Tonio Fenech u l-froġa tal-2006

Tonio Fenech, ex-Ministru tal-Finanzi, reġa’ tfaċċa, f’attività politika li saret fil-Palazz Verdala biex  jgħidilna kif jaħsibha. Qalilna li bl-ambjent ma tirbaħx elezzjonijiet. Imma huwa bil-permessi (tal-bini), żied jgħid, tirbaħ il-voti!   Bil-qdusija artifiċjali tas-soltu jimplika li l-ħsara ambjentali kienet essenzjali biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet! Għax għal Tonio Fenech kull sagrifiċċju jgħodd sakemm iwassal biex tirbaħ l-elezzjonijiet.

Dan mhu xejn ġdid. Il-problema hi li l-kejl sfortunatament hu biss mil-lum għal għada. S’issa ma konniex kapaċi nħarsu fit-tul, biex inqiesu sewwa l-impatt li d-deċiżjonijiet tal-lum għandhom fuq għada u l-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ warajna. Sfortunatament il-politika f’pajjiż tirraġuna: għada min raħ?

Wara li (flimkien ma oħrajn) Tonio Fenech kien responsabbli mhux biss għall-pjani lokali, imma ukoll għall-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li bih żdiedet sew l-art għall-iżvilupp, issa qed jipprova jimpressjona li qed jindem!   Il-proposta tiegħu li jorbot il-pjani lokali fil-Kostituzzjoni toħloq iktar problemi milli diġa inħolqu!

Il-pjani lokali u strumenti oħra li bihom nippjanaw l-użu tal-art neċessarjament ikunu ta’ wieħed minn żewġ tipi. Jistgħu jkunu ċari u preċiżi, bil-konsegwenza li għax rigidi jkun jeħtieġilhom tibdil regolari biex jirriflettu realtajiet u żviluppi ġodda.  Inkella jkunu ġeneriċi u jkun jiddependi mill-interpretazzjoni tagħhom u l-integrità ta’ min iħaddem il-proċess kollu.

Kull possibilità hi dipendenti fuq l-integrità u l-viżjoni ta’ dawk involuti fil-fażijiet differenti li jwasslu sad-deċiżjonijiet.  Ma hemmx spjegazzjoni oħra: qegħdin f’nofs din il-froġa minħabba li Tonio Fenech u sħabu kienu bla viżjoni.  Inżid ngħid li b’mod konxju inkarigaw bil-proċess deċiżjonali numru ta’ persuni li ma kellhomx idea tal-impatt fit-tul ta’ dak li kienu qed jagħmlu. Kien jinteresshom biss mill-impatti immedjati: il-voti u l-elezzjonijiet kienu l-miri ewlenin tagħhom. Ġew jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ġid komuni.

F’dan kollu nifhem li l-integrità tfisser li tkun onest, b’subgħajk dritt, ta’ prinċipju. Kwalitajiet li huma nieqsa mill-pjani lokali.

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art huwa aspett importanti minn dak meħtieġ għall-ħarsien ambjentali: dan mhux konċernat biss mir-realtajiet tal-lum.  Jagħti sura lill-futur u jfassal il-qafas li fih jiżviluppaw il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. F’dan il-kuntest Il-korruzzjoni tal-ambjent biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet billi jitqassmu l-permessi tal-iżvilupp bħall-pastizzi hi l-agħar azzjoni possibli, nieqsa minn kwalunkwe ħjiel ta’ integrità.  Dan hu l-kontribut sinifikanti tat-tim tal-2006 fil-politika Maltija lill-kwalità tal-ħajja tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti u futuri.  Għaddew ħmistax-il sena minn meta Tonio Fenech u ta’ madwaru fl-2006 ħolqu din il-froġa ambjentali. L-impatti illum tad-deċiżjonijiet ta’ ħmistax-il sena ilu huma enormi. Sfortunatament ma hemm ħadd fil-Parlament illum li għandu l-kuraġġ li jibda it-tiswija u t-tindifa bis-serjetà tal-ħsara li ilha takkumula għal 15-il sena.

