The drummer’s call

The drummer was floored. A photo on the social media depicted a drum departing from the hand of a uniformed policeman and flying in the direction of the floored drummer.

Last Thursday’s protest by Moviment Graffiti and Kamp Emergenza Ambjent was not about the pending decision on the proposed fuel service station at Bulebel in Żejtun. It was rather about the lethargy of the authorities in considering the overhaul of the Fuel Service Stations policy.

The mishandling of the protestors by the police apparently marks a new season: it has been ages since the police force was so employed in Malta. Apparently, the authorities are getting very itchy.

Appreciation of the environment is limited to clean-up days subject to the media’s glare, with the remaining days of the year being a free-for-all. There is nothing new in such an attitude. We have been facing it year-in, year-out for a considerable time. By now we are accustomed to greenwashing and some of us have developed an acute allergy to the authorities’ greenwashing.

Playing on the drum, the drummer was announcing to one and all that we are all fed up by the authorities’ procrastination and that it was about time that they realised that this is another case of abuse of authority and maladministration. The Republic belongs to everyone and not just to the privileged few.

The number of pending applications for fuel service stations is considerable, notwithstanding the fact that we do not need even one of them. The long-term policy direction is to reduce our dependency on private cars. In addition, as indicated by the Prime Minister around twelve months ago, we are awaiting the announcement of the cut-off date when the remaining cars on our roads are primarily electrically driven.

It has been repeatedly emphasised that the 3,000 square metres permissible footprint that the Fuel Service Station policy allows for the development of fuel service stations outside the development zone is excessive and the proposal by the Environment and Resources Authority to reduce this footprint to 2,000 square metres is not much of an improvement. If a fuel service station is required its footprint could be substantially less. Obviously, this would necessitate doing away with all the ancillary commercial activity at ODZ fuel service stations that the current fuel service station policy introduced in reaction to those seeking pastures new for their “investments”. The current policy gives more weight to ensuring a return on investment than to the need to protect our countryside from further rape.

Last Thursday, the Planning Authority Board turned down the application for a fuel service station at Bulebel in Żejtun. There are other applications pending, most of which will be eventually approved. This will be done notwithstanding the fact that there is no need for more fuel service stations. We have more than enough of them and it is certainly about time that we start closing some of the existing ones.

In my article last week, I emphasised that we need to implement the vision put forward by the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which advocates the need to reduce our dependency on cars. The need to overhaul the Fuel Service Station Policy has to be considered in this context. If we need to reduce (drastically) the number of cars on our roads, it follows that we do not need any more fuel service stations.

In the coming weeks the drummer’s call through more rhythmic movements of the drum sticks will be required to alert us to more sessions of the Planning Authority Board which will be convened to approve the further rape of our countryside.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16th September 2018

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Sandro’s Monaco: as if tomorrow never comes

 

Having an area of 2.02 square kilometres, the principality of Monaco is around 58 per cent the size of Comino, which has an area of 3.50 square kilometres. Monaco is home to 38,000 persons: Comino having only one resident!

There is practically no ODZ in Monaco: in fact land development there is so intensive that it has been taking up small chunks of the Mediterranean along its coastline which it has been reclaiming since way back in 1880 in order to make up for a lack of land for development.

Malta Development Association (MDA) President Sandro Chetcuti is on record as stating that Malta’s future ought to be one that follows the path traced by Monaco. This, in my opinion, signifies just one thing: the development of every possible square metre of these islands.

The building development lobby is only concerned about today: making hay (today) while the sun shines. Sandro Chetcuti believes that the Monaco blueprint is the only realistic one. This is a vision very similar to Joseph Muscat’s “Dubaification” of the Maltese islands: a vision of high rises and land reclamation.

Chetcuti and Muscat sing from the same song sheet. They think and act as if tomorrow never comes. Development cannot stop, maintains Chetcuti, as “many” would be hurt. The “many”, obviously, being those seeking to make hay, while their sun still shines. They are aware that, at some point, their sun will set and hence they will no longer be able to make hay. Until such a day comes, should they be allowed to ruin everywhere?

Tomorrow will come, and the sun will rise again only for us to realise that we have increased substantially the problems bequeathed to future generations.

Obviously, the point about Monaco which sets Chetcuti ticking is that practically all its 2.02 square kilometres is an urban area. Monaco has no ODZ which can be taken up by rationalisation schemes to increase its building stock. Instead, it reclaims land from the sea and thus slowly adding to its land mass over the years.

