Beyond the trees

The public debate of the Central Link project is currently concentrated on the manner in which it will impact the tree population along its route. It is an important discussion because it is concentrating on one of the visible impacts of the project. The trees should definitely by protected and preferably increased in number.

However the number of trees impacted is just an (important) detail. There are other “important details” which need to be considered, amongst which the agricultural land to be taken up, the emissions – which need to be reduced, in particular the minute particulate matter- as well as noise pollution.

Little discussion has, however, ensued on the basic question: do we need the proposed improvement of the road network?

To answer this basic issue, we need to consider the different options available to facilitate sustainable mobility around our islands. These are options that are available to each and every one of us, but do we make use of them?

Why do we make use of private cars for very short distances? Are we aware of the fact that around 50 per cent of journeys in private cars on our roads are of under 15 minutes duration?

To answer the basic question we cannot just focus on traffic congestion. Traffic congestion is, in reality, the effect and not the cause of our transport problems: it means that our roads are bursting at the seams. We need to consider the issue in depth and in a holistic manner.

The National Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands does just that. When considering the proposals listed in the Master Plan, it is not a question of pick and choose: it is an integrated plan. Some of the proposals are easy to implement, others are tough as they strike at the real cause of our transport problems: our behaviour. Little effort is being expended in this direction.

The operational objectives for road transport in the Master Plan place great emphasis on the need to reduce the role of the car in the busy congested urban areas as well as on the provision of alternatives to private vehicular demand in these areas.

Unfortunately, instead of implementing these basic operational objectives Transport Malta is focusing on increasing the capacity of the road network in order to address traffic congestion. As a result, it is addressing the effects and ignoring the cause of the miserable state of our road network.

Government’s policy of massive investment in the road network, will, in the long term, be counter-productive as it will only serve to increase the number of vehicles on our roads and, consequently, cause more congestion.

Just throwing money at problems in the form of substantial subsidies of public transport is not as effective as we would like. The positive impacts of these and other subsidies are being cancelled out through the massive road network investment: a declaration that the private car is the preferred mode of transport of the policy maker.

As a result, the clear message of Malta’s transport policy is that public transport is only tolerated as life is only made easy for the users of private vehicles. It should, in fact, be the other way around.

The National Transport Master Plan clearly emphasises that the lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

It is about time that the government starts implementing its own Master Plan which so far it has consistently ignored.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 24 June 2018

Common sense at Buleben

The farmers at Buleben have been served with an evacuation order because the land they have tilled for generations is required to make way for the construction of new factories. We are told that our economy needs the land for factories. We also need our fields for agriculture and too much has already been lost!

We have been there before. One hectare after another is being gobbled up by concrete or tarmac. At Buleben, they want to enlarge the industrial estate. In other localities, roads, new residential development or hotels are planned instead of protecting agricultural land. Lately, we gave witnessed a never ending list of applications for petrol stations. There also seems to be an on-going competition of high-rise development: contrasting phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes.

Undeveloped land is under continuous siege.

In this specific case, the government through Malta Industrial Parks Limited is the developer and, like some of the other developers, at times it too tries to ride roughshod over one and all.

Do we consider this as progress? We need to stop and reflect on the consequences of the considerable damage which is piling up. Is anybody considering these impacts?

The expansion of the industrial estate was planned many years ago, as far back as the late 1960s when the then newly set up Malta Development Corporation embarked on the development of industrial estates. Fortunately, not all land available was then developed. However, agricultural rents from farmers in the area have not been accepted since then. They have now received their marching orders and must be gone within one month!

Ta’ Buleben, was always considered as an extremely fertile agricultural area. Erin Serracino Inglott in his dictionary Miklem Malti explains that the word Buleben means “the owner of herds producing large quantities of milk”. When agriculture was the principal economic activity, it was of paramount importance to be able to farm land which yielded abundant harvests.

The land at Buleben is owned by the government. It can argue that there is insufficient space for existing industrial estates to expand. The government could also inform us that an industrial estate which could have been put to use instead of the Buleben one was that of Ricasoli. But in the meantime, the Ricasoli Industrial Estate was given over for speculation by a previous government which ignored the need for more space for industrial use. Such reasoning would be correct. However pointing at yesterday’s serious mistakes to try to justify today’s shortcomings would not solve anything. We are still shouldered with the responsibility to take care of what’s left of society’s assets.

This is what the Zejtun NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun led by Architect Reuben Abela is doing. Even Żejtun requires and deserves protection. It is definitely a step forward that more of our fellow Maltese are voicing their concerns about protecting our national heritage.

