Marsa: a planning mess

turkish-cemetry-marsa-malta2

The Chamber of Architects has taken the Planning Authority to task on the piecemeal local plan reviews that it has been churning out, one at a time. The latest tirade was with reference to a partial review of The Grand Harbour Local Plan (originally published in 2002) specifically with respect to a Marsa Park Site.

We have just concluded a public discussion on a Masterplan for Paceville, which was shredded by public opinion and sent back to the drawing board.

Earlier, we had the Planning Authority itself contesting whether Local Councils, NGOs and the Environment and Resources Authority  had a right to contest the decision to permit high-rises in Townsquare Sliema and in Imrieħel.

To make matters worse, instead of consolidating the environmental regulatory functions of the state, this government has opted to deliberately fragment them, thereby ensuring their reduced effectiveness by design.  In a small country such as Malta, it pays to have one consolidated authority  directed by environment professionals through whom land use planning responsibilities should be accountable.

Land use planning needs to be more focused but holistic in nature. The Chamber of Architects aptly makes the point that focusing the efforts of the partial review of the Grand Harbour Local Plan specifically on “a Marsa Business Park” without considering this within the context  of a much needed regeneration of Marsa would be a futile exercise. The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity and this will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through comprehensive planning “which ought to include community needs, road transport re-alignment, environment improvement and flooding mitigation measures”.

These are the basic issues which should be addressed by a local plan review concerning Marsa. Tackling major infrastructural and social problems facing the Marsa community should take precedence over any proposal for the redevelopment of the Marsa Park site. It is the whole of Marsa that should be addressed and not just one tiny corner.

The partial local plan review is ignoring the local community, just like its cousin the Paceville Masterplan did some months ago. Many years ago we learned that “planning is for people”. This seems to be no longer the case as, according to the Planning Authority, planning is apparently for business hubs, high-rises and, obviously, for developers. They seem to be very well connected, thereby ensuring that they occupy the first items of this government’s land use planning agenda.

Marsa has been forgotten over the years. With the closure of the Marsa power station now is the appropriate time to consider the various accumulated impacts on the Marsa community in order that an integrated approach to addressing them is identified. Planning is for people. That means that the Marsa community should be actively involved when these plans are being formulated, including at the drawing board stage. Land use planners should stimulate the Marsa community to speak up and involve itself in drawing up a blue print for its future.

The regeneration of Marsa is an urgent matter which should not be left unattended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 January 2017

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Transport planning : a long-term view required

new_road_traffictraffic congestion and GDP

 

The pre-budget document for 2016 published by the Finance Ministry projects a real GDP increase of 3.2 per cent the year 2016, yet at least half of this projected increase will be wiped out as a result of the impact of traffic congestion in the Maltese Islands.

In fact, earlier this year the University of Malta’s Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development published an EU funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta. This study estimated that 1.7 per cent of our GDP is wasted annually as a result of traffic congestion, a conclusion reached after taking into account both the fuel wasted as well as the time lost.

It is in this context that one has to consider the Education Ministry’s White Paper entitled School Opening Hours and Traffic Congestion, published earlier this week. Unfortunately, the Education Ministry had to fill the void created by the Transport Ministry.

Traffic congestion is not caused by school transport alone – this is just one of many causes. The solution advocated by the Transport Ministry over the years has been to focus on the effects rather than the causes, with the result of even more space being ceded to cars. It has opened up more roads, widened existing ones and introduced flyovers. These “solutions” have encouraged more cars so that our roads are now bursting at the seams, with 340,981 licensed vehicles on the road at the end of the second quarter of this year.

This translates into 802 cars per thousand population, and most probably is the highest vehicle ownership profile in the world. It is even higher than the vehicle ownership profile of the USA (786). Comparing it to other EU countries, the figure for Italy is 682, the UK 516, Spain 592 and Switzerland 573. Even Luxembourg – at  741 per thousand is lower than Malta.

Such a large number of cars is not an indication of affluence. It is rather a clear indication of the failure of the state of Malta to realise that the smallness of these islands was an untapped benefit in developing policies that ensure sustainable access.

It is clear that, over the years, the state of public transport has been the single biggest incentive to private car ownership and use. Cars have been allowed to fill the void and take over our streets.

The cumulative impacts of this take-over has been a reduced access to public spaces in our towns and villages, a general deterioration of air quality and the associated respiratory diseases and accelerated urban decay in such areas as Pietà, Ħamrun, Msida, Paola, Fgura and Marsa.

