document, one notes that “Outdoor Catering Areas shall not normally be permitted on pedestrian public footpaths, which are either adjacent to arterial roads or located in close proximity to fast-moving traffic.”

Notwithstanding all this, try walking along the pavement in The Strand from Gżira to Sliema and then onto Tigne Seafront. It would be a very difficult walk because business has taken over and transformed a public asset into a private asset. Navigating through the small amount of unoccupied space left available is a nightmare for pedestrians and it is even worse for residents living in the residential units above the ground floor occupied by catering establishments.

This is the result of a policy that puts business interests before the interests of residents: accessible and safe infrastructure for people do not feature in the policies of either the Government or the public authorities.

Recently, and at last, the Lands Authority has taken the right step in refusing an application submitted by the owners of a Hotel on The Strand, Gżira, to encroach on a number of parking spaces in order to provide an al-fresco extension to the Hotel. When the hotel’s owners contested the Lands Authority’s decision, they were, at last, faced with some common-sense in the decision delivered by the Appeals Tribunal which  emphasised that the policy regarding outdoor catering areas prohibited any platforms adjacent to arterial roads or in close proximity to fast-moving traffic. Patrons had to be safeguarded from traffic, noise and air pollution.

Accidents do actually happen. Around nine months ago, in July 2018, a 25-year old Dutchman, who was walking along the St Julian’s promenade, was hit by an over-speeding car driven by a 20-year-old who was reported as being well over the drink-drive limit. The Dutchman died in hospital and others were injured. Street furniture was damaged.

Notwithstanding the above, we still await action on the part of the Lands Authority to clear pavements and parking spaces in various areas of outdoor catering facilities that have, in the past, been permitted close to fast-moving traffic. If the Lands Authority takes much longer to act it will have to shoulder responsibility for the consequences of an over-speeding car ploughing through a row of al fresco diners.

It is never too late to learn from past mistakes and all this could have been avoided if Local Councils been consulted.

When will the Lands Authority act?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 7 April 2019

Il-Gwardjan tal-Kostituzzjoni

Il-Kostituzzjoni tagħna tistenna li l-President tar-Repubblika jħares u jipproteġi l-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta. Imma mbagħad, l-istess Kostituzzjoni tonqos milli tipprovdi lill-President l-għodda meħtieġa biex ikun jista’ jwettaq dmiru, li jħares u jipproteġi l-Kostituzzjoni. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, sal-lum, il-President tar-Repubblika straħ fuq il-persważjoni morali biex ikun jista’ jwettaq dan id-dmir bażiku. Illum il-ġurnata, meta nistennew ferm iktar minn Presidenza tar-Repubblika, ċerimonjali u bit-timbru, dan hu ferm inqas minn dak li nistennew. Is-soċjetà tagħna tistenna Presidenża bis-snien, anke jekk mingħajr poter eżekuttiv. Jiġifieri Presidenza li tista’ taġixxi fejn meħtieġ u ġustifikat mingħajr poteri eżekuttiv li ma jippermettuliex li tkun involuta fit-tmexxija ta’ kuljum tal-pajjiż.

Il-President tar-Repubblika ma jistax jistrieħ fuq il-perswazjoni morali biss biex jikkonvinċi gvern ħalli jibdel trieqtu u jirrispetta l-Kostituzzjoni, meta dan ikun meħtieg li jsir. L-uffiċċju tal-President jeħtieġ is-snien fil-forma ta’ għodda legali biex ikun jista’ jwettaq l-obbligu li jħares u jiddefendi l-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta.

L-Eċċellenza Tagħha l-President Coleiro-Preca, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa għamlet proposta ċara u speċifika. F’intervista ppubblikata fuq Indepth, fl-edizzjoni elettronika ta’ The Malta Independent, fejn qalet li l-President tar-Repubblika għandu jkollu l-awtorità li jibgħat liġi lura għand il-Parlament biex din tkun ikkunsidrata mill-ġdid. Dan ikun ifisser ukoll li l-uffiċċju tal-President ikun ipprovdut bir-riżorsi meħtieġa ħalli l-President ikollu l-pariri legali meħtieġa, f’ħin qasir, biex b’hekk ikun f’posizzjoni li jwettaq dmiru.

