Bureaucracy and Stivalaland

Month in month out we are inundated with the latest statistics on property contracts or “promise of sale” agreements. Recently we have had some blips with statistics indicating that property sales were possibly diminishing. Out comes the Malta Developers Association (MDA) supremo thundering that bureaucracy is holding back property deals.

The development permitting process is, generally, greed oriented. It has resulted in so-called flexibility policies which seek to facilitate going around development policy restrictions intended to protect the urban fabric and the quality of life of the residential community. For example, an area earmarked for a public staircase in the Gżira local plan was transformed into a hotel. This is taking place in a residential area where only residences ought to have been permitted. The beneficiary of such land use planning extreme flexibility is the Stivala Group of Companies. I am referring to upper Moroni Street in Gżira, which area has nowadays been labelled as Stivalaland by Gżira residents. Yet the MDA supremo has the cheek to complain.

Developers in Mellieħa were less lucky with flexibility bureaucracy as a hotel permitted in similar circumstances has seen its development permit being recently revoked by the Court of Appeal. The Stivalaland hotel permit in Gżira may possibly meet the same fate in the not-too-distant future as although it has been approved by the Planning Commission some 5 months ago (PA5962/21) the development permit has not been issued yet. Consequently, the time frame for objectors to commence the appeal process has not yet commenced.

Occasionally public opinion manages to pull a fast one. The recent scheduling of the Palazzino Vincenti landmark at St Julians is another area of conflict between the Stivala brand and planning bureaucracy. It is still too early to consider this as a closed case. One awaits with trepidation the next steps notwithstanding the scheduling of the Vincenti masterpiece.

The Stivala brand had planned to pull down Palazzino Vincenti and to develop yet another hotel in St Julians. On 12 December 2022 Palazzino Vincenti was temporarily protected at Grade 1 level through an Emergency Conservation Order. This temporary protection has now been lifted and downgraded to a Grade 2 protection on a long-term basis as decided by the Planning Authority last month. This is extremely bad news as it signifies that most probably only the elevation of this landmark will be preserved: its interior will be gutted. Those who rejoiced at this level of protection were ill-advised. I think that it will be the developer and his advisors who will eventually have the last laugh as they will not be too far from their original objectives!

In this specific case planning bureaucracy will, once more, not be preventing the Stivala brand from making mincemeat of our national heritage, with the Planning Authority’s blessing. And yet the MDA supremo complains.

The planning bureaucracy which the MDA supremo complains about was nowhere to be seen when the Stivala brand sought to stretch development as close as possible to the shoreline. Do you remember? Four years ago, in these very columns, in an article entitled: Protecting Our Coast: No political will in sight (TMIS: 14 April 2019) I had written about the development permit relative to the building block of which the restaurant Piccolo Padre along the St Julian’s coastline forms part. I had then emphasised as follows: “The development in question has been permitted on a footprint starting along the coastline itself. In addition, ………………… planning permission issued by the Planning Authority includes part of the approved structure protruding over the sea. Not even a whimper has been heard from the Lands Authority on the matter.”

Contrary to what the MDA supremo says land use planning bureaucracy, and its cousins, continuously make way for unbridled development.

That is the extent of how effective the bureaucracy is, practically always on the side of greed.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 May 2023

In-Nigret: more agricultural land to be bulldozed

The local plans are seven in number. They are supplemented by a land use planning rationalisation exercise. This consists of the identification of land outside the development zone (ODZ), approximately 2 million square metres in area, on the outskirts of existing urban areas and settlements all over the islands. In July 2006, Parliament, decided that this ODZ land was suitable for development.

The PN led government had then proposed and voted in favour of developing this ODZ land with the Labour Opposition voting against the proposal. But come March 2013 nothing changed as a result of the change in government. Notwithstanding that Labour in Opposition had voted against the proposal, the ODZ land remained within the development zone. All two million square metres of it. As aptly underlined by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his Il Gattopardo: the more things appear to change the more they remain the same. Greed is in fact colour blind.