This present state of affairs is the result of a lack of long-term planning. Transport planners in Malta preferred the easy way out: the construction of new roads, tunnels and flyovers engulfing more land as well as the creation of more parking spaces. The resulting impact compounded the problem: In the 25 years since 1990, the number of vehicles on the Maltese Islands roads increased by a staggering 145 per cent.

The situation was made worse by the removal of a number of bus termini in a number of localities, the decisions to build a number of schools in the middle of nowhere and having industrial zones not serviced by public transport.

In addition, the lack of enforcement of speed limits for vehicles making use of our roads served to squeeze out bicycles and small motorcycles as alternative means of transport.

This is the situation which has to be addressed.

The long term solution is an efficient public transport system and a corresponding decrease in the number of vehicles on the road.

The White Paper published by the Education Ministry is one such exercise, intended to reduce the number of vehicles on the road as a result of ferrying school children to and from schools in their parents’ private cars.

Better organisation of school transport, as well as more incentives to encourage its use, is a definite step forward. In addition, the  Education Ministry could try to ensure that the catchment areas of its secondary schools are not spread over a very wide area as this is one other contributory factor that has not yet been identified as an additional culprit.

The debate, however, has to be much wider than schools, because, at the end of the day, our schools are just victims of the accumulated lack of transport planning.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 6th September 2015

9 ghost towns in Malta

 
 
Malta has nine ghost towns each of them being equivalent in size to B’Kara.
 
I made this statement when addressing an environmental conference organised by the Church Environment Commission on Friday afternoon at Floriana.
 

The 2005 census had identified 53,000 vacant properties. It is estimated that the current census would identify a substantial larger number which would be well above 70,000. 

The Census is intended to aid policy makers by providing information relevant to their decision-making. Unfortunately when the 2005 Census was concluded Government ignored the information available. The 2005 Census had identified that in the 10 years leading to 2005 vacant properties had increased by 17,413. Yet Government went on to increase substantially land available for developement through three specific measures. This was done notwithstanding that there was a large amount of vacant property.

The three measures through which additional land was released for development were :

1) the extension of the development zones through the rationalisation exercise,

2) the increase in the permissible height of development in various localities.

3) the relaxation of the height at which a penthouse can be constructed. A penthouse can now be constructed when the maximum permissible height is three floors.   This was previously permissible when the permissible height was four floors.

When faced by such a quantity of vacant property it does not make sense to encourage more building construction through a relaxation of land use policy. Government’s land use planning policy has resulted   in more than 70,000 vacant properties. These are the equivalent to 9 ghost towns each  of which is the size of B’Kara.

The full text of the delivered address which was delivered in Maltese is the following :

_______________________________________________________________________

 

Kummissjoni Interdjoċesana Ambjent

 

Konferenza dwar ir-riżorsi u l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

 

 Biżżejjed għal kulħadd ? 

 

minnCarmelCacopardo

 

kelliemi ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

 

dwar l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli u l-Intern

 

 

 

Tajjeb li nibda bil-frażi “biżżejjed għal kulħadd” li jeħtieġ li tkun iċċarata ftit. Il-kliem kif imqiegħed jinftiehem illi dak li hawn madwarna qiegħed hemm biex naqsmuh bejnietna. Għalhekk meta jingħad li hawn “biżżejjed għal kulħadd” speċi qed jingħad li m’hemmx għalfejn tinkwieta għax sehemek tista’ tieħdu inti ukoll.

 

Naħseb li dan hu mod żbaljat kif infissru l-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Għax dak li hawn madwarna la hu tagħna u l-anqas ma hu għalina biss. Xi darba forsi nifhmu li aħna l-bnedmin ma nippossjedux id-dinja iżda qegħdin hawn u niffurmaw parti minn eko-sistema.  Aħna parti minn xi ħaġa ikbar: m’aħniex waħedna. Hawn ħlejjaq oħra madwarna. Xi wħud mill-bnedmin għarfu dan u irrikonoxxew li aħna parti minn familja kbira li fiha hemm ukoll ħuna x-xemx, oħtna l-qamar u ħlejjaq oħra. Dawn huma sentimenti li ma ġewx espressi biss minn persunaġġi reliġjużi bħal San Franġisk t’Assisi iżda insibuhom fl-egħruq tal-komunitajiet indiġeni imxerrda mal-erbat irjieħ tad-dinja.    

