Kunflitt ta’interess fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Il-validità tal-permess tal-ippjanar dwar il-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke ġie ikkontestat fuq bażi ta’ tmintax-il raġuni differenti, li jvarjaw minn kunflitt ta’ interess sa miżinterpretazzjoni u/jew applikazzjoni żbaljata tar-regoli dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

F’dan l-istadju, l-Qorti hi hu tħassar il-permess dehrilha li ma kienx neċessarju li tidħol fid-dettall dwar kull waħda minn minn dawn it-tminatax-il raġuni: waqfet fl-ewwel waħda, il-kunflitt ta’ interess tal-membru tal-Bord tal-Ippjanar Matthew Pace u l-interess tiegħu f’aġenzija li ġġib il-quddiem il-negozju tal-propjetà. Żewġ interessi li b’mod ovvju, għal kulħadd ħlief għal Pace, l-Awtorità u l-Gvern, ġie meqjus li huma konfliġġenti. L-aġenzija li fiha Matthew Pace għandu interess kienet diġa qed tirreklama l-bejgħ tal-appartamenti sa minn qabel mal-permess tal-ippjanar ġie approvat, bil-vot tiegħu stess favur l-applikazzjoni.

Il-Qorti użat il-frażijiet “kunflitt ta’ interess” u “nuqqas ta’ trasparenza”. Fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, imma, b’Malti sempliċi u li jinftiehem mill-ewwel dan hu kaz ta’ regħba da parti tal-membru tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li hu nvolut kif ukoll inkompetenza grassa da parti ta’ dawk li ħatruh fuq l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar meta l-interessi tiegħu kienu diġà magħrufa.

Ilkoll nafu li l-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jinħatru direttament mill-Prim Ministru, u allura ma nistgħux inkunu iktar ċari minn hekk: huwa u jaħtar lil Matthew Pace bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, il-Prim Ministru naqas milli jifhem il-konsegwenzi tal-ħatra ta’ agent tal-propjetà fuq il-bord li jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art.

Nhar it-Tlieta, l-Qorti annullat deċiżjoni waħda tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li fiha ipparteċipa Matthew Pace. Kemm ilu li nħatar fuq il-Bord, sa mill-2013, Matthew Pace, ħa sehem f’numru sostanzjali ta’ deċiżjonijiet oħra li ttieħdu mill-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-mistoqsija loġika hi dwar il-każi l-oħra li dwarhom ukoll kellu interess u li anke hawn dan l-interess ma ġiex iddikjarat. In-numru ta’ każi kontroversjali deċiżi mhux żgħir imma din il-mistoqsija qatt ma saret s’issa, ta’ l-inqas fil-pubbliku.

Il-każ, kif emfasizzat il-Qorti, hu wieħed li jiffoka fuq l-imġieba ta’ dawk li jokkupaw ħatra pubblika.

Il-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għandhom l-obbligu li jissottomettu dikjarazzjioni annwali dwar l-assi u l-interessi tagħhom. Ikun ferm interessanti kieku l-pubbliku jkollu informazzjoni preċiża dwar x’sar mid-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-membri kurrenti tal-Bord. Is-Segretarju tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, huwa u jixhed quddiem it-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar qal li dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet ma setgħux jintbagħtu, kif suppost, lill-Awditur Ġenerali, għax dawn ma ġewx aċċettati min-naħa tiegħu. Imma, jirriżulta minn tweġibiet elettroniċi tal-Awditur Ġenerali, li wkoll ġew ippreżentati bħala xhieda, li dan mhux il-kaz: l-Awditur Ġenerali qatt ma irrifjuta li jaċċetta dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet dwar l-assi u l-interessi tal-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Minn dan kollu jqum il-punt dwar kemm huma effettivi l-kontrolli stabiliti mil-liġi dwar il-posizzjoni etika ta’ dawk maħtura bħala membri tal-Bord. Id-dikjarazzjoni tal-assi u l-interessi, sal-lum meqjusa bħala għodda importanti qiesha saret ta’ bla ebda siwi u dan minħabba li wara li ġiet sottomessa ma kienitx eżaminata mill-Awditur Ġenerali. Dan iħarbat il-proċess kollu ta’ kontroll, għax hu ovvju li l-Awditur Ġenerali ġie ostakolat milli jeżamina d-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru u għaldaqstant ma setax jiġbed l-attenzjoni għall-konflitti ovvji li jirriżultaw meta taħtar agent tal-propjetà biex jiddeċiedi fuq materji dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Nittama li l-Awditur Ġenerali, anke issa, jipprova jirrimedja billi jeżamina d-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru ħalli l-kontrolli jkunu applikati sakemm u safejn hu umanament possibli.