As emphasised by Wirt iż-Żejtun, it is possible to address the need to provide more space for factories without taking up more agricultural land. We should take note that the Local Plan for the South, approved twelve years ago, included a declaration on the need to provide protection to agricultural land in the surroundings that contain a large number of protected carob trees which have graced the area for possibly hundreds of years.

It would be pertinent if we remember that  Punic remains were discovered in the Buleben area some years ago and it would be realistic to expect that more archeological remains could be uncovered if more land is disturbed.

Another important consideration concerns the proximity of the proposed industrial estate extension to the residential area of Ġebel San Martin at Żejtun. The proposed factories will be too close to the residential area. I have not seen the drawings of the proposed development, as they have not been made available. However, NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun is on record as stating that only a few tens of metres would actually separate the residential from the industrial.

When one considers that the existing industrial estate is already a cause of nuisance, acoustic primarily, throughout the day, this signifies not only that this nuisance will increase but that it would also be made worse.

At the time of writing this article, Members of Parliament elected on behalf of the Labour Party from the Third Electoral District (which incorporates Żejtun) have declared that the government is in listening mode and is considering alternative sites. This is a good step forward. It is always appropriate to ensure that common sense is in charge. But this also means that the proposal as made was not sufficiently analysed before the planning stage was concluded.

If the proposal is not scrapped, another green lung, this time around Żejtun, will be lost. It is useless to complain that the young generation is barely interested in agriculture if consecutive governments treat farmers in this manner.

Our land needs protection from excessive development. If the Buleben proposal is not discarded at the earliest we may soon see our last carob tree!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 February 2018

published in The Independent on Sunday : 11 February 2018

L-aħħar ħarruba ġo Buleben u s-sens komun


Il-bdiewa ġo Buleben ġew ordnati jiżgumbraw għax l-art li ilhom jindukraw ġenerazzjoni wara l-oħra trid tagħmel il-wisgħa għal fabbriki ġodda. Għax qalulna li għandna bżonn il-fabbriki. Qiesu m’għandniex bżonn ir-raba’ wkoll: il-ftit li baqa’!

Hi storja li ilha tirrepeti ruħha, kontinwament. Tomna wara l-oħra qed tinbela mill-konkos jew mit-tarmac. F’Buleben iridu jkabbru ż-żona industrijali. F’inħawi oħra jridu jgħaddu t-toroq jew jibnu id-djar jew xi lukanda, inkella joħolmu b’pompa tal-petrol, waħda wara l-oħra. Inkella nimlew lill-pajjiż bit-torrijiet, kompetizzjoni ta’ simboli falliċi, wieħed ikbar mill-ieħor.

L-attakk fuq l-art mhux żviluppata donnu li ma jistax jieqaf. L-iżviluppatur f’dan il-każ hu l-Gvern permezz tal-Malta Industrial Parks Limited. Anke l-Gvern qed jipprova jagħmel bħal uħud mill-iżviluppaturi: jipprova jibqa’ għaddej minn fuq kulħadd.

Dan xi progress hu? Għandna bżonn nieqfu naħsbu ftit dwar il-konsegwenzi ta’ dak li għaddej, tat-tħarbit li qiegħed jiġi ippjanat. Min qed iqis l-effett ta’ dan kollu?

Bla dubju l-espansjoni taż-żona industrijali ilha ippjanata żmien, snin kbar, sa minn meta tfassal għall-ewwel darba l-inħawi fis-snin sittin meta l-Korporazzjoni Maltija tal-Iżvilupp bdiet tiżviluppa l-ewwel żoni industrijali. Imma fortunatament dakinnhar ma kienx hemm bżonn l-art kollha u z-zona industrijali ma kienitx kbira daqs kemm kien ippjanat. Imma l-qbiela mingħand il-bdiewa ilha sa minn dakinhar ma tkun aċċettata. Issa tawhom ordni ta’ żgumbrament u għandhom xahar żmien biex joħorġu ‘l-barra.

Ta’ Buleben, dejjem kienet meqjusa bħala art mill-iktar għammiela, sakemm ħallewha bi kwieta. Fil-fatt Erin Serracino Inglott fil-Miklem Malti jfisser il-kelma Buleben bħala “sid l-imrieħel li jagħtu ħafna ħalib”. Kien għalhekk li meta l-agrikultura kella importanza ekonomika ikbar li l-art ta’ Buleben kienet meqjusa bħala ta’ importanza għax kienet art li tirrendi. Min għandu Ta’ Buleben, jgħid wieħed mill-qwiel li ħolqu missierietna, id-dinja tagħtih widen. Għax agrikultura għammiela kienet tfisser ukoll saħħa ekonomika, meta l-agrikultura kellha importanza ċentrali fil-ħajja ta’ missierijietna.

