Tackling vacant property

Valletta houses

 

Malta Developers Association president Sandro Chetcuti took a good step forward this week when he said that the government should address the issue of abandoned property. It is a small step, but certainly a step forward.

Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party – would prefer it if all vacant property is considered, and not just abandoned property. This would help reduce pressure on undeveloped land and, given that less than 70 per cent of existing dwellings are fully utilised, there is room for much improvement in this respect.

Let me start by spelling out the facts, as resulting from the 2011 Census, published in 2014.

In 2011, Malta and Gozo had 223,850 dwellings of which 68.2 per cent were occupied, 13.3 per cent were in use occasionally (seasonally or for a secondary use) and 18.4 per cent were completely vacant.

Table 1 clearly shows that Gozo has a concentration of seasonal accommodation, whilst the actual extent of the problem of vacant dwellings is 18.4 per cent of the housing stock. Another interesting fact shown in Table 1 is that less than 50 per cent of housing stock in Gozo is occupied all year round.

 

Table 1 : Properties in Malta: data extracted from Table 85 of the Census 2011 report

  Malta % Gozo % Total %
Occupied 141140 71.0 11630 46.4 152770 68.2
Occasional use 22404 11.3 7444 29.7 29848 13.3
Vacant 35236 17.7 5996 23.6 41232 18.4
  198780 100 25070 100 223850 100%

 

Additional data of interest made available by the 2011 census is that in Table 2 relative to the state of the unoccupied property, this being the total of the property which is either in occasional use or else completely vacant.

 

Table 2 :  State of unoccupied property: data extracted from Table 140 of the Census 2011 report

  Malta % Gozo % total %
Shell 5374 9.32 1563 11.63 6937 9.76
Dilapidated 1495 2.59 341 2.54 1836 2.58
Serious repairs 4312 7.48 841 6.26 5153 7.25
Moderate repairs 8098 14.05 1126 8.38 9224 12.98
Minor repairs 10475 18.17 1922 14.30 12397 17.44
Good condition 27886 48.39 7647 56.89 35533 49.99
  57640 100.00 13440 100.00 71080 100.00

 

A total of almost 7,000 dwelling units in shell form is substantial, even though most probably the great majority of these properties would be in shell form only for a short period of time. It would be a good step forward if Mepa were to establish a time frame within which properties under construction are to be completed.

In a number of cases, a validity period of five years is too long for a development permit. Permissible completion dates should vary and a system of fines would ensure that our towns and villages are not permanent building sites and would be most welcome by our local councils. This would reduce the presence of dust resulting from building construction material and would be of considerable help in reducing the contribution of building sites to air quality.

This leaves the properties requiring repairs totalling slightly fewer than 29,000. The abandoned properties referred to by Sandro Chetcuti would most probably be those in a state of dilapidation or requiring serious/extensive repairs totalling 7,000.

This is the essential information on the basis of which authorities need to take a decision. It is known that most of these cases are the result of either inheritance disputes or ownership by a multitude of owners whose share has an insignificant value. Fiscal incentives to encourage the consolidation of ownership rights where such properties are concerned are most probably the best way forward. This would address the problem of a number of such properties owned by a large number of co-owners who do not consider it worth the effort to do anything, as they would end up exposing themselves to substantial expenses without any practical benefits.

Reasonable action has to be taken to ensure that properties are not vacant as a result of administrative failures. Subsequently, we can consider the circumstances under which owners of vacant properties who leave such properties vacant for a long period of time should share the financial burden which the state has to shoulder to regulate and service new development. This financial burden is paid for through our taxes and it is only fair that these taxes should be shouldered by the owners of vacant properties.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 October 2015

Ignoring residents and their local councils

strait street valletta 2

 

Government has published a consultation document dealing with the use of open public spaces by catering establishments, entitled Guidelines on Outdoor Catering Areas on Open Public Space : a holistic approach to creating an environment of comfort and safety.

This document was launched earlier this week at a press conference addressed by the Minister for Tourism Edward Zammit Lewis and the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for planning and simplification of administrative processes Michael Falzon.