L-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art hu diġa, minnu innifsu, kontroversjali, għax kważi dejjem jinvolvi numru mhux żgħir ta’ interessi konfliġġenti. Tal-inqas għandna nassiguraw li dawk maħtura biex jiddeċiedu jimxu bir-reqqa.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 23 ta’Ġunju 2019

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Managing conflict of interest at the Planning Authority

The validity of the planning permit in respect of the dB project at Pembroke has been contested on the basis of eighteen different reasons, ranging from conflict of interest to misinterpretation and/or wrongful application of land use planning policy.

In its decision, declaring the dB Pembroke permit null and void earlier this week, the Court did not consider it necessary, at this stage, to delve into each and every one of these 18 reasons: it stopped at the first one: the conflict of interest of one member of the Planning Board, Matthew Pace, whose interest in an estate agency was found to be an obvious no-go area. Apparently the conflict is obvious to everyone, except Pace, the Authority and Government. Even before the final planning decision, his estate agency was already advertising the sale of the apartments – the construction of which was yet to be approved –  with the support of his vote.

The legal terms used in the Court decision are “conflict of interest” and “lack of transparency”. In the end, however, it all boils down to greed on the part of the Planning Authority Board Member and consequently gross incompetence on the part of those appointing him as a member of the Planning Authority Board when his interests were well known.

We all know that the PA Board members are appointed directly by the Prime Minister, so I cannot be clearer than this: in the appointment of Matthew Pace as a member of the Planning Authority Board, the Prime Minister failed to understand the implications of appointing an estate agent as a land-use planning decision-taker.

Last Tuesday, the Court annulled one planning decision in which Matthew Pace had participated. Since his appointment as a member of the Planning Authority Board in 2013, Matthew Pace has participated in a large number of planning decisions. The logical question to ask is in what other cases did he have a conflict of interest that was also not declared. There is a countless list of controversial cases decided upon over the years, but this issue has never arisen, at least not in public.

The case, as emphasised by the Court in its decision, is one that puts the focus on the behaviour of those appointed to public office.

The members of the Board of the Planning Authority are duty bound to submit an annual declaration regarding their assets and interests . It would be interesting if reliable information was available regarding what has happened to the declarations submitted by the current Board members. The Secretary of the Planning Authority Board, when giving evidence at the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, stated that these declarations could not be sent – as required – to the Auditor General, as they were not accepted at that end. However, it is known from replies to emails by the Auditor General, also presented as evidence, that this is not the case.

This raises the serious question as to the effectiveness of the checks required by law on the ethical suitability of the Board members. One such tool – the declaration of assets and interests – has been rendered useless as clearly it is not being examined by the Auditor General when submitted. This stultifies the whole process as the Auditor General was obviously impeded from examining the declarations made and, consequently, could not draw attention to the obvious conflicts arising as a result of having an estate agent appointed to make decisions regarding land-use planning applications.

It is hoped that, even at this late stage, the Auditor General will consider it appropriate to examine the matter in order that adequate checks are as effective as is humanly possible. Land-use planning will always be controversial because it involves numerous conflicting interests. The least we can do is to ensure that those entrusted with taking these decisions act correctly.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 June 2019

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

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

Il-ħarsien tal-kosta: ma hemmx rieda politika

Il-kosta Maltija hi taħt assedju. Ilha żmien hekk. Il-kummerċjalizzazzjoni tal-kosta mhiex fenomenu riċenti. Ilha għaddejja s-snin.

