Planning application PA00777/22 : another mega-development at Marsaskala

(photo is the official Parliamentary voting record of those voting in favour of the rationalisation exercise: that is those voting in favour of extending the building development boundary into what was then ODZ-Outside the Development Zone)

It would be pertinent to remember that on the 26 July 2006 Malta’s Parliament approved a resolution which we normally refer to as the “rationalisation” exercise, as a result of which extensive stretches of land until then outside the development zone (ODZ) were declared as land suitable for development.

The PN parliamentary group, supported the Lawrence Gonzi led government and voted in favour of developing ODZ land whilst ironically the Labour Opposition had then voted against the proposal. This is not just history. It is still affecting our daily lives. Today, 16 years later some are realising for the first time how land use planning was screwed by the then Environment Minister George Pullicino!

Three of the Members of Parliament who had then voted in favour of developing ODZ land are still MPs today.

Their names come to mind when considering the latest mega-development proposal, this time at iż-Żonqor on the outskirts of Marsaskala, through development application PA00777/22.  The development application this time concerns a 5,000 square metre area of rural land over which it is proposed to construct 135 residential units and 180 basement garages. These will be spread over 10 different levels, four of them below ground floor level after excavating a substantial amount of rock.

The basic decision permitting today’s proposed development was taken on the 26 July 2006 when the rationalisation exercise was approved by Parliament on the proposal of a PN-led government. No studies were then carried out as to the environmental impacts of the development resulting from the rationalisation exercise. Specifically, the cumulative impact of the development proposed was ignored contrary to the then emerging environmental acquis of the EU relative to the assessment of plans and programmes, known as the SEA Directive (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive) which Directive entered into force on the days immediately following the approval by the Maltese Parliament of the rationalisation exercise.

The basic question to ask is whether we really need such large-scale developments. Why are we determined as a country to develop every square centimetre of our land? Isn’t it about time that a moratorium on such large-scale development enters in force?

The rationalisation exercise should be scrapped at the earliest and all rationalised land returned to its former ODZ status the soonest. This is what we should expect of any government which (unashamedly) proclaims that the environment and our quality of life is now its priority.

It has taken our residents 16 years to become sensitised to the large-scale havoc which land use planning has degenerated to.  Throughout these 16 years all genuine environmentalists have been pointing this out. Unfortunately, some only react when large scale development is very close to their backyard, otherwise they do not care. The writing has been on the wall for a number of years, yet it was ignored for quite some time.

One mega-project after the other has been eroding our quality of life, the latest one being proposal PA00777/22 which goes by this description: To excavate and construct 180 garages at basement level, 2 Class 4B shops, and 135 overlying units. The site is at iż-Zonqor, Marsaskala, but it should be everyone’s concern.

It is about time that we stop all this in the same way that the proposed Marina at Marsaskala had to be shelfed, hopefully for good!

published on Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 June 2022

Climate change requires behavioural change

Climate change is nature’s reaction to the cumulative impacts it has sustained as a result of human  behaviourover the years. Long periods of drought or intensive rainfall leading to flooding, longer periods of sunshine, extremes of temperature are all too familiar nowadays.

It has been emphasised time and again that we need to achieve carbon neutrality at the earliest. This signifies that the amount of carbon emissions resulting from our activities must be less than the carbon being stored in the various carbon sinks.

We must address each and every one of our activities as the carbon emissions from all of them, added up, will bring us closer to or further away from our targets.

Addressing climate change is a political issue. It involves policy decisions. If we intend to address climate change these political decisions should be complimentary and contribute to achieving the goal of mitigating climate change as well as addressing its causes.

The decision to substitute the Delimara power station running on heavy fuel oil with one using natural gas has contributed substantially to reducing Malta’s carbon emissions.

On the other hand, the current policy of encouraging the use of fuel guzzling cars and yachts pulls in the opposite direction. Increasing the capacity of our roads and planning new yacht marinas is not a positive contribution to addressing climate change. Yet it goes on, one decision after the other.

The decision to start the long road towards electrification of our roads was not linked with a decision to have a moratorium on new fuel stations. Why does current policy encourage new fuel stations when their operational days are clearly numbered?

It would be pertinent to point once more to the Transport Master Plan which emphasises that around 50 per cent of trips made with private cars in Malta are for short distances, taking up less than 15 minutes. Yet local and regional sustainable mobility is not encouraged. A behavioural change in our mobility patterns at a local and regional level could remove a substantial number of cars from our roads. Why is this not actively encouraged?

Transport policy is unfortunately not climate friendly. This needs to change the soonest if we are to make any headway in addressing climate change.