The inter-Ministerial committee set up by government to draft the policy document was limited to representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, MEPA, Transport Malta, the Government Property Division, the Malta Tourism Authority and the Association of Hotels and Restaurants (MHRA). Representatives of the local councils were excluded from participating.

It seems that when the matter was being considered by Cabinet, the Minister for Local Councils Owen Bonnici was fast asleep as otherwise he would undoubtedly have drawn the attention of his colleagues that the Local Councils Act, in article 33, deems it a function of local councils “to advise and, where applicable, be consulted by, any authority empowered to take any decisions directly or indirectly affecting the Council and the residents it is responsible for”.

Surely the use of public open spaces by catering establishments is a matter which is of considerable interest to local councils as it affects both the councils and the residents they represent. Yet the government has a different opinion as representatives of local councils were not invited at the drawing board where the guidelines on the use of public open spaces by catering establishments were being drafted.

The guidelines introduce a one stop shop at MEPA, thereby eliminating the need to apply for around four other permits for the placing of tables and chairs in public open spaces. This would be a positive development if MEPA can take on board all the considerations which are normally an integral part of the four other application processes.

If the utilisation of public open spaces was limited to the squares in our towns and villages, I do not think that there would be any issue. There is sufficient space in such areas and using part of it for open air catering activities there would not be cause for concern.

However, problems will definitely arise in areas of mixed use, that is, areas where the ground floor is used commercially and the overlying areas are used as residences. This is a common occurrence in many of the localities where there is a high demand by the catering business for the utilisation of public open space. The guidelines, however, ignore the impacts which placing chairs and tables at street level could have on the residents in such areas, in particular those living in the floors immediately above ground level. Such impacts would primarily be the exposure of residents to secondary cigarette/tobacco smoke as well as noise and odours. The issue of noise will undoubtedly arise, in particular during siesta time, as well as late into the evenings while secondary smoke from cigarettes/tobacco as well as odours will be an ever present nuisance. Maybe if the local councils were not excluded from the inter-Ministerial Committee, these matters would have been taken into consideration.

In such instances it would be necessary to limit the placing of tables and chairs at such a distance from residences where impacts on residents from secondary smoke, noise and odours are insignificant: that is if there is sufficient space.

The guidelines establish that a passageway of 1.50 metres on pavements is to be reserved for pedestrians. In addition they establish that where a permit is requested to place chairs and tables outside third-party property, specific clearance in front of doors and windows is to be observed. Isn’t that thoughtful of the inter-Ministerial Committee? Instead of categorically excluding the placing of chairs and tables along the property of third parties it seeks to facilitate the creation of what would inevitably be a nuisance to the users of such a property. This, too, is the result of the lop-sided composition of the inter-Ministerial Committee.

Nor are parking spaces spared. The inter-Ministerial Committee makes provision in the proposed guidelines for the possibility that catering establishments can also make use of parking spaces for the placing of tables and chairs when other space is insufficient. The guidelines leave no stone unturned in ensuring that tables and chairs get priority, even though this is worded in terms that make it appear that it would be an exception.

Enforcement, as usual, will be another headache. We already have quite a number of cases in various localities where passageways are minimal or inexistent and pedestrians, excluded from walking along the pavement have to move along with the traffic, right in the middle of the road. At times this may prove quite difficult and dangerous, in particular for wheelchair users or in the case of parents with small children. Enforcement to date is practically inexistent and I do not think that matters will change much in this respect.

Unfortunately, MEPA is a repeat offender in ignoring the interests of the residential community when faced with all types of development. The guidelines on the use of public open space by catering establishments are thus more of the same.

While cars have taken over our roads, catering establishments will now be guided on how to take over our pavements and open spaces, parking included!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 13 September 2015  

Il-bankina m’għadhiex tagħna lkoll : saret tagħhom biss

1.50 metres distance

Illum ġie ippubblikat għal konsultazzjoni pubblika dokument dwar il-kriterji li fuqhom jiġu ikkunsidrati permessi għal siġġijiet u mwejjed f’postijiet pubbliċi.

Ħlief għall-one-stop-shop, fis-sustanza ma hemm xejn ġdid fid-dokument għax diġà anke fil-preżent suppost li min għandu permess simili għandu ukoll l-obbligu li jħalli 1.50 metri passaġġ minn fejn jgħaddu n-nies.

