Turiżmu li jagħti kas lin-nies

Id-dibattitu dwar l-impatti tat-turiżmu hu wieħed li ma jispiċċa qatt. X’impatti soċjali u ambjentali huma ġustifikabbli minħabba l-gwadann ekonomiku tat-turiżmu? Ir-riżorsi tal-pajjiż, fi ftit kliem x’numru ta’ turisti jifilħu?

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Tony Zahra, President tal-MHRA (l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija tal-Lukandi u r-Restoranti) kien kritiku dwar in-numru ta’ turisti u l-impatt tagħhom. Kien rappurtat li qal li n-numru ta’ turisti li qed jiġu Malta kien qed jikber wisq. Emfasizza li l-pajjiż ma jiflaħx għall-impatti li jiġġeneraw daqshekk turisti. L-interess ta’ Tony Zahra fit-turiżmu dejjem kien limitat għall-impatt fuq dawk li joperaw il-lukandi: fejn Zahra għandu l-interessi finanzjarji tiegħu. Għadni qatt ma smajt lill- MHRA u lil Tony Zahra, per eżempju, jinkoraġixxu l-agri-turiżmu, u l-importanza ta’ dan (kieku jsir sewwa) biex jiddiversifika b’mod sostenibbli l-prodott turistiku Malti.

Kważi simultanjament għall-kummenti ta’ Tony Zahra, l-Istitut tal-Università ta’ Malta dwar il-Gżejjer u l-Istati Żgħar (The Islands and Small States Institute) ippubblika studju tal-Professuri Lino Briguglio u Marie Avellino, intitolat : Has overtourism reached the Maltese Islands?

Fl-istudju tagħhom, Briguglio u Avellino jagħtu daqqa t’għajn u jidentifikaw dak li għaddej fit-turiżmu u jidentifikaw l-argumenti kritiċi li qed ikunu żviluppati dwar il-materja. Turiżmu li qed jikber iżżejjed (overtourism) u l-biża’ mit-turiżmu (tourismphobia) huma termini li qed jintużaw bi frekwenza li qed tiżdied biex jiddeskrivu l-impatti soċjali negativi li qed jiżviluppaw bħala riżultat ta’ turiżmu li qed jikber kważi bla rażan. Kien fl-2008 li l-antropologu Katalan Manoel Delgado ddeskriva it- turistofobia bħala taħlita ta’ stmerrija, nuqqas ta’ fiduċja u tmaqdir tat-turiżmu.

Fl-istudju ta’ Briguglio u Avellino hu analizzat stħarriġ li għalih, 51% ta’ dawk li wieġbu qalu illi ma jixtiqux jaraw iktar turisti fil-belt jew raħal tagħhom. L-awturi jinterpretaw dan bħala li jindika li t-turiżmu f’Malta kiber wisq (overtourism), avolja jqisu li l-kampjun ta’ dawk li wieġbu l-istħarriġ hu ftit dgħajjef minħabba li mhux rappresentattiv b’mod adegwat.

Fost l-affarijiet li qed jikkontribwixxu għall-iżvilupp ta’ din il-biża mit-turiżmu hemm il-pressjonijiet soċjali u l-impatti ambjentali (kemm skart b’mod ġenerali kif ukoll il-kontribut għal attività esaġerata tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni), konġestjoni tat-traffiku, storbju, it-theddida tat-telf tal-identità kulturali u konflitti soċjo-kulturali.

L-MHRA, kif indika Tony Zahra, tidher li hi tal-istess fehma, avolja Zahra tkellem b’mod ġenerali u evita li jitkellem fid-dettall. L-interess tiegħu, wara kollox, hu l-impatt fuq il-but tal-membri tal-MHRA.