L-art hi tal-Gvern li bla dubju issa ser jargumenta li ma baqax biżżejjed art fejn jikbru ż-żoni industrijali. Forsi jgħidilna ukoll li wieħed mill-oqsma industrijali li seta jintuża flok dak ta’ Buleben kien dak tar-Rikażli. Imma ż-żona industrijali tar-Rikażli sadanittant ingħatat għall-ispekulazzjoni minn Gvern ieħor li injora l-ħtieġa ta’ iktar spazju għall-fabbriki. Ikollu raġun jekk jgħid hekk il-Gvern. Imma mhux biżżejjed li nippuntaw subgħajna lejn l-iżbalji ħoxnin tal-bieraħ biex niġġustifikaw l-iżbalji tal-lum. Xorta jibqalna l-obbligu li illum nagħmlu ħilitna kollha biex nipproteġu l-ftit li baqa’.

Huwa għalhekk floku dak li qed tagħmel l-għaqda Żejtunija Wirt iż-Żejtun, immexxija mill-Perit Żejtuni Reuben Abela. Għax anke iż-Żejtun, jeħtieġ u jixraqlu l-protezzjoni. Huwa pass ‘il-quddiem li n-nies, huma għajnejhom miftuħin beraħ biex, safejn hu possibli, huma ukoll iħarsu wirt missirijietna.

Hu possibli, kif qalet l-assoċjazzjoni Wirt iż-Żejtun li jintuża spazju fiż-żona industrijali mingħajr ma tintmiss iktar raba’. Ikun floku ukoll li niftakru li l-Pjan Lokali għan-Nofsinnhar, approvat tnax-il sena ilu, jinkludi dikjarazzjoni dwar il-ħtieġa li jkun imħares il-valur agrikolu tal-art fl-inħawi li fiha kwantità mhux żgħira ta’ siġar tal-ħarrub li huma f’saħħithom u li ilhom hemm mijiet ta’ snin.

Tajjeb li niftakru ukoll li fl-inħawi f’dawn l-aħħar snin instabu fdalijiet Puniċi u li jekk iktar art ser tkun disturbata probabbilment jinstabu bosta iktar fdalijiet arkeoloġiċi.

Hemm imbagħad konsiderazzjoni oħra. Il-binja tal-estensjoni taż-żona industrjali ser tqarreb il-fabbriki lejn iż-żona residenzjali ta’ Ġebel San Martin fiż-Żejtun. Il-fabbriki l-ġodda jidher li ser jiġu viċin wisq tar-residenzi. Il-pjanti proposti jiena ma rajthomx, ma jidhirx li huma pubbliċi s’issa. Imma l-għaqda Wirt iż-Żejtun tgħid li ser ikun hemm biss ftit għexieren ta’ metri li jifred iż-żona residenzjali minn dik industrijali.

Issa meta tqis li diġa hemm inkonvenjent prinċipalment ikkawżat minn ħsejjes f’kull ħin tal-jum, dan ifisser li l-inkonvenjent ser jikber u ser ikun iktar qrib ukoll.

Waqt li qed nikteb ħarġet l-aħbar li diversi Membri Parlamentari li jiġu eletti f’isem il-Partit Laburista mit-tielet distrett elettorali (li jinkludi ż-Żejtun) qed jgħidu li l-Gvern qiegħed jisma’ dak li qiegħed jingħad u qed jikkunsidra siti alternattivi. Dan hu pass tajjeb. Għax hu dejjem tajjeb li s-sens komun jingħata ftit ċans. Imma dan ifisser ukoll li l-proposta ma kienitx studjata sewwa qabel ma tħejjew il-pjani għal iżjed fabbriki.

Jekk il-proposta ma tinbidilx ser ikun ifisser li ser noqtlu pulmun ieħor din id-darba dak ta’ madwar iż-Żejtun. Hu inutli li nilmentaw kemm il-ġenerazzjoni żagħżugħa ftit hi interessat fil-biedja jekk Gvern wara l-ieħor jibqa’ jittratta lill-bdiewa daqstant ħażin.

Inħarsu l-art mill-esaġerazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp. Din il-proposta għal Buleben teħtieġ li titwarrab minnufih. Jekk le daqt inkun nistgħu ngħidu li rajna l-aħħar ħarruba!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 11 ta’ Frar 2018

Sens komun: fil-Mosta u f’Marsaxlokk



Matul dawn l-aħħar ġranet, Alternattiva Demokratika kienet qed tikkampanja kontra żvilupp massiċċ li ġie propost kemm fil-Mosta kif ukoll f’Marsaxlokk.  Din hi kampanja li ilha li bdiet ħdax-il sena, u tibqa’ għaddejja,  kontra t-tkabbir taż-żona żviluppabbli proposta minn George Pullicino, dakinnhar Ministru responsabbli għall-ambjent u l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Nhar il-Ġimgħa, f’Marsaxlokk, kien ta’ sodisfazzjoni li s-Sindku Horace Gauci, elett f’isem il-Partit Laburista, ingħaqad magħna ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika waqt konferenza stampa b’appoġġ għar-residenti Tal-Marnisi Marsaxlokk.

