Turning the Fuel Service Stations Policy on its head

Last Wednesday, the Parliamentary Environment and Land Use Planning Committee discussed the possible revision of the Fuel Service Stations Policy. The three development permits issued in the past weeks by the Planning Authority for fuel service stations at Burmarrad, Marsaskala and Magħtab without doubt was the spark that motivated the discussion. Among the pending applications, Attard, Mqabba and Iklin are queuing for new service stations, while over 60 more, from a current total of 85 stations are awaiting the Planning Authority go-ahead for upgrading.

A number of valid observations were made. Most of the discussion dealt with the need to relocate service stations currently within urban areas but there was, however, a reluctance to address head-on the real issue: do we need fuel service stations?

Almost five months ago, the Prime Minister – taking a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s 2017 election manifesto – announced that his government will be launching a public consultation to establish a cut-off date for the sale of diesel and petrol cars in Malta and the use of only electricity-driven vehicles instead. We have not heard much more about this proposal, apart for an article by Transport Minister Ian Borg who wrote about following in the footsteps of other European countries in “phasing out new petrol and diesel vehicles in the next few decades”.

The Prime Minister has rightly emphasised that this change in policy is required in view of the fact that vehicle emissions are the largest source of pollution in Malta, but why wait so long to put flesh on the bare bones of the declared policy? Other European countries have already determined their cut-off date. Norway and the Netherlands are considering the year 2025, Germany is considering 2030, while France and the United Kingdom are opting for the year 2040 by which to halt the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles.

Revisiting the Fuel Service Stations Policy should not be discussed in a vacuum. It has to be placed in the context of related transport policies and in particular the fact (hopefully) that Malta should now be going electric.

The main issue clearly is that, as a result of going electric, the number of fuel service stations required will at some point in the future – hopefully the not so very distant future – will be next to nil. So why build more of them? Why encourage investment in something that is not needed? It would be much better to channel investment into resolving problems instead of adding to them.

The relocation of urban area fuel service stations – the main thrust of the Fuel Service Stations Policy approved in 2015 – is being used to justify the uptake of 3,000 square metres of land. But instead of relocating the existing service stations in urban areas, would it not be much better if these were converted into charging stations? These service stations are centrally located and mostly of a relatively small size. Every conversion one into a charging station would potentially save 3000 square metres of land in the middle of nowhere and simultaneously provide the service of electrically charging vehicles right where that service is required: in our urban areas.

It is towards the conversion of these fuel stations that investment should be channelled. They can be transformed from being a problem in our residential communities to being an integral and focal part of the strategy to develop a suitable, reliable and – above all – sustainable infrastructure so necessary for the electrification of private transport.

This would obviously turn the Fuel Service Stations policy upside down. Instead of using urban service stations as an excuse to trigger more land speculation, it is about time to inject some environmental considerations right where they are most needed.

This is what we need right now: the turning of the Fuel Service Stations Policy on its head.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 February 2018

Ħmar il-lejl: l-ippjanar għall-kosta u r-riżorsi marittimi

Nhar it-Tnejn il-Parlament beda d-diskussjoni dwar l-implimentazzjoni tal-leġislazzjoni tad-dimanju pubbliku u b’mod partikolari dwar rapport li ħejjiet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fuq is-siti nominati. Ir-rapport jirreferi għal 24 sit nominati prinċipalment mill-għaqdiet ambjentali: 16-il sit kienu nominati minn Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), seba’ siti minn Friends of the Earth u sit wieħed mill-Ministru għall-Ambjent Josè Herrera.

Id-diskussjoni għadha fl-istadji inizzjali u s’issa kienet limitata għal spjegazzjoni tal-liġi li l-Parlament approva lejn nofs l-2016.

Moħbi mill-attenzjoni pubblika hemm il-ħtieġa urġenti li tkun implimentata d-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Ispazju Marittimu. Din id-Direttiva kellha tkun addottata sa tmiem l-2014. Permezz tal-Avviż Legali 341 tal-2016 Malta nnominat lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bħala l-awtorità kompetenti li ser tieħu ħsieb dak li għandu x’jaqsam mal-ippjanar tal-ispazju marittimu fil-gżejjer Maltin.

Wara li staqsejt inġibdet l-atttenzjoni tiegħi li l-Pjan dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu għal Malta diġà jifforma parti mill-Pjan Strateġiku dwar l-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development – SPED). Ngħid il-verità ma kontx irrealizzajt dan. Ħsibt li kien hemm xi paġni f’dak id-dokument li kienu qabżuli u allura mort infittex mill-ġdid u sibt sezzjoni intitolata Coastal Zone and Marine Area u taħtha tlett oġġettivi għall ħarsien tal-kosta. Dawn l-oġġettivi jistgħu, u nittama li jkunu, sviluppati fi strateġija dettaljata dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu Malti.