 

Sfortunatament id-dinja żviluppat b’mod differenti minn hekk għax il-bniedem fittex li jaħtaf u jiddomina kemm fuq il-bnedmin kif ukoll fuq in-natura. U n-natura li issa xebgħet bdiet tirritalja u bil-ħerba li qed tnissel permezz tal-bidla fil-klima qegħda tkaxkar minn nofs kull ma issib. Jeħel ma rasha kulħadd, mhux biss min ħarbat.

 

L-iżvilupp jista’ jkun sostenibbli meta nifhmu dan kollu u naġixxu fuqu. Hu sostenibbli meta nifhmu li hemm limiti li l-eko-sistema timponi (li l-ebda Gvern ma jista’ jeżentak minnhom) u li meta dawn il-limiti jinqabżu hemm il-konsegwenzi mhux biss għalik iżda għal kulħadd fuq firxa ta’ żmien. L-iżvilupp hu sostenibbli meta l-bniedem jimxi b’rispett lejn kull ma hemm madwaru: rispett kemm lejn in-natura kif ukoll lejn il-bnedmin l-oħra. Għandna l-obbligu ukoll li nirrispettaw il-ħidma ta’ ħaddieħor. Obbligu li jimmanifesta ruħu fil-mod kif il-bniedem jorganizza l-ħidma tiegħu (l-ekonomija) kif ukoll fil-mod kif in-natura torganizza l-ħidma tagħha f’dak li nsejħu l-habitats naturali. L-ekonomija tal-bniedem m’hiex iktar importanti mill-ekonomija tan-natura. Jekk inħalluhom iżda jistgħu jimxu id f’id.

 

Uħud jitkellmu fuq bilanċ bejn l-ekonomija, l-ambjent u l-politika soċjali biex juru kemm fehmu u li huma fuq quddiem nett fit-triq tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Min jitkellem fuq dan il-bilanċ immaġinarja għadu ma fehem xejn. Il-qerda ambjentali li issir kontinwament f’isem dak li jissejjaħ żvilupp ma tista’ qatt titqies ġustifikata mit-tkabbir ekonomiku.  Ekonomija li tikber b’dan il-mod m’għandniex bżonnha.

 

Dan iġibni għas-suġġett tal-lum. Il-bini ta’ madwarna.

 

Qed jingħad li hawn biżżejjed għal kulħadd. Iżda waqt li hawn eluf ta’ units residenzjali vojta hawn ftit iktar minn 2,000 persuna reġistrati mal-Awtorita’ tad-Djar għax m’għandhomx saqaf diċenti fuq rashom. Ma dawn l-2000 persuna hemm oħrajn li qatgħu qalbhom mis-sistema u ma jfittxux l-għajnuna. Dan hu qasam li fih il-politika falliet għax filwaqt li ntqal minnkollox biex jiġġustifika bini bl-adoċċ fl-erbat irjieħ ta’ Malta u Għawdex għandna ammont kbir ta’ bini li hu vojt. Iżda xorta għandna soċjeta’ li m’hiex kapaċi tipprovdi għad-dgħajjef.

 

Iċ-ċensiment tal-2005 kien identifika il-fuq minn 53,000 post vojt. Iċ-ċensiment li għaddej bħalissa ser jidentifika numru ferm ikbar ta’ postijiet vojt, numru li uħud qed ibassru li ser jaqbeż sew is-70,000.

 

Iċ-ċensiment isir biex tinġabar l-informazzjoni li iktar tard tista’ tkun ta’ għajnuna lill-awtoritajiet biex jieħdu deċiżonijiet li jkunu meħtieġa. Sfortunatament meta sar iċ-ċensiment tal-2005 il-Gvern ma tax każ tal-informazzjoni li inġabret.

 

Ħa nispjega ftit.

 

Iċ-ċensiment tal-2005 wera li l-propjetajiet vojta kienu jammontaw għal 53,136     Mhux biss. Iżda ċ-ċensiment wera ukoll li matul l-għaxar snin 1995-2005 il-propjetajiet vojta kienu  żdiedu minn 35,723 għal 53,136. Minkejja din iż-żieda ta’ 17,413 propjeta’ vojta fis-suq fuq perjodu ta’ 10 snin il-Gvern 9 xhur wara ċ-ċensiment kompla jillaxka l-politika tiegħu dwar l-ippjanar għall- użu tal-art bi tlett miżuri partikolari.