U issa? Sakemm jibqgħu jiġu eletti l-istess tip ta’ nies fil-Parlament ma hu ser jiġri xejn. Għad għandna bosta  li jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ħsara ambjentali, sakemm din tasal wara l-bieb tagħhom.  Huwa biss meta lkoll nirrealizzaw li l-vantaġġi immedjati għall-ftit ifissru tbatija fit-tul għal kulħadd li nkunu nistgħu nagħmlu l-ewwel passi fit-triq tal-fejqan.

Irridu nkunu kapaċi nifhmu kif dak li nagħmlu illum għandu effett fuq is-7 ġenerazzjonijiet li jiġu warajna. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh billi nqisu sewwa d-deċiżjonijiet u l-imġieba kollha tagħna. Ma jista’ jkun hemm l-ebda eċċezzjoni.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Tonio Fenech’s class of 2006

Tonio Fenech, former Finance Minister, has been resurrected onto a political platform to share his views in a recent political activity held at Verdala Palace.

The environment, he said, does not win elections. Development permits, on the other hand, win votes, Tonio Fenech emphasised! Tonio Fenech, sanctimoniously as ever, implies that it was essential to systematically ruin the environment, in order to win elections! Sort of, winning elections is an objective in respect of which no sacrifice is to be spared, in his opinion!

We have been there more than once before. Realistically speaking, the problem, in my view is entrenched short-termism and this is applicable not just to environmental politics but rather to a whole spectrum of issues of varying importance. We need to take the long-term view in our decision-making process at all levels and in all matters.

Having been responsible, together with others, for the approval not just of the Local Plans but also for the rationalisation (land use planning) exercise as a result of which extensive land was given up for development, it seems that Tonio Fenech is in atonement mode. However, his proposal of resolving the matter by enshrining Local Plans in the Constitution would create worse problems than those already inflicted upon Maltese society!

Local plans, and other land use planning instruments, necessarily need be one of two types. They could be either very clear and precise, in which case they would require periodic revision to reflect developments and new realities. Alternatively, local plans could be generic in which case much would depend on their interpretation and the integrity of those handling the process.

In each option much is dependent on the integrity and vision of those handling all the different stages of the decision-making process. There are no two ways about it: we are in the present mess due to the lack of vision of Tonio Fenech and his colleagues. I would also add that they consciously entrusted the decision-making process to various persons who had no idea of the long-term impact of what they embarked upon. They had their sights focused on short-term gains: winning votes and elections being among their primary objectives. Consciously they set aside the common good.

In my book integrity means the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, being morally upright. Qualities which are definitely missing in the local plans.

Land use planning is an important aspect of environmental stewardship, and it does not deal exclusively with present day realities. It also shapes the future and determines the parameters within which future generations can act. In this respect using a corrupted environment to consciously win elections through dishing out development permits is in my view the worst possible political declaration, devoid of any integrity. This is the significant contribution of the class of 2006 in Maltese politics to the quality of life of present and future generations. It has been fifteen years since Tonio Fenech and his class of 2006 created this environmental mess. The impacts today are enormous. It is unfortunate that no one in parliament has the courage to initiate the process to reverse this 15-year damage.

Where do we go from here? Realistically speaking we cannot go anywhere if the same type keeps making it to Parliament. We have had more than enough of those who ignore environmental blasphemy until it arrives at their doorstep or their street! The moment we realise that short-term gains for the few signify long-term pains for all, we may start registering some progress. We need to realise that the way forward is to be good ancestors to at least the next seven generations: ensuring that we take the long-term view in all our decisions. There is no room for any exception.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 June 2021

Dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx

Id-dritt li jkollna aċċess għax-xemx reġa’ għal darba oħra qed jissemma b’insistenza. Dawk fostna li huma konxji li l-użu tax-xemx għall-ħtiġijiet tagħna jagħmel kemm sens ambjentali kif ukoll sens ekonomiku qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Sfortunatament huma ostakolati mill-politika dwar l-użu tal-art li hi interessata biss biex taqdi lir-rebgħa li, jippruvaw jgħidulna li hi żvilupp.

