Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta: nipproteġuha

 

Ministri tal-Gvern, u ta’ madwarhom, qieshom qegħdin fil-kju għall-prosit wara li tħabbar li Ta’ Qali ser ikun estiż biex ikun l-ikbar spazju miftuħ f’Malta. Park Nazzjonali, qalulna. Sal-ħin li qed nikteb għadu mhux ċar x’inhu propost eżattament, avolja l-fatt fih innifsu li l-ispazji miftuħa aċċessibli għal kulħadd ser jiżdiedu hu pass posittiv u li hu inkoraġġanti.

Huwa biss biż-żmien li nistgħu nsiru nafu jekk din l-aħbar hix intenzjonata biex tostor azzjonijiet oħra, bħal, pereżempju, l-qerda ta’ Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta. Ninsab infurmat li din il-possibilità, li Villa Gollcher tinqerd u flokha jkun żviluppat xi ħaġa oħra, ġiet diskussa minn kandidat tal-Partit Laburista għall-Kunsill Lokali tal-Mosta waqt laqgħa b’attendenza miżera li saret għall-komunità tan-negożju fil-Mosta. Speċifikament issemmiet il-possibilità li fuq sit li effettivament hu protett ikun ipprovdut parkeġġ għal 500 karozza!

Villa Gollcher qiegħda fil-qalba urbana tal-Mosta b’kejl superfiċjali ta’ madwar 13,000 metru kwadru. Il-parti l-kbira tas-sit hi okkupata minn ġnien mimli b’siġar taċ-ċitru. Villa Gollcher mhix skedata. Imma kont sorpriż meta identifikajt li hemm protezzjoni permezz tal-policy CG09 tal-pjan lokali għaċ-Ċentru ta’ Malta li kien approvat fl-2006. Mhux normali li nsibu sorpriżi bħal dawn fil-pjani lokali għax ġeneralment dawn kienu użati biex ikun immassakrat il-wirt mibni tagħna.

Il-Pjan Lokali jenfasizza li siti bħal Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta, bi ġnien imdaqqas, identifikati bħala spażji mhux mibnija bejn il-bini, għandhom ikunu mħarsa. Il-pjan lokali għaldaqstant jipprovdi li m’għandhomx ikunu kkunsidrati proposti biex isir żvilupp fuq dawn is-siti li bħala riżultat tiegħu jinħolqu binjiet separati, residenzjali jew mhux, u dan inkluż garaxxijiet għall-karozzi. L-unika possibiltajiet li jistgħu jkunu kkunsidrati huma dawk li jikkonċernaw xogħol żgħir immirat biex jikkonserva u/jew jirrestawra dawn it-tip ta’ propjetajiet fiż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana. Jista’ jkun hemm il-possibilità ukoll għal żidiet żgħar kompatibbli mar-regoli għaż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana imma jidher li hu possibli li Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta insalvawha.

Dejjem hemm il-logħob tal-iżviluppaturi, pereżempju, li ma jiħdux ħsieb il-bini biex tiġrilu l-ħsara u eventwalment ma jibqa’ xejn x’ikun protett! Biex nevitaw dawn l-affarijiet għandna ninsistu mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar biex tagħti kont ta’ egħmilha. Dan billi tassigura li sidien il-propjetà ma jippruvawx jonqsu mill-obbligi tagħhom biex jirnexxielhom jevitaw milli jintlaħqu l-miri tal-pjan lokali intenzjonati biex ikunu protetti ż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana.

Jiena infurmat li minkejja dan kollu, diġa ġie iffirmat konvenju biex tinbiegħ Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta, u dan soġġett li jinħareġ permess ta’ żvilupp mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għal svilupp massiċċ. Qed jissemmew miljuni kbar ta’ euro. Ilkoll nafu x’kapaċi jagħmlu l-flus!

Hemm ħafna ġonna mdaqqsa li jeħtieġilhom u jixirqilhom ikunu protetti fiż-żoni urbani tagħna li qegħdin fil-periklu li jkunu ssagrifikati u jkunu soġġetti għal żvilupp. Biex dan iseħħ irid ikun hemm il-kompliċità tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, għax il-bqija dan ma jistax iseħħx. Huwa dover tagħna li nassiguraw li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tkun kontinwament attenta biex dan ikun evitat f’kull ħin. L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għandha tkun iffukata biex twettaq dmirha ħalli l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art ikun servizz li minnu tibbenefika l-komunità kollha.

Forsi, min jaf, il-ħarsien tal-wirt mibni tagħna ikun xi ftit iktar faċli milli hu illum.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Mejju 2019

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Hands off Mosta’s Villa Gollcher

Government Ministers, and hangers-on, are queuing to share credit for the announcement regarding Ta’ Qali’s extension into the largest open space in Malta. A National Park. At the time of writing, it is not at all clear as to what is being proposed -even though the number of increasing accessible open spaces is laudable.