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

It is about time that the building industry is cut down to size. We  should all realise, before it is too late, that the ongoing building spree is unsustainable and that progress is not measured in terms of buildings, roads or the enormous number of cars on our roads.

Our quality of life is actually measured through the open spaces we can enjoy and through rediscovering our natural roots, which have been obliterated through the ever- expanding urban boundaries.

The building industry is bent on producing more hay while the sun shines: on building more and more until such time that the Dubaification policy of the present government remains in implementation. Unfortunately the resulting “hay-fever” is being inflicted on all of us.

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

(note cartoon published in Malta Today)

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 August 2018

Kemm ħasbuna ċwieċ ?

L-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika għadu kif ikkonkluda investigazzjoni dwar iċ-Ċentru Interpretattiv f’Ħad-Dingli. L-investigazzjoni fittxet li tiddetermina jekk kienx hemm xi ftehim wara l-kwinti bejn uffiċjali pubbliċi diversi biex is-sit f’Ħad-Dingli jkun ittrasformat minn ċentru interpretattiv għal stabiliment tal-ikel.

L-investigazzjoni, kif spjegat f’rapport bl-Ingliż li ippubblika l-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika ma sab l-ebda prova li tista’ tissostanzja allegazzjonijiet dwar frodi jew korruzzjoni. Hemm imma referenza għal dak li qed jissejjaħ “oversight”, jiġifieri żball. Ċentrali fl-iżvilupp ta’ dan l-iżball insibu l-awtoritá li tieħu ħsieb l-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art. Dakinnhar MEPA, illum PA.

Meta l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli issottometta l-applikazzjoni bażika (dik li nirreferu għaliha bħala outline development permission) (applikazzjoni PA5314/02) il-kunsill kien qed jitlob li jingħata permess għal żona fejn iservu l-ikel (id-dokumenti jirreferu għal catering area). Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju tal-Verifika jagħmel referenza għal dokumenti tal-MEPA biex juri li l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli kien qed jintalab jirrevedi l-proposta tiegħu, u b’mod partikolari biex ineħħi mill-pjanti kull referenza għal żona fejn iservu l-ikel. Dan it-tibdil, jemfasizza ir-rapport “included the elimination of catering services”. Biex l-affarijiet ikunu ċari ħafna, l-MEPA insistiet biex tkun emendata ukoll il-proposta ta’ żvilupp innifisha.

Il-proposta oriġinali ta’ żvilupp li ippreżenta l-Kunsill Lokali kienet dwar twaqqiegħ ta’ żewġ binjiet eżistenti u l-bini minflok ta’ binja ta’ tlett sulari b’diżinn modern b’qies ikbar minn dak tal-bini eżistenti. Il-pjanti jipprovdu għal kċina żgħira u żona mdaqqsa fejn joqgħodu bil-qegħda n-nies.

Il-MEPA insistiet, u l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli aċċetta, li l-proposta ta’ żvilupp kellha tkun emendat biex tikkonċerna r-restawr tal-binjiet eżistenti flmkien ma alterazzjonijiet u żidiet għalihom biex ikunu mibdula f’ċentru interpretattiv. Il-bejgħ ta’ ikel u xorb fuq is-sit kellu jkun limitat għal dak li seta jsir bil-magni (vending machines).

Iktar tard il-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Ħad-Dingli ippreżenta applikazzjoni dettaljata (full development permission) li kienet approvata mill-MEPA. Din l-applikazzjoni approvata (PA0425/08), jgħidilna r-rapport tal-Uffiċċju tal-Verifika, “ippermetta li ikel u xorb setgħu jinxtraw miċ-ċentru interpretattiv bħala attivitá anċillari (allowed food and drink to be served at the Interpretation Centre as an ancillary activity). Dan minkejja li dan kollu kien ipprojibit mill-permess bażiku li kien approvat iktar qabel, meta kienu ġew stabiliti l-parametri bażiċi tal-proġett.

Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju tal-Verifika jgħidilna li meta l-investigaturi għarblu liċ-Ċhairperson tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp fuq il-każ, din qaltilhom li d-diskrepanza kienet żball u li hi kellha l-impressjoni li l-permess approvat kien jirrifletti d-diskussjoni li saret fil-bord u allura kien jipprojibixxi li jkun possibli li sservi l-ikel fis-sit (this variance as an oversight, and that she was under the impression that the permit issued reflected the Board’s discussion, and therefore excluded catering on site).