L-abbozz ta’ Masterplan għal Paceville, li issa ġie skartat, ma kellu l-ebda skop li jħares il-kosta. Kemm min fassal dan il-pjan kif ukoll it-tmexxija tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, li mexxietu ‘l quddiem, fittxew li jiffaċilitaw il-kummerċjalizzazzjoni tal-kosta. L-abbozz ta’ pjan għal Paceville injora kompletament il-liġi dwar id-dimanju pubbliku, eżatt bħal ma qiegħed iseħħ fir-regolamentazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art b’mod ġenerali.

It-titjib li sar fl-2016 fil-leġislazzjoni lokali dwar id-dimanju pubbliku kien eżerċizzju biex jagħti stampa li mhiex minnha. Beda bil-pubblikazzjoni fl-2012 tal-White Paper bit-titlu bombastiku ta’ The Public Domain. Classifying Public Property – Achieving a Qualitative Leap in Protection and Governance.” Iktar tard, il-Parlament approva l-liġi bħala riżultat ta’ mozzjoni mressqa mill-Opposizzjoni. Bla dubju, jeżistu problemi fil-proċess tal-implimentazzjoni, problemi li ser idumu biex tinstabilhom soluzzjoni, sal-mument li ftit li xejn ikun baqa’ x’tipproteġi!

Minkejja l-liġi li ssaħħaħ u taġġorna l-qafas regolatorju għall-governanza tad-dimanju pubbliku, wara tlett snin, is-sitwazzjoni qed tmur mill-ħażin għall-agħar. Talbiet li saru mill-għaqdiet ambjentali biex immedjatament jibda l-proċess ta’ implimentazzjoni tqiegħed fil-ġemb għax ma hemm l-ebda rieda politika li l-affarijiet jiċċaqalqu. L-għaqdiet ambjentali ilhom sa minn Ġunju 2016 li issottomettew id-dokumentazzjoni meħtieġa dwar 23 sit mal-kosta biex dawn ikunu protetti. L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ilha minn dakinnhar tkaxkar saqajha, attenta li ma tmurx tippreġudika l-interessi tal-iżviluppaturi li hi sservi bi skruplu kbir.

Il-ħarsien tal-kosta tfisser ferm iktar minn tindifa u ġbir ta’ skart mormi. Ifisser li għandna nibdlu l-attitudnijiet tagħna kif ukoll li nduru dawra l-politika żbaljata li l-pajjiż għandu llum. Għandna bżonn urġenti ta’ amministrazzjoni pubblika li tkun kapaċi tifhem li hi teżisti biex isservi u biex tħares il-ġid komuni. Sfortunatament, f‘Malta, l-awtoritajiet jagħtu messaġġ ċar li l-viżjoni tagħhom hi li jiffaċilitaw li jkun hawn min ibill subgħajh f’dak li jamministra l-istat Malti.

Il-ħarsien tal-kosta u lil hinn minnha hi meħtieġa biex ikollna governanza tajba, li aħna nieqsa minnha. L-oriġinI ta’ dan fil-liġi Maltija taf il-bidu tagħha għal influwenza mil-liġi Rumana li kienet tqis il-kosta u lil hinn minnha bħala propjetà pubblika biex titgawda minn kulħadd: jiġifieri l-kosta hi tagħna lkoll. Il-Kodiċi Ċivili Malti jinkludi artikli li jikkunsidraw iċ-ċirkustanzi li bħala riżultat tagħhom il-parti l-ġewwa mill-kosta protetta tista’ tasal sa fejn twassal l-ikbar mewġa, u dan jista’ jkun sa ħmistax-il metru ‘l-ġewwa mill-kosta. F’din iz-zona ta’ 15-il metru hemm numru ta’ propjetajiet privati.

Huwa ta’ sfortuna li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tinjora dan kollu meta tkun qed tikkunsidra applikazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp li għandhom faċċata fuq il-kosta ta’ San Ġiljan. Tliet applikazzjonijiet dwar l-istess sit mal-kosta diġa ġew approvati, bir-raba’ applikazzjoni qed toqrob għal deċiżjoni. Il-propjetà oriġinali kienet ilha żmien mibnija. Tidher fis-survey sheets il-qodma tal-1906. B’żieda ma dan, fis-sit tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hemm survey fotografiku tal-bini minn ġewwa li juri li l-bini mal-kosta faċċata tal-kunvent tal-Karmelitani fil-Balluta, San Ġiljan hu ta’ kostruzzjoni qadima.