Li nagħmlu użu mill-enerġija li tiġġenera x-xemx jiddependi minn dak li jkun hemm jostakola l-wasla tar-raġġi tax-xemx meta jkollna ħtieġa tagħhom! Meta l-parti l-kbira tal-pjani lokali kienu approvati fis-sajf tal-2006, kien żdied bil-kbir l-għoli tal-bini permissibli f’diversi lokalitajiet. F’xi każi l-ammont ta’ sulari li jistgħu jinbnew żdiedu minn 2 għal 5, inkluż penthouse. Is-sitwazzjoni hi agħar fejn jista’ jkun hemm garaxxijiet li jkunu parzjalment taħt il-livell tal-triq (semi-basement). Din il-bidla f’dak li jista’ jinbena effettwat ħafna żoni fejn kien hemm bini b’żewġ sulari.

L-impatt ta’ din il-bidla fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini qiegħed jiżdied biż-żmien għax issa qed isir żvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ bosta propjetajiet li ilhom ftit ta’ żmien li nbnew. Dan qed joħloq ħafna dellijiet fuq bosta djar residenzjali fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan il-pannelli fotovoltajċi u l-istallazzjonijiet li jsaħħnu l-ilma bix-xemx (solar water heaters) stallati fuq il-bjut ta’ bosta residenzi issa qegħdin fid-dell għall-ħin twil u ġew ma jiswew xejn. Dawn huma investimenti li għamlu ħafna familji Maltin li ġew issagrifikati fuq l-altar tar-rebgħa tal-hekk imsejjaħ żvilupp. Sussidji użati bħala għajnuna biex niġġeneraw l-enerġija mix-xemx, inkluż dawk li oriġinaw minn fondi Ewropej, f’numru mhux żgħir ta’ każi spiċċaw moħlija.

Dan kollu hu riżultat ta’ politika dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art bla viżjoni fit-tul. Politika li falliet biex tqis u tindirizza impatti ovvji. B’mod speċifiku hi riżultat li teżamina l-proposta dwar l-għoli permissibli tal-bini fid-dawl tal-proċeduri stabiliti mid-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Din hi direttiva li tfittex li teżamina politika (policy), pjani u programmi biex ikun stabilit u eżaminat l-impatt ambjentali tagħhom.

Dawk minnha li huma familjari ma kif taħdem u ħadmet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jafu li l-Pjani Lokali ġew approvati bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Dan sar l-għaliex iktar dewmien kien ikun ifisser illi dawn il-pjani kienu jkun soġġetti għal eżami dwar l-impatti ambjentali tagħhom skond kif tipprovdi d-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Inevitabilment kien jirriżulta minn dan l-eżami li ż-żieda fil-għoli tal-bini li seta jingħata l-permess kien ser ikollu impatt negattiv fuq il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku mix-xemx, kif fil-fatt qed jiġri llum! Dan l-impatt kien ikollu jkun indirizzat u l-għoli tal-bini kien ikollu jonqos.

Kellna parti mill-Gvern taħdem favur il-ħtieġa li nagħmlu użu mix-xemx biex niġġeneraw enerġija nadifa. Imma kellna parti oħra mill-Gvern li kienet ostaġġ tal-lobby tal-iżviluppaturi li riedu iktar spazju fejn jistgħu jiżviluppaw. Il-bqija nafu x’ġara. Dak l-ispazju issa qed jiġi żviluppat u bħala riżultat spiċċajna bil-pannelli fid-dell fuq il-bjut!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, fil-Parlament, Miriam Dalli, Ministru għall-Enerġija, l-Intrapriża u l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli fi tweġiba għal mistoqsija parlamentari ta’ Ryan Callus kelliemi tal-Opposizzjoni dwar l-Enerġija qalet li l-Gvern għaddej b’konsultazzjonijiet interni dwar dan kollu.

Tant ilna niddiskutu dan kollu li mhux nifhem x’għandha f’moħħha l-Onorevoli Ministru. Fil-fatt ftit hemm possibilitajiet x’jiġu kkunsidrati.

L-iktar possibilità ovvja hi li fejn hu possibli jitreġġa’ lura l-għoli permissibli tal-bini għal dak li kien fl-2006. Dan imma, hu diffiċli biex isir, u kieku kellu jsir immedjatament tasal talba għal kumpens ta’ miljuni ta’ euro.