Dan iwassal għall-konsiderazzjoni oħra: safejn għandu jinvolvi ruħu fid-dibattitu politiku l-President tar-Repubblika? Għax li tibgħat lura lill-Parlament liġi li jkun approva biex din tkun ikkunsidrata mill-ġdid hu bla dubju messaġġ politiku qawwi ħafna. Għandi dubju kemm President tar-Repubblika elett fix-xenarju politiku kurrenti jkun lest li jħaqqaqha mal-Parlament b’dan il-mod. Għax anke jekk wieħed jaċċetta li azzjoni ta’ din ix-xorta tkun xi ħaġa rari ikun loġiku li nikkonkludu li biex dan iseħħ ikun bla dubju f’nofs ta’ kontroversja politika liema bħalha! Bla dubju n-natura tal-Presidenza tinbidel li kellha sseħħ din il-bidla. Tista’ tkun bidla għall-aħjar.

Il-proposta li qed tagħmel il-President hi waħda valida. Imma rridu narawha f’kuntest iktar wiesa’.

Alternattiva Demokratika ilha żmien li pproponiet, fil-programmi elettorali diversi tagħha, li l-President tar-Repubblika għandu jintagħżel permezz ta’ kulleġġ elettorali li jkun ferm iktar wiesa’ mill-Parlament. Alternattiva Demokratika dejjem emfasizzat fuq il-ħtieġa li anke l-Kunsilli Lokali jkunu involuti flimkien mal-Parliament fl-għażla tal-President tar-Repubblika.

Il-Parlament m’għandux jikkontrolla l-istituzzjonijiet kollha tal-pajjiż. Is-sehem tal-Kunsilli Lokali fl-elezzjoni tal-President tar-Repubblika jagħti iktar dinjità lill-kariga ta’ President u jgħin biex titneħħa l-idea li din il-kariga hi waħda fejn jispiċċaw jirtiraw uħud mill-politiċi nazzjonali, irġiel u nisa.

Jekk ikun stabilit dan il-kulleġġ elettorali, l- President tar-Repubblika jkun jista’ jinħeles mid-dipendenza politika fuq il-Parliament. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, ikun ukoll protett minn reazzjoni politika kontra tiegħu/tagħha da parti tal-maġġoranza Parlamentari kemm-il darba hu (jew hi) jaġixxi biex jiddefendi l-Kostituzzjoni billi jibgħat liġi lura quddiem il-Parlament.

Il-proposta biex il-President tar-Repubblika jkollu l-awtorità biex jibgħat liġi lura quddiem il-Parlament ħalli dan jikkunsidraha mill-ġdid għandha tkun limitata għal dawk il-każijiet fejn tkun identifikata inkompatibilità bejn il-liġi proposta u l-Kostituzzjoni. Din il-proposta, bla dubju, tittrasforma l-awtorità morali li għandu l-President tar-Repubblika illum f’awtorità reali u effettiva biex jimblokka legislazzjoni fejn din tkun tmur kontra dak li tipprovdi l-kostituzzjoni.

Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, meta l-President tar-Repubblika jagħti l-kunsens tiegħu għal xi liġi approvata mill-Parlament huwa ma jkunx sempliċiment qed jgħid iva għax jeħtieġlu jgħid iva bilfors.

Dan huwa wieħed mill-kontrolli essenzjali fuq il-poteri tal-Parlament li hu meħtieġ f’kostituzzjoni reveduta. Il-ħarsien u d-difiża tal-Kostituzzjoni għandu jkun wieħed reali, mhux wieħed taparsi.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Marzu 2019

The Guardian of the Constitution

Our Constitution expects that the President of the Republic protects and defends the Constitution of Malta. However, that same Constitution fails to provide the President with the required tools in order that this responsibility can be fulfilled. Consequently, to date, the President of the Republic has relied on moral persuasion to carry out this basic duty.

However, in this day and age, when we expect much more than a ceremonial Presidency with a rubber stamp, this is certainly insufficient. We expect a Presidency that can act in specific circumstances, even if it has no general executive powers.

