Open spaces and the 15-minute city

Having a substantially increased area of open spaces and ensuring that these spaces are accessible for all is good policy. The fact that currently we lack accessible open spaces is a failure of land use planning as practised in Malta, which is unfortunately speculation oriented instead of being focused on optimisation of land use as a contribution towards an improvement in the quality of life for all.

Government is embarking on a €700 million project in order to enhance existing open spaces as well as to create or to encourage the creation of new ones. No one would object to that provided that it is not an excuse for a different and undeclared objective.

In order for such a project to be successful it must be part of a long-term view of enhancing our surroundings such that we bridge the substantial and ever-widening gap which separates us from nature. However, what is really needed is a change in attitude towards the availability of public space as an essential element in the basic infrastructure required for an enhanced healthy quality of life.

While it is definitely an acceptable objective to create new open spaces, we could do much better if, as an essential first step we strive to retain existent open spaces and save them from destruction. Private gardens, some of them of a substantial size, forming an integral part of our urban areas and village cores have for quite some time been making way for the development of blocks of flats. These should be the first obvious open spaces which we should seek to protect if we are serious about the importance of open spaces. Such gardens have served as the lungs of our local communities for ages. They are in private ownership but they still contribute substantially to the wellbeing of our communities. This does not entail any expense. All it requires is a dose of consistency and plenty of goodwill.

Next on the protection list would be agricultural land which is being lost at an ever-accelerating rate. When agricultural land is not being engulfed by road-building or building development it is being taken up by those who want to transform it into BBQ or picnic land, as their private recreational hideout.  In the process they squeeze out farmers who have tilled the land for ages and contributed continuously to the national food production effort. Even this does not entail any expense. All it requires is properly functioning authorities, which we lack!

The urge for more open spaces is a longing to re-establish contacts with our roots, that is with nature. Nature has a role in every aspect of our life. We can only keep ignoring it at our peril. This would primarily signify that open spaces need to reintroduce nature into our localities and not introduce a number of token planters in concrete pots. Open spaces are about nature and not about the increased domination of our localities by concrete in whatever shape or form! Nor should they be used as parking spaces.

It has been emphasised that the current project of investing in open spaces aims to ensure that each and every one of us will have access to a public open space not more than ten minutes away from where he or she resides. This objective ties in with a current initiative in various European towns of developing a 15-minute city: that is a local community which is almost self-sufficient, all needs, or most of them being available not more than 15 minutes away. It is not just public open spaces which ought to be close by: all our basic needs should be within easy reach.

This would necessitate that we examine closely our urban fabric to realise that the small commercial outlets which have served our local communities for ages are heading towards extinction. They are being squeezed out of the market through the ever-increasing number of supermarkets and large commercial establishments.

The idea of ‘the 15-minute city’ initially put forward by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, but adopted by an ever-increasing number of cities entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away.

Carlos Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

Small commercial outlets in our towns and villages require support as they are an essential help to make our communities vibrant: being of service and creating local employment in the process. Encouraging the local commercial outlets also reduces traffic at all times of the day as there will be less need to travel. It would also directly help in achieving that other objective of reducing cars from our roads.

Land use planning is for people. It is about time that this is put into practice. It is only within this context that the funding of community greening projects makes any sense.

published in The Independent on Sunday 29 January 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

Il-ħiliet ħodor li neħtieġu

Il-ħiliet il-ħodor ma jiġux waħedhom. Għandna ħtieġa kbira tagħhom biex insibu tarf tat-trasizzjoni ekoloġika. Jeħtieġilna li b’mod urġenti nirrisolvu l-kunflitt tal-bniedem man-natura. Neħtieġu li nibdew nirrimedjaw il-ħsara ambjentali akkumulata li l-bniedem ikkawża fuq id-dinja.

Biex nimxu f’din it-triq hemm ħtieġa ta’ bidliet sostanzjali fl-imġieba tagħna. Din mhiex għażla li nistgħu naqblu magħha inkella le. Hi ħtieġa li llum jew għada irridu niffaċċjaw.

L-istrateġija dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli, li preżentement hi soġġetta għal konsultazzjoni pubblika,  titkellem, fost oħrajn, dwar l-oġġettiv ta’ edukazzjoni ta’ kwalità li tkun kapaċi tirrispondi għall-ħtiġijiet tas-suq tax-xogħol. Dan tagħmlu hi u tiddiskuti l-oġġettiv strateġiku numru 4.  L-istrateġija tinfurmana li dawn il-ħtiġijiet tas-suq tax-xogħol jinkludu l-ħiliet ħodor.