L-istudju ta’ Briguglio u Avellino jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li l-politika dwar it-turiżmu għandha tfittex li tindirizza l-impatti negattivi tal-industrija. Dan mhux biss biex tkun indirizzat il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti lokali imma ukoll biex l-esperjenza tat-turist tkun waħda aħjar u awtentika. It-triq ‘il-quddiem, jgħidulna Briguglio u Avellino, hi d-demokratizzazzjoni tal-iżvilupp turistiku u dan billi jkun inkoraġġit l-impenn tar-residenti milquta fil-komunitajiet tagħna. L-awturi ma jidħlux f’dettall biex jispjegaw dan kollu x’jista’ jfisser. Għandna nifhmu, iżda, li l-proċess tat-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet kollha li jikkonċernaw l-iżvilupp tat-turiżmu għandhom ikunu soġġetti għal skrutinju pubbliku kontinwu. Dan m’għandux ifisser biss is-sehem tar-residenti milquta f’dan l-iskrutinju imma fuq kollox li dak li jgħidu jkun rifless fid-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Permezz tad-demokratizzazzjoni tal-iżvilupp turistiku, hu iktar possibli li l-interessi u aġendi konfliġġenti fit-turiżmu jkunu indirizzati. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-imprenditur li jħares lejn il-qliegħ immedjat ikollu jiffaċċja r-realtajiet soċjali u l-impatti ambjentali u kulturali tal-ħidma tiegħu. Bħalissa l-operaturi turistiċi jimpalaw il-profitti u aħna, l-bqija, ndewwu l-feriti soċjali, kulturali u ambjentali li jkunu ħolqu b’ħidmiethom.

It-turiżmu mhiex attività li issir f’bozza. Isseħħ f’komunità magħmula min-nies li għandhom ikollhom l-assigurazzjonijiet kollha neċessarji li l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom mhux ser taqla’ daqqa l-isfel bħala riżultat. It-turiżmu mhux dwar numri ta’ turisti, miljuni ta’ ewro li jintefqu inkella dwar il-kontribut lejn il-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali. Hu ukoll dwar il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

It-turiżmu sostenibbli huwa primarjament dwar in-nies u mhux dwar il-profitt. Stennejna iktar minn biżżejjed biex dawk li huma effettwati jkunu assigurati li l-ħajja tagħhom ma tibqax imtappna minn dawk li jaraw biss il-flus. Biex dan iseħħ ma hemm l-ebda alternattiva għajr li l-iżvilupp turistiku jkun demokratizzat.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 t’Awwissu 2019

The democratisation of tourism

The debate on the impacts of tourism is never-ending. To what extent does the economic impact of tourism justify its social and environmental impacts? What is the carrying capacity of our islands, that is, what is the number of tourists with which our resources can reasonably cope?

Earlier this week, Tony Zahra, President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) sounded the alarm: he was reported as saying that the number of tourists visiting Malta was too high. He emphasised that it is substantially exceeding the limits of what the country can take sustainably. Tony Zahra’s interest in tourism is limited to the impacts on hotels and hoteliers, his bread and butter. I have yet to hear the MHRA and Tony Zahra advocating agri-tourism, for example, and its importance in diversifying Malta’s tourism product sustainably.

Almost simultaneously The Islands and Small States Institute of the University of Malta published a Paper authored by Professors Lino Briguglio and Marie Avellino, entitled: Has overtourism reached the Maltese Islands?

In their Paper Briguglio/Avellino skim though the issues, identifying the trends and an ever-growing literature on over-tourism. “Over-tourism” and “tourismphobia” are increasingly used as terms to describe the emergence of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. It was way back in 2008 that  the Catalan anthropologist Manoel Delgado had described turistofobia as a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists.

In a survey which is discussed in the Briguglio/Avellino paper, 51 per cent of respondents said that they did not want to see more tourists in their town or village. The authors interpret this as indicating the existence of over-tourism in the Maltese islands, even though they consider the sample of respondents as being weak and not adequately representative.

Among the issues contributing to this developing tourist phobia are social discomfort, environmental degradation (including both generation of waste and excessive construction activity), traffic congestion, noise, the loss of cultural identity and socio-cultural clashes.

The MHRA, as indicated by its President Tony Zahra, seems to be on the same wavelength although Tony Zahra limits himself to speaking in general terms, as his primary interest is the financial bottom-line of MHRA members.

The Briguglio/Avellino paper points at the need for tourism policy to consider mitigating the negative impacts of tourism. This could address not just the well-being of the local residents but also the tourist experience. The democratisation of tourism development through encouraging the active participation of the residents suffering the impact in our communities, opine Briguglio/Avellino, could be the way forward. The authors do not go in detail as to what the “democratisation of tourism development” would actually mean. It is, however, understood that the decision-making process of tourism development should be subjected to more public scrutiny by the community suffering from the impact and, that the views of the community are not only heard but acted upon.