The President cannot rely on moral persuasion alone to bring a government into line and respect our Constitution, when such action is required. The President’s office requires legal teeth to be in a position to fulfil its duty of protecting and defending the Constitution of Malta.

Earlier this week, Her Excellency the current President of the Republic has gone public with a specific proposal. In an interview published on Indepth, the online edition of The Malta Independent, outgoing President Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca opined that the President should have the authority to send legislation back to Parliament for its reconsideration. This would also signify that the President’s office should be provided with the resources required in order that the President is provided with appropriate advice in real time in order that this essential function can be carried out.

This begs the question as to what extent should the President be actively involved in the local political debate. Sending back legislation to Parliament for its reconsideration would definitely be a very strong political statement. Would a President elected by Parliament in the present political scenario be willing to politically engage with Parliament in this manner? Even if one were to concede that this would be a rare event, it would be logical to conclude that were such an occurrence to happen it would definitely be a highly political and contentious act. The very nature of the Presidency would change dramatically. It could also be a change for the better.

The proposal made by President Coleiro-Preca is valid, but must, however, be seen in a wider context. Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party is on record as having proposed, in previous electoral manifestos, that the President of the Republic should be elected by an electoral college that is much wider than Parliament. Alternattiva Demokratika is of the opinion that Local Councils should be involved alongside Parliament in the election of the President.

Parliament should not be in control of all the country’s institutions. The involvement of local councils in the election of the President of the Republic would serve to increase the dignity of the office of President and would help remove the stigma that it is some sort of retirement club for old boys and girls.

Establishing such an electoral college would free the President from political dependence on Parliament. Consequently, the President, would in practice, be shielded from political backlash if he/she acts in defence of the Constitution, by sending back legislation to be reconsidered by Parliament.

The proposed authority of the President to return legislation for reconsideration should be limited to such cases where there is incompatibility between proposed legislation and the Constitution. It would transform the President’s current moral authority to real and effective authority to block legislation when there is a case to be made that such legislation is unconstitutional.

As a result, when the President gives his or her assent to legislation approved by Parliament it would not be simply applying the rubberstamp.

It is an important check on the powers of Parliament that is required in a revised Constitution. Guardianship of the Constitution should not be just lip-service, it should be real and effective.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 17 March 2019

Kafè Al Fresco ……… is-sogru huwa tiegħek

Ħwienet tal-kafè jew restoranti al fresco f’numru ta’ lokalitajiet ħadulna l-bankina. F’xi każi anke l-ispazju għall-parkeġġ tal-karozzi ħadu, għax dawn jimpurthom biss minn ħaġa waħda: li jdawru lira. Ovvjament dawn jippretendu li aħna nimxu f’nofs it-triq għax fuq il-bankina ftit iħallulna spazju minn fejn ngħaddu. Iħalluhom, qiesu ma ġara xejn. Lanqas tista’ titkellem, għax il-bankina għamluha tagħhom.

L-awtoritajiet jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu għax dawn jinteresshom biss li jkunu jidhru “business friendly”: ċjoe viċin in-nies tal-flus, ħa jdawru lira. Il-bqija, min jafhom?

Is-sindki tal-Gżira u Tas-Sliema, Conrad Borg Manchè u Dominic Chircop, matul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat għamlu sewwa li emfasizzaw li l-mod kif tal-kafè u r-restoranti al fresco qed joperaw fil-lokalitajiet tagħhom mhux aċċettabbli, għax ma jagħtux kas tan-nies.

L-inċidenti, kif tafu, jiġru. Biżżejjed incident wieħed ta’ karozza misjuqa ħażin li tista’ tispiċċa toqtol jew tweġġa’ serjament numru ta’ persuni f’xi wieħed minn dawn il-ħwienet tal-kafè jew ir-restoranti. Imbagħad forsi jkun hemm min jagħti kas.

Ftit ġimgħat ilu, f’Lulju, żgħażugħ Olandiz ta’ 25 sena li kien qiegħed jippassiġa San Giljan max-xatt intlaqat minn Subaru Impreza li kienet misjuqa b’veloċitá esaġerata minn żgħażugħ ta’ 20 sena li kien rappurtat li qabeż kull limitu raġjonevoli ta’ alkoħol. L-Olandiż miet l-isptar. Oħrajn weġġgħu. U dan apparti bosta ħsara oħra.