Ma għandi l-ebda diffikulta dwar oġġettiv bħal dan li jipprova joħloq kredenzjali ħodor għall-ekonomija. Imma, naħseb li jkun għaqli li flok nimmiraw ħafna il-fuq nidentifikaw mod prattiku kif nassiguraw li l-parti l-kbira tal-popolazzjoni tikseb il-ħiliet bażiċi ħodor. Fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli mhux ser nilħquh mill-uffiċini, billi noħloqu pjani dettaljati minn wara l-iskrivanija. Nilħquh bl-imġieba tagħna, ġod-djar tagħna, fejn ngħixu l-ħajja normali tagħna. Din hi l-isfida tagħna. Hi sfida li tmur lil hinn mill-ekonomija.

L-għaqda ambjentali Nature Trust, flimkien ma numru ta’ skejjel, fuq dan qegħda fit-triq it-tajba, ferm qabel ma tfasslu strateġiji. Iċ-ċavetta qegħda fl-aċċess għall-imħuħ. Tul is-snin l-implimentazzjoni tal-proġett eko-skola min-Nature Trust wassal numru sostanzjali ta’ tfal u żgħażagħ f’kuntatt ma’ rejaltajiet ambjentali li niffaċċjaw ta’ kuljum.

Tul is-snin kelli diversi opportunitajiet fejn iltqajt ma’ parteċipanti fl-eko-skola kif ukoll mal-għalliema tagħhom. L-għarfien ambjentali li kisbu kien wieħed impressjonanti. Applikaw l-għarfien li kisbu għad-dinja ċkejkna tagħhom, l-iskola. Uħud minnhom irnexxielhom ukoll iwasslu dak li tgħallmu sad-dar u influwenzaw kemm lill-ħuthom kif ukoll lill-ġenituri tagħhom biex huma wkoll jaġixxu b’mod li ma jkunux ta’ ħsara ambjentali.

Dan hu pass kbir il-quddiem. Imma mhux biżżejjed.  

L-eko-skejjel jeħtieġ li jinfettaw lill-komunitajiet lokali tagħna biex huma ukoll jimxu fuq l-istess passi. Dan jista’ jwassal għat-tibdil meħtieġ fl-imġieba tagħna lkoll. Dan hu proċess twil. Bil-mod il-mod nistgħu nibnu komunitajiet sostenibbli. Dan nagħmluh billi nassiguraw ruħna li kull eko-skola tgħin lill-ġenerazzjonijiet differenti fil-komunitajiet lokali  tagħna biex huma jagħrfu u jakkwistaw il-ħiliet il-ħodor. Ħiliet li lkoll kemm aħna neħtieġu biex inkunu nistgħu ngħixu f’armonija  fl-ambjenti rispettivi tagħna. Ħilijiet li dawk li ġew qabilna kellhom, imma li tul is-snin intilfu minħabba dak li kultant jissejjaħ “progress” li biddel il-mod kif ngħixu!

Jeħtieġ li nqiesu l-kisba u l-għarfien ta’ ħiliet ħodor bħala ħiliet soċjali essenzjali. Dan ftit nagħtu kaz tiegħu minkejja l-biżibilju konsultazzjonijiet pubbliċi li jsiru mid-diversi awtoritajiet pubbliċi tul is-snin. Dan ifisser ukoll li flimkien mal-istrateġija “nazzjonali” dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli neħtieġu ukoll strateġija fuq livell lokali biex din tkun implimentata fl-għeruq tas-soċjetà, fil-komunitajiet lokali tagħna.

Tul is-snin sar ħafna xogħol, imma dan, ħafna drabi, sar bla koordinazzjoni ta’ xejn. Il-koordinazzjoni meħtieġa, meta issir sewwa, jirnexxielha tagħti riżultati tajbin billi tifrex il-ħiliet ħodor fil-komunitajiet lokali tagħna. Dan hu mod prattiku kif il-proċess ta’ twettieq tal-istrateġija għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli jitmexxa minn min hu effettwat mill-ħsara ambjentali akkumulata li irridu niffaċċjaw ta’ kuljum.

Huwa biss billi niddemokratizzaw il-bidla meħtieġa fl-imġieba fuq livell lokali li nistgħu nibdew il-mixja lejn żvilupp sostenibbli bis-serjetà. Il-Kunsilli Lokali, jekk iridu, għandhom rwol ċentrali f’dan kollu. Hi opportunità unika ta’ kif jistgħu jagħtu sura lill-ħajja ta’ madwarna.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 1 ta’ Jannar 2023

The green skills which we require

Green skills do not grow on trees. Yet we need them in abundance in order to be able to navigate the ecological transition. We need to urgently come to terms with nature. It is required that we start the healing process, slowly repairing the accumulated environmental damage which humankind has to date inflicted on Mother Earth.