Time will tell whether this announcement will be used to camouflage other action, such as – for example – the chopping up of Villa Gollcher in Mosta. I am informed that this possibility, the demolition of Villa Gollcher and the redevelopment of the site, was recently discussed by a Labour Party Mosta Local Council candidate during a sparsely attended meeting for the Mosta business community. Specifically mentioned was the possibility of providing parking for 500 cars on what is currently a protected site: Villa Gollcher.

Villa Gollcher lies within the urban core of Mosta. It has a superficial area of around 13,000 square metres. Most of the area is taken up by a large garden full of citrus trees. Villa Gollcher is not scheduled. However, I was surprised to identify its protection through Policy CG09 of the Malta Central Local Plan which was approved in 2006. A pleasant surprise – which I am not accustomed to finding in the Local Plans as they have generally been used time and again to place our built heritage on the development chopping board.

The Local Plan, in fact, underlines the special provisions applicable in respect of sites which, like Villa Gollcher in Mosta, are identified as open space enclaves. In this respect, it is stated in the Local Plan, that the Planning Authority “will not consider any development or redevelopment proposals that create new independent residential/non-residential units, including garages for the parking of vehicles.” The only possible developments which may be considered are very minor ones which are aimed at converting/restoring this, and similar properties, in urban conservation areas. There may be room for minor additions compatible with Urban Conservation rules but I believe that – on the basis of the above-quoted policy – it is possible to save Mosta’s Villa Gollcher.

Of course there are the usual tricks which developers play, such as facilitating the dilapidation process through a lack of maintenance. In this respect, we should hold the Planning Authority to account: with appropriate measures it should ensure that owners of properties do not try to successfully stultify the Local Plan policies intended to protect the character of our urban conservation areas.

I am informed that, notwithstanding all this, a promise of sale has been entered into respect of Villa Gollcher, subject to the condition of the issuance of development permits for a large-scale redevelopment. Millions of euros are in play and at stake and we all know that money talks.

Many large gardens worthy of protection in our old urban areas are at risk of being sacrificed on the development chopping board. This will only be possible with the complicity of the Planning Authority and it is our duty to ensure that the Planning Authority is kept on its toes in order that this is avoided. It should be focused on carrying out its duties in ensuring that land use planning is a service from which the whole community stands to gain.

Maybe, who knows, protecting our heritage would be an easier task than it is today.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 May 2019

L-aħdar: sens komun ambjentali

Iktar minn sentejn ilu, nhar l-20 ta’ Marzu 2017, il-Kunsill Eżekuttiv tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar irrifjuta applikazzjoni għal kontroll tal-iżvilupp intenzjonata biex tistabilixxi x’jista’ jinbena fuq art f’ Ta’ Durumblat il-Mosta, b’kejl ta’ 38,600 metru kwadru.

Ma kienitx sorpriża meta iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa din l-applikazzjoni reġgħet tfaċċat fil-forma ta’ applikazzjoni ġdida fuq art ftit ikbar fid-daqs, din id-darba 40,500 metru kwadru. Il-proposta hi biex iż-żona kollha tkun żviluppata f’waħda residenzjali b’binjiet ta’ erba’ sulari, b’waħda minnhom parzjalment taħt il-livell tat-triq.

Il-ġlieda biex inħarsu l-ambjent jeħtieġ li nġedduha kuljum billi l-forzi tar-rebgħa qegħdin f’posizzjoni b’saħħitha li jibqgħu jippruvaw sakemm iġibuha żewġ.

Għadna taħt l-effett tal-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjioni li kien implimentat taħt id-direzzjoni tal-ex Ministru tal-Ambjent tal-PN George Pullicino bir-riżultat li madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ) ingħataw għall-iżvilupp. Dakinnhar, fl-2006, l-Opposizzjoni Laburista kienet ivvutat kontra din l-inizjattiva, imma hekk kif ħadet is-setgħa, konvenjentement insiet kollox. Huwa biss issa li bosta qed jirrealizzaw kemm hi kbira l-ħsara ambjentali li ser tkun ikkawżata minn dan l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni. Sfortunatament, ir-rimedji possibli għal din il-ħsara huma limitati. Is-sitwazzjoni hi agħar minħabba li l-Gvern, bi strateġija ċara ma jaġixxix. Għax hu konvenjenti li jistax jwaħħal fil-Gvern ta’ qablu għal din il-mandra.

Il-punt hu li ma għandna l-ebda ħtieġa ta’żvilupp massiċċ fuq art verġni, bil-konsegwenza li tisparixxi iktar art agrikola fil-periferija taż-żoni urbani tagħna, bil-possibiltà li jingħaqdu fiżikament il-lokalitajiet. Il-mistoqsijiet li qamu sentejn ilu meta konna ffaċċjati bl-applikazzjoni oriġinali għadhom hemm, mhux imwieġba. Dawn ġew injorati mill-iżviluppaturi u dan minħabba li l-applikazzjoni l-ġdida hi identika għal dik oriġinali.

Għalfejn iridu żvilupp daqshekk intensiv? Xi studji hemm li jkejlu l-impatt tal-proposti ta’ żvilupp fuq l-infrastruttura tal-inħawi? Iż-żona li hu propost li tkun żviluppata hi sostanzjali. Zona li kien jagħmel sens li tkun pulmun aħdar għall-Mosta ser tispiċċa mibnija b’mijiet ta’ residenzi u garaxxijiet.