Hi kampanja biex is-sens komun favur l-ambjent jipprevali fuq id-deċiżjoni li kien ħa l-Parlament fl-2006 meta l-Gvern immexxi mill-PN mexxa ‘l-quddiem proposta biex żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp, ma jibqgħux iktar ODZ u minn dakinnhar jibdew jiffurmaw parti miż-żona ta’ żvilupp. Dan sar mingħajr ma ġew eżaminati l-impatti ta’ deċiżjoni bħal din, lejliet li kellha tidħol fis-seħħ id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar il-kejl tal-impatti strateġiċi ambjentali. Li ma sarx dan l-kejl, ifisser li l-impatti kumulattivi tal-iżvilupp li kien qed ikun propost kienu kompletament injorati.

Nhar it-Tnejn 20 ta’ Marzu l-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar ħa żewġ deċiżjonijiet kontrastanti dwar żewġ meded kbar ta’ art. Dwar l-ewwel waħda, art agrikola fil-Mosta tal-qies ta’ 38500 metru kwadru l-proposta bi pjan ta’ żvilupp kienet rifjutata filwaqt li dwar it-tieni waħda ukoll primarjament agrikola u b’qies ta’ 17,530 metru kwadru, l-propost pjan ta’ żvilupp kien approvat.

Fiż-żewġ każi ma sar l-ebda eżami tal-impatti soċjali, ekonomiċi u ambjentali u dan billi l-professjonisti tal-ippjanar li taw il-parir lill-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar kienu tal-fehma li d-deċiżjoni tal-2006 tal-Parlament kienet kemm ċara kif ukoll finali. Sfortunatament ma dehrilhomx meħtieġ li jeżaminhaw dan minn lenti kritika.

Fl-2006, il-Parlament kien iddeċieda li dawn iż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art ma kellhomx iktar ikunu meqjusa bħala barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ). Il-grupp parlamentari tal-PN kien ivvota favur din il-proposta, u dan jispjega l-għaliex dak li taparsi kkonverta favur l-ambjent, Simon Busuttil, għadu ma fetaħx ħalqu dwar dan kollu.  Imma l-Partit Laburista, dakinnhar fl-Opposizzjoni ma kienx qabel u kien ivvota kontra li din l-art tkun tista’ tingħata għall-iżvilupp. Għalhekk Joseph Muscat bħalissa qiegħed f’posizzjoni imbarazzanti.

Il-Partit Laburista għadu tal-istess fehma, jew bidel il-ħsieb? Għax issa waslet is-siegħa tal-prova. X’ser jagħmel? Għax anke jekk ikun meqjus li d-deċiżjoni tal-Parlament tal-2006 titfa’ ċerti obbligi fuq il-Gvern u fuq l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, xorta hu possibli li l-impatt tal-iżvilupp massiv li ġie propost ikun imtaffi.

Id-deċiżjoni tal-20 ta’ Marzu tal-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li biha l-applikazzjoni dwar l-art fil-Mosta kienet rifjutat hu l-mod kif għandhom isiru l-affarijiet. Hi deċiżjoni li s-Segretarju Parlamentari Deborah Schembri għandha żżomm quddiem għajnejha meta l-każ ta’ Marsaxlokk jiġi quddiema biex tikkunsidra jekk tagħtix l-approvazzjoni tagħha. Jiena naħseb li s-Segretarju Parlamentari Schembri għandha tibgħat il-każ ta’ Marsaxlokk lura quddiem l- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar biex ikun ikkunsidrat mill-ġdid.

Żvilupp massiv ta’ din ix-xorta m’għandux ikun possibli meta hawn tant propjetajiet residenzjali vojta. Anke f’Marsaxlokk stess l-aħħar ċensiment, dak tal-2011, juri li 18.7% tar-residenzi huma battala filwaqt li 5.9% tagħhom jintużaw biss kultant. Nistgħu nibqgħu nibnu bil-goff meta għandna din il-kwantitá ta’ propjetá vojta?

Għandna bżonn ftit sens komun fl-ippjanar ta’ l-użu ta’ l-art. Sens komun li jagħti piz u konsiderazzjoni tal-impatti fuq il-komunitá kollha qabel ma jittieħdu deċiżjoniiet bħal dawn.