The carbon neutrality of our buildings is also of crucial importance in our climate change strategy. I have repeatedly emphasised the need of entrenching solar rights thereby ensuring that solar energy can be generated in more buildings. In addition, planning policy should establish that individual carbon neutral buildings have all the energy required for the use of the particular buildings generated on site. This would of necessity limit buildings to dimensions whose energy needs can be catered for through solar energy generated on site. This would limit building heights and substantially reduce the construction of penthouses.  Land use planning can contribute substantially to climate change mitigation!

The basic problem with climate change issues is that the link between our behaviour and the carbon cycle is not obvious or visible to the untrained eye. This makes it easier for those who seek to avoid or reduce the uptake of actions mitigating climate change.

We owe it to future generations to do all we can to address the accumulated impacts on the climate. Taming the present can ensure that there is a future.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 January 2022

The regeneration of Marsa

The public consultation which commenced earlier this week relative to the regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour along the coastal area of Marsa is most welcome. Marsa has been neglected for far too long.

The Planning Authority has been criticised in the past for its piecemeal reviews of the local plans. It is hoped that this exercise will be a holistic one. It is the whole of Marsa which should be addressed and not one tiny corner! The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. This will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through a comprehensive planning exercise.

The proposed strategic vision, as directed by government, is however not a suitable one. Through the Planning Authority, government is proposing that the area subject of the consultation be transformed into a “prime tourism and leisure harbour destination”.

The primary question to be addressed is whether it is desirable for our economy to further increase its dependence on tourism. The answer to this basic question, in my view, is a clear no. It is thus not on to reserve more prime sites for tourism. Tourism has gobbled up too many prime sites. Too many land use planning policies have been compromised in the exclusive interest of the tourism industry.  

Tourism has also proven itself to be a very weak link in the economic chain. It has been brought down to its knees as a result of Covid19. It is still very weak and will take more time to recover. Understandably a significant part of its labour force has migrated to other sectors and is unwilling to return to work in the tourism sector.

Rather than more tourism we definitely need less of it.

Prior to Covid19 we had reached saturation levels in the tourism sector. The post-Covid19 impact period is a unique opportunity for tourism to be re-dimensioned in order to reduce its impacts on the community. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority is insensitive to all this: it plans to give us more of the same.  

The availability of the former power station site and its surroundings is definitely a unique opportunity which should not be squandered on the tourism industry.

The innermost part of the Grand Harbour has always been dedicated to the maritime sector for which this is a unique opportunity to re-organise, modernise and increase its contribution to the national economy while reducing its environmental impacts. Scaling down the ship-repairing facilities and moving them to outside the area earmarked for regeneration could shift this activity to close proximity of residential areas in localities which are close by. This should therefore be avoided.  Even though I doubt very much whether in practice it is that easy to shift these facilities.

The regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour Area can be achieved without tying down the area to development which is tourism-linked. The consultation strategy itself identifies various other options and activities amongst which new business ventures which improve the overall well-being of the community.

The tourism industry itself, over two years ago, had sounded the alarm that the number of tourists arriving in Malta was too high: beyond that which the country can take sustainably. Research published at the same time had identified the first signs of turismofobia, a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. These are the first indications of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. They need to be addressed but are however being ignored.

There is obviously a need for less tourism, not more of it. Access to public investment has to be made available to other sectors.

The public consultation is in its initial stages, and it is still possible for the discussion to develop along different lines. The discussion required is one which addresses Marsa as a whole and which does not focus on just one tiny corner, even though it may be an important corner.

This is a unique opportunity for all stakeholders who can and should get involved to assist in the identification of a sustainable vision for the regeneration of Marsa as a whole: in the interests of all.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 December 2021

Tibdil fil-klima u l-aċċess għax-xemx

Huwa essenzjali li nnaqqsu l-gassijiet serra jekk irridu nindirizzaw b’mod effettiv it-tindil fil-klima. F’Pariġi, fl-2015, kien hemm qbil li kien meħtieġ illi t-temperatura globali ma kelliex tiżdied iktar minn 1.5 gradi Celsius biex ikun possibli li l-bidla fil-klima tkun taħt kontroll.   Tlett xhur ilu, f’Awwissu, l-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tal-Ġnus Magħuda (IPCC) infurmana li ż-żieda fit-temperatura diġa qabżet il-grad Celsius, u li din qed tkompli tiżdied.  

L-impatt ta’ dan jidher fil-maltemp estrem li qed niffaċċjaw kontinwament. Bħall-għargħar fi Sqallija u l- Calabria iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa u fil-Ġermanja u pajjiżi oħra iktar kmieni.  Il-ħerba li qed tiżviluppa hi enormi. Jekk ma nieħdux passi deċiżivi, dak li qed naraw mhu xejn ħdejn dak li ser jiġri.