Meta għandna Gvern li mhux kapaċi jieħu posizzjoni ċara kontra żvilupp esaġerat, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma tantx għandha fejn tiċċaqlaq u dan billi d-deċiżjoni bażika favur l-iżvilupp esaġerat ilha li ttieħdet mill-Parlament sa mill-2006. Li baqa’ li jkun deċiż huwa n-natura tal-iżvilupp permissibli, inkluż jekk ikunx permess bini intensiv inkella bini baxx b’ħafna spazji miftuħin madwaru.

L-iżvilupp propost fil-Mosta m’huwiex sostenibbli għax ma nistgħux nibqgħu nitilfu iktar raba’ bla bżonn.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi l-uniku partit politiku li konsistentment oppona l-pjan ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni u emfasizza l-ħsara ambjentali li dan kien ser jikkawża fil-lokalitajiet tagħna. Dawk li jridu jħaxxnu bwiethom, ovvjament jaħsbuha mod ieħor. Dawk li jiddeċiedu, min-naħa l-oħra, b’mod konsistenti injoraw l-impatti ambjentali.
Din il-problema mhix waħda limitata għall-Mosta, imma hi mifruxa ma’ Malta u Għawdex. Kelli l-opportunità li niġbed l-attenzjoni għal diversi eżempji f’lokalitajiet oħra bħall-Marsaxlokk, il-Mellieħa, Ħ’Attard, Pembroke, San Ġiljan, tas-Sliema u diversi lokalitajiet oħra, fejn ir-rgħiba tħalliet issaltan.

Din hi kampanja favur is-sens komun, għax is-sens komun ambjentali hu aħdar. Huwa d-difiża tal-ġid komuni. Il-ħarsien tar-raba’ minn żvilupp mhux neċessarju hu essenzjali għax ma nistgħux nibqgħu nitilfu iktar art fi ġlieda mar-rgħiba. Hu mod kif inqegħdu fil-prattika dak li nipprietkaw dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli.

Meta jkollok daqshekk politiċi jipprietkaw kemm jemmnu fil-prinċipji tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli diffiċli li wieħed jifhem kif Alternattiva Demokratika hi prattikament waħedha fuq il-front politiku li jopponi l-iżvilupp esaġerat.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent hu ferm iktar minn eserċizzju ta’ tindif. Huwa dejjem tajjeb li jinġabar l-iskart mormi mal-kosta jew fil-kampanja. Li topponi l-iżvilupp esaġerat huwa tindif preventiv tal-periferiji urbani tagħna. Ir-residenti jeħtieġu l-appoġġ. Imma anke huma jeħtieġ li jifhmu li jekk ser jivvutaw bħas-soltu l-affarijiet mhux ser jinbidlu.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Ilum: Il-Ħadd 28 t’April 2019

Environmental common sense is green in colour

Over two years ago, on 20 March 2017, the Planning Authority’s Executive Council threw out a Planning Control application intended to determine the nature of permissible development in a stretch of land at Ta’ Durumblat Mosta having an area of 38,600 square metres.

It was no surprise that, earlier this week, the application was resubmitted to the Planning Authority in respect of a slightly larger area in the region of approximately 40,500 square metres. The proposal is to develop the whole site into a residential area subject to a proposed height limitation of three floors and a semi-basement.

The battle to defend our environment needs to be renewed every day, as the forces of greed are well placed to continue with their endeavours, until they succeed in gaining acceptance of their proposals.

The rationalisation exercise was carried out under the direction of former PN Environment Minister George Pullicino. It has resulted in around two million square metres of land outside the development zone (OZD) being given up for development – and the full impact is yet to be felt.

In 2006, the then Labour Opposition voted against this initiative, yet it conveniently forgot all about its stand when it was elected into office and it is only now that many are starting to realise the significant environmental impact of the rationalisation exercise. Unfortunately, the possibilities to remedy the damage in store are very limited and this limitation to act is further compounded by a government which (strategically) fails to act, as it is most convenient to be able to point fingers at your PN predecessors in government.

The point at issue is whether we need further large-scale development on virgin land, with the result of gobbling up more agricultural land on the periphery of our urban areas which will potentially merging neighbouring localities.

The queries raised two years ago – when the original application was submitted – are still unanswered. These queries have been ignored by the developers as the application that has been resubmitted is practically identical to the original one.

Why are the developers proposing so intensive a development? Do studies exist to assess the impacts which this proposal will have on the infrastructure of the area – which is substantial? Hundreds of residential units and garages will be constructed in an area when it would make more sense for it to remain as a green belt around Mosta.

Faced with a government which is reluctant to act against over-development, the Planning Authority does not have much elbow room for manoeuvre because, for all intents and purposes, the basic decision in favour of over-development has already been taken by Parliament – way back in 2006. What’s left to be decided is the nature and extent of the development. Whether, for example, the development would be intensive as proposed in the application or else low-density, such as limited to bungalows with a 25 per cent site coverage

The proposed development in Mosta is certainly not sustainable, as we cannot afford to lose more land to the current development spree.