Kien pass tajjeb tal-Awtoritá tal-Artijiet li rrifjutat applikazzjoni tas-sidien tal-Lukanda Waterfront max-Xatt tal-Gżira biex dawn ikunu jistgħu jieħdu numru ta’ spazji għal parkeġġ biex ikollhom ħanut tal-kafè jew restorant fuq il-bankina quddiem il-lukanda. Meta sidien il-lukanda ikkontestaw id-deċiżjoni tal-Awtoritá tal-Artijiet, fl-aħħar sabu lil min jagħti kas. Il-Maġistrat Charmaine Galea li ppresjediet l-appell emfasizzat li r-regoli dwar l-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet fl-apert jipprojibixxu li dawn jitqegħdu biswit toroq arterjali, viċin traffiku li jkun għaddej b’veloċitá. Il-Maġistrat Galea emfasizzat li n-nies għandha dritt li tkun imħarsa mit-traffiku, mill-istorbju kif ukoll mid-dħaħen iġġenerati mill-karozzi.

Il-Maġistrat Charmaine Galea għandha raġun. Hemm ħtieġa urgenti li l-loġika tagħha tinfetta l-proċess deċiżjonali tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għax hu ċar li prattikament il-ħwienet tal-kafè u r-restoranti kollha fuq il-bankina fix-Xatt tal-Gżira u tas-Sliema mhumiex skont ir-regoli. Dan jgħodd ukoll għal inħawi oħra.

Id-deċiżjoni tal-Maġistrat Galea tagħti piz lill-argumenti tas-sindki tal-Gżira u tas-Sliema li ilhom żmien jinsistu li l-ħwienet tal-kafè u r-restoranti al fresco biswit ir-rotot ewlenin tat-traffiku jeħtieġu iktar ħsieb qabel ma jingħataw il-permess biex joperaw. Jeħtieġ titjib fl-infrastruttura biex it-traffiku jkollu jnaqqas il-veloċitá kif ukoll biex in-nies ikunu protetti minn inċidenti kkawżati minn karozzi misjuqa bl-addoċċ, mill-istorbju kif ukoll mid-dħaħen tal-petrol u d-dijsil. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar ma wriet l-ebda sens ta’ responsabbilta meta injorat lin-nies u qieset biss il-qies li dawk li jridu jdawru lira, irrispettivament mill-konsegwenzi.

Fuq il-bankini ftit qed jitħalla spazju biex jgħaddu n-nies u ma hemm l-ebda protezzjoni la mit-traffiku perikoluż u l-anqas mid-dħaħen. Għall-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, sfortunatament, dan kollu ma jfisser xejn.

It-tħassib tal-Kunsilli Lokali dwar il-ħwienet tal-kafè u r-restoranti al fresco hu għal kollox injorat mill-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għax ma jidhriliex li huma affarijiet li għandha tikkunsidra qabel ma tieħu d-deċiżjonijiet tagħha.

Qabel ma tippjana passiġġata max-xatt ftakar li hemmhekk hu riżervat għal min irid idawwar lira! Mill-bqija, is-sogru hu kollu tiegħek.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Settembru 2018

 

 

Al fresco dining ……… at your risk

Al fresco dining has taken over pavements in a number of localities and parking spaces too have not been spared either, as the catering business does not care about anything except its bottom line. Apparently, we are expected to walk in the middle of the road.

The authorities do not give a fig, as their brief is apparently to be business-friendly. People friendly? Their dictionary has no reference to the term: never heard of that!

In the last few weeks, the mayors of Gżira and Sliema – Conrad Borg Manchè and Dominic Chircop – have rightfully emphasised that the manner in which al-fresco coffee shops and restaurants in their localities are operating is largely unacceptable. It just takes one car accident to kill a number of diners: then maybe the authorities will take note.