 

L-ewwel estenda ż-żoni ta’ żvilupp billi żied ammont konsiderevoli ta’ artijiet bil-politika ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni taż-żoni ta’ żvilupp. It-tieni fil-Pjani Lokali approvati f’Awissu 2006 estenda l-għoli permssibli f’diversi żoni residenzjali. It-tielet illaxka r-regoli dwar il-bini tal-penthouses billi ppermetta li dawn ikunu jistgħu jinbnew ukoll fejn l-għoli permissibli hu ta’ tlett sulari (b’żieda mat-tlett sulari) flok kif kien qabel f’zoni fejn l-għoli permissibli kien ta’ erba’ sulari.

 

F’sitwazzjoni fejn il-propjetajiet vojta żdiedu b’medja ta’ 1,800 propjeta fis-sena ma jagħmilx sens li tinkoragixxi iktar bini.

 

Il-bini vojt fl-2005 kien jikkonsisti primarjament fi flats u penthouses (24,295 – 45.7%). Kien hemm ukoll 13,872 terraced house u 9,857 maisonette. Il-parti l-kbira minn din il-propjeta’ kienet jew fi stat tajjeb ta’ manutenzjoni inkella kienet tirrikjedi ftit li xejn tiswija.

 

5,724 (10.8%) mill-postijiet vojta kienu għadhom fi stat ta’ ġebel u saqaf.

 

Il-posizzjoni illum hi agħar milli kienet fiċ-ċensiment ta’ sitt snin ilu. L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni hi konxja minn dan u fil-fatt naqsu l-ammont ta’ applikazzjonijiet għal permessi ta’ żvilupp kif ukoll per konsegwenza naqsu n-numru ta’ permessi li qed jinħarġu.

 

Il-kriżi li qed tiffaċċja l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni toffri l-opportunita’ lil din l-istess industrija biex tirristruttura ruħha. Huwa l-mument li tieqaf tibni art verġni jew twaqqa’ l-bini u tiżviluppah mill-ġdid iżda b’mod iktar intensiv. Hu meħtieġ li l-industrija titfa ħarsitha lejn ir-riabilitazzjoni ta’ bini qadim u r-riġenerazzjoni tal-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. L-iskemi imħabbra mill-Gvern fl-aħħar budget huma fid-direzzjoni tajba, iżda għandhom jitqiesu biss bħala l-bidu. Biex dan isir hemm ħtieġa ta’ taħriġ fis-snajja li bħala riżultat tal-industrializzazzjoni tal-kostruzzjoni intilfu jew naqsu konsiderevolment.

 

Din hi l-isfida. Li inħarsu l-art li baqgħalna flimkien mal-bini qadim. B’madwar 70,000 post vojt ftit li xejn hemm ħtieġa ta’ bini ġdid fis-snin li ġejjin. Huwa neċessarju li nużaw aħjar dak li għandna.

 

Hemm bżonn inċentivi biex il-bini vojt ikun utilizzat. Hemm bżonn li nifhmu ukoll li l-bini li jinżamm vojt jitfa piż fuq l-infrastruttura tal-pajjiż. Meta wieħed iqis li fl-2005 kien hawn ftit iktar minn192,000 unit residenzjali dan ifisser li 70,000 post vojt ifissru li l-ispejjes għat-toroq, elettriku, ilma u drenaġġ għal bejn kwart u terz tal-pajjiż huma spejjes moħlija li faċilment setgħu ntużaw biex itejbu l-infrastruttura tal-bqija tal-pajjiż.

 

Meta wieħed iqies li miċ-ċensiment tal-2005 jirriżulta li f’B’Kara kien hemm 7,613 propjeta’ residenzjali ifisser illi bil-propjeta’ vojta li hawn illum qiesu għandna 9 lokalitajiet daqs B’Kara vojta (speċi ta’ ghost towns).  U biex inbnew dawn il-propjetajiet vojta ġiet sagrifikata raba’ u ġonna ta’ propjeta qadima fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna li kienu jservu bħala l-pulmun tagħhom.  

 

L-isfida tal-pajjiż hi waħda kbira. L-ewwel li ma nistgħux nibqgħu nibnu iżjed art. It-tieni li r-riżorsi umani fl-industrija tal-bini (hemm madwar 11,000 ruħ li l-impieg tagħhom jiddependiminn din l-industrija) jkunu iħarrġa. It-taħriġ huwa meħtieg kemm għal xogħol fl-indutrija innifisha kif ukoll biex tkun iffaċilitata l-migrazzjoni għal xogħol ieħor. Dan hu inevitabbli jekk l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tirridimensjona ruħha għall-ħtiġjiet reali tal-pajjiż. Huwa hekk biss li naqbdu t-triq tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli, meta inħarsu fil-bogħod u nippjanaw b’mod li dak li nagħmlu illum ma jkunx biss ta’ ġid għalina illum iżda jservi ukoll biex il-ġenerazzjonjiet ta’ għada jkollhom huma ukoll il-possibilta li jippjanaw ħalli jilqgħu għall-isfidi l-ġodda li huma ukoll ser ikollhom.