Issa kieku jitħallew dan il-metru u nofs il-ħajja tkun iktar faċli għal kulħadd. Imma fil-fatt f’numru ta’ każi ma jitħallewx.

Mur fejn trid f’Malta u Għawdex u għandek issib numru mhux żgħir ta’ każi fejn jekk tipprova tgħaddi mill-ftit spazju li jħallu fuq il-bankina, jħarsulek bl-ikrah. Il-Belt, Tas-Sliema, in-Naxxar u San Pawl il-Baħar issib eżempji kemm trid. Bil-kemm tgħaddi bil-mixi aħseb u ara jekk tkun b’xi siġġu tar-roti inkella b’xi tarbija (fl-idejn jew fil-pram).

Fid-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jingħad li jkunu ikkunsidrati applikazzjonijiet għall-permessi fil-pjazez u bankini bil-kundizzjoni tal-1.50 metri li għandhom jitħallew passaġġ. Imma meta tibda taqra tibda issib numru ta’ eċċezzjonijiet.

Per eżempju, fid-dokument jingħad li f’xi każijiet, jista’ jkun ikkunsrat li l-permess ma jkunx biss biex jitqegħdu imwejjed fuq il-bankina, imma jistgħu jkunu ikkunsidrati l-ispazji tal-parking ukoll!

Id-dokument fih ħafna logħob bil-kliem, bħall-ħafna dokumenti oħra konnessi mal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Id-dokument jgħid li d-drittijiet ta’ terzi [third party rights] għandhom ikunu imħarsa meta jinħargu dawn il-permessi. Din hi daħqa oħra għax nafu kemm fil-prattika jiġu mħarsa dawn id-drittijiet mill-awtoritajiet pubbliċi f’Malta.

L-eżerċizzju biex inħareġ dan id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni sar bil-koordinazzjoni ta’ Kumitat li kien fih parteċipazzjoni wiesa’ : kien hemm bosta minbarra dawk li huma l-iktar viċin in-nies: ma kien hemm ħadd mill-Kunsilli Lokali. Fil-fatt kien hemm rappreżentanti tal-Ministeru tal-Intern, tal-MEPA, ta’ Transport Malta, tad-Diviżjoni tal-Propjetà tal-Gvern u tal-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu, u l-Assoċjazzjoni tar-Restoranti u l-Lukandi (MHRA).

Il-Kunsilli Lokali u r-residenti ma kienux meqjusa ta’ importanza biex jipparteċipaw f’dan l-eżerċiżżju, bħal dak li qallu li l-bankini, t-toroq, il-parking spaces, u pjażez li ser jieħdu (jew ħadu diga) mhux ir-residenti jagħmlu użu minnhom s’issa. Issa s-siġġijiet u l-imwejjed ser jibdew jingħataw prijorità.

Il-permessi ser jibdew jinħarġu mill-MEPA. Ser jinħareġ bis-sistema ta’ one-stop-shop. Jiġifieri applikazzjoni waħda biss li ma tieħux ħafna żmien biex tkun deċiża. Din hi sistema li tiffavorixxi lin-negozji u dejjem taħdem kontra r-residenti. Għax biex permess joħrog malajr ifisser li ftit li xejn ikun hemm ċans li min ikun effettwat bih isir jaf (jew ikun infurmat).

Insomma nistgħu ngħidu li dan m’hu xejn ġdid. Il-bankina issa m’għadiex tagħna lkoll, ser tkun tagħhom biss.

Naqbel ma’ Joseph ……………. u ma’ Hermann, u ma’ Michael u ma’ Ralph

Joseph Muscat ihobb jiccajtahermann schiavonemichael-briguglioRalph-Cassar

 

Il-bieraħ Joseph tkellem dwar is-solidarjetà. Solidarjetà mal-Greċja u l-Italja huma u jissieltu biex bir-riżorsi limitati tagħhom jassistu lir-refuġjati. Joseph qal li “ma nistgħux nitkellmu dwar solidarjetà jekk meta tiġi s-siegħa tal-prova ma nipprattikawhiex.”