Il-kelma li tintuża hi “oversight”, liema kelma tfisser “żball li jsir bi żvista għax tkun qabżitlek xi ħaġa”.

Meta fittixt fid-dokumentazzjoni tal-MEPA sibt li mill-minuti tal-laqgħat tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp ma tantx jidher li qabeż xejn biex sar dan “l-iżball”. Fil-fatt il-minuti tat-18 ta’ Marzu 2009 speċifikament jgħidu li l-Kummissjoni kellha l-intenzjoni li tirrifjuta l-applikazzjoni minħabba li dak propost dwar il-“catering facilities” (jiġifieri l-użu magħruf bħala Class 6 use) ma kienux approvati fl-ewwel permess.

Fid-dokument tal-MEPA li nirreferu għalih bħala DPAR (Development Permit Application report) fit-taqsima tiegħu intitolata “Notes to Committee” hemm miktub li l-perit tal-Kunsill Lokali rinfaċċjat b’dan ippreżenta pjanti mibdula li fihom il-faċilitajiet għall-catering tneħħew.

F’laqgħat li saru iktar tard mill-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp, din l-intenzjoni tal-Kummissjoni inbidlet u l-applikazzjoni bil-faċilitajiet tal-catering b’kollox kienet approvata nhar l-20 ta’ Jannar 2010.

Dan tista’ issejjaħlu kollox minbarra “żball”. Kienu jafu x’inhuma jagħmlu.

Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika jgħidilna li “Din l-investigazzjoni tinnota li bejn it-18 ta’ Marzu 2009 u l- 10 ta’ Marzu 2010, il-MEPA bidlet il-posizzjoni tagħha minn waħda li teskludi l-faċilitajiet li jipprovdu għat-tisjir tal-ikel (Class 6 facilities) għal waħda li tippermettihom bħala faċilitá anċillari.” Flok mill-bieb daħlu mit-tieqa.

Il-mistoqsija bażika hi waħda sempliċi ħafna: x’ġara bejn it-18 ta’ Marzu 2009 u l-10 ta’ Marzu 2010 biex wassal lill-Kummissjoni biex tibdel il-fehma tagħha?

Din il-mistoqsija tibqa’ bla tweġiba wara li nkunu qrajna r-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika.

Huma biss iċ-ċwieċ li jistgħu jaċċettaw l-ispjegazzjoni li dan kien żball!

 

Ippubblikat f’Illum : Il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Ġunju 2018

The Dingli “oversight”

The National Audit Office (NAO) has just concluded an investigation into the Dingli Interpretation centre which sought to determine if there had been collusion between various government officials so that the site will be transformed from an interpretation centre into a catering establishment.

The investigation, as explained in the NAO’s report, did not uncover any evidence to suggest fraud and/or corruption. There is, however, reference to what is being described as an “oversight”. Of central importance in the development of this “oversight” was the authority dealing with land-use planning – then known as MEPA, today rebranded as PA!

When an application for an outline development permission was submitted by the Dingli Local Council in 2002 (application PA5314/02) the local council was requesting the incorporation of a catering area in the submitted plans. Drawing on planning documentation, the NAO report explains in detail how Dingli Local Council was requested by MEPA to revise the submitted proposal. These changes, the NAO report emphasised, “included the elimination of catering services”. To be very clear, MEPA insisted on a change to the development proposal itself.

The original development proposal submitted by the Local Council consisted of the demolition of the two existing buildings and the construction of a new building, consisting of three floors, of a modern design, which occupied a larger footprint than the existing structures. The plans included a kitchenette and a large area designated for seating.

MEPA insisted – and Dingli Local Council agreed – that the description of the proposed development be amended to read ‘restore existing structures, carry out alterations and additions to convert them to an interpretive centre’. The sale of food and drink on site was to be limited to the use of vending machines.

Subsequently, an application for full development permission was submitted by Dingli Local Council and approved by MEPA. We are informed by the NAO report that the approved application (PA0425/08), “allowed food and drink to be served at the Interpretation Centre as an ancillary activity” notwithstanding the fact that these were prohibited by the previous approved outline development permit which established the basic acceptable parameters of the project.

The NAO report states that when the Chairperson of the Development Control Commission (DCC) was queried on the matter, she explained this variance as an “oversight” and said that she was under the impression that the permit issued reflected the Board’s discussion, and therefore excluded catering on site.”