Today, almost 17 years after the event, our local communities are realising what that Parliamentary vote signifies. Together with my colleagues I have been all around the island on a regular basis discussing with residents the resulting overdevelopment which is eating up agricultural land at a fast rate. Most localities are impacted.

This week it is the turn of agricultural land at In-Nigret, on the outskirts of Żurrieq, where more agricultural land will soon be cleared for development. Residents are up in arms as they have realised that another 14,960 square metres of arable agricultural land will be shortly developed. Two particular applications for planning control have been submitted (PC85/18 and PC49/19). The former application has already been approved last year while the second application will be considered shortly: it has already been recommended for approval by the Planning Directorate at the Planning Authority.

The planning process currently in hand is concerned with zoning and with determining the extent of permissible development, that is the permissible height and the development density. The development has however already been approved in principle 17 years ago. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the efforts of my party as well as those of environmental NGOs, residential communities ignored the warning signs staring them in the face. Now that the threat of destructive development is approaching individual communities, they are realising that they have been taken for a ride for quite some time. They are now awakening from their blissful slumber, suddenly realising that those whom they trusted all along have betrayed them by giving up for development the open spaces surrounding our settlements and urban areas.

Giving up agricultural land for building development does not make any sense. This is not just an objective argument in favour of protecting agricultural land. It is also essential to protect the green lungs around our urban areas and settlements.

What sense does it make to embark on a €700 million spending spree on the greening of our urban environment and then, simultaneously to bulldoze through our fertile fields? Project Green, if it is to have any worth should first and foremost seek to protect our existing green lungs. This applies not only to the Nigret fields facing the bulldozer in the coming months. It also applies all around the islands to each and every one of the two million square metres of ODZ land which Parliament, 17 years ago, earmarked for development.

The question being asked is: what can be done about it? Is it not too late to act after 17 years? There are very few avenues which can be explored at this late hour but there are some possibilities which hopefully can be utilised to defend the little we have been left with. 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 21 May 2023

Il-qerda aċċelerata tar-raba’

Aħna ngħixu f’eko-sistema li qed tinqered ftit ftit. Dan hu rikonoxxut minn kulħadd.  

Ħarsu ftit, per eżempju, lejn l-ewwel sentenzi tal-White Paper intitolata Riforma fil-qasam tar-Raba’, White Paper ippubblikata għall-konsultazzjoni mill-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura f’Ottubru li għadda.

Dakinnhar kien intqal li: Il-ħarsien tar-raba’ huwa fundamentali biex niggarantixxu s-sostenibbiltà tal-biedja, il-produzzjoni tal-ikel, u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent rurali. Huwa għalhekk li meta jkun hemm problemi f’dan il-qasam, dawn ma jolqtux biss lill-bdiewa, iżda għandhom impatt qawwi fuq il-provista u s-sigurtà tal-ikel, u l-kwalità tal-ambjent li jista’ jitgawda mis-soċjetà.

L-art agrikola għandha valur: valur imma li mhux biss wieħed ekonomiku. Għandha valur ambjentali u soċjali. Dan hu rikonoxxut anke mill-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura. Għalfejn, mela, nistaqsu, dan il-Ministeru ma jieħux posizzjoni iebsa kullmeta Ministeri oħra jagħtihom l-estru għall-qerda ta’ art agrikola?

B’mod kontinwu, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tirċievi u tipproċessa applikazzjonijiet għal żvilupp li jeqred art li tinħadem jew li kienet tinħadem. Dan isir għar-raġuni sempliċi li l-pjani lokali huma msejsa fuq filosofija tal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art li tonqos milli tħares il-valur intrinsiku tal-biedja.  Tqis li l-biedja hi xi ħaġa ta’ bla siwi u li nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajrha. F’din is-sitwazzjoni l-Ministeru tal-Agrikultura jibqa’ sieket, kontinwament!