Wara din id-dikjarazzjoni ċara ta’ Joseph favur is-solidarjetà ikun xieraq jekk huwa ukoll jingħaqad mal-kunsilliera Hermann Schiavone (kunsillier f’Birżebbuġa), Michael Briguglio (kunsillier f’Tas-Sliema, Ralph Cassar (kunsillier f’Ħ’Attard) u ma’ ħafna kunsilliera oħra ta’ rieda tajba li qed jipproponu illi l-komunitajiet tagħna jaddottaw familja ta’ refuġjati mis-Sirja.

Fi kliem Joseph, din hi is-siegħa tal-prova u għalhekk ikun xieraq li l-Gvern Malti jissieħeb mal-Kunsilli Lokali u l-NGOs li jixtiequ b’solidarjetà jaddottaw familja Sirjana.

Dan ikun messaġġ ċar ta’ solidarjetà, li l-poplu Malti dejjem wera ma’ min hu dgħajjef u mgħakkes.

Bis-sulluzzu ma nsolvu xejn

traffic congestion

source : http://www.um.edu.mt/think/bad-traffic-bad-air/

 

L-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ikkritikat il-White Paper dwar l-impatt tat-trasport tal-iskejjel. Qalet li ma jistax ikun li niffaċċjaw sewwa l-problema tat-trasport bis-sulluzzu. Qalulna li rridu naraw l-istampa kollha u nfasslu strateġija olistika li tkun ibbażata fuq transport pubbliku li jkun b’saħħtu u effiċjenti.

Ġa ktibt dwar dan u ma rridtx innaqqas mill-merti tal-White Paper dwar it-trasport tal-iskejjel. Din il-White Paper tagħmel ħafna proposti validi (dwar l-iskejjel) imma naqbel mal-argument tal-Kamra tal-Kummerċ li bis-sulluzzu m’aħna ser naslu mkien.

Apparti dan għaddejjin affarijiet oħra.

Matul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat il-Ministeru responsabbli mill-Kunsilli Lokali kien qed jiġbor informazzjoni mingħand l-istess kunsilli dwar il-ħinijiet li fihom jinġabar l-iskart mid-djar bl-intenzjoni li jivvaluta liema huma dawk il-kunsilli li s-servizz tal-ġbir tal-iskart tagħhom qed jagħti kontribut għall-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fl-iktar ħinijiet kritiċi tal-ġurnata.

Fi tmiem il-ġimgħa li għaddiet ħarġet sejħa dwar espressjoni ta’ interess dwar forom alternattivi ta’ transport bejn il-lokalitajiet fil-Port il-Kbir u l-Port ta’ Marsamxett.

Għadhom kif tħabbru rotot ġodda u rotot imtejba tat-trasport pubbliku.

Dawn huma kollha inizzjattivi tajba, imma kien ikun aħjar kieku kellna pjan wieħed komprensiv imfassal sewwa għal titjib sħiħ li jikkunsidra l-aspetti kollha u li kien jinkudi dawn il-proposti u oħrajn magħhom.

In-numru ta’ karozzi li għandna fit-toroq huwa kbir wisq għad-daqs ta’ Malta u qed ikompli jikber.

Ftit hemm għażliet li għandu quddiemu l-pajjiż. Il-karozzi mit-toroq iridu jonqsu u jeħtieġ li jonqsu sostanzjalment. Iktar kmieni din is-sena, f’artiklu li kont ktibt fl-Independent tal-Ħadd kont ippruvajt nagħti ċifra biex nieħdu idea dwar kemm hi kbira l-problema. Kont semmejt iċ-ċifra ta’ 122,000 karozza bħala n-numru ta’ karozzi li għandhom jonqsu mit-toroq tagħna. Fl-artiklu intitolat Reducing 122,000 vehicles from Malta’s roads nispjega kif wasalt għal din iċ-ċifra.

Li nipprovdu l-parking, inwessgħu t-toroq u niddisinjaw flyovers li jimpressjonaw iwassal biss biex jiżdiedu l-karozzi fit-toroq u jagħmel il-problema agħar milli hi. Kif fil-fatt sar matul dawn l-aħħar snin. Il- pajjiż ċeda t-toroq lill-karozza. Hemm bżonn li t-toroq neħduhom lura. Dawk ukoll huma tagħna lkoll.