L-iżvilupp inkwistjoni ngħata permess fuq art mal-kosta. B’żieda ma dan kif jidher fil-pjanta approvata li qed nippubblika ma dan l-artiklu, jidher ċar li l-binja tibqa’ ħierġa fuq il-baħar. Jidher li l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet l-anqas biss tniffset dwar dan.

Xi ħtieġa għandna ta’ konferma li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar mhiex interessata fil-ħarsien tal-kosta? L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar issa għandha kompliċi ġdid, l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, li suppost hi l-gwardjan u l-amministratur tal-propjetà pubblika. Jidher li għad baqa’ biex isseħħ il-qabża fil-kwalità imwegħda fil-ħarsien u l-amministrazzjoni tal-propjetà pubblika.

Minflok, qegħdin kontinwament niffaċċjaw inizjattivi ġodda li bihom assi pubbliċi jsiru privati. Il-ħarsien tal-kosta teħtieġ amministrazzjoni serja li jkollha r-rieda politika li taġixxi. Sfortunatament la għandna l-waħda u l-anqas l-oħra.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 14 t’April 2019

 

Protecting our Coast: no political will in sight

Our coast is under siege. It has been for a number of years and its commercialisation is not a recent phenomenon: this has also been going on for years.

The draft Paceville Masterplan, now dumped, did not envisage the protection of our coast. Its drafters and promoters of it – part of the Planning Authority’s top management -sought to facilitate the coast’s commercialisation, with the result that it ignored the Public Domain legislation, following the lead of planning policy in general.

The 2016 upgrading of local public domain legislation was just an exercise in white-washing that started with the publication of the 2012 White Paper bombastically entitled The Public Domain. Classifying Public Property – Achieving a Qualitative Leap in Protection and Governance. It was subsequently enacted by Parliament as a result of an Opposition private members’ motion.

There are clearly some teething troubles in the implementation process, troubles that will undoubtedly take quite some time to solve, until, that is, there is nothing left to protect.

Notwithstanding the enactment of legislation which reinforced and updated the public domain regulation and governance framework, after almost three years the situation gets worse every day. Requests by environmental NGOs, to proceed rapidly with its implementation have been placed on the back-burner as there is no political will to act. As far back as June 2016, environmental NGOs submitted documented requests relating to 23 coastal sites in order that these be protected in terms of the updated legislation. The Planning Authority has been procrastinating ever since, being as cautious as ever not to prejudice the interests of the development lobby which it scrupulously serves.

Protecting the coastline means much more than physical clean-ups. Basically, what we require is an extensive clean-up of our attitudes and the weeding out of ineffective policies. We urgently require a public administrative set-up that is aware that it exists specifically in order to facilitate the protection of the common good. Unfortunately, most of the time, the authorities in Malta send a clear message that their vison is focused on facilitating the plundering of everything that is administered by the Maltese state.

Protecting the coast and the foreshore is a measure of good governance that has been absent for a very long time. Its origin in Maltese law is influenced by Roman law which considered the coast, as well as the foreshore, to be public property and for the enjoyment of all. Malta’s Civil Code includes legal provisions which consider circumstances as a result of which the foreshore may extend as far inland as the reach of the largest waves, and that could extend as much as 15 metres inland from the coastline. A number of so-called “private” properties lie within this zone.

It is indeed unfortunate that the Planning Authority ignores all this when considering planning applications for the redevelopment of properties abutting onto the coast at St Julian’s. Three applications relating to the same site with an elevation on the coastline have already been approved, while a fourth one is in the pipeline. The old property has been in existence for quite some time. It features in old survey sheets dating to the beginning of the 20th century. In addition, an internal photographic survey available for examination on the Planning Authority’s website clearly indicates clearly that the property along the coast, just in front of the Carmelite Priory in St Julian’s is of old construction.

The development in question has been permitted on a footprint starting along the coastline itself. In addition, as evidenced by the accompanying approved section drawing, 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.

Do we need any more confirmation that the Planning Authority is not interested in the protection of the coast? The Planning Authority is now joined by a new accomplice, the Lands Authority, the guardian and administrator of public property.