Alternattiva Demokratika has been the only political party to continuously and consistently point out that the implementation of the rationalisation exercise will cause environmental havoc in our local communities. Those seeking to line their pockets obviously think otherwise. The decision-makers have also been consistent in ignoring environmental impacts.

This problem is not limited to Mosta but is spread all over the islands. I have had the opportunity to point out various other instances in Marsaxlokk, Mellieħa, Attard, Pembroke, St Julians, Sliema and various other areas where, once again, greed has won the day.

This is a campaign for commonsense to prevail, as environmental common sense is inevitably green in colour, in defence of the ecology and the common good. Protecting agricultural land from unnecessary development is essential as we cannot keep losing more land to greed. It is also the only practical way to implement sustainable development.

With so many political personalities proclaiming their adherence to basic principles of sustainable development, I fail to understand how Alternattiva Demokratika is practically on its own on the political front in consistently opposing over-development.

Protecting the environment entails much more than clean-ups. It is laudable to clean up the mess of rubbish accumulated along the coast or in the countryside but at this point in time campaigning against over-development is an exercise in preventively cleaning up the periphery of our urban areas. Residents need our support but they must, however, also note that if they vote as usual, they will be condemning themselves to more of the same.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 28 April 2019

Bejn prezz u valur

Kien Oscar Wilde li madwar mitt sena ilu kiteb li hawn uħud li jafu l-prezz ta’ kollox imma m’għandhomx l-iċken idea tal-valur ta’ dak li hemm madwarhom. Illum l-affarijiet huma ferm iktar soffistikati minn hekk. Għandna studji kkumplikati li janalizzaw il-benefiċċju miksub ikkomparat mal-infieq li jsir u studji dwar impatti ta’ kull xorta li bihom tista’ tipprova tiġġustifika dak li trid, dejjem sakemm tkun ippreparat biex tħallas minn imnieħrek għal dan il-privileġġ.

Illum il-ġurnata prattikament kollox hu ridott għal valur monetarju. Meta nitkellmu dwar spiża, prattikament kulħadd jifhem nefqa f’termini ta’ flus. Li titkellem dwar spiża ambjentali jew spiża soċjali donnu li hi xi ħaġa stramba, qisu diffiċli biex tinftiehem.

L-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin dejjem trid iktar. B’pariri minn xi professjonisti, inkluż eks uffiċjali anzjani tal-ippjanar, issa l-iżviluppaturi qed jippreżentaw it-talbiet tagħhom billi jilgħabuha tal-vittmi tar-regolamentazzjoni. Imma fis-sustanza t-talbiet tagħhom huma dejjem l-istess: biex jimmassimizzaw il-frott tar-rebgħa.

Kważi fl-istess ħin sirna nafu li l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija tal-Ilma żarmat. Okkazjoni bħal din hi dejjem waħda ta’ dieqa. Imma r-realtà tibqa’ li f’Malta hawn ftit wisq attivisti ambjentali f’numru ta’ għaqdiet ambjentali li mhux wieħed żgħir. Forsi l-għaqdiet ambjentali jirrealizzaw illi l-multiplikazzjoni tagħhom ma tagħmilx ġid lill-kawża li jmexxu l-quddiem. Lanqas ma jagħmel ġid li dawn l-għaqdiet iħarsu lejn il-konsulenti tal-iżviluppaturi l-kbar huma u jfittxu tmexxija ġdida. Il-kredibilità tagħhom, naħseb, li tista’ tieħu daqqa ta’ ħarta.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent hu għadma iebsa. Bosta ma jirrealizzawx li l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna jiddependi minn din il-ħidma. Ir-riżultati tal-ħidma favur il-ħarsien tal-ambjent, jew in-nuqqas tagħha, jidhru ġeneralment fuq tul ta’ żmien, ma jidhrux malajr. Dan inevitabilment iwassal biex ma tidhirx b’mod ċar ir-rabta bejn il-kawża u l-effett u bħala  konsegwenza ma jkunx hemm biżżejjed interess f’dak li qed jiġri, sakemm ikun tard wisq.

Illum bosta qed jirrealizzaw x’inhuma l-impatti konsiderevoli tal-ezerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni tal-art li nieda l-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi fl-2006 li bħala riżultat tiegħu madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art madwar dawn il-gżejjer saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp mil-lum għal għada. Ftit jiftakru li l-Partit Laburista, dakinnhar, kien ħa posizzjoni kontra l-proposta ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni u kien anke ivvota kontra tagħha fil-Parlament. Illum il-ġurnata, imma, l-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern ħalla kollox kif kien, għax, wara kollox, hu komdu li meta kkritikat tkun tista’ twaħħal f’ ta’ qablek u b’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali tiddikjara li ma tista’ tagħmel xejn, għax sadanittant hemm min laħaq rabba’ l-ġust!