Sfortunatament, l-uniku valur li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tifhem u tapprezza hu dak li jiffaċilità l-ħolqien tal-opportunitajiet għal min irid idawwar lira ta’ malajr. Kontinwament, l-Awtorità  tal-Ippjanar hi kompliċi fil-qerda gradwali ta’ kull ma hawn madwarna.

Xogħol mhux meħtieġ fuq l-infrastruttura tat-toroq, tul dawn l-aħħar snin, qered meded kbar ta’ raba’. Is-settur privat ilu għaddej jittrasforma ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’ f’art għar-rikrejazzjoni privata, għal xi barbeque jew għal xi picnic. Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan qed jeqred komunitajiet ta’ bdiewa. L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, minkejja li għandha is-saħħa legali li dan kollu twaqqfu, ma għamlet xejn.   Hu biss dan l-aħħar, wara l-għagħa li rriżulta minn numru ta’ deċiżjonijiet tal-Qorti dwar il-qbiela li l-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura qam minn raqda twila u ma baqax sieket!

Jiġu f’moħħi żewġ applikazzjonijiet għal żvilupp, applikazzjonijiet li għadhom pendenti: waħda f’Ħal-Qormi biex jinbena u jkun operat supermarket fuq art agrikola barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ). L-oħra dwar il-bini ta’ skola f’Ħal-Għaxaq, anke din fuq art agrikola.

Għaddejna minn dawn l-argumenti diversi drabi, b’mod partikolari fid-dibattitu nazzjonali dwar l-eżerċizzju biex tintgħażel l-art għall-Università Amerikana f’Marsaskala xi snin ilu! L-argumenti ta’ dakinnhar għadhom jgħoddu anke illum. Ma nistgħux nibqgħu nissagrifikaw ir-raba’. Għandna ftit wisq raba’ u jeħtieġ li nibżgħu għall-ftit li għandna.

Il-formola tal-applikazzjoni biex tinbena l-iskola f’Ħal-Għaxaq tgħid ċar u tond, bl-iswed fuq l-abjad, li l-użu tal-lum tal-art hu wieħed agrikolu. Dan jgħodd għal kull wieħed mill-35,970 metru kwadru li hu propost li jinbnew. Il-formola tal-applikazzjoni l-oħra dwar is-sit f’Ħal-Qormi, min-naħa l-oħra, tgħid li l-art f’dan il-kaz b’qies ta’ 4708 metru kwadru u li hi pproġettata li tkun żviluppata f’supermarket, bħalissa mhux użata!

Dawn l-applikazzjonijiet tal-ippjanar għadhom fi stadju bikri avolja dwar l-iżvilupp propost f’Ħal-Għaxaq għadu kif ġie ippubblikat studju dwar l-impatti ambjentali (EIA) reċentement.

F’dan l-istadju l-mistoqsija toħroġ waħedha: hemm ħtieġa għall-iżvilupp propost? It-tweġiba, fil-fehma tiegħi, hi ċara: le ma hemmx ħtieġa. M’għandniex bżonn iktar supermarkets. Pjuttost li diġa għandna iżżejjed minnhom!  

Dwar l-iskola proposta f’Ħal-Għaxaq l-istorja hi ftit iktar kumplessa. Imma xorta mhux iġġustifikat li tkun issagrifikata art agrikola. Għandhom ikunu esplorati soluzzjonijiet oħra, avolja naf li ilu żmien mhux ħażin isir (bla suċċess) tiftix għal sit alternattiv.  Is-soluzzjoni tista’ tinstab fl-iżvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ bini mitluq u dilapidat, li minnu għandna bosta, mxerred mal-gżejjer tagħna.

Neħtieġu fuq kollox politika koerenti dwar il-ħarsien tar-raba’. Flok ma jorqod, u kultant jistenbaħ, il-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura għandu jkun fuq quddiem nett f’din il-ħidma. Jista’ jibda billi jassigura li l-proġetti pubbliċi u l-politika tal-Gvern jagħrfu l-valur intrinsiku tal-biedja. Minn hemm irridu nibdew għax jekk is-settur pubbliku ma jkunx ta’ eżempju xejn mhu ser jinbidel: nibqgħu għan-niżla!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 8 ta’ Jannar 2023

The accelerated destruction of agricultural land

We live in an eco-system which is being slowly destroyed. This is recognised by one and all.