Hu possibli li jkunu introdotti drittijiet dwar l-aċċess għax-xemx f’bini ġdid. Dan għandu jsir immedjatament. Hu possiblili li jkunu emendati r-regoli tal-ippjanar b’mod li jkun assigurat illi fil-bini ġdid, b’mod partikolari fil-bini ta’ flats, ikun possibli li minn fuq il-bjut tagħhom tkun ġġenerata l-enerġija mix-xemx. Dan għandu jkun biżżejjed u jagħmel tajjeb għall-konsum tal-elettriku fil-blokk tal-flats kollu. Dan ikun ifisser li l-arja ma tinżammx mill-iżviluppatur iżda tkun parti mill-blokk f’idejn is-sidien tal-flats biex fuqha jistallaw pannelli foto-voltajiċi. Dan jassigura li kull blokk ġdid ta’ flats ikun carbon neutral, jiġifieri jiġġenera elettriku mix-xemx daqs kemm ikun ikkunsmat. Il-pannelli b’hekk jieħdu post il-penthouse.

B’hekk nistgħu nibdew bil-mod insewwu l-ħsara li saret.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Frar 2021

Solar rights and planning wrongs

Solar rights are once more in the public debate. The number of those aware that utilising solar energy for our needs makes both environmental and economic sense is on the increase. Unfortunately, they are being obstructed by land use planning policy which is only interested in serving greed, camouflaged as development.

The utilisation of the sun’s energy is dependent on what gets in the way of the sun’s rays when we need them!  When most of the Local Plans were approved way back in summer of 2006, the permissible heights of building development in a multitude of areas were substantially increased. At times this increase was from 2 to 5 floors, including a penthouse level. It is worse where semi-basement garages are permissible. This change was in particular applied in respect of large areas with a previous predominance of two floored terraced houses. 

The impact of this change in the permissible height limitation is increasing in severity with time as the redevelopment of old properties is being gradually taken in hand. This is resulting in the shadowing of an ever-increasing number of residential units in a number of residential areas. As a result, solar water heaters and photo voltaic panels installed on a number of roofs in the past years, are now in the shade for a considerable amount of time and consequently are practically useless. Investments made by a number of our families have been sacrificed on the altar of development greed. Subsidies (including those originating from EU funds) which were utilised to assist the tapping of solar energy in a substantial number of cases have thus been thrown down the drain.

This is the result of myopic land use planning which failed to consider obvious impacts. Specifically, it is the result of the failure to subject the proposed height relaxation planning policies to the EU Strategic Environment Assessment Directive. The Strategic Environment Assessment Directive seeks to examine policies, plans and programmes in order to ensure that their environmental aspects are effectively considered.

Those of us familiar with the workings of the Planning Authority are aware that most of the Local Plans were rushed through to approval during the summer of 2006. This was done as any further delay would have made them subject to Strategic Environment Assessment procedures which would have inevitably highlighted the impact of height relaxation on the generation of solar energy. As a result, the conflict with the need to have solar energy generated would have been highlighted and most probably addressed.

While one section of government was encouraging one and all on the need to tap the sun’s rays to generate clean and renewable energy, another section, hostage to the development lobby was obstructing this and pushing forward their need for more space to develop! The rest is history. That space is currently being developed today, in the process obstructing the further generation of renewable energy on our rooftops.

In Parliament, earlier this week Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development Miriam Dalli in reply to a Parliamentary Question from Ryan Callus, spokesperson for Energy on behalf of the Opposition, stated that government was holding internal discussions on the matter.

The matter has been discussed many times to date so I cannot decipher exactly what Minister Miriam Dalli has in mind. There are in fact very few possible options which can be considered.

The most obvious option is to revise as much as possible the height relaxation carried out in 2006. This will be very difficult to carry out, and, if done, it will be immediately followed-up by a request for compensation running into many millions of euro.