Fiż-żewġ każi, l-Mosta u Marsaxlokk, qed nitkellmu dwar raba’ li kienet tinħadem u li issa intelqet minħabba l-pressjoni kkawżata mill-iżvilupp. Dan hu process li jeħtieġ li nwaqqfuh minnufih. Illum qabel għada.


ippubblikat f’ Illum –  2 t’April 2017

Green sense is common sense


In the last few days Alternattiva Demokratika-the Green Party- has been campaigning against over-development at both Mosta and Marsaxlokk. It is the renewal of an everlasting campaign, started 11 years ago against the increase in the development zone piloted by former Environment and Land Use Planning Minister George Pullicino.

In Marsaxlokk last Friday we were joined by Labour Mayor Horace Gauci who arrived at, and addressed an AD press conference in support of the residents of Il-Marnisi, Marsaxlokk, in view of the impact of the rationalisation exercise in the area.

It is a campaign to see green sense prevail over the rationalisation exercise, as a result of which, in 2006 on the proposal of a PN-led government, Parliament included around two million square metres of land within the development zone overnight. This was done without a strategic environment assessment having been carried out to examine the proposals. It was on the eve of the coming into force of the Strategic Environment Assessment EU Directive which, just days later, would have made such an assessment compulsory. Not carrying out such an assessment signifies that the cumulative impacts of development were ignored by not being factored into the decision-taking process.

On 20 March, the Planning Authority Executive Committee took two contrasting decisions in respect of two large tracts of land. Regarding the first – 38,500 square metres of agricultural land at Mosta –  the scheme for a development proposal was turned down, while in respect of the second – 17,530 square metres of largely agricultural land in Marsaxlokk – the proposal for development was approved.

In neither case was any assessment of the social, economic and environmental impact carried out, as the professional land-use planners advising the Executive Committee of the Planning Authority consider that Parliament’s decision in 2006 was definite and any assessment unnecessary. Unfortunately they did not think it appropriate to examine the matters before them critically.

In 2006, Parliament had decided that this two million square metre area of land, formerly considered as ODZ land, was henceforth to be part of the development zone. The PN Parliamentary group had  voted in favour of this proposal, which is why the pseudo-environmental convert Simon Busuttil is completely silent on the issue. However, the Labour Party Opposition voted against the proposal, thus placing Joseph Muscat in an awkward position today.

Has the Labour Party changed its views? The chickens are now coming home to roost.

When push comes to shove, and notwithstanding the PN mantra that “ODZ is ODZ”, the PN always seeks to consent to ODZ development, as long as such development is given the go-ahead when it is in the driving seat!

But what about the Labour Party today? Even if it factors in the views of those who maintain that the 2006 decision ties its hands, it can certainly take mitigation measures that would substantially reduce the negative impact of the 2006 parliamentary decision which favours such massive over-development.

The decision of the Executive Committee of the Planning Authority on the 20 March to reject the proposal for the development of the tract of land in Mosta is the way forward. It should be taken on board by Parliamentary Secretary for land use planning Deborah Schembri when the Marsaxlokk case is placed on her desk for her consideration. I respectfully ask Ms Schembri to request the Planning Authority to reconsider its decision and hence send it back to the drawing board.

The proposed reconsideration should be undertaken primarily because such massive development is not required: it is not necessary to sacrifice so much agricultural land. (I am informed that on the site there is also a small stretch of garigue with a number of interesting botanical specimens.) The results of the 2011 Census indicated that 18.7 per cent of Marsaxlokk’s housing stock was then vacant and 5.9 per cent of it only in occasional use.  Why should we keep adding to the vacant housing stock through proposals for massive development projects?

We need some green sense in the planning of land-use. We need some common sense in considering the impact on the whole community before far-reaching decisions are taken.  In both cases mentioned above, the land that has been the subject of proposed  development schemes is agricultural land that has fallen into disuse as a result of development pressures. This process should be reversed forthwith, and the sooner the better: it is only common sense.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 April 2017

Taqta’ fejn taqta’ joħroġ id-demm


L-argument dwar iċ-ċirkwit tal-tlielaq tal-karozzi qiegħed jiġi mpoġġi ħażin.

Uħud qed jgħidu li dan iċ-ċirkwit m’għandux jitqiegħed f’ODZ. Dan hu argument li min qed jagħmlu m’jafx x’inhu jgħid. Għax l-ebda ċirkwit tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi ma jsir ġo żona ta’ żvilupp.

Jiena nħares lejn il-materja b’mod ħafna differenti.