Through the democratisation of tourism development, the conflicting interests and agendas involved in tourism must be addressed. As a result, the short-term gains of tourism entrepreneurs would be compelled to face the reality of social responsibility, as well as cultural and environmental costs. So far, the tourism operators pocket the profits and we, the rest, face the impacts.

Tourism is not an activity that happens in a vacuum. It takes place in a community of persons, who should be assured that their quality of life is not impacted negatively upon as a result of the experience. Tourism is not just about numbers of tourists, or the millions of euros spent or a contribution to the Gross National Product: it is also about our quality of life.

Sustainable tourism is primarily about people – not about profit! Is it not about time that those feeling the impacted are involved in ensuring that their lives are not made miserable by others whose vision is limited to euros on the horizon?

The democratisation of touristic development is the only way forward.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 August 2019

In Tourism – small is beautiful too

Villa del Porto Kalkara

First published in 1973, Ernst Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful – economics as if people mattered has always presented a challenge to politicians and economic planners. It contrasts to, and in many instances it actually is, the direct antithesis of the “economies of scale” and as such it is often discarded by those who dream of quick results.

Schumacher, an economist by training, had one specific message: the promotion of people-centred economics. Our economics are profit-focused, with decisions being constantly made on profitability criteria, rather than on human needs. People should come before profits.

Human needs as well as environmental impact should be factored in at the drawing-board stage of all economic decisions. Reading through plans and strategies on the development of tourism in Malta over the years, one inevitably reaches the conclusion that these plans and strategies are focused on hotels, as if nothing else mattered. Tourism is, however, much more than hotels and the hotel industry.

It is only fairly recently that some thought is being given to boutique hotels and agri-tourism: alternative, small-scale tourism opportunities.  Yet much more needs to be done if we are to move along the path of sustainable tourism which, whilst being practically harmless environmentally, can be of considerable benefit not just to our economy but also to our families, in particular those in small communities.

Earlier this week, I was alerted by residents in Lija to an application submitted to MEPA [PA2822/15] to convert a large townhouse in a residential area into a boutique hotel. This proposed hotel would have nine bedrooms with ancillary facilities and it covers a total area of 1,110 square metres, including a garden. When finished, it could cater for a maximum of twenty guests.

Being small, such a boutique hotel would  fit in easily in any of our towns or villages. Its impact would be compatible with that generated by three or four families in the community. Being generally family-run helps considerably to give a human face to this tourism outlet as well as offering excellent service.

However the local residents are  worried about the compatibility of this development with the residential nature of the area. Their worries are not just about the impact of the hotel’s services but more on the possible spinoffs such as whether the bar and restaurant, as well as the swimming pool  – to be constructed in what is currently the garden – would be open to people who are  not actually staying in the hotel. The residents are worried about noise pollution well into the silent hours, the generation of increased traffic and subsequent parking problems – problems they associate with such spin-off activities.

The residents cannot be blamed for their concerns because no one has explained what the practical operational limits of boutique hotels will be – and this is because there are no MEPA guidelines on the subject. The various applications for the provision of boutique hotels that MEPA has processed in the recent past are considered within existing general policies. Likewise, perusal of the Malta Tourism Authority’s website does not reveal any guidelines to help prospective developers of boutique hotels navigate the relatively unchartered waters of such an activity in a residential area.

A number of local councils are similarly concerned because, although they understand and appreciate the benefits to the local economy of encouraging the use of large properties as boutique hotels they are apprehensive about the collateral damage to community life. Large townhouses as well as historical buildings in our towns and villages can be given a new life by being converted to boutique hotels but great care must be taken to ensure that this development is not driven by economics alone. It needs to be community driven and local councils in particular need to be partners in this drive to develop an untapped area of sustainable tourism.