Consider, for example the introductory sentences in the White Paper entitled Acquisition and ownership of agricultural land published for public consultation by the Ministry for Agriculture last October. We were then told that: Controlling the acquisition and ownership of land is fundamental to guaranteeing the sustainability of agriculture and food production, as well as the protection of the rural environment. For this reason, whenever there are issues in this area, these not only affect farmers but also have a strong impact on the supply and security of food and the quality of the environment that can be enjoyed by society.

Agricultural land has value. Its value is not just economic. It has an environmental and social value. This is recognised as a fact even by the Ministry for Agriculture. Why then, may we ask, does the Ministry not take a robust stand whenever other Ministries embark on a spree of accelerated destruction of agriculture land?

On a continuous basis the Planning Authority receives and processes applications for development which seek to obliterate agricultural land. This is done for the simple reason that the local plans are buttressed by a land use planning philosophy which fails to protect the intrinsic value of agriculture. It is deemed to be expendable. The Ministry for Agriculture, in this situation, is conspicuously silent, continuously!

Unfortunately, the only value which the Planning Authority understands and appreciates is that which facilitates “making hay while the sun shines”. It has been continuously an accomplice in the gradual destruction of all that surrounds us.

Unnecessary road infrastructure has gobbled up considerable swathes of agricultural land over the past years. The private sector has been transforming considerable agricultural tracts into barbeque or picnic areas squeezing out the farming community in the process. The Planning Authority has the legal remit to stop this but it has continuously failed to act. Until the recent public outcry in response to a number of Court decisions relative to agricultural leases, the Ministry for Agriculture has been silent on this matter too!

Two specific planning development applications (currently still pending) come to mind: one in Qormi to construct and operate a supermarket on agricultural land Outside the Development Zone (ODZ). The other relative to the construction of a school on agricultural land at Għaxaq.

We have been through the relative arguments many a time, in particular when debating the site selection exercise for the American University at Marsaskala some years back! The arguments made then are still valid today. We cannot keep sacrificing agricultural land. We have too little of it and we have to take care of the little we have.

The application form for the Għaxaq school declares black on white that the current use of the site is agricultural: each and every one of the 35,970 square metres of the site. The application form for the Qormi site, on the other hand states that the site measuring 4708 square metres which it is proposed to develop into a supermarket is currently “un-used”.

These planning applications are still in their early stages, even though an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) has been produced for the proposed Għaxaq development.

At this point we need to query: do we need the development proposed? The answer, in my opinion is a clear no. We definitely do not need more supermarkets. There are already too many of them.

As to the proposed school at Għaxaq the issue is much more complex. It does not however justify sacrificing more agricultural land. Other solutions should be explored, even though a search for an alternative has been going on unsuccessfully for quite some time. The solution lies in the redevelopment of existing dilapidated buildings of which we have quite a number.

We do however need policy coherence in respect of the protection of agricultural land. The Ministry of Agriculture should be at the forefront in such an exercise. It could definitely start by ensuring that public projects as well as policies factor in agriculture’s intrinsic value. This is the required starting point. The public sector sets the benchmark. If it fails to turn the page, matters will definitely change from bad to worse!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 January 2023

Wegħda 336 : il-Labour u l-ODZ

Kif jidher fis-silta ta’ hawn fuq mill-manifest elettorali tal-Partit Laburista ta’ Marzu 2022, ġejna mwegħda regoli iktar stretti fejn jidħol żvilupp f’ODZ.

Il-proposti għal amnestija oħra għal żvilupp ODZ li sar qabel l-2016 juri kemm anke f’din ma hemm l-ebda serjetà. Moħħhom biss biex jgħaddu ż-żmien bin-nies.