Waqt li Malta jidher li llimitat ruħha għal tlett oġġettivi xotti, pajjiżi oħra għamlu ħidma kbira biex jippreparaw il-pjani tagħhom dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu. L-Irlanda, per eżempju, ippubblikat dokument ta’ 88 paġna intitolat Harnessing our Ocean Wealth. An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland. Min-naħa l-oħra, ir-Renju Unit ippubblika dokument ta’ 55 paġna intitolat UK Marine Policy Statement.

Dawn iż-żewġ dokumenti jidħlu fid-dettall dwar l-Ippjanar għall-Ispazju Marittimu meħtieġ fl-Irlanda u r-Renju Unit. Bla dubju dawn id-dokumenti jeħtieġ li jkunu supplimentati bi pjani ħafna iktar dettaljati. Id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja fil-fatt tistabilixxi s-sena 2021 bħala d-data sa meta għandhom ikunu ffinalizzati l-Pjani għall-Ispazju Marittimu.

Malta hi gżira mdawra bil-baħar Mediterran. Fatt li għandu jkun rifless f’politika marittima serja u aġġornata. Sfortunatament dan mhux il-kaz għax jidher li għalina f’Malta it-tlett oġġettivi dwar il-kosta fil-Pjan Strateġiku dwar l-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (SPED) huma biżżejjed.

Id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Ispazju Marittimu bla dubju hi intenzjonata biex iċċaqlaqna ħalli nimlew it-toqob fil-politika tagħna. L-ekonomija l-blu, jiġifieri l-ħidma ekonomika li tiddependi fuq l-użu tar-riżorsi marittimi, teħtieġ attenzjoni ħafna iktar dettaljata.

Il-Gvernijiet Maltin, wieħed wara l-ieħor, għamlu ħerba fuq l-art u ħsara bla qies fiż-żoni naturali. F’xi kazi l-ħsara li saret ftit tista’ tiġi rimedjata. L-ilma tal-pjan hu l-eżempju ewlieni.

L-ippjanar b’attenzjoni tal-Ispazju Marittimu jista’ jkun ta’ għajnuna biex din l-imġieba żbaljata tal-Gvernijiet ma tkunx esportata lil hinn mill-kosta ħalli wara li ħarbatna l-art ma nħarbtux il-baħar ukoll.

Snin ilu kien pass għaqli li kienet indirizzata l-kwalità tal-ilma baħar bl-introduzzjoni tal-impjanti għat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ. Għad baqa’ xi jsir biex l-ilma msoffi, flok jintrema, jibda jintuża. Kontinwament għadna niffaċċjaw it-tniġġiż mill-gaġeġ tal-ħut li għandna fl-ibħra u li qed ikollhom impatti kemm fuq iż-żoni residenzjali kif ukoll fuq il-faċilitajiet turistiċi. Imbagħad hemm ukoll is-sajd, it-tibdil fil-klima, l-bijodiversita, is-sigurtà marittima, il-fdalijiet arkeologiċi fil-baħar kif ukoll il-ħmar il-lejl li nassoċjaw mar-riklamazzjoni tal-baħar. Pjan għall-Ispazji marittimi fil-gżejjer Maltin irid jindirizza dawn l-oqsma u bosta oħra b’mod integrat.

Il-gżejjer Maltin fihom 316 kilometru kwadrat. L-ibħra Maltin sa 25 mil nawtiku mill-kosta fihom medda ferm ikbar b’kejl ta’ 11,480 kilometru kwadrat filwaqt li l-blata kontinentali taħt il-ġurisdizzjoni Maltija fiha 75,779 kilometru kwadrat.
Din hi l-isfida li għandna quddiemna biex inħarsu l-ibħra tagħna.

ippubblikat fuq Illum – 24 ta’ Diċembru 2017 

Planning nightmares: the coastline and marine resources

 

Last Monday, Parliament commenced a discussion on the implementation of the Public Domain legislation, in respect of which the Planning Authority has submitted a report entitled “Sites Nominated to be declared as Public Domain”. This report refers to 24 sites, nominated primarily by eNGOs: 16 sites were nominated by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), seven by Friends of the Earth and one by Minister for the Environment Josè Herrera.

The discussion is still in its initial stages and so far it has been limited to an explanation of the legislation enacted by Parliament in mid-2016.

Currently under the radar is the urgent need to implement the EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning, which had to be adopted by end of 2014. Malta has, in fact, adopted it and through Legal Notice 341 of 2016 it identified the Planning Authority as the competent authority which will deal with issues of maritime spatial planning in the Maltese Islands.

After submitting a query, it was pointed out to me that the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) shall constitute Malta’s Maritime Spatial Plan – something I had not realised. Thinking that I had missed something, I checked the SPED and found a text entitled Coastal Zone and Marine Area under which are listed three coastal objectives. These are clearly objectives that can (and hopefully will) be developed into a detailed Maritime Spatial Plan.