Accidents do happen: a few weeks ago, in July, a 25-year old Dutchman, who was walking along the St Julian’s promenade was hit by an over-speeding Subaru Impreza, driven by a 20-year-old who was reported as being well over the drink-drive limit. The Dutchman died in hospital. Others were injured; street furniture was damaged.

The Lands Authority has taken the right step in refusing an application submitted by the owners of the Waterfront Hotel on The Strand Gżira, to encroach on a number of parking spaces in order to provide an al-fresco extension to the Hotel on the pavement. When the hotel’s owners contested the Lands Authority’s decision,  they were, at last, faced with some common-sense.

Magistrate Charmaine Galea, chairing the Appeals Tribunal, emphasised that the outdoor catering policy prohibited any platforms adjacent to arterial roads or in close proximity to fast-moving traffic. She rightly emphasised the fact that restaurant patrons had to be safeguarded from traffic, noise and air pollution.

She is obviously right and we desperately need her logic to “infect” the Planning Authority decision-making structures because it is clear that practically none of the al-fresco dining areas on the pavement along The Strand in Gżira and Sliema (and many other areas) are in accordance with the policy.

Magistrate Galea’s decision gives considerable weight to the points raised by the mayors of Gżira and Sliema who have been insisting all along that al-fresco dining alongside main traffic routes needs to be given considerably more thought before being given the go-ahead. The infrastructure needs upgrading in order that traffic calming measures are introduced and restaurant patrons are adequately protected – not only from traffic accidents but from noise and exhaust fumes as well. The Planning Authority has not acted responsibly when it has issued a considerable number of permits which ignore patrons but then takes great care of the bottom-line of the catering establishments.

The permits issued as a result of the so-called “one stop shop” planning policy may be business friendly, but it is certainly not people-friendly. Serious concerns related to pedestrian access through the labyrinthine footpaths left on the pavements, adequate protection from over-speeding traffic and the impact on health impacts from eating metres away from exhaust fumes are continuously ignored by the Planning Authority.

The inputs from local councils on the subject of al-fresco dining is repeatedly ignored, as the Planning Authority is not bothered. It obviously considers the above issues as being trivial in nature.

Walking along The Strand?

Forget it: the promenade is reserved for business!

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1 September 2018

Thank-you Ryan; thank-you, Clayton.

I was present for both public sessions of the Planning Authority Board’s meetings to discuss the planning application for a petrol station at Salini Road Magħtab.

The first meeting, on 7 December, was attended by eight members of the Board. At the meeting on the 11 January, however, an additional five members made an effort and were present. These additional five members voted in favour of the application, but they had not followed the detailed public discussion held on 7 December, as is their duty.

At the first meeting, two of the Board members publicly indicated their intention to vote against the application but, at the second meeting, both changed their mind and decided to vote in favour. However, no public explanation was forthcoming as to what caused them to change sides.

The Planning Authority Board includes two Members of Parliament: Ryan Callus (PN) and Clayton Bartolo (PL). Both of them consider it to be desirable to have more petrol stations and both voted in favour of the Magħtab Petrol Station. Ryan Callus was clearly observed raising his hand very reluctantly to vote in favour of the development application: apparently he wanted those present to note that he was not sure of what he was doing.

More worrying was Clayton Bartolo’s behaviour. He had already publicly indicated his opposition to giving the permission for the petrol station on 7 December. However, last Thursday he switched sides and voted in favour. Obviously, he had every right to vote in whichever way he chooses, but he owes the public an explanation for his change of heart. No such explanation was forthcoming.

Of the 14 members of the Planning Authority Board, 13 are regular members and the additional member is an ad hoc member representing the Local Council of the locality involved – in this case Naxxar. Eight members of the Board were present for both meetings. Five turned up only for the second meeting. The 14th member of the Board, although present for both meetings, left the room as soon as the subject of the petrol station came up for discussion on both occasions! Clearly he did not want to participate in this latest planning farce.

This is the third new petrol station to be approved by the Planning Authority in a short period of time: approval for the Magħtab petrol station came immediately after the approval of those at Marsaskala and Burmarrad in the past weeks.

Do we need so many petrol stations?