Nistaqsi: Għandna biżżejjed art għal din l-attività? Nafu li din l-attività tirrikjedi kwantità kbira ta’ art?

Tkun fejn tkun l-art ser toħloq xi forma ta’ impatt. Tista’ teffettwa raba’ li qed jintuża jew kien jintuża għall-agrikultura. Tista’ minflok teffettwa xagħri u allura l-impatt ikun iżjed wieħed fuq riżorsi naturali u bijodiversità. Dan apparti wirt storiku jew arkejoloġiku li jiddependi minn fejn tkun l-art.

Jekk min-naħa l-oħra l-proposta tkun viċin wisq l-abitat (kemm jekk ODZ kif ukoll, agħar jekk ġoż-żona ta’ l-iżvilupp) l-impatti fuq ir-residenti ser ikunu ta’ natura sostanzjali. Hemm l-impatti kkawżati mill-istorbju kif ukoll mit-tniġġiż tal-arja bħala riżultat tal-użu ta’ kwantità kbira ta’ fuel fit-tlielaq.

L-istorbju ma jeffettwax biss lill-bniedem. Jeffettwa ukoll lin-natura. Jeffettwa ukoll l-annimali fl-irziezet. Hemm diversi regoli u liġijiet dwar dan li jirrestrinġu ċerta attività bħalma hi dik tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi.

Jiġifieri taqta’ fejn taqta’ joħroġ id-demm.

L-art li ser tkun meħtieġa hi waħda sostanzjali. Qabel l-aħħar elezzjoni d-delettanti tal-isport tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi kienu taw indikazzjonijiet li l-art meħtieġ tista’ tkun bejn it-33 tomna u 40 tomna.

Mhux kull art li tista’ tkun magħżula ser ikollha l-istess impatt. Irridu nistennew u naraw għax tkun liema tkun l-art li ser tintagħżel ser toħloq problema. Peró din bil-fors ser tkun ODZ – barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp! Għax ma tista’ tkun imkien iktar.

Meta nisma’ proposti bħal din dwar iċ-ċirkwit tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi huwa ċar li uħud donnhom għad ma jridux jaċettaw iċ-ċokon tal-pajjiż. Minħabba dan iċ-ċokon attività bħat-tlielaq tal-karozzi fl-opinjoni tiegħi ma jagħmlux sens.

The compromise which can never be accepted

iz-Zonqor 2


The Prime Minister is seeking a compromise which will allow him to proceed with the rape of  Żonqor. It will be acceptable to all bar the extremists the Prime Minister was reported as saying.

The compromise sought by the Prime Minister will be such that instead of facilitating the rape of 90,000 square metres of agricultural land at Iż-Żonqor, he may opt for a smaller agricultural area to be ruined. That is, instead of placing all the university campus at Iż-Żonqor, only part of it will be so sited, for the time being.

Is this meant to elicit a thank you? Thank You for what?

This is a government which hears but does not listen.  It has certainly heard the public outcry against the development of ODZ land. But it has not listened to,  nor has it apparently understood, the reasons which justify this outcry.

If this were a government which listens, in addition to hearing,  it would understand that the objection runs far deeper and is not limited to the site area. It is an objection in principle to the development of ODZ land.

The proposed compromise is not acceptable as there ought to be no messing about with principles, not even if there is economic gain.  The economic gain indicated is just one side of the equation. It can never justify the environmental and social losses. The only possible solution is to relocate the whole project towards other areas where the economic gains made either create no environmental and social costs or else their magnitude is insignificant. Obviously there will be economic fundamentalists who would always prefer ODZ land as this minimises the financial costs of the project, the only costs which really interest them.

ODZ  means Outside the Development Zone. It is not some flexible boundary that can be adjusted  to suit the whims of the emperor.  The demarcation line between the Development Zone and beyond has been moved quite often in the past.  In the process,  large tracts of agriculture land was devoured by a concrete jungle.

The development of Iż-Żonqor will be an injustice which will shift more resources of the nation to the wealthy, in the process robbing the local farmers of their dignity. The farmers tilling the land at iż-Żonqor have their social and spiritual roots embedded deep in the soil. They are an integral part of the land which they take care of on behalf of all of us Maltese people.

Last week, over 3,000 Maltese citizens gathered in Valletta to protest against the Żonqor project. They did this because they believe that our natural heritage is our common responsibility. Iż-Żonqor is part of our common home on which we all depend physically and emotionally.