If handled properly, it is potentially a win-win situation but the concerns of the residential communities must be addressed immediately. If this is done, tourism will take a gigantic step forward as it will develop a human face.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 23 August 2015

Għawdex presepju?

circular economy

L-aċċess liberu u immedjat bejn Malta u Għawdex mhux xi ħaġa li bdejna nargumentaw dwarha issa. L-argument ilu għaddej is-snin. Niftakar, meta kont għadni żgħir nisma’ l-argumenti sħan dwar il-possibilita’ ta’ pont bejn Malta u Għawdex fis-snin 60. Riċentement l-argument issoffistika ftit ruħu u hemm min hu mħajjar mill-ħolqien ta’ mina taħt il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex.

Qabel iżda ma wieħed iqies jekk proġett bħal dan jistax isir, kif ukoll kemm jiswa’ u minn fejn ser jitħallas, ikun għaqli li nifhmu ftit xi skop irridu li jintlaħaq bi proġett bħal dan, u dan qabel ma nibdew biss nidħlu fid-dettall biex nikkunsidraw l-impatti ambjentali.

Bla dubju l-iskop ta’ min imexxi l-quddiem l-idea ta’ għaqda fiżika permezz ta’ pont jew mina  hu li din l-għaqda fiżika tnaqqas il-ħin biex persuna residenti Għawdex tasal għax-xogħol jew għal-istudju l-Universita’ f’Malta. Tiffaċilita’ ukoll il-ħidma tal-industrija li jonqsulha d-diffikultajiet biex twassal il-prodotti tagħha lejn is-swieq, kemm dawk lokali kif ukoll dawk barranin. Fi ftit kliem min imexxi l-quddiem l-idea ta’ pont jew mina jara dawn l-aspetti posittivi li jirriżultaw mill-fatt li Għawdex ikun parti integrali minn Malta. Pero’ sfortunatament jinsa’ l-bqija. Ma tistax u m’għandex, biex tmexxi l-quddiem l-idea tiegħek tarmi l-ideat ta’ ħaddieħor.

Ma nafx jekk qatt ġiex ikkunsidrat l-impatt fuq it-turiżmu tal-proposta ta’ mina jew pont. Għax b’mina jew pont, lit-turist ftit jibqa’ xi jħajjru biex jibbaża ruħu f’Għawdex waqt il-mawra tiegħu f’dawn il-gżejjer. B’pont jew mina, l-attrazzjoni ta’ Għawdex għat-turist tkun kważi identika bħal dik ta’ reġjuni oħra fil-gżejjer Maltin. Filwaqt li dan għalija hu ovvju, tajjeb li jsir eżerċizzju biex dan ikun ikkwantifikat biex meta jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet kulħadd ikun jaf x’inhu jagħmel, fejn qiegħed u x’inhuma l-konsegwenzi ta’ dak li nippjanaw u nagħmlu.

Għax fl-aħħar irridu bħala pajjiż niddeċiedu mhux jekk Għawdex ikunx magħqud ma’ Malta b’pont jew mina, imma dwar x’direzzjoni ekonomika għandha tieħu l-gżira Għawdxija. It-turiżmu f’Għawdex żgur li għandu potenzjal li jikber . Mhux qed nirreferi għat-turiżmu tradizzjonali iżda dak magħruf bħala eko-turiżmu.

L-eko-turiżmu għandu potenzjal kbir f’Għawdex. Jista’ faċilment jaħdem id f’id ma l-agrikultura u mal-ħarsien tal-ambjent. Inħarsu l-ambjent u nkattru x-xogħol permezz ta’ turiżmu li jirrispetta n-natura.

Bħalissa qed nitkellmu ħafna dwar l-agri-turiżmu fil-kuntest ta’ tibdil tal-politika tal-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art f’żoni agrikoli. Ma ġewx ippubblikati studji li jiġġustifikaw dak li ġie propost. Hemm ħafna potenzjal.

