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

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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

Ghost towns in the Maltese Islands

The last Census, carried out in 2011 – with results published in late 2014 – revealed that in the Maltese islands only 68.2 per cent of residential property is regularly occupied. The rest is either vacant (18.4 per cent) or else used seasonally or for some secondary use (13.3 per cent).

If we focus on the regional data, the situation is much clearer. The rate of occupied residential property varies – from 79.5 per cent in the Western Region (between Dingli, Siġġiewi and Balzan) to 46.4 per cent in the Gozo and Comino Region. Table 1 gives the full data. Property that is completely vacant varies from a rate of 16 per cent in the Northern Region (between Naxxar and Mellieħa) to 23.9 per cent in Gozo and Comino as shown it Table 2. Finally, property which is used seasonally or for some secondary use varies from an insignificant three per cent in the Southern Harbour Region (Valletta to Xgħajra, up to Paola and Luqa] to a staggering 29.7 per cent in Gozo, with the Northern Region (between Naxxar and Mellieħa) with a 25.9 per cent rate being a close second as shown in Table 3. This data has been extracted from the 2011 Census Final Report pages 221 and 222.

This amounts to more ten times the size of residential Birkirkara, meaning that the vacant or underutilised properties in Malta and Gozo at this time are equivalent to 10 ghost towns – each of which is equivalent to Birkirkara, the largest locality in the Maltese Islands. This represents a substantial waste of public funds. As a minimum it means that funds spent on the development of the infrastructure (roads, electricity, water, drainage and telecommunications) for these 10 ghost towns went down the drain and could have been mostly avoided.

While all this built-up residential property is vacant or under-utilised, the building industry keeps building more – thereby adding to the glut. They call this progress and a significant contribution to the economy. Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party and the environment lobby in Malta has been vociferous about this over-development of the Maltese Islands. This state of affairs has been worsening, with neither the Labour Party nor the Nationalist Party giving a fig about the consequences.

Instead of addressing the issue, the PN government increased the size of the development zone through the addition of the so-called “rationalisation” exercise. On the other hand, the Labour Party has, during the past four years, encouraged more development.

Last March I had the opportunity to represent a number of Mosta residents in opposing the scheming of a large tract of land at Tad-Durumblat, Mosta. This concerned 38,600 square metres of land which formed part of the rationalisation exercise piloted in 2006 by a PN-led government. Mosta has a sizable vacant and under-utilised residential area consisting of 19.4 per cent of the housing stock as in November 2011. The Executive Council of the Planning Authority accepted my arguments and rejected the relative planning control application, thereby saving – at least temporarily – this large tract of land from the greedy forces of development.

Faced with this situation, AD considers that the number of vacant properties in any locality should be an important criterion in determining whether development applications for larger areas are approved or not. This should also apply to the large tracts of land forming part of the rationalisation exercise, in respect of which the determination of the applicable scheme should not be decided if the number of vacant properties is substantial.

It is about time that this situation is addressed and for this purpose, AD’s election manifesto is making this specific proposal: in those localities where the number of vacant properties is substantial, large-scale residential projects will not be permitted.

This would be a good first step in addressing Malta’s ghost towns, ensuring that their enlargement is restrained and thereby applying a significant brake to over-development in the Maltese Islands.

 published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 14 May 2017

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 29,107 75.9
Northern Harbour 46,181 72.9
South Eastern 22,279 71.6
Western 19,584 79.5
Northern 23,989 58.1
Gozo and Comino 11,630 46.4

Table 1: Occupied property by Region 

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 1,113   3
Northern Harbour 6,650 10.5
South Eastern 3,294 10.6
Western 6,33  2.6
Northern 10,692 25.9
Gozo and Comino 7,444 29.7

Table 2: Property used seasonally or for secondary use by Region

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 8,126 21.2
Northern Harbour 10,556 16.7
South Eastern 5,552 17.8
Western 4,420 17.9
Northern 6,582 16.0
Gozo and Comino 5,996 23.9

 Table 3: Vacant Property by Region