Iż-Żonqor is part of the logic of receptivity. It is on loan to the present generation which must pass it on to the next generation. Defending the countryside is our common responsibility which we will shoulder together. On this basis, there is no room for compromise Mr Prime Minister. Focus elsewhere and leave Iż-Żonqor alone.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 28 June 2015

Estremist jew …………….. imdawwar bil-poodles

poodles 2


Ġieli qalulna ukoll fundamentalisti. L-aħħar titlu hu estremisti. Hekk irrappurtat it-Times online illum diskors dal-għodu ta’ Joseph Muscat. L-Independent min-naħa l-oħra  uża l-kelma “absolutism”.  Il-Malta Today irrappurtat dak li ntqal b’video li jaqbel ma dak li qalet l-Independent.

Ir-realtà hi li l-valur tal-ekoloġija hu wieħed assolut. Għalhekk din l-opposizzjoni li bdiet u nittama li ma tieqafx.  Il-ħerba ekoloġika madwarna qed tikber kontinwament, għax hawn wisq politiċi irresponsabbli bħal Joseph Muscat jiġru mas-saqajn. Tkun irresponsabbli jekk tħares sal-ponta ta’ mnieħrek. Jekk tħares lejn il-gwadann immedjat u tinjora, jew aħjar tagħlaq għajnejk għall-ħsara irreparabbli li qed tiżviluppa bil-mod u fit-tul.

Il-proposta tal-hekk imsejjaħ kompromess li qed jimbotta ftit ftit Joseph Muscat, fis-sens li jibni biss parti mill-campus tal-“Università” fiz-Zonqor u l-kumplament x’imkien ieħor hi proposta irresponsabbli. Għax jekk Muscat qed jagħraf li hemm validità fl-argument li l-Università għandha titbiegħed miż-Żonqor, din għandha titbiegħed kompletament. Mhux biċċa biss biex taparsi kien qed jisma’.

Tajjeb li l-Gvern jisma’. Imma hu iktar importanti li jagħti każ. Li ma tkunx trid  tisma’ hu ħażin. Imma li tisma’ u ma tagħtix każ hu agħar għax turi li taparsi qed tisma’.

Pajjiżna ma jistax jitlef iktar raba’. Tilef iktar minn biżżejjed tul is-snin. Dak li ntilef ma jistax jinġieb lura.

Ir-raba’ taż-Żonqor m’huwiex biss sors ta’ għajxien għall-bdiewa. Huwa ukoll bejta tal-bijodiversità li qed tinqered ftit ftit.

Li topponi li l-ġungla tal-konkos jibla iktar raba’ m’huwiex estremiżmu. Huwa sens ta’ responsabbiltà kbira favur żvilupp sostenibbli. Għax l-iżvilupp għaqli m’huwiex li tibni iktar imma li tkun kapaċi tutilizza dak li hu diġa mibni biex taqdi l-ħtiġijiet tal-lum.

Dan ma jgħoddx biss għaż-Żonqor imma jgħodd ukoll għall-iskejjel li trid tibni l-Knisja f’Ħal-Ghaxaq. Ankè dawk, m’għandhomx jinbnew. Għandhom jinstabu soluzzjonijiet oħra, avolja diffiċli.

It-titlu ta’ estrimist fejn jidħol l-ambjent xejn ma jdejjaqni. L-importanti l-konsistenza li min huwa mdawwar bil-poodles m’għandux idea xi tkun.

Addressing the environmental deficit



The environmental deficit is constantly on the increase. Each generation creates additional  environmental impacts without in any way adequately addressing the accumulated impacts handed down by the previous generation.

Governments are worried by economic deficits yet few seem to be worried by the accumulated -and accumulating – environmental deficit. We are using the earth’s resources as if tomorrow will never come.

The Living Planet report published regularly by the World Wildlife Fund, demonstrates how the demands made by humanity globally exceed the planet’s biocapacity. In fact,  each year we consume 50% more than what  is produced by the planet.

The ecological footprint, that is the impact which each country has on the earth’s resources, varies geographically. On a global level, the average ecological footprint of a human being is 1.7 hectares. Malta’s ecological footprint has been calculated at around 3.9 hectares per person, more than double the global average. This adds up to an impact of around 50 times the area of the Maltese Islands.

Put simply, this means that in order to satisfy the needs of  each and every person in Malta  we are, in fact, utilising land in other countries.  In fact we import most of our requirements from other countries, thereby using their natural resources. We use  their air, their land, their water and their natural resources.

The politics of sustainable development seeks to view  and address these impacts holistically. It also considers today’s impacts  in the light of tomorrow’s needs and seeks to ingrain a sense of responsibility in decision-making. It does this by addressing the root causes of the environmental deficit.

Sustainable development policy understands that Maltese roads are bursting at the seams. We have reached a situation where improving the road network will improve neither connectivity nor the quality of the air we breath.  Malta’s small size should have made it easy ages ago to have excellent connectivity through public transport, with better air quality as a bonus. But it was ignored.