Per eżempju minn studji diversi li saru nafu li n-natura għandha effett terrapewtiku. Meta l-bniedem jirristabilixxi l-kuntatt dirett tiegħu man-natura iserraħ il-menti tiegħu u jikkalma. Il-kuntatt dirett man-natura tnaqqas l-istress.  Hemm branka ta’ xjenza magħrufa bħala eko-terapija li tistudja kif in-natura tista’ tkun utilizzata iktar fil-qasam tas-saħħa mentali. NGO Ingliża fil-qasam tas-saħħa mentali meta xi snin ilu ippubblikat ir-rapport tagħha intitolat Eco-therapy : A Green Agenda for Mental Health emfasizzat li n-natura għandha l-potenzjal li tkun għodda utli ħafna għall-futur tas-saħħa mentali tagħna lkoll. Dan jista’ jsir b’diversi modi: b’mixjiet fil-kampanja, tours ċiklistiċi, żjarat fir-rżiezet inkluż li ngħixu għall-perjodu ta’ żmien fost komunitajiet ta’ bdiewa jew sajjieda ………… u bosta ħidmiet oħra. Din hi ħidma li tfittex li tistabilixxi mill-ġdid ir-rabta bejn il-bniedem u n-natura. Din hi attivita’ li tnaqqas l-istress, ir-rabja, l-ansjeta’, l-għejja mentali u problemi diversi oħra ta’ saħħa mentali. (ara ukoll fuq l-istess suġġett il-blogpost tiegħi  Reconnecting to Our Roots)

Dan kollu hu fost il-potenzjal li għandu Għawdex. Potenzjal li joħloq ix-xogħol imma fil-ħolqien tiegħu jirrispetta l-ambjent. It-turiżmu flimkien mal-ambjent joffri futur interessanti għal Għawdex, ferm iktar milli jkun presepju.

Ibbazat fuq il-kummenti ippubblikati f’Illum : il- Ħadd 29 ta’ Dicembru 2013

Il-MEPA tippjana l-iżvilupp fil-kampanja

 

vinja

Nhar il-Ġimgħa li għaddiet għalaq il-perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar id-dokument ippubblikat mill-MEPA fuq l-ippjanar tal-iżvilupp fil-kampanja, intitolat Outside Development Zone – Policy and Design Guidance.

Dan id-dokument fih proposti li l-konsegwenzi tagħhom jistgħu jkunu sostanzjali u dan minħabba li jinkoraġixxu żvilupp, anke jekk dan hu limitat, fil-kampanja.

Kien fil-fehma tiegħi essenzjali li flimkien ma’ dan id-dokument ta’ proposti ta’ politika dwar żvilupp fl-ODZ il-MEPA tippubblika ukoll studji dwar x’wassal għal dawn il-konklużjonijiet.

Kemm hu kbir in-numru ta’ irziezet abbandunati? Fejn qegħdin? Hemm żoni fejn hemm konċentrazzjoni ta’ dawn l-irziezet abbandunjati? Jekk il-MEPA għandha din l-informazzjoni messha ippubblikata. Jekk min-naħa l-oħra din l-informazzjoni ma’ nġabritx ma nistax nifhem kif u għaliex ġie ippubblikat dan id-dokument.

Dan id-dokument jiftaħ il-possibilitajiet għal żvilupp fil-kampanja għall-agrituriżmu. Jorbot din il-possibilita ma sittin tomna art. Imma mbagħad jgħaddi biex jikkonċedi l-possibilta’ tal-bini ta’ mhux iktar minn għaxart ikmamar li komplessivament ikollhom qies li ma jaqbiżx l-400 metru kwadru. X’jiġġustifika din il-proposta?  X’tip ta’ agrituriżmu hu ipproġettat?

Wisq nibża’ li għall-awtriċi tad-dokument (u min assistiha) l-agrituriżmu hu t-trasferiment ta’ numru ta’ sodod tal-lukandi f’ambjent rurali. Fil-fatt hu ferm differenti. Il-punt tat-tluq tal-agrituriżmu hu esperjenza tal-ħajja rurali fi-raba’ jew f’irziezet li fihom jitrabbew il-bhejjem.

Għax ma nħarsux ftit lejn l-esperjenza fl-Italja u nippruvaw nitgħallmu ftit. Dawn l-esperjenzi juru li d-daqs medju ta’ lokal agrituristiku hu wieħed li jiprovdi għaxar sodod, jiġifieri madwar ħamest ikmamar. Il-qofol tal-esperjenza agrituristika hi l-agrikultura mhux it-turiżmu.  Magħha tista’ iżżid esperjenzi oħra ta’ natura kumplimentari bħall-mixjiet fil-kampanja u apprezzament u/jew l-istudji  tan-natura.