In order to walk along this path substantial behavioural change is essential. This is not an option. It is a basic requirement which all of us must address, sooner rather than later.

The Sustainable Development Strategy, currently subject to public consultation, advocates the achievement of high-quality education responsive to labour market needs when discussing its strategic objective number 4. These labour market needs, we are informed, include green skills.

I have no issue with such an objective which seeks to align the markets to green pathways. I would however point out that before aiming for the stars it would be appropriate if we seek practical ways of ensuring that basic green skills are acquired by as large a section of the population as possible. At the end of the day sustainable development will not be achieved if adequately planned in our offices: it requires proper implementation in our homes, in our routine behaviour. This is our challenge. A challenge which goes far beyond the economy.

The environmental NGO Nature Trust in conjunction with a number of schools, is, in this respect, on the right track, before the drafting of written strategies. Access to our thinking faculties is fundamental. Over the years the implementation by Nature Trust of the eco-school project has brought a substantial number of children and youngsters in touch with the eco-realities which we have to face day-in day-out.

Over the years I have had various opportunities of meeting with eco-school participants together with their teachers. The eco-knowledge which they have acquired is impressive. They have applied this knowledge in their micro-world, their school. Some of the eco-school participants have also exported this knowledge to their homes nudging their siblings and their parents into acting in an eco-friendly manner.

This is a gigantic step forward. It is however not enough.

Our eco-schools need to infect our local communities into following similar paths, consequently leading to the required behavioural change. This is a slow and laborious process. Slowly we can build sustainable communities by ensuring that our eco-schools serve as catalysts, mentoring the different generations in our localities into acquiring the green skills which we all require in order to be able to live in harmony with our surroundings. Skills similar to those which our forefathers had, but which have been discarded as a result of the so-called progress which we have been subject to throughout the years!

We need to consider the development of green skills as essential social skills, a matter which is not considered in any depth by the multitude of public consultations carried out over the years by the different authorities. This signifies that in parallel to the “national” sustainable development strategy we urgently require a local strategy for sustainable development to be implemented at the roots of our society, in our local communities.

A lot of uncoordinated efforts have been taken in hand over the years. Coordinating the work done as well as that currently in hand could, if done properly yield significant results in disseminating green skills amongst our local communities. This is the practical manner in which the sustainable development strategy process can be owned by those impacted by the accumulated environmental damage which we have to face day-in day-out.

Only by democratising the behavioural change required at a local level can we start moving along the path of sustainable development. Local Councils have a pivotal role in this whole process. It is their’ s for the taking. It is a unique opportunity through which they can realistically shape their surroundings.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 January 2023

The war on nature is suicidal

If we are to register any significant progress in addressing our quality of life we must once and for all end the war on nature. This has been emphasised by Inger Anderson, the Executive Director of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) when she was addressing the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, currently in session at Montreal.

This has been also emphasised by a multitude of speakers within other fora, notably those related to climate, most recently in Sharm El Sheikh during the latest Climate Summit.

The Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity are just two of the many efforts and initiatives of the international community in order to end the continuous human war on nature.

Small steps forward have been made but they are nowhere near being enough in order to have any significant impact in halting the damage done to date as well as reversing its consequences.

It has been an uphill struggle for more than fifty years. It was in Stockholm fifty years ago, in June 1972, that the international community agreed for the first time ever, to recognise the environment as an important issue to be delt with by the global political agenda.

The UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972 laid the foundations for international environmental governance. The Stockholm Conference is in fact credited with introducing the environment in the contemporary political lexicon.

Opening the United Nations Montreal Biodiversity Conference, this week, Antonio Guterres-UN Secretary General, said that humans are treating nature “as a toilet”. Nature, said Guterres, is humanity’s best friend: without nature, we have nothing, without nature we are nothing!

We threaten nature in many ways: urbanisation, deforestation, agricultural intensification, all forms of pollution, climate change as well as the spread of invasive species. Possibly these are the primary vehicles used in the intensive war waged by humanity against nature.

It is about time that we seek ways to make peace. With nature, however, there is no room for negotiation! We must seek to make peace before nature strikes back with full force. It is already retaliating, and this will definitely get much worse.

There is no possibility to negotiate with nature, her demands are clear and simple: unconditional surrender. We need to change our ways and habits. Nature can be a reliable friend but if transformed into an enemy, it is ruthless, as climate change shows continuously and unequivocally.

Nature is what sustains everything on earth, yet it is declining on a global level. The rate of extinction of species is increasing exponentially.

Expanding protected areas is not enough to arrest nature’s decline. We need to change our behaviour through seriously addressing the various environmental threats. We must limit the spread of invasive species, and halt deforestation. We need to protect agricultural land. It is imperative that we drive some sense into land use planning. We also need to eliminate environmentally harmful subsidies. We need to protect what’s left of the natural resources which we have been provided with!