Huwa kruċjali li l-ekonomija tagħna tkun waħda li ma tkunx dipendenti mill-karbonju, jekk irridu naslu biex nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima.

Il-qalba tal-power station ta’ Delimara minn waħda li taħdem fuq iż-żejt maħmuġ (heavy fuel oil) għal waħda li taħdem fuq il-gass kien pass tajjeb li jħares il-quddiem, pass li aħna bħala partit dejjem appoġġajna. Imma dan mhux biżżejjed. L-użu tal-gass hu fih innifsu pass ta’ transizzjoni.   Li jkollna l-parti l-kbira tal-elettriku (jew kollu!) iġġenerat minn sorsi rinovabbli jkun ħafna aħjar milli nagħmlu użu mill-idroġenu – li qed jissemma bħala l-fuel tal-futur!

Neħtieġu iżda li ntejbu is-sistema nazzjonali tad-distribuzzjoni tal-elettriku biex ikun possibli li z-zoni residenzjali jikkontribwixxu iktar fl-isforz nazzjonali biex niġġeneraw l-enerġija rinovabbli.  Investiment f’sistema ta’ distribuzzjoni iktar effiċjenti hi kruċjali. F’dan għadna lura, għax mhiex prijorità.

Id-dritt tagħna għal aċċess għax-xemx għandu jissaħħaħ. Ma jistax ikun li dan id-dritt jibqa’ dipendenti fuq proċess tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art insensittiv u żvilupp bl-addoċċ. Iż-żieda fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini meta kienu approvati l-pjani lokali tal-2006 wassal għal impatt negattiv f’enerġija rinovabbli li ntilfet. Hu prezz li għadna nħallsu u ser nibqgħu nħallsu għall-futur immedjat. Għax baqa’ ftit biex neħilsu minn dan il-piż.

Li ninvestu iktar fil-ġenerazzjoni tal-enerġija mix-xemx jirrendi. Huwa ukoll sostenibbli meta nħarsu fit-tul. Jelimina ukoll id-dipendenza fuq it-tieni interconnector minn Sqallija li dwaru l-Gvern qiegħed iħejji l-pjanijiet tiegħu. 

Bħalissa l-prezz tal-enerġija fl-Ewropa sploda. Dan wassal biex l-użu tal-enerġija permezz tal-interconnector eżistenti bejn Malta u Sqallija ġie ristrett.

Bħala riżultat tal-qalba tat-trasport bl-art minn karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petol jew dijżil għall-elettriku, id-domanda għall-elettriku ser tiżdied skond kemm jiżdiedu l-karozzi tal-elettriku.  Nistgħu nlaħħqu ma’ din id-domanda mingħajr ma nkunu dipendenti fuq is-swieq enerġetiċi kontinentali?

Jekk jirnexxielna nżidu b’mod sostanzjali l-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli nistgħu bla dubju nindirizzaw parti minn din iż-żieda fid-domanda għall-enerġija. Il-bqija hu possibli li nindirizzawha billi ninkuraġixxu bidla fil-mobilità tagħna.

L-informazzjoni bażika dwar dan diġa nafu biha. Qegħda fil-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport li jiġbdilna l-attenzjoni li nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati tagħna huma għal vjaġġi qosra, li jdumu inqas minn kwarta. 

Il-politika tal-Gvern kif imfissra fl-aħħar baġit ser tintroduċi transport pubbliku b’xejn minn Ottubru 2022. Dan jeħtieġ ftit iktar attenzjoni, għax il-prezz li nħallsu għat-trasport tal-linja qatt ma kien l-ostaklu għall-użu tat-trasport pubbliku. Hi l-effiċjenza u l-frekwenza tiegħu li jeħtieġu titjib. Jekk dan ikun indirizzat jista’ jagħmel id-differenza sostanzjali fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku.

Dan hu x’joffri l-futur: nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima permezz tal-politika tat-trasport u l-ippjanar aħjar fil-qasam tal-enerġija. Fuq kollox billi nħarsu id-dritt tagħna għal aċċess għax-xemx. 

In-natura tipprovdilna soluzzjonijiet sostenibbli għall-parti l-kbira ta’ dak li neħtieġu. Jiddependi minnha jekk ngħarfux nagħmlu użu minnhom sewwa!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 31 t’Ottubru 2021

Climate Change and solar rights

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary if we are to address climate change effectively. In Paris, in 2015, it was agreed by all that limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius is essential if we are to address climate change adequately.  Three months ago, in August, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) informed us that this increase was already 1.09 degrees Celsius, and rising.