A sustainable water policy in Malta would have dictated better utilisation of rainwater. Instead, we spend millions of euros- including a chunk of EU funds- to ensure that instead of collecting rainwater we channel it straight into the Mediterranean Sea, only to harvest seawater  immediately through our reverse osmosis  plants. To make matters worse, we treat wastewater before dumping it into the sea when, with some extra thought (and expense) it would have been put to much better use.

Sustainable development embedded in our land use policy would lead to a substantial reduction in the land available for development and certainly to a strict ODZ protection protocol. Instead, we are faced with a situation resulting in a high number of vacant properties coupled with a nonchalant attitude to developing more agricultural land, as if we had a lot to spare!

The environmental deficit which has been accumulating over the years places us in a very precarious position as we cannot keep living on ecological credit for long.   Excessive ecological credit will inevitably lead to ecological bankruptcy from which neither the EU nor the International Monetary Fund will be able to bail us out.  The only solution is taking our environmental responsibilities seriously, before it is too late.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday, 7 June 2015

A future for our past



The proposal for the setting up of an American University at Marsaskala  as presented  by the government is not one that is sustainable.  DePaul University of Chicago has denied involvement in the selection of the site: it is a responsibility that has to be shouldered exclusively by the government and its advisors.  Whilst the proposal itself may be beneficial, the selected site should be discarded and replaced.

At the time of writing we are aware from media reports that the site at iż-Żonqor in Marsaskala, outside the development zone, was selected by MEPA on the basis of parameters identified by the government. We have been informed that  the government opted for an ODZ site in order to reduce the financial outlay for the project. In fact, 89% of the land is government-owned whilst the remaining 11% belongs to private individuals, a number of whom are well known for their activities in previous years.

This points to a serious shortfall in the reasoning of the government which  apparently considers that the costs that need to be taken into consideration are limited to those of a financial nature. Environmental costs do not seem to be factored in at this stage – except in the form of a nature park sweetener accompanying the proposed destruction of agricultural land. On the other hand, by identifying the site in the political south, the government thinks that it is addressing social considerations as it is trying to imply that this will lead to the generation of employment opportunities in the area.

Employment opportunities will definitely be created both directly by the academic activity of the University and through the presence on the islands of the foreign students who will be attracted here.  These employment opportunities will certainly be a long term benefit for the Maltese economy.

Hopefully, other impacts on the local population will be considered in detail at a later stage when the detailed plans of the project are analysed. However, even at this point it is obvious that the generation of increased traffic will be problematic and will create considerable difficulties for the localities of Ħaż-Żabbar and Marsaskala.

Earlier this week, Alternattiva  Demokratika-The Green Party proposed to the government that instead of considering the site at Żonqor Point in Marsaskala it should look at Fort Ricasoli in Kalkara. This proposal was also reflected in separate comments made by environmental NGOs as well as by Labour MP Marlene Pullicino, who emphasised the need to make use of forts, coastal towers and buildings of huge historical significance which, if adequately restored, could provide much more space than is needed for the campus of this American University.

In addition to Fort Ricasoli, Dr  Pullicino referred to Fort St Leonard,  Fort St Rocco, The Cottonera Lines  and Fort San Salvatore in Vittoriosa.

I understand that there is some reluctance regarding the Fort Ricasoli proposal – currently partly utilised by the film industry, which considers it as an essential backbone of its infrastructure. Whilst this may be the case, unfortunately this use of the Fort has not to date led to any visible improvement on the state of repair of this national treasure.  I am informed that currently  sections of the fort require immediate intervention as they are considered to be in a dangerous state. Information available also indicates that the film industry has been drawing the attention of the authorities for years on end to the state of Fort Ricasoli but unfortunately no action has been taken.

These proposals to utilise Malta’s historical heritage as an alternative to the planned destruction of 90,000 square metres of agricultural land is much more than a proposal to change the location of the American University in Malta. It aims to channel the available investment into regenerating our historical heritage by restoring it and identifying a use of relevance to the 21st century. Using restored buildings appropriately is the best way in which we can protect our historical heritage.

Other countries have been there before us with considerable success.  Many Universities in Europe are situated on a campus consisting of immaculately preserved buildings, combined with state-of-the-art facilities for research, learning and recreation.

All the above Maltese  historical buildings offer easy access to the infrastructural services which will be required on a university campus.

Why proceed with the destruction of agricultural land when the proposal for an American University in Malta can be achieved through creating  a future for our past? This is a unique opportunity which should not be discarded.

published in The Independent on Sunday, 10 May 2015