It is only when our actions match our nice words that we can start achieving the required results. Until then, we inch closer to a collective suicide.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 December 2022

Mqabba: vittma ta’ sklerożi tal-istituzzjonijiet

Madwar għoxrin sena ilu, l-awtorità responsabbli mill-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art, dakinnhar imsejħa l-MEPA, kienet ippubblikat pjan dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-minerali fil-gżejjer Maltin. Dan id-dokument bl-isem Minerals Subject Plan for the Maltese Islands iġib id-data ta’ Mejju 2003.

Kif mistenni, dan il-Pjan hu dwar il-qafas regolatorju essenzjali biex issir l-estrazzjoni tal-minerali minn ġol-art. Primarjament dan jikkonċerna l-operazzjoni tal-barrieri biex tkun estratta l-ġebla Maltija. Dan hu qasam tal-kawbojs, qasam fejn ir-regolamentazzjoni hi skarsa u l-infurzar prattikament ineżistenti.

Fl-ewwel linji tiegħu, dan il-pjan jitkellem ċar ħafna billi jitkellem dwar il-kunflitt inevitabbli li jirriżulta mill-operazzjoni tal-barrieri. Jemfasizza li fi gżejjer li huma żgħar u b’popolazzjoni li hi iffullata hemm kunflitt mat-turiżmu u l-industrija, kif ukoll kemm mal-iżvilupp kummerċjali kif ukoll dak residenzjali. Hemm impatt ukoll fuq il-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali u ta’ dawk kulturali. Li jinħoloq bilanċ bejn il-ħtieġijiet tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni għar-riżorsi minerali f’kuntest ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli hi sfida ewlenija, jgħidlina l-pjan. Dan flimkien ma kunsiderazzjonijiet ta’ ippjanar ta’ użu ta’ art u konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali.

Il-pjan dwar il-minerali jitkellem ukoll fid-dettall dwar l-impatt fuq terzi: jiġifieri l-impatt fuq in-nies, kemm residenti kif ukoll dawk li jkunu fil-viċinanzi, hi x’inhi r-raġuni għal dan: dan jinkludi t-tfal tal-iskola primarja. Specifikament jikkunsidra l-impatti riżultat tal-istorbju u tat-trab li huma ġġenerati mit-tħaddim tal-barrieri, mhux biss mill-ħidma biex ikun estratt il-ġebel, imma ukoll minn attività anċillari.

Il-pjan jirreferi għall-ġenerazzjoni tal-istorbju u jgħid li l-permessi ta’ żvilupp għandhom jindirizzaw dan l-inkonvenjent b’diversi miżuri, fosthom permezz ta’ ilqugħ adegwat (acoustic screening), kontroll tal-ħinijiet tal-operazzjoni tal-barriera, li jkun stabilit il-massimu tal-istorbju permissibli u li l-attività storbjuża tkun l-iktar il-bogħod possibli minn żoni sensittivi.

Il-pjan jitkellem ukoll dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-ġenerazzjoni tat-trab. L-attività li tiġġenera t-trab għandha tkun il-bogħod kemm jista’ jkun minn żoni sensittivi. Hu rakkomandat ukoll mill-pjan li meta jinġemgħa fuq is-sit kwantità ta’ prodotti tal-ġebla (stockpiling) dan ikun mgħotti: dan inaqqas it-tixrid tat-trab u allura jgħin biex ikun indirizzat l-inkonvenjent.

Għandi kopja elettronika ta’ dan il-pjan li kont niżżilt minn fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar xi snin ilu. Meta din il-ġimgħa erġajt fittixt, sibt li dan id-dokument sparixxa minn hemm: illum m’għadux aċċessibli fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-awtorità!  Safejn naf jien dan il-pjan għadu fis-seħħ imma, mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar diffiċli tgħid: għax qatt ma taf fejn int!

Ftakart f’dan kollu meta f’dawn il-ġranet ġejt ikkuntattjat minn residenti fl-Imqabba minħabba applikazzjoni tal-ippjanar (PA 0350/22) li daħlet reċentement dwar barriera fil-viċinanzi tal-iskola primarja tal-Imqabba.  Din l-applikazzjoni hi dwar attività diversa fil-barriera inkluż tkissir tal-ġebla biex tipproduċi ż-żrar kif ukoll dwar il-ħażna taż-żrar fs-sit (stock piling).

Ir-residenti qalulna, lili u lil Melissa Bagley, (kandidat tal-partit fuq id-distrett elettorali li minnu jifforma parti l-Imqabba) li ilhom jaqilgħu ġo fihom żmien. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan għandhom raġun li joqgħodu lura milli jitkellmu direttament. Bħala partit aħna ser nitkellmu f’isimhom.