The impacts of this increase are manifested in the extreme weather which we are currently witnessing, such as the floods all over Sicily and Calabria earlier this week, and in many other countries earlier. The resulting devastation is shocking. It will however get much worse very soon if we do not act decisively.

Having policies encouraging a low-carbon economy is crucial if we are to adequately address climate change.

Obviously solar rights must be entrenched: they should no longer be at the mercy of unbridled development and an insensitive land use planning process. The increase in permissible building heights introduced when the 2006 lot of local plans was approved had a heavy price-tag in renewable energy sacrificed. We are still paying this price and it will be quite some time before we recover from this irresponsible impact.

Switching over electricity generation at Delimara from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to one running on natural gas was a step in the right direction which greens always supported. It is however not enough. Natural gas is a transitional fuel.  Having most or all of our electricity generated from renewable sources would be a much better option, even better than making use of hydrogen, which is being considered as a future fuel. We need however to upgrade the national electricity distribution grid in order that it would be possible for residential areas to contribute much more to the national effort in renewable energy generation. Investing in an efficient distribution system is crucial. Yet it lags behind. It is not part of the priorities in hand.

Investing heavily in the generation of solar energy is more rewarding. It is also sustainable in the long term.  It would also do away with being dependent on a second energy interconnector with the Sicilian mainland, as government is currently planning.

Currently energy prices on mainland Europe are on a steep rise. This has resulted in a policy of restricting the use of the existing energy interconnector between Malta and Sicily.

As a result of the electrification of land transport, the demand for electricity is bound to increase in proportion to the uptake of electric cars. Can we cope with this increase in demand without being at the mercy of the mainland energy markets?

If we go for a substantial increase in the generation of renewable energy, we can definitely address part of the shortfall. The rest can also be addressed by actively encouraging a behavioural change in our mobility patterns.

The relative basic information is contained in the Transport Masterplan which points out that 50 per cent of the trips we make with our private vehicles are for short trips having a very short duration of under fifteen minutes.

Government policy as accounted for in the last budget will introduce free public transport as of October 2022. This needs fine-tuning, as existing fares have never been an obstacle to use public transport. It is the frequency and efficiency of the service which deters use. If this is adequately addressed it could be a gamechanger in increasing the attractiveness of public transport and consequently its increased use.

This is the possible future linking climate change and transport policy through adequate energy planning and the entrenchment of our solar rights.

Nature provides sustainable solutions for most of our needs. It is up to us to use them properly!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 31 October 2021

Birżebbuġa: minn ġot-taġen għal ġon-nar

Id-deċiżjoni tal-Gvern li jagħżel sit għal trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi f’Ħal-Far, viċin ta’ Birżebbuġa juri nuqqas kbir ta’ sensittività fil-konfront tal-komunità ta’ Birżebbuġa. Ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa ilhom is-snin jaqilgħu ġo fihom bl-istorbju madwarhom. Imma ħadd mill-awtoritajiet m’hu qed jagħti każ. Kollha għala biebhom.

Il-parti l-kbira tal-ajruplani jinżlu fl-Ajruport Internazzjonali tal-Gudja minn fuq parti miż-żona residenzjali ta’ Birżebbuġa. Dan iseħħ kuljum. Ir-residenti tant draw b’dan, li uħud ftit li xejn għadhom jagħtu kaz bl-ajruplani storbjużi jittajjru fil-baxx : avolja xorta qed issir ħsara lill-saħħithom kif tispjega repetutament l-Organizzazzjoni Dinjija tas-Saħħa (WHO). Ma’ dan żid l-impatti tat-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles, kuljum, xi drabi lejl u nhar. Xi drabi diffiċli biex tissaporti. Meta wara ġurnata xogħol tfittex il-mistrieħ u ma issibux, tkun ilħaqt il-limitu tal-paċenzja.  

Dan it-tniġġiż xi kultant jitnaqqas ftit bħala riżultat ta’ titjib fl-iżviluppi teknoloġiċi. Imma huwa ċar li sostanzjalment, Birżebbuġa, ser tibqa’ tgħum fl-istorbju.

Iż-żona residenzjali Tal-Papa f’Birżebbuġa hi l-iktar waħda effettwata mill-istorbju ġġenerat mill-ajruplani u mit-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles. Hi ukoll iż-zona l-iktar viċin tat-trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi.   Apparti ż-żona Tal-Papa li qegħda ġol-limiti tal-iżvilupp hemm ukoll il-komunità residenzjali ċkejkna ta’ Bengħajsa kif ukoll numru żgħir ta’ residenzi rurali: fihom ukoll jgħixu in-nies!  