Now an “oversight”, according to my dictionary is “a mistake made through a failure to notice something”.

Going through the MEPA documentation available, I came across the minutes of the DCC which do not indicate an oversight. In fact, the minutes of the DCC held on 18 March 2009 specifically state that there was the intention to refuse the application specifically because catering facilities (that is Class 6 use) were not approved in the outline development permission.

In the MEPA documentation which is referred to as DPAR (Development Permit Application report) in the section entitled “Notes to Committee”, it is written that the Local Council architect reacted by submitting a revised set of drawings in which the catering facility was removed.

In later meetings of the DCC, this intention disappeared and the application (including the catering facilities) was approved on 20 January 2010.

This is anything but an “oversight”: they knew all along what was going on.

The NAO report states: “This Investigation notes that between 18 March 2009 and 10 March 2010, MEPA’s position changed from excluding Class 6 facilities to one that allowed catering as an ancillary facility.”

The basic question is: what happened between the 18 March 2009 and 10 March 2010, as a result of which the DCC changed its views? It is a question which the NAO report fails to answer.

Only idiots would accept that this is an “oversight”.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 June 2018

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar tinkoraġixxi l-ispekulazzjoni tal-art

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar qed toħroġ il-permessi ta’ żvilupp għall-pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil ħierġin bħall-pastizzi.

Xi xhur ilu, f’diskors li għamel il-Prim Ministru kien qal li l-Gvern immexxi minnu jaqbel li karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil għandhom jispiċċaw mit-toroq Maltin. Nhar l-10 ta’ Settembru 2017 Joseph Muscat kien ħabbar li l-Gvern kien fi ħsiebu li “dal-waqt” jagħti bidu għal konsultazzjoni pubblika biex ikun stabilit meta u kif għandha tkun implimentata din il-politika li bħala riżultat tagħha jkunu jistgħu jinxtraw biss karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku jew karozzi simili.

Għaddew seba’ xhur u għadna qed nistennew li jibda dan il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika. Sadanittant, aħna u nistennew, l-ispekulaturi tal-art, bl-għajnuna tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għaddejjin xalata: jippjanaw kif jirrovinaw iktar raba’, 3000 metru kwadru kull darba, u dan biex jibnu pompi li ftit ieħor mhux ser ikollna bżonn. Imbagħad x’nagħmlu bl-art li tkun diġa ġiet rovinata?

Alternattiva Demokratika taqbel li m’għandniex ħtieġa ta’ karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil fit-toroq tagħna. Fil-fatt kienet Alternattiva Demokratika, bil-ħsieb li tintlaħaq il-mira strateġika ta’ Karbonju Żero fil-gżejjer Maltin li fil-Manifest Elettorali ta’ l-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali poġġiet quddiem l-elettorat din il-proposta speċifika: li fi żmien 20 sena, ċjoe sal-2037, għandhom jispiċċaw il-karozzi kollha li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil mit-toroq Maltin. Alternattiva Demokratika kienet l-uniku partit politiku f’Malta li kien ċar fuq dan f’Malta sa minn qabel l-elezzjoni ġenerali.

Id-dikjarazzjoni tal-Prim Ministru tal-10 ta’ Settembru 2017 kellha twassal għall-konklużjoni loġika li m’għandniex bżonn ta’ iktar pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil. Kien ikun floku kieku tħabbar moratorju immedjat. Fil-fatt messna qegħdin ngħoddu l-ġranet li neħilsu darba għal dejjem mill-karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan messu hu ovvju li fil-futur qarib m’hu ser ikollna bżonn l-ebda pompa tal-petrol jew dijsil: dawn għandhom jonqsu mit-80 li għandna illum sa xejn u dan meta tkun implimentata b’mod sħiħ il-politika mħabbra mill-Prim Ministru u li dwarha ilna 7 xhur nistennew il-konsultazzjoni pubblika.

M’għandniex bżonn ta’ pompi ġodda: imma għandna bżonn li jagħlqu l-pompi li ġja hawn mingħajr ma jinħolqu oħrajn flokhom. L-20 sena proposti minn Alternattiva Demokratika fil-manifest elettorali tal-2017 biex jispiċċaw mit-toroq Maltin karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil kienu meqjusa raġjonevoli, suffiċjenti u fl-istess direzzjoni ta’ deċiżjonijiet politiċi simili li ittieħdu minn pajjiżi oħra. Dan hu żmien biżżejjed biex tkun żviluppata l-infrastruttura nazzjonali meħtieġa għall-karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Hu ukoll biżżejjed biex dawk li għandhom dawn it-tip ta’ karozzi jibdew jidraw ftit l-iżvilupp ta’ din ir-realtá ġdida bla petrol jew dijsil.