Jiena rajt il-file dwar din l-applikazzjoni fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-awtorità tal-ippjanar u nħoss li għandi ngħid pubblikament li jiena mħasseb ħafna bir-reazzjoni tad-Direttorat tas-Saħħa Ambjentali li hi nieqsa minn kull sens ta’ responsabbiltà. Jonqos milli jitkellem dwar l-impatti negattivi fuq in-nies kemm tat-trab fin iġġenerat kif ukoll tal-istorbju. Ma jitkellimx dwar il-ħtieġa li dan ikun ikkontrollat mill-proċess tal-ippjanar innifsu.

L-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi, min-naħa l-oħra, tistabilixxi numru ta’ kundizzjonijiet li għandhom ikunu osservati in lineja ma’ l-aħjar prattiċi ambjentali. Għandu jkun ċar, iżda li dawn il-miżuri u kundizzjonijiet jeħtieġ  li jkunu partiintegrali kemm minn eventwali permess ta’ żvilupp kif ukoll mill-permess operattiv li jinħareġ mill-ERA innifisha.

Sal-ħin li qed nikteb, id-Dipartiment tal-Edukazzjoni għadu ma fetaħx ħalqu biex jipproteġi lill-istudenti fl-iskola primarja tal-Imqabba li hi daqstant viċin tal-barriera soġġett ta’ din l-applikazzjoni. Ma nafx x’qed jistennew biex jipproteġu lit-tfal Mqabbin mill-istorbju u t-trab fin ġġenerat mill-barriera!

B’mod konvenjenti l-anqas il-Kunsill Lokali tal-Imqabba ma fetaħ ħalqu. Imma dan ma jissorprendi lil ħadd.

Din hi materja serja u gravi li teħtieġ l-attenzjoni tagħna lkoll. Il-barrieri u l-ħidma fihom jinħtieġu li jkunu regolati sewwa biex il-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ dawk kollha li jgħixu fil-madwar tkun imħarsa bis-serjetà.

Is-skiet, jew in-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni adegwata, tal-awtoritajiet li nsemmi iktar il-fuq hi skandaluża. Din hi sklerożi tal-istituzzjonijiet. Meta l-iktar hemm bżonnhom, dawn jiġġammjaw.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’Novembru 2022

Mqabba: a victim of institutional sclerosis

Around twenty years ago, the authority responsible for land use planning, then named MEPA, had published a Minerals Subject Plan for the Maltese Islands. The plan is dated May 2003.

The Subject Plan, as expected, deals with the regulatory framework for mineral extraction, primarily limestone, which was then and still is now, cowboy territory. Regulation is scarce and enforcement in this sector is almost inexistent.

The Subject Plan fired a warning shot in its first lines by pinpointing the inevitable conflicts resulting from the operation of quarries. It emphasises that “in such small and densely populated islands there are inevitable land use conflicts between limestone extraction and tourism, industrial, commercial and residential development, and the preservation of the islands’ natural and cultural resources. Balancing the needs of the construction industry for mineral resources with other planning and environmental policies, in the context of sustainable development is a key challenge for this Mineral Subject Plan and for the day-to-day control of extraction and related activities.”

The Subject Plan considers impacts on third parties. Specifically, it considers the impacts of noise and dust resulting from quarry operations and ancillary activities.

With reference to noise, it states that planning permits will seek to regulate noise impacts through the use of acoustic screening, restricting operating hours, setting of permissible maximum noise levels, locating noisier operations as far as possible from noise sensitive locations and properties and ensuring appropriate stand-off distances between operations and sensitive locations.

On the other hand, the regulation of dust impacts in the said Mineral Subject plan is also fairly detailed in that it is required to site the dust generating activities away from sensitive locations, considering the direction of prevailing winds. Covering of stockpiles is also recommended.

I have an electronic copy of this Subject Plan which I downloaded some time ago from the Planning Authority website. Checking recently, it has apparently mysteriously disappeared: it is no longer accessible on the Planning Authority website! As far as I am aware this Subject Plan is still applicable. When dealing with the Planning Authority, however, one never knows for certain!

All this came to mind when I was recently contacted by a number of Mqabba residents relative to a planning application (PA 0350/22) submitted recently concerning a quarry in the vicinity of the Mqabba Primary School. The application seeks to carry out activities ancillary to quarrying, including crushing and stock piling of stone derived aggregate on site.

Residents, have informed me and Melissa Bagley, party candidate on the electoral district of which Mqabba forms part, that they have been at the receiving end for a long time. As a result, they are reluctant to speak up publicly. ADPD will be taking up their case and speaking on their behalf.