Iz-zona residenzjali Tal-Papa qegħda 1,500 metru biss il-bogħod mit-trakka proposta. Hemm numru ta’ residenzi rurali, barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp li huma ferm iktar viċin tat-trakka minn hekk.  

L-art li fuqha hemm il-proposta għal trakka tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi illum hi parti miż-żona industrijali ta’  Ħal-Far. Issa jidher li anke l-Malta Industrial Parks ser tibda tilgħab il-logħob elettorali. Mhix xi ħaġa normali li l-Malta Industrial Parks tirrilaxxja art li tifforma parti minn żona industrijali. Għall-ebda raġuni! L-unika żvilupp li jista’ jsir fuq art ta’ din ix-xorta hu żvilupp industrijali. Il-bqija mhux aċċettabbli għax imur kontra dak li jipprovdi l-pjan lokali.  Is-saltna tad-dritt tapplika għall-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art ukoll: għar-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar. Il-Pjani Lokali m’għandhomx jibqgħu jġebbdu fihom. Giebuhom agħar miċ-chewing gum.

L-iżvilupp tat-trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi fuq l-art li ġiet indikata ser iwassal għal tniġġiż sostanzjali mill-ħsejjes ġġenerati li ser ikollhom impatt fuq iż-żona residenzjali f’Birżebbuġa li hi viċin ħafna. Miżuri ta’ mitigazzjoni jistgħu jnaqqsu xi ftit dawn l-impatti, imma dawn l-impatti sostanzjalment ser jibqgħu hemm, idejqu lir-residenti.

Is-sit hu diġa użat għat-tlielaq fi tmiem il-ġimgħa. L-istorbju ġġenerat f’dawn il-ġranet jasal anke sa Ħal-Safi u Ħal-Kirkop, aħseb u ara sa Birżebbuġa. Residenti infurmawni li xi drabi l-attività konnessa mat-tlielaq tal-karozzi ġieli damet sas-sagħtejn ta’ fil-għodu. Lir-residenti, id-dilettanti tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi dejjem ġew għala biebhom minnhom!  Hu ftit diffiċli li wieħed jifhem kif jistgħu jibdlu l-imġiebha tagħhom issa.

It-tniġġiż ikkawżat mill-ħsejjes ser ikollu ukoll impatt fuq iż-żona ta’ importanza ekoloġika li qegħda fil-viċin ħafna. Issa ser ikun possibli li naraw kif dawk li jmexxu l-ERA, l-awtorità li tħares l-ambjent, jitgħawġu ġanċ biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw dak li mhux ġustifikabbli.

Safejn naf jien, f’Malta ma hawn l-ebda sit li jista’ jakkomoda b’mod raġjonevoli t-trakka proposta għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi mingħajr ma tikkawża impatti negattivi fuq in-nies jew fuq l-ambjent jew it-tnejn. Malta żgħira fid-daqs u iktar ma nirrealizzaw dan malajr iktar ċans li tieqaf issir il-ħsara permezz ta’ proġetti li ma hawnx spazju għalihom. In parti dan hu l-prezz li jeħtieg li nħallsu għal nuqqas ta’ ippjanar tul is-snin.

Kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL jappoġġaw dan il-ġenn. It-tnejn li huma jitgħawġu ġanċ biex jappoġġaw dawn il-proposti. Sal-lum ma iddejqux li jissagrifikaw il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa biex jissodisfaw il-lobby tat-tiġrijiet tal-karozzi.  Il-komunità residenzjali ta’ Birżebbuġa ilha taqla’ ġo fiha.  Li l-Gvern ikompli jżid ma dan hu inuman. Birżebbuġa ser tispiċċa minn ġot-taġen għal ġon-nar.

Huwa biss b’membri parlamentari ħodor minn ADPD fil-Parlament li jmiss li nistgħu nibdew nindirizzaw dawn l-abbużi. Il-PLPN ma jinteresshomx mill-kwalità tal-ħajja tan-nies imma biss mill-poter!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 3 t’Ottubru 2021

Birżebbuġa: adding insult to injury

Government’s decision to select a site for a car-racing track at Ħal-Far, on the outskirts of Birżebbuġa, betrays a gross lack of sensitivity towards the welfare of the Birżebbuġa community. Birżebbuġa residents have been at the receiving end of noise pollution for ages. Apparently, no one in authority cares. They are not the least bothered.