Il-problema hi kbira ħafna u ser tkompli tikber. Minkejja li hemm ħafna rieda tajba biex naslu irridu nifhmu li ma nistgħux insolvu din il-problema bis-sulluzzu.

It –trasport tal-iskejjel

School Opening Hours Consultation

Huwa tajjeb li l-Ministeru tal-Edukazzjoni ppubblika l-White Paper dwar it-trasport tal-iskejjel. Kieku ippubblika dan id-dokument bil-Malti kien ikun ferm aħjar milli ippubblikah bl-Ingliż bit-titlu ta’ School Opening Hours and Traffic Congestion.

Huwa fatt li fil-ġranet tal-vakanzi tal-iskejjel (kemm fis-sajf, kif ukoll fi żmien il-Milied u żmien l-Għid) ikun hemm ħinijiet kmieni fil-għodu u anke għall-ħabta tas-2pm meta t-traffiku jkun mexxej ferm iktar mill-bqija tas-sena.

Iżda jkun żball li naħsbu li l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hi ikkawżata mill-iskejjel biss. L-iskejjel jagħtu l-kontribut tagħhom għall-problema, prinċipalment minħabba li l-hin li fih jibdew l-iskejjel huwa ukoll il-ħin li fih bosta jkun sejrin għax-xogħol fil-għodu. Il-problema hi ferm ikbar u għandha l-egħruq tagħha fin-nuqqas li jkollna transport pubbliku effiċjenti għal ħafna snin.

Il-White Paper tagħmel ħafna suġġerimenti validi.

Fiż-żoni madwar l-iskejjel tgħidilna l-White Paper, hemm ħtieġa li t-toroq li minnhom jgħaddu bil-mixi l-istudenti fi triqithom lejn l-iskola jkunu taħt superviżjoni (organisation of supervised walking routes in localities). Dan hu suġġeriment validu ħafna u jfisser emfasi ikbar fuq il-ħtieġa li innaqqsu l-perikli mit-toroq tagħna fil-lokalitajiet. Sal-lum (forsi) jkun hemm pulizija ħdejn l-iskola li jżomm il-karozzi milli joqorbu ż-żejjed lejn l-iskejjel. Din il-proposta li ż-żona protetta tinfirex lil hinn mill-iskola hi waħda tajba għax twassal il-protezzjoni mill-iskejjel saż-żoni residenzjali.

L-għadma iebsa li tindirizza l-White Paper hi l-ħtieġa li t-trasport tal-iskejjel jibda jitqies mhux iktar skola skola, iżda fuq livell nazzjonali b’mod li ma jiddistingwix bejn l-iskejjel tal-istat u dawk privati jew reliġjużi. Forsi wasal ukoll iż-żmien fejn l-istat jibda jħallas għat-transport tal-istudenti lejn l-iskejjel privati u religjużi.

B’mod żbaljat il-White Paper ma teżaminax ir-rwol li jista’ jkollhom il-Kunsilli Lokali f’dan l-eżerċizzju kollu. Il-Kunsilli Lokali huma f’posizzjoni unika li jagħtu kontribut effettiv għax qegħdin fil-lokalità, u hi sfortuna li l-Ministeru tal-Edukazzjoni dan jidher li għadu ma fehmux. L-organizzazzjoni tat-trasport tal-iskejjel għandu jsir flimkien mal-Kunsilli Lokali li individwalment jew fi gruppi (fil-każ ta’ Kunsilli Lokali żgħar) jistgħu jassiguraw ferm iktar minn kulħadd illi t-trasport tal-iskejjel ikun organizzat skond il-ħtiġijiet tal-istudenti u mhux skond il-kundizzjonijiet iddettati minn min jagħti s-servizz tat-trasport. F’dan il-kuntest il-White Paper fil-fatt titkellem dwar konflitt bejn service providers u service receivers: ġustament tgħid li l-ħinijiet tat-transport hu ħafna drabi ddettat fl-interess ta’ min jipprovdi s-servizz, mhux fl-interess tal-istudenti.