I have gone through the planning application file which is available online and must publicly state that I am shocked at the reactions of the Environmental Health Directorate which fails to make any submissions on the negative impacts of noise and dust generated as a result of quarry operations, and, on the need, to control them through the planning process itself.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), on the other hand, lists a number of conditions to be adhered to in line with best practice environmental measures. It should however be clear that these measures should be an integral part of both an eventual planning permit as well as the standard operational permit issued by ERA itself.

The Department of Education has so far not reacted in order to protect the students at Mqabba Primary School which school almost borders the quarry in question. What is it waiting for to protect Mqabba boys and girls from excessive noise and from continuously inhaling dust particles generated by the quarry operations?

The Mqabba Local Council is also conveniently silent. However, no one is surprised about that.

This is a very serious issue which needs our attention. Quarrying needs adequate regulation and prompt enforcement such that the quality of life of all those in the vicinity is adequately protected.

The silence (or the lack of appropriate action) of the relative public authorities listed above is scandalous. This is institutional sclerosis. When needed most the institutions we have fail to act.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 November 2022

Jgħadduna biż-żmien

L-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) għadha kif ippubblikat abbozz ta’ Strateġija Nazzjonali dwar l-Ambjent għal konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dan l-abbozz ippubblikatu bl-Ingliż biss. Qiesu t-tmexxija tal-ERA ma tafx bil-Malti.

Minn awtorità pubblika nistennew ferm aħjar minn hekk. Kemm ser iddumu tinsulentawna? L-iskuża li l-Malti mhux addattat għal dokument tekniku mhiex waħda aċċettabbli. In-nuqqas ta’ dokument bil-Malti hi opportunutà mitlufa biex l-ERA tikkomunika iktar man-nies.

Iżda lil hinn mil-lingwa, l-istrateġija ambjentali li qed tkun proposta hi waħda ġenerika. Fiha tmien għanijiet li hu propost li jintlaħqu sal-2050. Il-lista tal-għanijiet li l-ERA trid tindirizza mhiex il-problema, għax il-problema hija li dawn l-għanijiet huma affarijiet li ilna niddiskutu żmien: ġew ippubblikati biżibilju rapporti, strateġiji u regoli jew policies li jkunu saru b’intenzjonijiet tajba tul is-snin!  Il-problemi jinqalgħu dejjem meta nfittxu li nimplimentaw il-miżuri meħtieġa biex jitwettqu dawn l-għanijiet. F’dak il-mument jinqagħu elf skuża, għax fir-realtà ma hemmx il-volontà politika li jittieħdu passi bis-serjetà.

Dan hu bil-bosta differenti milli jipprova jgħid ic-Chairman tal-ERA fid-daħla bl-Ingliż li kiteb għad-dokument konsultattiv! Din hi storja li għaddejna minnha diversi drabi!

Il-ħsara ambjentali li saret tul is-snin mhiex xi ħaġa li ser tkun irranġata mil-lum għall-għada.  Ħadd m’għandu jistenna riżultati malajr fil-mixja biex insewwu l-ħsara ambjentali li tħalliet takkumula tul is-snin.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent jinvolvi li jinbidlu deċiżjonijiet politiċi diversi li ittieħdu tul is-snin li kienu parti mill-kawża ta’ ħsara konsiderevoli. Ifisser ukoll li nibdlu attitudnijiet, drawwiet u l-mod kif inġibu ruħna.

Fid-daħla għad-dokument konsultattiv iċ-Chairman tal-ERA Chairman, Victor Axiak, jistqarr li jista’ jkun hemm ħtieġa ta’ sagrifiċċji żgħar fl-immedjat biex niksbu benefiċċji ambjentali fit-tul li jitgawdew minn ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Din hi dikjarazzjoni li prattikament kulħadd jaqbel magħha. Imma dikjarazzjoni bħal din teħtieġ ukoll li tkun segwita minn lista ta’ miżuri meħtieġa biex tittieħed azzjoni dwarhom,  lista li tvarja minn miżuri li jistgħu jittieħdu immedjatament għal oħrajn li jħarsu iktar fit-tul.

Ma baqax iktar żmien biex noqgħodu niffilosifizzaw dwar l-ambjent.  Il-problemi nafu x’inhuma u  nafu ukoll min fejn ġejjin u min hu l-kawża tagħhom! Tħejjew kwantità ta’ rapporti, strateġiji, pjani t’azzjoni u x’naf jien tul is-snin. Kull Ministru ġdid ipprova jagħti l-impressjoni li hu jew hi sabet is-soluzzjoni b’nisġa ta’ kliem sabiħ li jipprova jimpressjona. Sfortunatament ir-rapporti tekniċi li saru kif ukoll dak li qalu in-nies waqt konsultazzjonijiet pubbliċi, bosta drabi ġie injorat.  Anzi xi drabi l-gvernijiet saħansitra aġixxew bil-maqlub ta’ dak propost jew maqbul!