The qualitative leap promised in the protection and governance of public property is nowhere in sight. Instead we are continuously faced with new initiatives transforming public assets into private assets. Protecting our coast requires a serious administration that has the political will to act. Unfortunately we lack both.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 14 April 2019

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet raqdet?

Id-dokument tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar intitolat Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Space kien approvat f’Ġunju 2016. Permezz ta’ dan id-dokument hu regolat it-tqegħid ta’ siġġijiet u mwejjed fi spazji pubbliċi minn stabbilimenti li jservu l-ikel. Fid-daħla għal dan id-dokument jintqal li l-possibilità li spazju pubbliku jintuża b’dan il-mod jgħin fit-tisħiħ tal-valur ta’ dawn l-istabilimenti li jservu l-ikel.

It-triq li wasslet biex ikun konkluż u approvat dan id-dokument kienet waħda meqjusa bħala proċess ta’ simplifikazzjoni tal-proċess burokratiku, biex is-sidien tan-negozju jinqdew malajr u ma joqgħodux jaħlu ħafna ħin jiġru minn uffiċċju għall-ieħor biex jinkiseb permess! Kien hemm diversi entitajiet involuti. Però, l-iktar importanti minnhom, l-Kunsilli Lokali, ma kienux hemm. Dan hu rifless fid-dokument innifsu għax dan iħares l-interessi tan-negozju iżda ftit li xejn jagħti kaz tal-interessi tar-residenti.

Id-dokument jipprovdi illi meta jkunu ikkunsidrati applikazzjonijiet għal permessi biex stabilimenti li jservu l-ikel jokkupaw spazju pubbliku b’imwejjed u siggijiet għandu jkun assigurat li jitħallew passaggi mhux okkupati biex minnhom ikun jista’ jgħaddi l-pubbliku mingħajr diffikulta. Għandu anke jkun assigurat li l-aċċess għal propjetà ta’ terzi kif ukoll għal servizzi pubbliċi jitħalla liberu. Id-dokument jinsisti ukoll li fuq bankini f’toroq li minnhom jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċità kbira m’għandhomx jinħarġu permessi għall-imwejjed u siġġijiet.

Minkejja dan kollu, ipprova imxi fuq il-bankina fix-Xatt tal-Gżira fid-direzzjoni lejn Tas-Sliema u mbagħad ipprova kompla għaddej lejn ix-Xatt ta’ Tignè. Ikollok diffikultà konsiderevoli biex tgħaddi għax il-ħwienet, bil-barka tal-awtoritajiet, irnexxielhom jittrasforma propjetà pubblika f’parti integrali min-negozju tagħhom. Jirnexxielek tgħaddi b’diffikultà kbira. Għar-residenti li joqgħodu fil-flats fuq dawn in-negozji id-diffikultà hi ferm ikbar.

Dan hu r-riżultat ta’ politika li tpoġġi l-interess tan-negożji qabel l-interess tar-residenti. Infrastruttura aċċessibli u sikura m’hiex prijorità fil-politika tal-Gvern u l-awtoritajiet pubbliċi.

Riċentement, fl-aħħar, l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet ħadet id-deċiżjoni tajba li tirrifjuta applikazzjoni mis-sidien ta’ lukanda fix-Xatt tal-Gżira biex zona riżervata għall-parking tkun tista’ tintuża ħalli fuqha jitpoġġew siġġijiet u mwejjed li minnhom isservi l-ikel.

Meta is-sidien tal-lukanda ikkontestaw id-deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet huma ngħataw deċiżjoni mit-Tribunal Amministrattiv li bħalha ma tantx ikollna. F’din id-deċiżjoni ġie emfasizzat li l-politika dwar it-tqegħid tal-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet fi spazji pubbliċi biex minnhom jisserva l-ikel tipprojibixxi li dawn jitqegħdu fil-viċinanzi ta’ toroq arterjali inkella minnfejn jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċità sostanzjali. In-nies, qalet id-deċiżjoni, għandhom ikunu mħarsa mit-traffiku, mill-istorbju kif ukoll minn arja mniġġsa.