Most aircraft approach landing at Gudja International Airport over part of the Birżebbuġa residential area. This happens throughout most of any normal day. Birżebbuġa residents are so used to it that at times they barely notice the noise from aeroplanes at low altitude blasting above: nothwithstanding, this is damaging to their health as attested to repeatedly by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Added to this, Birżebbuġa residents have to bear the impacts of the Freeport Terminal, likewise a round the clock operation! At times the noise pollution from the Freeport Terminal in areas of Birżebbuġa is unbearable. After a day’s work you seek some resting time and you are obstructed from doing so by the excessive noise around you.

These noise sources may be slightly mitigated through the application of technological improvements. It is however clear for Biżebbuġa residents that these impacts are substantially here to stay.

The Tal-Papa residential area in Birżebbuġa is already the zone most impacted by aircraft and Freeport Terminal noise pollution. It is also the zone closest to the planned car-racing track.  Beyond the residential development within the limits of development there is also the Bengħajsa hamlet as well as a number of rural units, some of which are still used for residential purposes.

The Tal-Papa residential area is as close as 1,500 metres to the proposed racing track. A number of rural residences, outside the development zone are even closer than this to the projected racetrack. 

The land on which the racing track proposal may be developed forms part of the Ħal-Far Industrial Estate. It seems that now, even Malta Industrial Parks is playing electoral games.  It is not normal for Malta Industrial Parks to release land forming part of an industrial estate for any purpose whatsoever! The only permissible development on such land is related to industrial development. Anything beyond that is unacceptable as it goes against the parameters determined by the Local Plan. The rule of law is applicable to planning rules and regulations too. Local Plans should not be further transformed into chewing gum, having unlimited elasticity!

The development of the car-racing track on the indicated land will generate substantial noise pollution which will impact a residential area in Birżebbuġa which is not so far away. Mitigation measures may reduce slightly the impacts but it will keep annoying the residents just the same!

The site is already in use on weekends: the resulting acoustic pollution is being picked up as far away as Kirkop and Safi, let alone in Birżebbuga itself. At times, residents inform me that this goes on well into the night, even as late as 2am. Car-racing enthusiasts never had the minimum of respect towards the residential community! It is difficult to imagine how they could change their behaviour at this point in time.

The acoustic pollution generated will also have an impact on an area of ecological importance close by. We will now be able to see how far the ERA bigwigs twist their spine to enable them to justify the unjustifiable.

As far as I am aware no site in Malta can reasonably accommodate this racing track without being the cause of extreme nuisance to residents, damaging to the environment or both. Malta is small in size. The sooner this basic fact sinks in, the better. It should be realised that there is no room for projects such as this car-racing track!  In part this is the price we have to pay for a lack of planning over the years.

Both the PN and the PL are supporting this madness. Both of them are willing to accommodate the racing track lobby. They have so far considered the Birżebbuġa residential community as unavoidable collateral damage in their drive to satisfy the racing track lobby. The Birżebbuġa residential community has already been at the receiving end of all sorts of acoustic pollution. Adding to this is grossly inhumane. It adds insult to accumulated injury.

Only Green MPs in the next parliament can apply the brakes to this madness. PLPN is not interested in the welfare of residents: they are only interested in raw power.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 October 2021

Improving waste collection

Waste collection in our towns and villages does not cater for a modern 21st century European island state. It is approximately fifty years out of phase. It has not evolved with time to take into consideration modern day requirements.

The waste collection schedules do not cater for the needs of shift workers, of short-term tenants and small local businesses.

Local government governs at a local level. It takes decisions necessary in order to address the varying requirements of the community which it leads. Our local councils unfortunately do not have such an authority. Government (directly as well as through Wasteserv Malta Limited, the state waste operator) is continuously breathing down their necks such that they cannot plan and carry out waste collection differently and in an efficient manner.

A news item in the Malta Independent on Monday pointed at a proposal of the Local Councils’ Association on an alternative to the door-to-door waste collection in our towns and villages.

Our restricted pavements, as things stand, are during parts of the mornings cluttered with waste bags. In addition, they are also used for restaurant tables and chairs.  Possibly if there is enough space, pavements can also be used for the mobility of pedestrians! Vulnerable persons with different mobility disabilities and parents caring for young children are often at a loss in such situations. They are the first squeezed out of pavements!

It is within this context that the Local Councils’ Association has proposed a gradual shift from a door-to-door waste collection system to one where waste is deposited at specific collection points. The proposal is interesting even though it is not easily applicable in all localities. Specifically in village cores and in urban conservation areas there may not be sufficient space suitable for the development of the necessary infrastructure for the development of waste collection points. Our streets are already cluttered with services: drainage, water, electricity and communications! I believe that it will be slightly difficult to find adequate space for these collection points in some of our streets.

The proposal was submitted to government some months ago in response to the public consultation in hand on the Waste Management Strategy. It entails the identification of 13,000 collection points serving 250,000 households. It is envisaged that each household could possibly be within a 100-metre distance from a waste collection point.