Alternatively, one can seek to introduce solar rights on new buildings without further delay. It is possible that planning policy is amended to ensure that all new properties, in particular blocks of flats, should generate sufficient electricity to cater for the number of units in the new block, thus ensuring carbon neutrality. Such a measure would essentially require that the roof is owned together with the individual units in order that owners of the said units may install photo voltaic panels. Consequently, it would signify that the space which till now has been utilised for the development of penthouses would henceforth be reserved for the generation of renewable energy.

In so doing a history of planning wrongs would commence the long and difficult road of correction.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 February 2021

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

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

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

L-istupru tas-Saqqajja

Nitkellmu dwar it-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja. Imma jidher li s-Saqqajja għan-niżla!

L-applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp biex żewġt idjar qodma fuq is-Saqqajja r-Rabat ikunu mibdula f’lukanda żgħira (boutique hotel) hu attentat ieħor biex ikun sfrakassat il-wirt storiku tal-pajjiż. Il-fillera sħiħa ta’ djar fuq is-Saqqajja flok ma jitħallew jinqerdu minn dak li wħud isejħulu żvilupp għandhom jingħataw protezzjoni fit-totalità tagħhom. Kif ippropona l-Professur Mario Buhagiar dawn id-djar fuq is- Saqqajja , tal-inqas, jistħoqilhom protezzjoni fi Grade 2, jiġifieri li l-faċċata tagħhom ma tkunx tista’ tintmiss. Possibilment jistħoqilhom iktar minn hekk ukoll: li jkunu mħarsa b’mod komplet fi Grad 1.  

 L-applikazzjoni għal żvilupp bin-numru 9516/18 tipproponi li d-djar 14 u 15 fuq Is-Saqqajja Rabat (b’faċċata ukoll fuq Vjal Santu Wistin) jinbidlu f’lukanda fi klassi 3B . Minn eżami tal-pjanti sottomessi jidher ċar li l-proposta tinkludi ż-żieda ta’ żewġ sulari fuq il-binja eżistenti kif ukoll il-mutilazzjoni tal-partijiet interni ta’ dawn iż-żewġt idjar biex ikunu jistgħu jkunu mibdula f’lukanda żgħira.

Bħal bosta oħrajn jiena ukoll ippreżentajt oġġezzjoni għal dan l-aħħar attakk fuq il-wirt tagħna lkoll. Ir-raġunijiet għal dan huma diversi.

L-ikbar raġuni hi li l-iżvilupp propost jistona fil-kuntest li hu propost li jsir.  Ser jeqred darba għal dejjem l-omoġenejità u l-armonija tal-faċċati tal-bini kemm fuq is-Saqqajja kif ukoll fuq Vjal Santu Wistin. Fuq Vjal Santu Wistin  l-iżviluppatur irid iħarbat parti kbira mill-ġnien li jagħti karattru uniku u hu parti integrali mill-binja. Hi l-binja kollha, kif inhi, bil-ġnien kollu  li teħtieġ li tkun protetta.

Il-Pjan Lokali, li jqis liż-żona bħala waħda ta’ konservazzjoni urbana jillimita l-iżvilupp fiż-żona għal żewġ sulari. Il-proposta ta’ żvilupp tinjora din il-limitazzjoni kompletament. Huwa għaldaqstant ovvju li jekk din l-applikazzjoni tibqa’ għaddejja u tkun approvata ser twassal għall-qerda tal-filliera sħiħa tad-djar  fuq is-Saqqajja għax li jgħodd għal wieħed jgħodd għal kulħadd. Imbagħad  tkun ġiet stuprata ż-żona kollha.

Iżjed ‘l-isfel, fit-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja, fejn sa ftit ilu kien hemm it-Tattingers Club u xi propjetajiet oħra, il-ħerba tkompli.  Dan is-sit ukoll għandu mdendla miegħu proposta ta’ żvilupp: lukanda massiċċa ta’ 110 kmamar mifruxa fuq 5600 metru kwadru. Mhumiex l-uniċi applikazzjonijiet fl-inħawi għax hemm oħrajn. Iżda huma l-iktar li jagħtu fil-għajn. 

Jidher li waslet id-daqqa tar-Rabat li jrid jiffaċċja l-forza tal-qerda li tpoġġi l-flus qabel il-wirt komuni tagħna lkoll.