Bosta pajjiżi oħra diġa ddeċidew, inkella qegħdin fil-proċess li jiddeċiedu li fit-toroq tagħhom ma jkollhomx iktar karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil. Dawn jinkludu in-Norveġja u l-Olanda (it-tnejn sal-2025), il-Ġermanja (sal-2030), Franza, r-Renju l–Indja u ċ-Ċina (lkoll sal-2040). Ma jdumx ma jkun hemm oħrajn ukoll.
L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar qegħda tkompli tinjora dan l-iżvilupp importanti fil-politika tal-pajjiż billi tibqa’ għaddejja bl-applikazzjoni tal-politika imsejħa 2015 Fuel Service Stations Policy b’mod robotiku. Din il-politika dwar il-pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil tippermetti qies massimu permissibli ta’ 3000 metru kwadru imma l-Awtoritá qatt ma qieset li kien neċessarju li tordna tnaqqis fil-qies tal-proposti li kellha quddiema. Għax kollha kellhom il-qies massimu ta’ 3000 metru kwadru. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar flok għal pompi qed toħroġ permessi għal żoni massiċċi kummerċjali barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ spekulazzjoni tal-art u f’dan il-kaz it-tort hu unikament tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar hi ta’ theddida għall-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Dan hu l-punt li għamlu ż-żgħażagħ mill-Moviment Graffiti u l-Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent meta nhar il-Ħamis ipprotestaw u ħarbtu laqgħa tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar waqt li dan kien qiegħed jikkunsidra applikazzjoni għall-pompa ġdida tal-petrol u d-dijsil f’Ħal-Luqa.

Għandna Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li hi ala bieba mill-ambjent u mill-kwalitá tal-ħajja. Bil-provi.

 

 

The Planning Authority encourages land speculation

Development permits for fuel stations are being approved left, right and centre by the Planning Authority.

Some months ago,  in a speech made in public, the Prime Minister said that the Government agrees that use of petrol and diesel cars should be phased out and that, in future, all cars should be electric. On the 10 September 2017, Joseph Muscat announced that government would “shortly” be launching a consultation on “setting a cut-off date beyond which all new car purchases would have to be electric or similar vehicles.”

Seven months have elapsed, and we are still waiting for the consultation exercise to be launched. And while we wait, land speculators (with the Planning Authority’s assistance) are in festive mood, plotting the ruin of 3000 square metres at a time to develop fuel stations that we will shortly not need any more. And what will be done with the spoiled land then?

Alternattiva Demokratika agrees with the proposal to establish a cut-off date for cars that run on petrol and diesel. Indeed in its manifesto at the last general election,  with a strategic zero carbon future for the Maltese Islands in mind, it put forward this specific proposal to the electorate: that internal combustion engine cars should be off our roads in 20 years time, that is by 2037. Alternattiva Demokratika was the only political party in Malta that took this clear stand before the general election.

In view of the Prime Minister’s declaration of the 10 September 2017, the logical conclusion is that new fuel stations are not required. An immediate moratorium would be in order and, in fact, we should be on the eve of the start of a countdown that would rid us of cars that run on petrol or diesel. Consequently, there will be no need for fuel stations in the not too distant future: reducing from the current 80 to none, when the phase-out – which is still subject to public consultation – is fully implemented.

We do not need new fuel stations: what we need is that existing fuel stations are closed down without their being replaced. The 20-year time-frame proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika in its 2017 electoral manifesto was considered to be reasonable, sufficient and in line with similar policy decisions taken in other countries. This time-frame was deemed sufficient to develop the required national infrastructure for electric-powered cars. It was also deemed to be a reasonable length of time to permit those who own vehicles running on internal combustion engines to adjust to the development of a new reality without petrol or diesel.

Various other countries have decided on – or are considering – the elimination of internal combustion engine driven vehicles from their roads. These include Norway and the Netherlands (both by 2025), Germany (by 2030), France, the United Kingdom, India and China (all by 2040). Others will soon follow.