Din l-aħħar manuvra tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi li jilgħabuha tal-vittmi mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida. Kif spjega dak li kien Direttur tal-Ippjanar, u li illum mid-dehra hu konsulent tal-Assoċjazzjoni, l-Perit Stephen Farrugia, l-proposta tinvolvi tpartit ta’ arja f’żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana ma drittijiet ta’ żvilupp iktar vantaġġjuż xi mkien ieħor. Bażikament it-talba tal-Assoċjazzjoni hi biex il-membri tagħha jkunu kkumpensati għar-restrizzjonijiet fiż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana kif ukoll fil-konfront ta’ bini protett. Kif intqal f’artiklu ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa mill-President tal-Assoċjazzjoni Sandro Chetcuti t-talba hi biex dak li mhux jitħallew jiżviluppaw jibqa’ għandhom bi dritt li jkun trasferit fuq art oħra fejn ma hemmx l-istess restrizzjonijiet. S’issa ma ippubblikawx dettalji imma hu ovvju li l-proposta qed tfittex li jinħolqu ammont sostanzjali ta’ drittijiet ta’ żvilupp li jkompli jżid mal-madra li diġa hawn.

L-Assoċjazzjoni bil-proposta tagħha qed tmur kontra dak li hu bażiku fl-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art għax qed tassumi b’mod żbaljat li kull sid ta’ propjetà għandu dritt ugwali biex jiżviluppa rrispettivament mil-livell ta’ protezzjoni applikabbli. Hi proposta li tfisser biss taħwid, iktar milli diġa hawn.

X’baqa’ jiġri?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 24 ta’ Marzu 2019

Knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing

It was Oscar Wilde who over 100 years ago coined the expression on “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing”. Today matters are more sophisticated, with “cost benefit analysis” and impact studies of all sorts which seek to justify practically anything, as long as you can pay for the privilege.

Reducing everything to a monetary value seems to be the order of the day. When we speak of costs, we are only understood as having spoken about financial outlays. Environmental costs or social costs seem to be something out of this world: apparently, they are so difficult to comprehend.

The Malta Developers Association wants more. With advice from professionals, including former senior land use planning regulators, they are now sugar-coating their demands. Essentially, however they are still making the same point: they are seeking to maximise the fruits of greed.

Almost simultaneously, we get to know that the Malta Water Association has closed shop. It is always a sad day when an eNGO disbands, but the reality is that we have too few environmental activists and too many environmental organisations on this little rock. It is about time that all environmental NGOs come together, as the proliferation of eNGOs is not doing the environment lobby any good. Nor is it helpful to the environment cause to co-opt former advisors of mega-developers to lead eNGOs. Credibility may, in my view, be at stake.

Protecting the environment is a tough job because not many realise that our quality of life is dependent on it. The results of environment protection – or the lack of it – are generally only evident in the long term as they are not easily identifiable immediately. This inevitably leads to a lack of connection between cause and effect and consequently to a lack of interest in the issues which matter, until it is too late.

Today, many people are realising the considerable impacts of the rationalisation exercise on land use embarked upon by the Lawrence Gonzi administration in 2006, as a result of which around two million square metres of land spread around the Maltese islands became suitable for development overnight. Few remember that, at the time, the Labour Party had then taken a stand against the proposal, even voting against it in Parliament. Today, however, Labour leaves the rationalisation proposals in place because, when faced with rampant over-development, it is most convenient to be able to continuously shift the blame on your predecessors, sanctimoniously declaring that you cannot do anything about it, as, in the meantime, vested rights have taken root!

The latest MDA land use planning gimmick is a well-known strategy of playing the role of the victims. As explained by the former Director of Planning – now apparently a consultant to the Association, architect Stephen Farrugia – this MDA proposal will involve trading in airspaces in urban conservation areas in order to acquire more advantageous planning rights elsewhere instead. Basically, it is a request by the MDA for its members to be compensated for planning restrictions in Urban Conservation Areas as well as in respect of limitations on the potential development of protected buildings. The MDA seeks the possibility, as stated earlier in an article published this week by its President Sandro Chetcuti, to transfer the potential unused gross floor area from buildings whose development is restricted to areas where it is not. The details are not yet out but it is obvious that this proposal seeks to create a substantial amount of development rights which will further increase the unbridled development to which we have become so accustomed to.

The MRA proposal negates the very basics of land use planning as it assumes that every property owner has an equal right to develop, irrespective of the level of protection afforded to specific properties. In practise the MDA proposal will signify deregulation and the sooner it is shot down, the better.

What next?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 24 October 2019

Pjani Lokali tal-lastku

Meta l-Pjani Lokali kienu approvati, kien l-ewwel darba li f’Malta sar attentat biex ikun regolat l-iżvilupp fuq livell lokali bis-serjetà. Il-ħtieġa kienet ilha tinħass is-snin. L-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art b’mod professjonali, f’Malta, beda fl-1989 bil-proċess iwassal għall-ħolqien tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Għall-bidu, kif jispjega b’mod ċar fil-pjan ta’ struttura, kien ippjanat li jkun hemm 24 pjan lokali għall-Malta u Għawdex, imma imbagħad spiċċajna b’sebgħa. Ħames Pjani Lokali kienu approvati fl-2006, bit-tnejn l-oħra jkunu approvati iktar kmieni: dak dwar il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk fl-1995 u dak dwar il-Port il-Kbir fl-2002.