 

S’issa bħala pajjiż ġejna naqgħu u nqumu minn għada. Inkunu bdejna nimxu l-quddiem meta nibdew inħarsu fit-tul u nibdew nagħtu importanza lill-għada daqs kemm nagħtu importanza lil illum.

 

9 ta’Diċembru 2011

Overdevelopment of the Tigné peninsula

_________________________________________________________

by Carmel Cacopardo

published on April 10, 2010

The publication of the State of the Environment Report (SoER) for 2008 is an opportunity to take stock of the manner in which environmental responsibilities are being shouldered or neglected. One point the SoER fails to inform about is the link between overdevelopment and a negative social and environmental impact on the community.

Tigné peninsula in Sliema is a suitable example.

Two of the mega-projects in Tigné, namely the Midi and Fort Cambridge projects, have government fingerprints. The social and environmental impacts on the Sliema community more than outweigh the economic benefits derived. Yet, they have been given the go-ahead. While these two mega-projects were approved by Mepa, a third (Townsquare) is being processed. Other projects of various sizes and impacts have been approved or are in the pipeline both in Tigné and in other parts of Sliema.

Focusing on the macro-scale, three main issues need to be addressed: vacant dwellings, traffic generation and the quality of air.

In my opinion, given the large number of vacant dwellings, further large-scale development is not required. About 54,000 vacant dwellings were identified during the 2005 census and this number has been on the increase ever since.

Newly-constructed dwellings may or will be occupied but they are still the cause of a disintegration of the existing urban fabric in various localities as a result of an internal migration away from existing settlements.

Some areas are being depopulated, awaiting their turn to be demolished and redeveloped after someone makes a quick buck. The few remaining tenants are then squeezed out by “developers”. Some years back, an old lady at The Strand, Sliema, was faced with buildings being demolished all around (and above) her home in order to persuade her to move out.

This is resulting not just in urban decay but also in the forfeiture of an accumulated social capital.

This is not surprising in a society that only appreciates financial capital. Unfortunately, public authorities are on the same wavelength.

The 710 vehicles on the road per 1,000 population (2008 figures) is substantial. In a small country, rather than being a sign of affluence, this vehicle per capita ratio is the clearest indicator of the failure of public policy to address issues of sustainable mobility over the years. Past governments have been ineffective in this respect. The large number of dwellings being constructed at Tigné peninsula begs the question as to where the substantial additional traffic generated is to be accommodated. I am referring to both the traffic directed at the new residences and that directed towards the new commercial outlets. Roads in Malta are already bursting at the seams.

When Mepa is approving more intensive development through the construction of high-rise buildings, it is not giving sufficient weight to these impacts. In particular, it is ignoring the cumulative effects of so large a number of developments in so restricted a space.

A Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) of the local plans and planning policies would have pinpointed these shortcomings had it been carried out. Yet, the government tried to wriggle out of its responsibilities by clinging to a loophole, which exempted it from applying the SEA to policies on land-use planning. This has been done by a government that boasts about the central importance of the environment in its electoral platform. Yet, when push comes to shove, it wriggles out of its commitments.

Quality of air data is only made available relative to 2006 and 2007 in the SoER indicators.

Limiting my comments to the 2007 data relative to the Msida station, the available SoER indicators clearly show that PM10 measurements exceeded the EU limits on 24 per cent of the days measured and were very close to the permissible limit of 50μg/m3 with respect to the rest.

PM10 measures particulate matter, having a diameter not exceeding 10 microns. The primary source of such particulate matter, as is also emphasised by the SoER indicators, is fuel combustion from traffic and power generation. It is therefore clear that heavy traffic increases the incidence of PM10 with the consequent risks of a greater incidence of respiratory diseases. Studies carried out in Fgura and Żejtun in the 1990s point in this direction too.

These are the risks posed by an increase in traffic in an area such as Sliema, which is already heavily congested.

The issue of development has so far been considered within the framework of the rights of the owners of the property to be developed. It is about time that the rights of the community are factored in as, to date, they are not being given sufficient weight. In particular, the cumulative impacts of development are being ignored. This is applicable not just to Sliema but to all Maltese territory.

The net result is a quality of life which could be much better.