Organizzazzjoni aħjar tat-trasport tal-iskejjel taħt id-direzzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali għandha twassal għal titjib fil-kwalità tas-servizz tat-trasport. Dan jinkludi b’mod partikolari l-imġieba tax-xufiera u l-puntwalità tas-servizz.

Dawn il-fatturi kollha flimkien jistgħu jħajru iktar ġenituri jutilizzaw dan is-servizz flok ma jwasslu lill-uliedhom huma stess bil-karozzi privati tagħhom sal-iskola.

Il-ħinijiet tal-iskola m’għandhomx għalfejn jinbidlu. Imma f’dawk il-każijiet fejn l-istudenti jaslu kmieni l-iskola, flok ma jitħallew jiġru barra għandhom ikollhom il-possibiltà ta’ attività extra-kurrikulari, taħt superviżjoni fl-iskola.

B’dan il-mod l-iskejjel jistgħu inaqqsu t-traffiku li jiġġeneraw.

In Tourism – small is beautiful too

Villa del Porto Kalkara

First published in 1973, Ernst Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful – economics as if people mattered has always presented a challenge to politicians and economic planners. It contrasts to, and in many instances it actually is, the direct antithesis of the “economies of scale” and as such it is often discarded by those who dream of quick results.

Schumacher, an economist by training, had one specific message: the promotion of people-centred economics. Our economics are profit-focused, with decisions being constantly made on profitability criteria, rather than on human needs. People should come before profits.

Human needs as well as environmental impact should be factored in at the drawing-board stage of all economic decisions. Reading through plans and strategies on the development of tourism in Malta over the years, one inevitably reaches the conclusion that these plans and strategies are focused on hotels, as if nothing else mattered. Tourism is, however, much more than hotels and the hotel industry.

It is only fairly recently that some thought is being given to boutique hotels and agri-tourism: alternative, small-scale tourism opportunities.  Yet much more needs to be done if we are to move along the path of sustainable tourism which, whilst being practically harmless environmentally, can be of considerable benefit not just to our economy but also to our families, in particular those in small communities.

Earlier this week, I was alerted by residents in Lija to an application submitted to MEPA [PA2822/15] to convert a large townhouse in a residential area into a boutique hotel. This proposed hotel would have nine bedrooms with ancillary facilities and it covers a total area of 1,110 square metres, including a garden. When finished, it could cater for a maximum of twenty guests.

Being small, such a boutique hotel would  fit in easily in any of our towns or villages. Its impact would be compatible with that generated by three or four families in the community. Being generally family-run helps considerably to give a human face to this tourism outlet as well as offering excellent service.

However the local residents are  worried about the compatibility of this development with the residential nature of the area. Their worries are not just about the impact of the hotel’s services but more on the possible spinoffs such as whether the bar and restaurant, as well as the swimming pool  – to be constructed in what is currently the garden – would be open to people who are  not actually staying in the hotel. The residents are worried about noise pollution well into the silent hours, the generation of increased traffic and subsequent parking problems – problems they associate with such spin-off activities.

The residents cannot be blamed for their concerns because no one has explained what the practical operational limits of boutique hotels will be – and this is because there are no MEPA guidelines on the subject. The various applications for the provision of boutique hotels that MEPA has processed in the recent past are considered within existing general policies. Likewise, perusal of the Malta Tourism Authority’s website does not reveal any guidelines to help prospective developers of boutique hotels navigate the relatively unchartered waters of such an activity in a residential area.

A number of local councils are similarly concerned because, although they understand and appreciate the benefits to the local economy of encouraging the use of large properties as boutique hotels they are apprehensive about the collateral damage to community life. Large townhouses as well as historical buildings in our towns and villages can be given a new life by being converted to boutique hotels but great care must be taken to ensure that this development is not driven by economics alone. It needs to be community driven and local councils in particular need to be partners in this drive to develop an untapped area of sustainable tourism.

If handled properly, it is potentially a win-win situation but the concerns of the residential communities must be addressed immediately. If this is done, tourism will take a gigantic step forward as it will develop a human face.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 23 August 2015