Meta l-pjani lokali kienu mfassla, oriġinalment għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika, kienu meqjusa bħala restrittivi għax ftit kienu jħallu lok għal diskrezzjoni. Sa dakinnhar ħadd ma kien għadu fassal il-politika dwar l-użu tal-art b’mod hekk ċar, b’mod li jnaqqas il-lok għall-abbuż kif ukoll il-poter assolut vestit f’persuna waħda:il-politku. Dakinnhar kien hemm resistenza konsiderevoli li l-affarijiet isiru b’dan il-mod. Dan jispjega għaliex dawn il-pjani lokali damu ħafna ma saru. Hija ukoll ir-raġuni li wasslet għal dak li nirreferu għalih bħala l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li bħala riżultat tiegħu meded kbar ta’ art, madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru, fil-parti l-kbira art agrikola, fl-2006, kienu ddikjarati mill-Parlament bħala li tajbin għall-iżvilupp.

Il-pjani lokali huma essenzjalment dokumenti miktuba li fihom hemm spjegata l-politika lokali dwar l-użu tal-art flimkien ma mapep li jillustraw din il-politika. Tul is-snin dawn il-pjani lokali ġew ikkumplimentati b’dokumenti oħra dwar materji speċifiċi. Kważi kollha b’ċertu ammont ta’ kontroversja marbuta magħhom. Dwar dawn ktibt diversi drabi f’dawn il-paġni.

F’Jannar 2013, wara perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni kif trid il-liġi, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kellha f’idejha dokument ieħor li kien approvat: nirreferu għalih bħala l-politka tal-flessibilità. Huwa intitolat : Partial Review of Subsidiary Plans: General Policy relating to Regeneration/Consolidation initiatives. L-iżviluppaturi (u l-periti tagħhom) flimkien mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jinterpretaw dan id-dokument bħala li jagħtihom mano libera biex jiddeċiedu dwar liema huma dawk il-partijiet tal-Pjani Lokali li għandhom jinjoraw.
Sfortunatament uffiċjali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, spiss wisq, jaġixxu qieshom għandhom xi dritt divin li jiddeċiedu dwar liema huma dawk ir-regoli tal-ippjanar li għandhom japplikaw u liema huma dawk li għandhom jinjoraw.

Kaz speċifiku qam quddiem il-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa dwar żvilupp propost fuq biċċa art kbira fil-Mellieħa. Il-Pjan Lokali tal-Majjistral jipprovdi li ma jistgħux jinbnew lukandi fiż-żona residenzjali fejn hemm din l-art. Imma l-uffiċjali tad-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar, friski daqs ħassa, jirreferu għall-politika dwar il-flessibilità bl-addoċċ u jirrakkomandaw li l-lukanda proposta hi aċċettabbli. .

L-applikazzjoni tal-politika dwar il-flessibilità fl-ippjanar hi limitata mill-kundizzjonijiet fid-dokument imsemmi iktar il-fuq. Il-limitazzjoni prinċipali hi li l-flessibilità ma tistax tmur kontra l-linja ġenerali stabilita fil-Pjani Lokali. Għax il-politika dwar l-ippjanar għandha tkun flessibli imma mhux tkun tal-lastku!

Numru ta’ deċiżjonijiet li ħadet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ibbażati fuq din l-interpretazzjoni skorretta tal-politika tal-flessibilità kienu kkontestati fit-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni għall-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar u fil-Qrati u kienu mħassra. Fid-dawl ta’ dawn id-deċiżjonijiet, jiena ma nistax nifhem kif l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma tikkoreġix il-posizzjoni tagħha.

Inizzjalment l-applikazzjoni inkorretta tal-politika tal-flessibilità fl-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art setgħet titqies bħala żball. Imma meta dan l-iżball jibqa’ jkun repetut ma jibqax żball iżda jsir abbuż ta’ poter li għandu jkun indirizzat immedjatament.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 3 ta’ Marzu 2019

The elasticity of the Local Plans

The Local Plans currently in force, when they were approved, were a first serious attempt in these islands to regulate development at a local level. The need had been felt for far too long. Professional land use planning in Malta started in earnest in 1989 with the process leading to the setting up of the Planning Authority.

Originally, as clearly explained in the Structure Plan, it was planned to have 24 local plans for the Maltese Islands, but we ended up with just seven. Five local plans were approved in 2006, with the other two having been approved earlier: the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan in 1995 and the Grand Harbour Local Plan in 2002.

When the local plans were originally drafted for public consultation they were considered as highly restrictive. It was then unheard of to clearly define policy, reducing loopholes and absolute power vested in one person, the politician. There was then considerable resistance to such a course of action. This is the major reason for the long gestation period of these plans. It is also the reason which led to what is known as the rationalisation exercise as a result of which large stretches of land, around two million square metres, mostly agricultural land, was in 2006 declared by Parliament as suitable for development.

