Making hay …….. in St George’s Bay

The 23-storey Pender Gardens high-rise is nearly completed, after nearly 10 years of continuous construction activity. The application for the 31-storey Mercury House was approved last month and next Thursday, the Planning Authority Board will consider planning application PA2478/16 submitted by Garnet Investments Limited in respect of a substantial stretch of land along St George’s Bay on the outskirts of Paceville St Julian’s.

The applicant has requested the following: “Demolition of all existing buildings forming part of St. George’s Bay Hotel and ancillary facilities, Dolphin House, Moynihan House and Cresta Quay. Construction of Parking facilities, Hotels and ancillary facilities, Commercial Area, Multi Ownership holiday accommodation, Bungalows, Language school with accommodation. Restoration of the Villa Rosa and upgrading of the facilities including parking facility, kitchen and toilets all below existing site levels within the Villa Rosa Area to address catering facilities/wedding hall.”

The project includes mixed-uses covering a total site area of 48,723 square metres, a building footprint of 18,345 square metres and a total gross floor area of 82,917 square meters.

It is a small part of the area that was tentatively tackled by a draft Masterplan for Paceville which, after being rejected by public opinion was sent back to the drawing board. I consider it highly unethical for the Planning Authority to proceed with considering this application after the clear and resounding verdict of public opinion. As a minimum, the consideration of this application should have been postponed until a new, reasonable and acceptable Masterplan has received the go-ahead. A minimum effort at achieving consensus as to what development is acceptable is essential.

The Planning Authority is unfortunately insensitive to public opinion. It is amply clear that it, and those who appoint most of its Board members, are on the same wavelength as the development lobby, which is hell-bent on making hay while the sun shines. At this point in time, it is the turn of the St George’s Bay area.

The project is obviously recommended for approval in the 43-page report from the Planning Directorate.

The basic point of contention with such large-scale projects is that they are considered in isolation. Most of them would never get off the drawing board (real or virtual) if the consolidated impact of all neighbouring projects (existing or in the pipeline) are taken into account. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to address similar concerns to the EIA public consultation on the db Group ITS site project.

Five large-scale projects are earmarked for St George’s Bay. Each will generate considerable havoc from excavation throughout construction and right through operation in the whole St George’s Bay area. Cumulatively it will be hell. Who cares?

Way back in 2006, when the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive of the EU was about to be implemented in Malta, the Lawrence Gonzi – George Pullicino tandem rushed through the approval of the Local Plans in such a manner as to ensure that the accumulated environmental impact resulting from their implementation was not scrutinised and acted upon. The present state of affairs is the direct result of that irresponsible Gonzi-Pullicino action 12 years ago.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) occasionally tries to patch things up. For example, within the framework of the ITS EIA exercise ERA suggested that the traffic assessment of the ITS and the Villa Rosa projects be consolidated. This has, however, been avoided: a case of too little, too late.

So where do we go from here?

The development lobby is maximising its efforts to make hay while the sun shines. In reality, a consolidated mess is taking shape with massively built-up areas in a relatively restricted space punctured by high rises mimicking phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes spread all over the place. Pender Place has 23 floors. Mercury House will have 31. The ITS phallus will have a 37-floor residential tower. The Villa Rosa/Cresta Quay project will have more modest heights.

Next Thursday, the Planning Authority has the opportunity to scrutinise the proposal for this Villa Rosa-Cresta Quay project. We will see once more the extent to which the concrete lobby still holds the Authority by its balls – obviously where this is applicable.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 February 2018

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A Go at Coalition Government

Voters in the UK have elected Caroline Lucas as their first Green MP from the constituency of Brighton Pavilion. They have also discovered coalition government, thereby joining the great majority of European states. Malta, as usual, is one of the exceptions.

Many had hoped for a Lib-Lab coalition in the UK. The arithmetic, however, was not there. More importantly, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg underlined that the political party that had obtained the largest support should have the first go at forming a coalition. This led to the gradual unfolding of history before TV cameras. Negotiations between Conservative and Lib-Dem negotiating teams produced a coalition document that listed the programme of action of a coalition supported by 59 per cent of the UK electorate. Rarely has a UK government enjoyed such support.

The coalition policy document, as “normally” happens, is an exercise in “give and take”. It did include five senior Cabinet posts to the junior party, representatives in every ministry, agreement on policy overlaps, discarding for the current legislature a number of objectionable policies and, in particular, a softening of the conservative Eurosceptic stance as well as a possible nod to changes in the electoral system.

In Malta, we tend to associate coalition government with the Italian way of doing politics. In so doing we ignore the rest of Europe. Germany, France, Finland, Belgium, Holland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic are some of the European countries now governed by a coalition in addition to Italy. Even San Marino, a micro-state, is run by a coalition government.