The Planning Authority continues to ignore this policy development by applying the 2015 Fuel Service Stations Policy robotically. This policy establishes a maximum permissible size of 3000 square metres but the Authority did not consider it appropriate to scale down any of the proposals submitted for its consideration as all the approved stations cover the maximum size possible. As a result, the Planning Authority is churning out permits for massive commercial areas outside the development zone.

This is land speculation at its worst and the Planning Authority has no one to blame but itself and is a threat to future generations. This is the point made by the protestors from Graffiti and Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent last Thursday, when they stormed a Planning Authority Board meeting considering a development application for a new fuel station at Luqa.

We have a Planning Authority which doesn’t give two hoots about the environment and our quality of life.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 April 2018

 

Salvajna binja fl-Imsida mit-twaqqiegħ

 

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għadha kif infurmatni li ż-żewġ applikazzjonijiet biex jtwaqqgħu żewġt idjar minn ringiela ta’ djar simili fi Triq it-Torri l-Imsida ġew irtirati.

Ġlieda li għamilt f’isem residenti tat-triq li ma ħamlux li jkompli dan l-istraġi.

Ilna għaddejjin minn Ottubru tal-2015 niġġieldu l-ewwel kontra applikazzjoni waħda u imbagħad kontra it-tieni waħda. Fl-aħħar ikkonvinċejna lill-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li l-binja kien jeħtieġilha protezzjoni.

L-aħħar pass kien illum li ġejt infurmat li l-applikazzjonijiet kienu qed jiġu rtirati.

Ħajr lil kull min ta sehmu biex għamilna dan il-pass żgħir il-quddiem. Prosit.

Il-qerda madwarna, dejjem tikber

L-applikazzjoni bin-numru PA11067/17 għall-iżvilupp ta’ faċilitá oħra ta’ McDonalds fil-periferija ta’ Ħaż-Żabbar huwa attentat ieħor biex tiġi mnaqqra l-art li nirreferu għaliha bħala ODZ. S’issa nimmaġina li kważi kulħadd jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru Outside (O) the Development (D) Zone (Z). Jiġifieri barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp. Dan ifisser li dik l-art, preferibilment m’għandiex tkun żviluppata.

Imma s-sit li ntagħżel biex possibilment ikun żviluppat fuq faċilitá ta’ McDonalds qiegħed f’żona li żviluppat bil-mod fil-passat. Meta l-Pjani Lokali ġew imfassla u ppubblikati tnax-il sena ilu, is-sit fi Triq Salvu Pulis ġewwa Ħaż-Żabbar u l-iżvilupp ta’ madwaru kien definit bħala żona residenzjali rurali (rural settlement): li jfisser li kienet żona residenzjali barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp imma li m’għandiex titħalla tikber.

Lil hinn mill-lingwaġġ tekniku għandna nagħmlu kull sforz biex art barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp tibqa’ mhux sviluppata u li fejn diġa hemm l-iżvilupp, dan ma jikbirx. Il-pjani lokali huma supplimentati minn biżibilju ta’ regoli u linji gwida li sfortunatament, imma ċertament b’mod intenzjonat u ikkalkulat, joħolqu kuntrasti jew kunflitti li jwasslu għall-konklużjoni loġika li kważi kollox hu b’xi mod ġustifikabbli.

Li jkun hemm faċilitá ta’ McDonalds fuq l-art li ntagħżlet f’Ħaż-Żabbar żgur li mhux kompatibbli man-natura residenzjali tal-inħawi. Imma xejn ma nkun sorpriż jekk ikollna ftit akrobazija ta’ livell olimpiku li twassal għall-approvazzjoni tal-applikazzjoni. Il-problema li għandhom numru mhux żgħir ta’ dawk li qed jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet fl-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar hi li huma nieqsa minn kull sensibilitá ambjentali jew dwar l-ippjanar (ta’ l-użu ta’ l-art). Din l-insensittivitá hi l-kawża tal-qerda bil-mod tal-kampanja u tal-identitá tal-lokalitajiet residenzjali żgħar bil-konsegwenza tal-ħolqien ta’ uġiegħ soċjali kbir.