Local plans are essentially written statements containing local land use policies and policy maps illustrating the said policies. Over the years the local plans have been buttressed by supplementary guidance with specific policy documents containing a varying degree of controversy, about which I have written extensively in these columns over the years.

In January 2013, after the statutory consultation period, planning policy acquired an additional document, commonly referred to as the flexibility policy. It is entitled: Partial Review of Subsidiary Plans: General Policy relating to Regeneration/Consolidation initiatives. Developers (and their architects) as well as the Planning Authority tend to interpret this policy document as giving them a free hand in determining the extent to which they may depart from provisions of the Local Plans.

Unfortunately, Planning Authority officials tend to assume too often that they have some God-given right to decide which planning policies to apply and which to ignore.

A specific case came before the Planning Authority Board earlier this week relative to a large site in Mellieħa. The North West Local Plan provides that no new hotels can be developed in the residential area of which this site forms part. Yet, invoking the above-quoted flexibility policy officials at the Planning Directorate did not bat an eyelid and recommended that the proposed hotel was acceptable development.

Application of the planning flexibility policy is limited by the conditions set out in the policy, primarily that the general thrust or direction given by specific policies in the Local Plan is not to be superseded. Planning policy may be flexible but it should certainly not be elastic!

A number of decisions taken by the Planning Authority based on such an incorrect interpretation of the flexibility policy have been contested in the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal as well as in Court and were reversed. Faced with such decisions I fail to understand why the Planning Authority does not correct its ways.

Initially the incorrect application of the planning flexibility policy could have been considered as a case of wrongful interpretation of policy. Repetition can only be construed as an abuse of authority and should be dealt with accordingly.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 3 March 2019

Il-kontabilità ……….. taħt l-effett tal-loppju

Il-Kummisarju tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar fl-uffiċċju ta’ l-Ombudsman, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ikkonkluda li mhu affari ta’ ħadd jekk membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jattendux jew le l-laqgħat tal-Bord. Dik biċċa tagħhom: hi responsabbiltà tagħhom dwar kif jaġixxu biex iwettqu r-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom. Meta għaldaqstant, Jacqueline Gili kienet pprovduta bis-servizz ta’ ajruplan privat biex ikun iffaċilitat li hi tattendi għal-laqgħa tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li fiha kienet diskussa u approvata l-monstrosità tal-dB Group f’Pembroke kien hemm indħil mhux permissibli fil-proċeduri tal-istess awtorità.

Is-Sur Johann Buttigieg, Chairman Eżekuttiv tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, ikkonferma pubblikament li d-deċiżjoni li jġib lil Jacqueline Gili bil-ajruplan privat minn Catania, u jeħodha lura Catania biex tkompli tgawdi l-btala mal-familja tagħha, kienet deċiżjoni tiegħu. F’pajjiż fejn il-governanza tajba hi pprattikata, mhux ipprietkata biss, is-Sur Buttigieg kien jirreżenja immedjatament, inkella kien jitkeċċa bla dewmien hekk kif l-aħbar kienet magħrufa pubblikament. Dan apparti mid-dell kbir li nxteħet fuq il-validità tad-deċżjoni li ttieħdet bħala riżultat ta’ dan l-indħil fil-ħidma tal-Bord.
Imma, huwa fatt magħruf li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar mhiex kapaċi tiddeċiedi fuq kaz daqshekk ċar ta’ tmexxija ħażina. M’għandiex il-kuraġġ li taġixxi.

Ma nistgħux nistennew imġieba mod ieħor. Dawk maħtura fl-awtoritajiet pubbliċi huma kkundizzjonati dwar kif iġibu ruħhom mill-mod kif jaraw lill-politiċi li jkunu ħatruhom iġibu ruħhom. U ngħiduha kif inhi: ma tantx għandhom eżempji tajba fuq xiex jimxu.
L-istorja tal-Panama Papers hi waħda relattivament riċenti. Il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat, malli sar jaf li l-Ministru Konrad Mizzi u ċ-Chief of Staff tiegħu Keith Schembri, waqqfu kumpaniji fl-Amerika Ċentrali, fil-Panama, li hi rinomata bħala post fejn taħbi l-flus u tevita t-taxxi, flok ma keċċihom minnufih, qiesu qagħad jiggusthom daqslikieku ma ġara xejn. Dwar x’seta ġara iktar mill-kumpaniji ta’ Mizzi u Schembri u t-tielet kumpanija misterjuża (Egrant), s’issa għad ma nġiebu l-ebda provi. Dan intqal mill-Qrati repetutament, avolja d-deċiżjonijiet tal-Qrati ġew interpretati b’mod li qieshom naddfu lil uħud assoċjati mal-politika minn kull ħtija possibli. Il-fatti huma mod ieħor, kompletament differenti.

S’issa, bla dubju, hemm assenza ta’ provi kredibbli li jindikaw xi ħtija kriminali. Imma ma nistgħux ngħidu l-istess dwar l-imġieba ta’ dawk involuti. Il-provi magħrufa juru bl-iktar mod ċar li tal-inqas hemm imġieba żbaljata u mhix etika u dan minnu nnifsu jiġġustifika sanzjonijiet politiċi.