Last September, the Prime Minister announced that government would shortly carry out a consultation exercise to determine the cut-off date beyond which all new cars purchased would have to be electric or similar vehicles. This signified one thing: that soon we will start the count-down leading to no more petrol and/or diesel cars on our roads. Bearing this policy declaration by the Prime Minister leads to one inevitable question: what do we need new petrol stations for? Each new petrol station gobbles up approximately 3,000 square metres of land.

A big thank-you to Ryan and Clayton.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 14 January 2018

Delia “jirranġa”

 

Tħabbar li fil-laqgħa bejn Joseph Muscat u Adrian Delia dawn laħqu ftehim u irranġaw biex ma jkunx hemm bżonn ta’ elezzjoni għall-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali. It-Times fil-fatt issejħilha “backroom deal”.

Iktar kmieni kien tħabbar li Robert Arrigo kien ġie mitlub biex ma jikkontestax l-elezzjoni għall-Viċi Kap tal-PN, biex jagħmel il-wisa’ lil ħaddieħor. Imma ma Robert Arrigo ma irranġawx.

Għalkemm dak li jkun jista’ jaħseb li ma hemm xejn ħażin billi wieħed jasal f’arranġament ta’ dan it-tip jiena naħseb li dan hu atteġġjament perikoluż fil-politika.

Bil-mod l-intriċċi tan-negozju li b’xi mod tirranġa mal-kompetitur tiegħek jidher li ser jagħmlu l-wisa’ għall-proċess demokratiku.

U ġaladarba dan jibda, ma tistax tkun taf fejn jispiċċa.

After Wednesday’s earthquake: civil defence

 

 

On Wednesday an earthquake of 4.4 magnitude on the Richter scale was reported in the Maltese islands. As far as we are aware no damage was caused, yet it would be appropriate to consider a number of relevant issues.

Are we prepared for the consequences of a much stronger earthquake which would cause considerable damage including the potential death of a substantial number of persons?

Around two years ago, the Civil Protection Department (CPD) in conjunction with the Sicilian counterparts carried out an earthquake simulation exercise in Gozo which, undoubtedly, provided CPD personnel with valuable experience. It is not known if the department has been involved in any subsequent exercises, either locally or abroad, nor is it known if any specific operational changes were implemented by the CPD as a result of the lessons learned in the 2015 exercise.

It is, however, pertinent to point out that it is not only the CPD, the Police, the AFM and the Health Authorities that need adequate and continuous training to cope with the aftermath of a strong earthquake in the Maltese Islands. In addition to the operators of the different sectors of the infrastructure (energy, water, transport) the civilian population should also receive training for this unlikely eventuality.

Simulation exercises involving the civilian population are necessary as they would develop at local level an ability to manage a disaster. We need to start from scratch in building up a civil defence corps worthy of the name, coordinated and trained by the CPD but based in each locality in Malta and Gozo.

It is a responsibility which, together with adequate resources, should be assigned to local councils under the watchful eye of the CPD.

This would be the appropriate way to build up an adequate general level of preparedness for disaster management. The involvement of the local councils would also ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities are addressed. Specific protocols need to be developed and tested in conjunction with local councils regarding the assistance required by children and those who are bedridden or disabled. Catering for all disabilities is an indispensible prerequisite and this requires trained personnel to which the CPD currently has little if any access. It is an easily identifiable deficiency that needs to be addressed forthwith.

Those in charge of disaster management in time of need require the ability to communicate with people having impaired hearing. Is anyone at the CPD, the Police, the AFM or the Health Authorities able to communicate in sign language? Addressing this communication deficiency on the part of the authorities is required not just to ensure that Malta is adequately prepared for disaster management, it is also an everyday deficiency that every authority in Malta that offers a direct service to the population at large needs to address. With around 500 known Maltese with impaired hearing and a number of others who could have remained below the radar, this is an issue that is manageable primarily at local level.

The CPD is one of the youngest departments and to date it has given sterling service in fire-fighting, managing pollution and providing assistance required as a result of flooding after heavy storms. We look forward to the next step in its development: ensuring that training in disaster management is an integral part of the services of local authorities.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 27 August 2017

Marsa: a planning mess

turkish-cemetry-marsa-malta2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 January 2017