Il-mod kif ġiebet ruħha l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fil-passat ma tantx hu ta’ awgurju tajjeb li din b’xi mod kapaċi tieqaf lill-forzi tal-qerda. Permezz tad-deċiżjonijiet tagħha sal-lum, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bagħatet messaġġ ċar li, fil-fehma tagħha, l-impatt ekonomiku tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni jixirqilha ferm iktar attenzjoni minn kwlaunkwe ħaġa oħra.  B’ġustizzja ngħid li hemm xi żewġ membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li jispikkaw minħabba li b’differenza minn sħabhom jiddefendu regolarment kemm il-wirt storiku kif ukoll dak naturali. Imma dawn qegħdin f’minoranza assoluta, avolja xi kultant ġieli jappoġġawhom uħud mill-bqija.

Imma x’tistenna minn Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li l-membri tiegħu ma jħossuhomx skomdi madwar l-istess mejda ma’ agent tal-propjetà biex jgħaddu ġudizzju dwar liema applikazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp jixirqilhom ikunu approvati u liema le?  

M’għandi l-ebda idea dwar x’deċiżjoni ser ikollna, imma fid-dawl ta’ kif ġiebet ruħha sal-lum l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar xejn ma niskanta jekk tagħti l-approvazzjoni tagħha biex il-qerda tibda tiela’ t-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja. 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 9 ta’ Diċembru 2018

The mutilation of Saqqajja

The planning application to convert two old town-houses at Saqqajja, Rabat into a boutique hotel is another attempt to mutilate our historical heritage. The whole row of town houses at Saqqajja, rather than being placed on the chopping board of so-called development should be protected in their totality. As proposed by Professor Mario Buhagiar, these Saqqajja town houses, as a minimum, deserve a Grade 2 protection, that is to say their elevation must be preserved in its entirety. Their protection should possibly be even more extensive: total protection at Grade 1.

Planning application 9516/18 proposes to change the use of residences at 14 and 15 Is-Saqqajja Rabat (with back elevations onto Vjal Santu Wistin) into a Class 3B hotel. Through an examination of the proposed drawings, it is clear that the proposal includes the addition of two new floors as well as an internal mutilation of the properties to render them usable as a boutique hotel.

I have joined countless others in submitting an objection to this latest assault on our historical heritage. The reasons for objecting are numerous.

The most obvious reason for objecting is that the proposed development is out of tune with its surroundings. It will ruin the homogenous eloquence of both the Saqqajja elevation as well as that of Vjal Santu Wistin on which elevation the developer is proposing to gobble up an extensive part of the existing garden that contributes to a unique setting which needs the maximum protection possible.

The Local Plan, defining the area as an Urban Conservation Area, limits any proposed development in the area to two floors. This limitation is blatantly disregarded by the proposal for this boutique hotel. If this application is not stopped in its tracks, it is inevitable that it will eventually lead to the complete mutilation of the whole row of Saqqajja town-houses, because what’s good for the goose is naturally good for the gander.

Further down the hill, on the site currently occupied by Tattingers Club and a number of adjoining properties, the mutilation exercise continues. This site has another development proposal for a massive 110-room hotel spread over an area of around 5600 square metres. There are other planning applications in the vicinity but the above two are the most conspicuous. It seems that the mutilation brigade has shifted their attention towards Rabat and its surroundings.

The past performance of the Planning Authority is not very reassuring as it does not seem capable of withstanding the pressures of the development lobby. The Planning Authority has, as a result of its past decisions, sent a clear message that it considers the economic activity of the building industry more worthy of its attention and protection than anything else. In all fairness, there are a couple of members on the Planning Authority Board who stand out because they continuously defend the national heritage and the natural environment. But they are unfortunately a very small minority even when, occasionally, they are supported by others.

What else do you expect from a Planning Authority Board whose members are not uncomfortable when they sit with an estate agent in judgement as to which applications for a development permit are approved or refused?

I have no idea what the decision will be, but, based on past performance it is not beyond the Planning Authority Board to give its approval to the massacre brigade marching up Saqqajja Hill.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 December 2018