Id-dokument propost mill-MEPA qed jagħmel żball fundamentali. Kien ikun aħjar għal kulħadd, l-iktar għall-bdiewa infushom li fl-ewwel snin il-politika dwar l-ODZ tiffoka fuq l-użu tal-bini agrikolu vojt kif ukoll fit-tindif tal-kampanja u taż-żoni rurali minn bini illegali. Proposta ta’ din ix-xorta kienet tkun waħda leġittima u kien ikollha l-appoġġ ta’ kulħadd. Imbagħad wara numru ta’ snin kien ikun ġustifikat li jkunu eżaminati r-riżultati miksuba u minn hemm wieħed ifassal kull azzjoni oħra li tista’ tirriżulta meħtieġa.

Ikun għaqli jekk id-dokument propost mill-MEPA jkun revedut b’mod li jelimina l-possibilita li jsir bini ġdid fil-kampanja. Hu b’hekk biss li l-ODZ tibqa’ żona barra l-linja ta’ l-iżvilupp. Dan fl-interess ta’  kulħadd. Inkluż tal-bdiewa.

ippubblikat fuq iNews it-Tnejn 9 ta’ Diċembru 2013

Konsultazzjoni ODZ: il-fehma ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

ODZ.MEPA

Dan hu id-dokument bis-sottomissjonijiet li Alternattiva Demokratika ippreżentat lill-MEPA il-bieraħ fil-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar l-iżvilupp fl-ODZ, jiġifieri x’jista’ jinbena barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp :

Politika u Gwida dwar diżinn barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp

Il-kummenti ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

Alternattiva Demokratika eżaminat id-dokument ippubblikat mill-MEPA għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika, liema dokument huwa ntitolat  Outside Development Zone Policy and Design Guidance.

Id-dokument jipproponi  l-konsolidazzjoni b’emendi sostanzjali tal-politika kurrenti applikabbli għall-bini agrikolu kif ukoll għaż-żona barra l-iżvilupp.

Fid-dokument in kwistjoni hemm 38  policy differenti.

Id-dokument jagħmel proposti varji dwar l-użu mill-ġdid jew l-iżvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ strutturi eżistenti barra ż-żona ta’ żvilupp. Jintroduċi ukoll proposti dwar il-kostruzzjoni  ta’ strutturi li s’issa ma kienx possibli li jinbnew skond il-politika kurrenti ta’ l-ippjanar ta’ l-użu tal-art.

Id-dokument jonqos milli jikkwantifika u jillokalizza dawk iż-żoni barra miż-żona ta’ l-iżvilupp fejn hemm bini li oriġinalment kien intenzjonat għal skop agrikolu iżda m’għadux użat. In partikolari id-dokument ma jidentifikax fejn hemm żoni f’Malta u Għawdex fejn hemm ammont sinifikanti ta’ bini agrikolu abbandunat.

B’mod speċifiku Alternattiva Demokratika jidhrilha li huwa essenzjali illi jkun kwantifikat kemm hemm bini agrikolu li m’għadux użat.  L-anqas studji dwar l-ammont ta’ bini illegali użat fil-qasam tal-agrikultura ma hu għad disposizzjoni tal-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni. Il-politika dwar iż-żona barra l-linja tal-iżvilupp ftit għandha siwi jekk din l-informazzjoni ma tkunx magħrufa.

Kien ikun ta’ għajnuna kieku ingħatat stampa ċara u dokumentata tal-impatti li irriżultaw mill-qagħda attwali tal-industrija tat-trobbija tal-majjal u tat-tjur. Jekk dawn l-istudji saru ma jmisshomx inżammu għall-użu intern tal-MEPA iżda kellhom ikunu ippubblikati biex il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni jkun infurmat adegwatament dwar il-konsiderazzjonijiet li saru fit-tfassil tal-politika soġgett għal konsultazzjoni pubblika.