Ħarsa anke ħafifa lejn il-lista ta’ dawk il-każijiet li għamlu l-aħbarijiet tagħtina idea tajba ta’ dak li wassal għall-qagħda preżenti. Il-problema bażika hi dawk l-irġiel u n-nisa li ntagħżlu biex jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dawk tal-lum m’humiex wisq differenti minn tal-bieraħ: (b’xi eċċezzjonijiet) ġeneralment ma jiswew għal xejn, avolja xi minn daqqiet uħud jippruvaw ikunu raġjonevoli.

Hu rari ħafna li jkun hemm xi deċiżjoni li tkun ser taqbżilhom: pereżempju dik dwar il-pompa tal-petrol u d-dijsil fi Triq is-Salini fil-Magħtab. Ir-regoli dwar kif jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet huma mfassla biex jassiguraw li meta jkun hemm min jażżarda jaqbes il-linja, b’mod kważi awtomatiku, jiskatta proċess ta’ awto-difiża tas-sistema: il-vot ma jittieħidtx dak il-ħin iżda fis-seduta ta’ wara. Dakinnhar imbagħad ikun possibli li jissejħu r-riżervi (dawk li bosta drabi ma jattendux għal-laqgħat) biex b’hekk fis-siegħa tal-prova jkun hemm kulħadd. Ikun hemm biżżejjed ħin biex dawk li jdumu jew ibatu biex jifhmu jiftħu ftit moħħhom u jikkonvinċu ruħhom. Imbagħad ikun hemm maġġoranza li tista’ tagħmel xogħolha bil-kumditá.

Dan kollu ħoloq ostaklu istituzzjonali doppju kontra l-ħarsien tal-ambjent. Kien speċifikament maħluq għal dan l-iskop minn min kiteb l-Att tal-2016 dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp. B’dan il-mod hemm kontroll istituzzjonali kontra dawk li kapaċi (anke jekk rari jażżardaw) jaħsbu b’moħħhom. Hi l-mewt bil-mod tal-kampanja u l-wirt ambjentali tagħna. Mhux biss f’ Ħaż-Żabbar, iżda madwar il-gżejjer tagħna.

Uħud minn dawk li jgorru u kontinwament jimlew il-gurnali, inkluż dawk elettroniċi, bil-fehmiet tagħhom jeħtieġilhom jikkunsidraw is-sehem tagħhom f’dan kollu. Għandhom jikkunsidraw jekk huma stess ikkontribwewx biex kibret il-froġa billi repetutament eleġġew li dawk li kewsu fil-borma.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum – Il-Ħadd 25 ta’ Frar 2018

Fast food, slow death

Planning application with reference number PA 11067/17 for the development of a new McDonalds outlet on the outskirts of Żabbar is one of the latest attempts to nibble at our ODZ land. As readers are aware, the letters “ODZ” stand for Outside the Development Zone, meaning that the land in question should ideally not be developed at all.

However, the site selected for the possible development of the McDonalds fast food chain outlet lies in an area that has been slowly developed over the years. When the Local Plans were finalised 12 years ago, the site at Salvu Pulis Street in Żabbar and the surrounding development were defined as an ODZ (rural) settlement: meaning that it was an existing residential development outside the development zone that was to be contained and not allowed to spread any further.

Beyond the technical jargon, ODZ land should remain outside the development zone. The Local Plans have been supplemented by a myriad of additional policies and guidelines which unfortunately, but clearly intentionally, create so many policy contrasts and conflicts that it would not be amiss to conclude that practically anything can be justified on the basis of existing policy.

Having a McDonalds outlet in the chosen site at Żabbar is not compatible with the residential nature of the area, but I would not be surprised at all if another planning somersault of Olympic proportions leads to the approval of this application. The problem with most of the decision-takers at the Planning Authority is that they have little, if any, planning or environmental sense. This insensitivity is contributing to the slow and painful death of our countryside as well as that of our small settlements.

Just go slowly through the list of cases which have made it to the front pages of our newspapers and you will get a good idea of what has slowly but surely led to the current state of affairs. The basic problem is the men and women selected to be the decision-makers. The present ones are not much different from the previous ones: (although with some exceptions) generally they are useless. Some of them occasionally try to be reasonable.

Very rarely, a reasonable decision threatens the current order of things and looks likely to slip out: as the recent case on the Magħtab fuel station. The decision-taking rules are designed to trigger an automatic self-defence mechanism against those who dare overstep their brief: the definite decision is postponed to the next sitting. It is then possible to call in the reserves to vote and the habitual absentees turn up, thereby ensuring a full house at the next Board meeting. There is also sufficient time to convince those who may have “misunderstood” matters and dared speak their mind. It is then possible to ensure that the majority falls in line.