While Malta has apparently limited itself to three brief objectives, other countries have gone into considerable detail to prepare their Maritime Spatial Plans. Ireland, for example, has published an 88-page document entitled Harnessing our Ocean Wealth – an Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland and the United Kingdom has published a 55-page document entitled UK Marine Policy Statement.

Both documents go into some detail as to the Maritime Spatial Planning required in Ireland and the United Kingdom and they will undoubtedly have to be supplemented with more detailed plans. The EU Directive determines the year 2021 as the deadline for the establishment of Maritime Spatial Plans.

The fact that Malta is an island should be reflected in more importance being given to maritime policy. Unfortunately, this is clearly not the case as it seems that we have to manage with three coastal objectives in our Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED).

The EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning is intended to nudge us to fill the gaps in our policies and plans. The blue economy, which is the economic activity dependent on the utilisation of marine resources, requires much careful planning.

Successive Maltese governments have ruined land-based resources and natural habitats. At times this has been done almost beyond repair. The water table is one such glaring example.

Careful maritime spatial planning could be of assistance in not exporting this erroneous behaviour beyond the coastline so that the environmental damage inflicted on the land is not repeated at sea.

Some years ago, addressing the quality of seawater by ensuring that urban wastewater dumped into the sea was adequately treated was a positive step. More still needs to be done to use the treated water. We repeatedly face issues of contamination arising out of fish-farms that has a negative impact on our residential and tourist facilities. What about fishing, energy, climate change, biodiversity, maritime safety, marine archaeological remains and land reclamation nightmares? A Maritime Spatial Plan for the Maltese Islands has to address all these issues and many more, in an holistic manner.

The Maltese Islands have a land area of 316 square kilometres. On the other hand, the area around the Maltese islands up to 25 nautical miles from the shoreline measures 11,480 square kilometres, while the area of the Continental Shelf under Malta’s jurisdiction in terms of the Continental Shelf Act measures approximately 75,779 square kilometres.

This is the physical extend of the challenge we face to protect our sea.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 24th December 2017 

New Petrol Stations: immediate moratorium needed

For a short period of time, the number of new petrol stations in Malta was on the decline but recently this trend has reversed, undoubtedly as a result of the Planning Authority 2015 Fuel Service Station Policy.

New petrol stations are mushrooming all over the place, and not only is it easier to obtain a development permit to construct a petrol station but you get the added “concession” to ruin up to 3,000 square metres of surrounding land.

Those proposing the development of new petrol stations claim to be doing us a favour. They argue that the increasing number of cars on the road necessitates more and more petrol stations. The number of petrol stations in the Maltese islands currently stands at around 80 and new ones are mushrooming, undoubtedly fuelled by the 3,000 square metres permissible footprint in the 2015 planning policy.

It is submitted that the policy on the development of fuel stations should complement the policy on the phasing out of internal combustion engines and an immediate moratorium on the development of new petrol stations is essential.

During the 2017 General Election campaign, Alternattiva Demokratika proposed the phasing out of vehicles running on internal combustion engines in Malta over a 20-year period. This time-frame was deemed sufficient to develop an infrastructure for electric-driven cars. It was also deemed to be a reasonable time-frame to permit those who possessed vehicles running on internal combustion engines to adjust to a new reality without petrol or diesel.

This position was also taken up by the Labour government in Malta after the June election. However the details have not yet been determined.

Various other countries have decided on, or are considering, eliminating internal combustion engine driven vehicles from their roads, including Norway (by 2025), the Netherlands (by 2025), Germany (by 2030), France (by 2040), the United Kingdom (by 2040), India (by 2040) and China (by 2040). Others will soon inevitably follow.

In addition, car manufacturers are considering shifting to a manufacturing mode that will only produce hybrid or fully electric cars. Volvo will proceed on such a path by 2019 and no doubt others will follow fast on Volvo’s heels.

Within this context, does it make any sense to continue issuing development permits for more petrol stations?

We need an in-depth examination of transport related policies. It is clear to everyone  that our roads are bursting at the seams and that the further development of our road infrastructure is opening up our roads to more cars, as a consequence adding to our pollution problems and simultaneously making our accessibility worse.

An overhaul of Malta’s transport policies should seek to promote sustainable transport policies thereby reducing the number of cars on our roads.

Yesterday, I addressed a press conference on the site of the proposed extension to the road network at Attard. This project, when implemented, will take up valuable irrigated agricultural land. This is one more instance which will increase the number of cars on our roads, gobble up agricultural land and ruin the life of full time farmers.

Transport policy on these islands seems to be multi-directional, sending mixed signals in all directions. Some coherence is required. Establishing a moratorium on the construction of new petrol stations and establishing a date by which internal combustion engine driven vehicles are phased out from our roads would be a good first step. This should then be followed by ending the crazy spree of the development of new roads.

It is a process which will lead us to reclaim our roads for our own use, but then it will take some time.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 December 2017