L-inċidenti fil-fatt iseħħu. Madwar disa’ xhur ilu, f’Lulju 2018, Olandiż ta’ 25 sena li kien miexi għall-affari tiegħu tul ix-Xatt ta’ San Ġiljan ġie mtajjar minn karozza li kienet għaddejja b’veloċità esaġerata u li kienet misjuqa minn żgħażugħ ta’ 20 sena li skond ma kien rappurtat kien qabeż il-limitu permissibli ta’ alkoħol li seta jixrob. L-Olandiż miet. Oħrajn weġġgħu. Saret ukoll ħsara konsiderevoli.

Minkejja dan kollu għadna nistennew lill-Awtorità tal-Artijiet biex tieħu passi f’diversi lokalitajiet biex fejn fil-passat inħarġu permessi għal imwejjed u siġġijiet fuq bankini u spazji pubbliċi oħra li huma viċin wisq ta’ toroq li minnhom jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċita kbira, dawn il-permessi jkun ikkunsidrati mill-ġdid u jiġu rtirati. Jekk l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet ser iddum wisq ma tiċċaqlaq ser ikollha terfa’ r-responsabbiltà għall-ewwel karozza li tispiċċa tkaxkar filliera mwejjed bin-nies madwarhom.

Qatt mhu tard biex tikkoreġi l-iżbalji. Żbalji li setgħu faċilment ġew evitati kieku ġew ikkonsultati l-Kunsilli Lokali.

Meta ser tiċċaqlaq l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 7 t’April 2019

 

When will the Lands’ Authority act?

The Planning Authority’s Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Space was approved in June 2016. This policy document regulates the placing of tables and chairs on the part of catering outlets in public open spaces. The foreword to the policy document considered that the provision of such areas was a “value-adding asset for catering establishments”.

The process leading to the adoption of this document was considered as one of simplification of the administrative process, providing a one-stop-shop and various public entities were involved in its formulation. However, the only entities of any relevance to the matter, Local Councils, were absent. This absence is very evident in the document produced as this is certainly business-friendly, but nowhere does it consider the interests of residents.

There is a proviso in the policy document that, when considering whether to permit outdoor catering areas in a public open space, passageways should not be obstructed. Nor must access to third party properties or public services be in any way obstructed when approving these outdoor catering areas.

Reading through the document, one notes that “Outdoor Catering Areas shall not normally be permitted on pedestrian public footpaths, which are either adjacent to arterial roads or located in close proximity to fast-moving traffic.”

Notwithstanding all this, try walking along the pavement in The Strand from Gżira to Sliema and then onto Tigne Seafront. It would be a very difficult walk because business has taken over and transformed a public asset into a private asset. Navigating through the small amount of unoccupied space left available is a nightmare for pedestrians and it is even worse for residents living in the residential units above the ground floor occupied by catering establishments.

This is the result of a policy that puts business interests before the interests of residents: accessible and safe infrastructure for people do not feature in the policies of either the Government or the public authorities.

Recently, and at last, the Lands Authority has taken the right step in refusing an application submitted by the owners of a Hotel on The Strand, Gżira, to encroach on a number of parking spaces in order to provide an al-fresco extension to the Hotel. When the hotel’s owners contested the Lands Authority’s decision, they were, at last, faced with some common-sense in the decision delivered by the Appeals Tribunal which  emphasised that the policy regarding outdoor catering areas prohibited any platforms adjacent to arterial roads or in close proximity to fast-moving traffic. Patrons had to be safeguarded from traffic, noise and air pollution.

Accidents do actually happen. Around nine months ago, in July 2018, a 25-year old Dutchman, who was walking along the St Julian’s promenade, was hit by an over-speeding car driven by a 20-year-old who was reported as being well over the drink-drive limit. The Dutchman died in hospital and others were injured. Street furniture was damaged.

Notwithstanding the above, we still await action on the part of the Lands Authority to clear pavements and parking spaces in various areas of outdoor catering facilities that have, in the past, been permitted close to fast-moving traffic. If the Lands Authority takes much longer to act it will have to shoulder responsibility for the consequences of an over-speeding car ploughing through a row of al fresco diners.

It is never too late to learn from past mistakes and all this could have been avoided if Local Councils been consulted.

When will the Lands Authority act?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 7 April 2019