L-istrateġija proposta illum, per eżempju,  tiffilosofizza dwar il-ħtieġa li innaqqsu id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi u tinsisti li għandhom jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna.  Jekk wieħed imur lura u jerġa’ jaqra ftit l-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport, li kienet iffinalizzat sitt snin ilu, jsib eżattament l-istess argumenti. Imma minflok ma ħa l-passi meħtieġa, l-Gvern – kemm direttament kif ukoll permezz tal-agenziji u l-awtoritajiet tiegħu – għamel bil-maqlub!

Kull studju li sar, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra minn xtutna, repetutament ikkonkluda li żvilupp massiċċ tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq twassal biex awtomatikament jiżdiedu l-karozzi fit-toroq. Kif mistenni, anke f’Malta, hekk ġara. Il-konġestjoni u l-problemi tat-traffiku żdiedu mhux naqsu riżultat tal-proġetti diversi tat-toroq. Dan seħħ għax kuntrarju tal-pariri li kellu, l-Gvern ma indirizzax il-kawza tal-problemi, imma indirizza l-effett.  Il-problema mhiex il-wisa’ jew it-tul tat-toroq, imma n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq. Is-sitwazzjoni illum – f’ħafna każi  – hi agħar milli kienet qabel ma saru dawn il-proġetti.  

Minnbarra dan, daqslikieku mhux biżżejjed, l-awtoritajiet għamlu is-snin jinkoraġixxu l-iżvilupp ta’ petrol stations kbar, qieshom supermarkets. Dawn ħarbtu ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’. Biex issa jiġu jgħidulna kemm iridu jipproteġu l-agrikultura!

Kif nistgħu ntejbu l-kwalità tal-arja jekk nibqgħu nżidu l-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna?  Uħud forsi jargumentaw li s-soluzzjoni qegħda wara l-bieb bl-introduzzjoni tal-karozzi tal-elettriku inkella bl-użu tal-idroġenu jew xi fuel ieħor alternattiv. Dan ikun biss soluzzjoni parzjali għax fl-aħħar mill-aħħar irridu naraw kif ikun ġġenerat l-elettriku meħtieġ inkella kif ikun prodott l-idroġenu jew fuel alternattiv.

M’għandiex ammont suffiċjenti ta’ enerġija rinovabbli iġġenerata lokalment għax l-għorrief li ħadu id-deċiżjonijiet ftaħru fil-passat kemm kien irnexxielhom jinnegozjaw deroga tajba biex il-mira nazzjonali ta’ ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli ma tkunx 20% imma 10% tal-elettriku ikkunsmat. Ħtija ta’ hekk, illum m’għandniex ammont suffiċjenti ta’ enerġija rinovabbli.  Meta għandna l-ħtieġa ta’ enerġija elettrika bi prezz raġjonevoli  għandna nuqqas f’dan il-qasam li għalih qed inħallsu bizzalza.

Id-dipendenza li għandna bħala pajjiż fuq il-karozzi privati hi riżultat ta’ traskuraġni politika tat-trasport pubbliku tul is-snin. Li t-trasport pubbliku jkun b’xejn minn dan ix-xahar kienet deċiżjoni prematura. L-ewwel pass messu kien li tkun indirizzata l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tas-servizz. Il-prezz qatt ma kien problema.

Hu meħtieġ li l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tas-servizz ikunu indirizzati b’urġenza. Meta dan isir jagħmel ġid ambjentali ferm iktar mill-argumenti tekniċi kollha dwar kemm hemm ħtieġa li nħarsu l-ambjent. Trasport pubbliku effiċjenti flimkien ma investiment f’modi alternattivi ta’ transport hu ta’ benefiċċju ambjentali enormi.

Din hi uġiegħ ta’ ras kbira. Pariri ċari kien hemm. Iżda meta kien possibli li l-problema tkun indirizzata, l-Gvern, direttament kif ukoll permezz tal-awtoritajiet u aġenziji diversi tiegħu, ġie jaqa’ u jqum minn dan u għamel bil-maqlub!

Argumenti simili jistgħu jsiru dwar numru kbir ta’ materji ta’ importanza ambjentali: mill-ilma sal-pestiċidi, mill-użu tal-art sal-bijodiversità, mill-isforzi favur ekonomija ċirkulari għal taxxi ambjentali iddiżinjati sewwa.

Il-mod kif il-politika dwar it-trasport tħalliet għan-niżla hu biss eżempju wieħed żgħir minn fost bosta li jwassal għall-konklużjoni inevitabbli li ma teżistix rieda politika biex il-ħsara ambjentali tkun indirizzata bis-serjetà.

Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika tal-ERA sfortunatament hi fażi oħra fi proċess li permezz tiegħu qed jippruvaw jgħadduna biż-żmien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Hadd 23 t’Ottubru 202https://www.illum.com.mt/opinjoni/politika/66843/carmel_cacopardo__jgadduna_bimien?fbclid=IwAR1CqEPhkXnPODQTe040-dkJEpxDoX2Z2ZxgMLB6K3UofHZ4qjdFXa8WY2Y#.Y1kATbZBzIV2

aqra ukoll dokument sottomessmill-ADPD lill-ERA hawn

Greenwashing by ERA

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has published a draft National Strategy for the Environment for public consultation. The proposed strategy is not specific but generic in nature. It lists eight strategic goals which it proposes to address till 2050.

There is no problem with the listed goals. We have, in fact been there before with a multitude of strategies and well-meaning policies. The problems arise when seeking to implement the specific measures required to achieve the said goals. When push comes to shove 1001 difficulties arise as it becomes clear that there exists no political will to act decisively. This is quite contrary to the impression conveyed in the forward penned to the strategy by the ERA Chairman!

ERA seeks a long-term vision since it is well known that the reversal of environmental damage takes time. One should not expect immediate results in the quest to reverse the accumulated damage to the environment.

Protecting the environment involves reversing political decisions which have been the cause of considerable environmental damage. It involves changing attitudes and behaviour.

In the forward to the document released for public consultation ERA Chairman Victor Axiak states that: “Short-term sacrifices may need to be made for long-term benefits to be reaped by future generations.” It is a statement that anyone in his right senses would agree with. Such a statement should however have been followed by a list of measures which require action, ranging from short term to long-term ones.

The time for philosophising on the environment is long overdue. We all know what the problems are. We also know who and what has caused them. A countless number of reports, strategies, masterplans, and action plans have been produced over the years. Unfortunately, they have been repeatedly ignored. At times governments have acted in a manner which is directly in opposition to what has been proposed or even agreed to!

The currently proposed environment strategy, for example, philosophises on reducing our car dependence and advises on the need to reduce cars from our roads. Leafing through the National Transport Master Plan finalised six years ago one finds the same admonition. Instead of taking definite steps, government, directly as well as through its agencies and authorities followed a path leading in the opposite direction.

All studies carried out in Malta and abroad have repeatedly concluded that large scale road infrastructural improvement leads to more cars on the road. As was expected this is what is happening in Malta at the time being. Traffic congestion has worsened, as instead of addressing the cause of the problem the authorities addressed the effects. They sought to widen roads and introduce new ones instead of addressing the exponential increase of cars on the roads. The traffic situation is worse than ever notwithstanding the monies spent or rather wasted in these projects.

In addition, the authorities have spent years encouraging the construction of large fuel stations, comparable to supermarkets in size, gobbling up quite an amount of good agricultural land in the process. Now, they are telling us how important it is to protect agricultural land!

How can we improve the quality of our air if we keep increasing cars on our roads? Some would say that a solution is round the corner with the electrification of vehicles or with the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel. This would only partly solve the problem. One must consider the source of electricity utilised or how the hydrogen (or other fuel) is produced.

We do not have enough renewable energy generated from local sources as the ignoramuses leading the country were (in the past) overjoyed at their successful EU negotiations to reduce the national target for the generation of renewable energy from 20 to 10 per cent of the electrical energy consumed. Now, when we desperately need more electricity which is reasonably priced, we are faced with a substantial deficit which is costing the national exchequer considerable expense.

We are faced with a national problem of car addiction as a result of the political neglect of public transport over the years. Having it free of charge as of this month was premature as the first step should have been to address its efficiency and reliability.   Price was never an issue.

This lack of efficiency and reliability of public transport is essential to address with urgency as, once addressed, it will do more for environmental protection that all the philosophising on the environment over the years! An efficient public transport together with a substantial investment in alternative modes of transport would be quite beneficial for the environment.

This is one of the major problems we currently face. Clear advice was available, yet when it was possible to address the problem, government through its various authorities and agencies deliberately made it worse.

Similar arguments can be made about a multitude of other areas of environmental importance ranging from water to pesticides, from land use to biodiversity, from efforts to set up a circular economy to adequate environmental taxes which are appropriately designed.

The way transport policy has developed in a downhill direction is just one small example of many on the basis of which it is inevitable to conclude that there is no political will to address environmental issues seriously. The ERA public consultation is unfortunately another phase of an on-going greenwashing exercise.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 23 October 2022

see also detailed submissions by ADPD to ERA here