Għalfejn isiru il-liġijiet u r-regolamenti jekk kontinwament naraw kif isiru l-eċċezzjonijiet u nippruvaw niġġustifikaw lil min ma jimxix magħhom?

Permezz ta’ din l-amnestija ġdida li tiġġustifika l-abbużi fl-ODZ għal darboħra l-Gvern qiegħed jippremja lil min abbuża u qiegħed ikompli jittrasforma lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar f’aġent għall-abbużi, fejn jekk tħallas multa sostanzjali tista’ tiġġustifika l-abbużi tal-iżvilupp.

Il-Labour għal darboħra wiegħed ħaġa u qiegħed jagħmel oħra: kompletament bil-maqlub. Il-Partit Laburista għadu ħiereġ minn elezzjoni ġenerali li fiha kellu manifest elettorali li fih wiegħed illi se jassigura illi ż-żona barra mill-linja tal-iżvilupp (l-ODZ) tkun imħarsa iktar minn qatt qabel. Minflok, bil-proposti li qiegħed jagħmel illum il-ġurnata qed iħares lil min jabbuża, sakemm dak li jkun ikun lest li jħallas. Il-Labour fil-Gvern qed ikun konsistenti, konsistenti fil-mod illi fil-qasam ambjentali jimxi bil-maqlub ta’ kif wiegħed. Din l-amnestija  tkompli fuq l-ewwel amnestija favur l-abbużi fil-qasam tal-ippjanar sitt snin ilu.

 Il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern qed jagħti l-messaġġ li fil-qasam tal-ippjanar tista’ tħawwad għax b’xi mod jew ieħor fl-aħħar tirranġa, basta tħallas. Mal-Labour, bil-flus tirranġa.

L-iskema l-ġdida qegħda testendi l-amnestija li kienet ħarġet fl-2016 billi tinkludi ukoll żvilupp li jinstab barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp. Din l-iskema titkellem primarjament dwar żvilupp parzjali bla permess fl-ODZ.

 Din l-amnestija hi insult lil min għażel li jimxi sewwa u josserva l-liġi u r-regolamenti u jimxi mal-kundizzjonijiet tal-permess ta’ żvilupp. L-amnestija hi dikjarazzjoni ta’ falliment fil-qasam tal-infurzar. In-numru ta’ każijiet kompla jikber, sena wara l-oħra, għax l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma kinitx kapaċi tinforza l-liġi quddiem min kien lest li jisfidaha.

Kultant l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tagħmel show biex taparsi qed tagħmel xogħolha. Pero wara din il-faċċata tat-teatrin ma hemm xejn, ma hemm l-ebda serjetà.

Lil min sfida u għamel ta’ rasu qed jgħidulu: issa ħallas multa u qisu qatt ma kien xejn!

Minflok dawn l-amnestiji biex tiġġustifika l-iżvilupp ta’ art ODZ ikun iktar għaqli kienu l-Gvern jibda l-proċess biex art ODZ li fl-2006 saret tajba għal-iżvilupp ma tibqax żviluppabbli. Ilna s-snin issa nitkellmu dwar reviżjoni tal-pjani lokali. Saru anke laqgħat ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar dan imma s’issa għadu ma immaterjalizza xejn.

Il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern qed jagħmel minn kollox biex jiġġustifika żvilupp abbużiv barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp. L-inqas ħaġa li konna nistennew f’dan il-mument hi amnestija li tiġġustifika iktar l-abbużi ta’ żvilupp tal-art. L-amnestija qed tippremja lil min abbuża u fl-istess ħin qed tikkastiga lil min mexa sewwa. Hi fuq kollox dikjarazzjoni ta’ falliment fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika biex tinforza l-liġi. Tagħti messaġġ wieħed inkwetanti: għamel li trid għax mal-Labour tirranġa!

Wara dan kollu, dawn ma jistħux jitkellmu fuq is-saltna tad-dritt!