The UK coalition has come about as a direct result of the May 6 election in which the electors deserted the Labour Party in government but did not flock in sufficient numbers to the Conservative opposition. As is normal with the first-past-the-post electoral system it did not return a “fair” result in that the third party, the Liberal Democrats, with 23 per cent electoral support obtained only about nine per cent of House of Commons seats.

Now proportionality is not a feature of the UK electoral system. In fact, it is designed specifically to encourage a two-party Parliament and tends to squeeze out the third parties. The Liberal Democrats’ relative strength in the May 6 elections has come about as a result of the failure of the major parties to garner support and not as a result of the votes it has obtained. In fact, while the Liberal Democrats have marginally increased their voting share, yet, they have decreased their MP uptake by five!

The first-past-the-post voting system has a number of peculiar features. If a large number of candidates present themselves for election in a particular constituency, votes are split and the elected candidate is possibly one who has obtained a small fraction of votes. For example, George Galloway, who was expelled from the Labour Party, in the 2005 election to the House of Commons, was elected on behalf of the Respect Party after obtaining just 18.4 per cent of the votes in his constituency.

The system also encourages tactical voting, that is voting not in favour of the candidate that you support but against the candidate most disliked. A number of seats tend to be determined by a handful of votes. For example, Glenda Jackson has been re-elected as a Labour MP with a majority of just 43 votes in her constituency!

Within this context, important proposals for reforming the electoral system have been made: the Conservatives want the size of constituencies to be adjusted such that large disparities in size are eliminated. The Liberals want a proportional system while Labour have put forward an alternative vote proposal, which essentially entails that for an MP to be elected s/he has to obtain the support of at least 50 per cent of his constituents through a multi-preference vote. The coalition has compromised on this alternative vote proposal and has agreed to present such a system to a referendum.

This is the first serious attempt at coalition building in the UK since the formation of the 1939-45 national government during World War II. The politics of confrontation has, at last, been challenged thereby paving the way for one primarily based on consensus. Whether it will last is another story altogether.

In Malta, we are awaiting electoral reform too. That will happen when the Nationalist and the Labour parties decide that the electoral rules need to be fair and not designed specifically to keep third parties out. This unfairness seems to be one of the few things the PN and PL agree upon.

Alternattiva Demokratika awaits the new Speaker to act, accelerating the process begun by his predecessor. He needs to prod MPs from both sides to live up to their self-proclaimed democratic credentials.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday May 22, 2010

Gvern ta’ Koalizzjoni

 

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Gvern ta’ Koalizzjoni jfisser Gvern flimkien bejn żewg partiti politiċi differenti jew iktar. Partiti li fil-waqt li ma jaqblux f’kollox kapaċi jidentifikaw dawk l-oqsma li jistgħu jindirizzaw flimkien għall-ġid tal-pajjiż. 

Ilu ma jkollna Gvern ta’ Koalizzjoni f’pajjiżna sa minn qabel ma twelidt jien. B’daqshekk ma jfissirx li dan m’huwiex possibli li jsir. Ifisser biss li sal-lum ghal iktar minn ħamsin sena kellna Gvernijiet ta’ partit wieħed li mexxew waħedhom. 

Kellna Gvernijiet li jikkuntrastaw, wieħed wara l-ieħor. Gvern favur is-sħubija mal-Unjoni Ewropea kien segwit b’ieħor li kien kontra s-sħubija u ffriża l-applikazzjoni. Biex ftit wara reġgħet inqalbet il-folja. Jista’ jibqa’ jkollna gvernijiet li jikkuntrastaw bil-goff b’dan il-mod ? B’politika li titbandal minn favur għal kontra u lura ?   Għandna bżonn li f’pajjiżna nxettlu politika ta’ kunsens. Politika li dwar materji fundamentali  tista’ twassal lill-partiti fi qbil kif ġja sar fuq il-leġislazzjoni finanzjarja tul is-snin.   

Bl-Alternattiva Demokratika bħala parti minn Gvern ta’ Koalizzjoni ġimgħatejn oħra jfisser illi jkollna Gvern li jaħdem biex jagħmel suċċess mis-sħubija ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropea. Ifisser ukoll illi jkollna Gvern li mhux biss jitkellem favur l-ambjent iżda jaħdem il-ħin kollu b’mod li jtejjeb il-kwalita’ tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.  

Fuq kollox Gvern ta’ Koalizzjoni jfisser illi għall-ħames snin li ġejjin ma jkollniex partit politiku li għandu poter assolut. Għax il-poter ikun f’idejn żewġ partiti, t-tnejn għassiesa li ħadd ma jabbuża.