I have discussed this proposal with Local Councils Association President Mario Fava who is very enthusiastic on its workability. Studies detailing the proposal have not to date been carried out locally but the method is practiced in a number of European cities.

Such a collection system could be the source of various benefits in our localities. Top of the list would be cleaner pavements and roads as a result of substantially reduced waste spillage. There would be less traffic congestion and obstruction as a result of not having a waste collection vehicle doing the rounds at a speed of 5 kilometres per hour through the streets of our towns and villages. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from fuel consumption by waste collection vehicles would be substantially reduced. (Electrification of waste collection vehicles could likewise attain the same objective of greenhouse gas emission reduction.)

The next step should be a pilot project in a number of localities as a result of which the required infrastructural improvements should be identified and implemented for a selected number of waste collection points. Such a pilot project should not only consider the workability of the proposed alternative. It should also seek to address how those facing mobility difficulties can cope and what assistance would be required to ensure that they will eventually benefit from the proposed improvement to the waste collection system.

The new waste management strategy is long overdue. I hope that when finalised it will recognise that local councils, both individually as well as through their association are fully capable of planning and delivering the services which our towns and villages require in this day and age. They should not be obstructed from functioning as a local government.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 September 2021

Inħarsu l-ODZ

Kważi kulħadd, illum il-ġurnata jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru “outside the development zone”, jiġifieri barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp. Ir-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar diġa jħarsu l-ODZ. Hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar flimkien mal-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u ir-Riżorsi li għandhom din ir-responsabbilta.

Kull meta jsiru proposti biex jiżdied il-ħarsien tal-ODZ, ifisser biss li l-miżuri attwali ta’ ħarsien  mhux qed jitwettqu sewwa. Fil-prattika jfisser ukoll li l-awtoritajiet maħtura mhux qed jagħmlu xogħolhom u li l-kontrolli fis-seħħ mhux jiffunzjonaw!  

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art hu minnu nnifsu kontroversjali għax jinvolvi għażliet, ħafna drabi għażliet diffiċli.  Anke deċiżjonijiet żgħar, ukoll iħallu lil uħud diżappuntati: aħseb u ara deċiżjonijiet maġġuri li jkollhom impatti konsiderevoli fuq bosta.  Li tiddetermina n-natura tal-iżvilupp permissibli u l-limiti tiegħu hu mill-iktar kontroversjali. Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna huma u jkunu ifformulati l-pjani lokali ħmistax-il sena ilu, u iktar waqt l-implimentazzjoni tagħhom.

Il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkunu wieħed minn żewġ tipi: jistgħu jkunu ċari ħafna u rigidi b’mod li jispeċifikaw eżatt x’għandu jsir bla ebda eċċezzjoni. F’dan il-kaz ikun jeħtieg li dawn ikunu aġġornati regolarment biex jirriflettu l-aspettattivi raġjonevoli tal-komunità.  Minflok, il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkun flessibli, b’mod li jipprovdu soluzzjonijiet differenti għal cirkustanzi differenti. F’dan il-kaz il-proċess ta’ interpretazzjoni hu wieħed kruċjali: jeħtieġ li jkun wieħed konsistenti.

F’kull kaz, dan kollu hu dipendenti fuq li jkollok persuni ta’ integrità li jamministraw l-affarijiet. Tul is-snin id-dibattitu pubbliku żviluppa b’mod li kien hemm qbil li l-politiku għandu joqgħod lura milli jinvolvi ruħu fil-proċess tal-ippjanar. Sfortunatament ma sarx hekk għax il-politiku għażel persuni oħrajn biex jaġixxu f’ismu, imma kontinwament jassigura ruħu li jibqa’ jikkontrolla hu, bir-remote control! 

Dawk li jiffurmaw parti mill-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet kienu “persuni ta’ fiduċja” lesti biex jagħmlu li jgħidulhom u dan sfortunatament xejjen l-iskop kollu tar-riformi li saru tul is-snin.  Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna. Fost dawn “il-persuni ta’ integrità” li appuntaw fuq il-bordijiet insibu agent tal-propjetà, jirreklama żvilupp li għadu ma sarx u li kien għad irid japprova hu. Dan weħel multa sostanzjali dwar ħasil ta’ flus u bħalissa għaddej bi proċeduri kriminali dwar iktar akkużi ta’ ħasil ta’ flus!

Din hi l-vera problema tal-ippjanar fl-użu tal-art f’Malta u tal-ħarsien tal-ODZ: l-għażla ta’ dawk li ser jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet! Qabel ma din tissolva ser jibqa’ jsir it-tħarbit.