Dan ma japplikax biss għal dawk il-persuni li huma esposti għall-politika u li issemmew fil-Panama Papers. Japplika ukoll għal xenarji differenti f’kull kamp politiku.

Fuq livell kompletament differenti, jiena diversi drabi għamilt referenza għal tliet rapporti tal-Awditur Ġenerali dwar ir-responsabbiltajiet politiċi ta’ Jason Azzopardi, ilkoll konnessi mal-amministrazzjoni ta’ art pubblika. F’kull wieħed minn dawn it-tliet rapporti l-ex-Ministru Jason Azzopardi kien iċċensurat b’qawwa kbira. Ilkoll niftakru meta f’Ottubru 2017 waqt laqgħa pubblika tal-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-Kontijiet Pubbliċi uffiċjal pubbliku kien xehed li l-ex Ministru Azzopardi kien jaf b’dak kollu li kien għaddej. Imma Jason Azzopardi jibqa’ jilgħabha tal-iblah u jagħmel ta’ birruħu li ma kellux idea dwar dak li kien għaddej madwaru.

L-Opposizzjoni s’issa għadha ma ġegħlitux jerfa’ r-responsabbiltà ta’ għemilu. La ġiegħlet lilu u l-anqas lil oħrajn. Bilfors, f’dan il-kuntest, allura wieħed jistaqsi dwar kif l-Opposizzjoni tippretendi li neħduha bis-serjetà meta tkun kritika ta’ ħaddieħor. Għax l-ewwel u qabel kollox, l-Opposizzjoni għandha tkun kapaċi tapplika għaliha dak li ġustament tippretendi b’insistenza mingħand ħaddieħor.

Sfortunatament il-klassi politika presentment fil-ħatra mhiex kapaċi tipprattika dak li tipprietka. Meta l-partiti politiċi fil-parlament huma b’kuxjenza mraqqda, qiesha taħt l-effett tal-loppju, m’għandniex għalfejn niskantaw b’dak li naraw madwarna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum :13 ta’ Jannar 2019

 

Anesthetised accountability

Earlier this week, the Planning and Environment Commissioner at the Ombudsman’s office held that it is nobody’s business as to whether or not the Planning Authority’s Board members attend Board meetings: this is a matter for their exclusive concern. The provision of a jet plane to encourage and facilitate the attendance of Ms Jacqueline Gili at the PA Board meeting which considered and approved the dB monstrosity at Pembroke is thus considered as an undue interference and influence in the Planning Authority’s operations.

The Planning Authority Executive Chairman Johann Buttigieg is on record as having taken the responsibility for the decision to bring Ms Gili over to Malta from Catania by air and facilitating her return to continue her interrupted family holiday.

In a country where good governance is upheld, Mr Buttigieg would have resigned forthwith and, in the absence of such a resignation, he would have been fired on the spot as soon as information on the matter became public knowledge.

In addition one would also have had to deal with the fallout on the validity of the decision so taken as a result of such an undue interference.

It is, however, well known that the Planning Authority is incapable of reacting to such blatant bad governance. It is common knowledge that that it lacks the proverbial balls, making it incapable of acting properly.

But we cannot realistically expect otherwise, because the appointees to public authorities mirror the behaviour of their political masters. We cannot expect accountability from the appointees if those that appoint them continuously try to wriggle out of shouldering their responsibilities. There are, of course, some exceptions.

The Panama Papers saga is recent enough. Instead of firing Minister Konrad Mizzi and his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri on the spot for setting up companies in the Central American tax-haven, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat acted as if nothing of significance ever happened. What could have happened – in addition to the setting up Mizzi’s and Schembri’s companies and the third mysterious one (Egrant) is not so far provable. This has been stated repeatedly by our Courts, although the relative decisions have been repeated misinterpreted as absolving various politically exposed people (PEP) from any wrong doing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is no doubt that, so far, there is an absence of proof indicating potential criminal liability. However, as a minimum, there is sufficient proof in the public domain pointing towards both errors of judgement and unethical behaviour which, on its own, is sufficient to justify immediate political sanctions.

This is not only applicable to all the PEP featuring in the Panama Papers saga. It is also applicable to other different scenarios across the political divide.

On a completely different level, I refer to the three reports by Auditor-General concerning the political responsibilities of Jason Azzopardi, all three of which deal with the management of government-owned land. In all three cases, former Minister Jason Azzopardi was heavily censored. I remember when a senior civil servant testified during a sitting of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee in October 2017, in public session, that then Minister Azzopardi was aware of all the goings-on. Yet Jason Azzopardi sanctimoniously plays the idiot and feigns ignorance of the goings-on around his desk.

As yet, the Opposition has not yet held him (and others) to account. The Opposition cannot expect to be taken seriously when it rightly censors others before it musters sufficient courage to put its own house in order.

Unfortunately, the political class currently in office is not capable of practising what its preaches. With such anesthetised political parties, it is no wonder that this country has long gone to the dogs.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 January 2019