This has created an institutional double hurdle against the environment and its protection. It is specifically designed to be so by the author of the 2016 Development Planning Act, clearly intended to introduce an institutional check on those who dare sing from a different hymn sheet from the one available. It is the slow death of our countryside and our environmental heritage – not just at Ħaż-Żabbar, but all over the islands.

Some of those who grumble and fill the comments sections of our newspapers with their views need to consider whether they have contributed to all this by repeatedly electing those who have designed this mess.

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 February 2018

Common sense at Buleben

The farmers at Buleben have been served with an evacuation order because the land they have tilled for generations is required to make way for the construction of new factories. We are told that our economy needs the land for factories. We also need our fields for agriculture and too much has already been lost!

We have been there before. One hectare after another is being gobbled up by concrete or tarmac. At Buleben, they want to enlarge the industrial estate. In other localities, roads, new residential development or hotels are planned instead of protecting agricultural land. Lately, we gave witnessed a never ending list of applications for petrol stations. There also seems to be an on-going competition of high-rise development: contrasting phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes.

Undeveloped land is under continuous siege.

In this specific case, the government through Malta Industrial Parks Limited is the developer and, like some of the other developers, at times it too tries to ride roughshod over one and all.

Do we consider this as progress? We need to stop and reflect on the consequences of the considerable damage which is piling up. Is anybody considering these impacts?

The expansion of the industrial estate was planned many years ago, as far back as the late 1960s when the then newly set up Malta Development Corporation embarked on the development of industrial estates. Fortunately, not all land available was then developed. However, agricultural rents from farmers in the area have not been accepted since then. They have now received their marching orders and must be gone within one month!

Ta’ Buleben, was always considered as an extremely fertile agricultural area. Erin Serracino Inglott in his dictionary Miklem Malti explains that the word Buleben means “the owner of herds producing large quantities of milk”. When agriculture was the principal economic activity, it was of paramount importance to be able to farm land which yielded abundant harvests.

The land at Buleben is owned by the government. It can argue that there is insufficient space for existing industrial estates to expand. The government could also inform us that an industrial estate which could have been put to use instead of the Buleben one was that of Ricasoli. But in the meantime, the Ricasoli Industrial Estate was given over for speculation by a previous government which ignored the need for more space for industrial use. Such reasoning would be correct. However pointing at yesterday’s serious mistakes to try to justify today’s shortcomings would not solve anything. We are still shouldered with the responsibility to take care of what’s left of society’s assets.

This is what the Zejtun NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun led by Architect Reuben Abela is doing. Even Żejtun requires and deserves protection. It is definitely a step forward that more of our fellow Maltese are voicing their concerns about protecting our national heritage.

As emphasised by Wirt iż-Żejtun, it is possible to address the need to provide more space for factories without taking up more agricultural land. We should take note that the Local Plan for the South, approved twelve years ago, included a declaration on the need to provide protection to agricultural land in the surroundings that contain a large number of protected carob trees which have graced the area for possibly hundreds of years.

It would be pertinent if we remember that  Punic remains were discovered in the Buleben area some years ago and it would be realistic to expect that more archeological remains could be uncovered if more land is disturbed.

Another important consideration concerns the proximity of the proposed industrial estate extension to the residential area of Ġebel San Martin at Żejtun. The proposed factories will be too close to the residential area. I have not seen the drawings of the proposed development, as they have not been made available. However, NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun is on record as stating that only a few tens of metres would actually separate the residential from the industrial.

When one considers that the existing industrial estate is already a cause of nuisance, acoustic primarily, throughout the day, this signifies not only that this nuisance will increase but that it would also be made worse.

At the time of writing this article, Members of Parliament elected on behalf of the Labour Party from the Third Electoral District (which incorporates Żejtun) have declared that the government is in listening mode and is considering alternative sites. This is a good step forward. It is always appropriate to ensure that common sense is in charge. But this also means that the proposal as made was not sufficiently analysed before the planning stage was concluded.

If the proposal is not scrapped, another green lung, this time around Żejtun, will be lost. It is useless to complain that the young generation is barely interested in agriculture if consecutive governments treat farmers in this manner.

Our land needs protection from excessive development. If the Buleben proposal is not discarded at the earliest we may soon see our last carob tree!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 February 2018

published in The Independent on Sunday : 11 February 2018