Tul it-tlett snin li għamilt naħdem fl-uffiċċju tal-verifika tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kelli l-opportunità li nifhem dan ferm iktar u dan billi eżaminajt numru mhux żgħir ta’ kazijiet.

Il-lobbying favur jew kontra deċiżjoni speċifika tal-ippjanar hi parti integrali mill-proċess kollu.  Dan jista’ jagħmel il-ġid jekk ikun dokumentat kif imiss u jkun ikkunsidrat bis-serjetà. Imma jekk l-argumenti jsiru bil-ħabi u bis-segretezza jew bit-tfesfis fil-widnejn, jista’ jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet ħżiena u anke għall-korruzzjoni.

Tul is-snin kellna numru ta’ professjonisti tal-ippjanar li ġew imwarrba għax kienu kompetenti iżżejjed!  Ma ġewx imwarrba għal raġunijiet politiċi. Li dawn ġew imwarrba kellu effett doppju:  intilfu professjonisti validi imma bihom ingħatat twissija lill-bqija. Xejn ma hemm allura għax niskantaw li l-bqija jimxu mal-kurrent: għax hekk jaqbel!

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu ċar li ma hemm l-ebda futur għal ippjanar raġjonevoli dwar l-użu tal-art sakemm il-politiku jibqa’ jiġbed l-ispag: fid-deher jew fil-moħbi.  Ir-rwol tal-politika u tal-politiku hu li jistabilixxi direzzjoni politika u li jara li jkunu allokati r-riżorsi meħtieġa. L-implimentazzjoni, iżda, għandha titħalla f’idejn min hu mħarreġ biex jagħmel dan ix-xogħol. Dan sfortunatament  bħalissa jidher li hu holm!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 19 ta’ Settembru 2021

Protecting the ODZ

Most of us are aware that the letters ODZ stand for the term “outside the development zone”. Planning rules and regulations already protect the ODZ. The protection of the ODZ is the responsibility of both the Planning Authority as well as the Environment and Resources Authority.

Whenever proposals are made to further protect the ODZ, this signifies just one thing: that current measures are not functioning as expected. In practice it also signifies that the appointed authorities are not carrying out their responsibilities adequately. Specifically, the underlying problem is that checks and balances in land use planning and environmental protection are malfunctioning.

Land use planning is by its very nature controversial as it involves choices as to how best to proceed. Even normal day-to-day decisions tend to disappoint some, let alone major decisions having considerable impacts! Determining the nature of the permissible development and its limits is the most controversial of all. We have seen all this unfolding when the local plans were formulated fifteen years ago, and more in the manner in which they have and are being implemented.

Local plans can be one of two types: they can be very rigid, determining exactly what can or cannot be done without any exception. In such a case they would require frequent revision to keep up-to-date with reasonable expectations of the community.  Alternatively, they may be flexible, catering for different situations. The problem in such a case is their interpretation, which has to be carried out in a consistent manner.

In all cases, however, it boils down to having persons of integrity administering the process. Over the years the local public debate has developed in a manner that it was considered adequate to keep the politician out of the planning process as much as possible. In reality this was not done as the politicians at the end of the day selected others to do their bidding, subject to remote controlling. Those forming part of land use planning decision-taking have generally been “persons of trust”, ready to do the politician’s bidding, which unfortunately brings us back to square one.

We have seen the process function unashamedly in this manner over the years. Among the “persons of integrity” appointed as decision-takers one finds an estate agent, advertising the developments which he was yet to approve. He was subject to an administrative fine for money-laundering and is currently undergoing criminal proceedings on more charges of money laundering!

This is the real problem in land use planning and the protection of the ODZ: selecting the decision-taker! Until this is solved, we have to witness much more damage.

During the three years when I worked as part of the land use planning audit office, I had the opportunity to understand the matter by examining in depth a number of specific cases.

Lobbying in favour or against a specific planning decision is an integral part of the land use planning process. It can be healthy if it is well documented and tackled above board. It may however lead to bad decisions and eventually corruption if done secretly or in an underhand manner.

Over the years I have seen a number of very competent professional planners being side-lined as they were too competent! The political persuasion of the planner in such cases was irrelevant. Their side-lining had a double effect: in addition to losing the competent planner this served as a warning shot to the rest. Consequently, it is no surprise that most of the rank-and-file planners choose the path of least resistance: it is to their personal benefit!

There is no future for reasonable land use planning if the politician keeps fiddling around. The role of politics is about setting the political direction and allocating the required resources. Its implementation should be left to those who are trained to carry out the job. Unfortunately, so far, that has proven to be too much to expect!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 September 2021