(dan hu rapport ta’ dak li ntqal f’konferenza stampa dalgħodu quddiem l-uffiċini tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar il-Floriana minn Carmel Cacopardo u Ralph Cassar)

ara ukoll rapporti kif gej:

Times of Malta: With Labour, money talks: Government slammed for ODZ amnesty scheme

Malta Today : Money Talks with Labour: Greens slam Government for ODZ abuse amnesties

Malta Independent: With Labour, money talks – ADPD

Newsbook: Bil-flus mal-Labour tirranga – ADPD

TVM : L-ADPD jgħid li l-estensjoni ta’ skema f’żoni barra mill-iżvilupp tista’ twassal għall-abbużi

Overdevelopment is eating up open space

The problems being caused by the continuous overdevelopment around us is a direct consequence of the local plans approved in 2006. The rationalisation exercise which was approved practically simultaneously, and as a result of which around two million square metres of ODZ land was given up for development made matters considerably worse .

The latest example is the planning application relative to a stretch of land measuring 1273 square metres in Santa Luċija. This land is, until now, an open space within the locality of Santa Luċija.

The late architect Joseph M.Spiteri, who in the late 1950s designed the locality of Santa Luċija from scratch took great care in planning for the needs of a community when he was preparing giving birth to the Santa Luċija locality. As emphasised by his son Dr Stephen C. Spiteri in the publication entitled Joseph M. Spiteri: A Maltese Architect and his work, when designing Santa Luċija, Joe Spiteri ensured that there was plenty of open space and trees. In his ideas Spiteri was undoubtedly influenced by the then prevalent housing design in the United Kingdom: Spiteri placed great emphasis on pedestrianisation and vehicular segregation together with the availability of plenty of open spaces. Environmentalists are still emphasising these points as an essential prerequisite for sustainable living.

The ideas pioneered by Architect Joseph Spiteri in Santa Luċija as a result of which open space around residential areas was considered as an essential contributor to enhancing the quality of life of all were unfortunately discarded over the years in housing design in the Maltese islands. Instead, we were offered intensive development of land aimed at maximising profits along the whole building development chain. Our quality of life was exchanged with healthy bank accounts.

The creation of an environment conducive to the creation of a sustainable living space has unfortunately been abandoned. The objective to be in harmony with our surroundings was abandoned.

Architect Joe Spiteri and his colleagues at the then Public Works Department invested substantial energies in trying to create from scratch a land use planning system during the mid-1960s. With the assistance of advisors sent by the United Nations a forward-looking town and country planning Act was approved by Parliament in the late 60s only for it to be ignored by those who were entrusted with its implementation.

This is the root cause of the present malaise in local land use planning. All efforts made by dedicated professionals over the years were meticulously undermined.

The current proposed project in Santa Luċija subject to planning application PA5152/22 has to be seen within this context. It gobbles up land which the original design for Santa Luċija had earmarked as open space.  The open space is not wasteland but part of the essential lungs which the local community requires to breathe. Without it the community is deprived of an essential element of its community infrastructure.

The Ministry for the Environment is currently advocating the need for open public spaces. This rhetoric has however not been translated into tangible action as the Planning Authority is still encouraging a free-for-all building spree transforming existing open spaces into euro machines.

One of the major lessons of Covid-19 was the mental health impact on many in our urban areas who were constrained indoors. The lack of adequate public open spaces made matters worse during the Covid months.

Our urban areas have been left to develop on their own for quite too long. As a result, they have been guided by business-friendly or market-friendly authorities, producing the mess of an urban jungle we have to face every day. This is a mess resulting from political decisions which have ensured that profits repeatedly have a priority over people and their quality of life.

The Santa Luċija planning application PA5152/22 is the latest example of all this. The creation of a sustainable living space has once more been sacrificed on the altar dedicated to the euro-machine!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 September 2022

The regeneration of Marsa

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

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

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

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

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

Rather than more tourism we definitely need less of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 December 2021

Climate Change and solar rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 31 October 2021

Birżebbuġa: minn ġot-taġen għal ġon-nar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birżebbuġa: adding insult to injury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 October 2021