Kien ukoll ikun għaqli kieku l-MEPA iġġustifikat il-proposti tagħha dwar l-agrituriżmu. Il-proposta li tippermetti l-bini ta’ għaxart ikmamar li ma jeċċedux l-area ta’ erba’ mitt metru kwadru hi meqjusa waħda esaġerata. Ikun għaqli li wieħed josserva illi fl-Italja fejn l-istat ilu jinkoraġixxi u jappoġġa l-agri-turiżmu għal ta’ l-inqas dawn l-aħħar 25 sena id-daqs medju ta’ servizz offrut minn faċilita ta’ agri-turiżmu hi ta’ 10 sodod, li approssimattivament hi n-nofs ta’ dak rakkomandat mid-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni.

Dan kollu qiegħed jingħad għax Alternattiva Demokratika hi tal-fehma li l-użu mill-ġdid jew l-iżvilupp mill-ġdid inkluż il-bdil ta’ użu ta’ bini agrikolu eżistenti  li mhux użat biżżejjed inkella hu abbandunat hu pass pożittiv li għandu jkun inkoraġġit. Dan għandu japplika għal dak l-użu kompatibbli mal-agrikultura, inkluż proġetti ta’ agri-turiżmu. Filwaqt li dan it-tip ta’ użu kien diġa permissibli id-dokument li dwaru qed isir konsultazzjoni jagħmel dan iktar ċar.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi tal-fehma li kien ikun ferm aħjar kieku id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni inkoraġixxa l-użu mill-ġdid ta’ bini eżistenti (mibni legalment) qabel ma ippropona politika li tinkoraġixxi żvilupp ta’ art verġni barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.  Malta ma tiflaħx għall-impatti li jirriżultaw minn żvilupp ta’ iktar art agrikola. L-anqas ma tiflaħ għall-impatti li jirriżultaw jekk l-industrija spekulattiv tittrasferixxi lilha innifisha miz-zoni urbani għal dawk agrikoli. Sfortunatament id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jinkoraġixxi dan permezz tad-diversi proposti dwar il-permissibilita ta’ kostruzzjoni ta’ strutturi ġodda barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jonqos milli jipproponi kif il-framentazzjoni tar-raba’ użat għall-agrikultura tista’ tkun miġġielda. Fil-fatt bil-proposta li jiffaċilita aċċessi ġodda fiż-żoni agrikoli id-dokument jinkoraġixxi li jsir eżattament bil-maqlub. Jekk l-importanza stateġika tal-agrikultura għall-ekonomija Maltija ser tkun indirizzata din il-frammentazzjoni mhux biss trid tieqaf imma teħtieġ illi titreġġa lura.  Id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jipproponi direzzjoni kompletament differenti u dan billi jinkoraġixxi w jiffaċilita l-frammentazzjoni .

Id-dokument jonqos ukoll milli jiffaċilita l-implimentazzjoni ta’ proposti li saru fi studji fi snin preċedenti dwar il-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija elettrika mill-iskart agrikolu. Din hi materja li teħtieġ li tkun indirizzata b’mod urgenti u dan id-dokument kien il-post addattat fejn dan seta jsir. Bl-applikazzjoni tal-prinċipju tal-prossimita  kien ikun ta’ benefiċċju kieku tfasslu proposti li bħala riżultat tagħhom l-iskart tal-annimali ma jibqax ittrasportat fit-toroq arterjali imma jkun minflok ipproċessat l-iktar viċin possibli ta’ fejn ikun iġġenerat.  Hemm żoni agrikoli kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex fejn hemm konċentrazzjoni ta’ binjiet li fihom jitrabbew l-annimali. F’dawn iż-żoni dawn it-tip ta’ faċilitajiet għandhom mhux biss ikun permissibli, talli għandhom ikunu inkoraġġiti. Proposti ta’ din ix-xorta jwasslu għal prattiċi ta’ immaniġjar sostenibbli tal-iskart u jgħinu biex jitnaqqas sostanzjalment il-piz fuq is-sistema tad-drenaġg kif ukoll fuq it-tlett impjanti għat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ.

AD kienet tistenna li d-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li l-bini illegali barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp jitwaqqa’. Alternattiva Demokratika tittama li dan id-dokument ma jservix biex jiġġustifika t-tkattir ta’ workshops (sprayers, panel beaters ….) jew vilel barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan Alternattiva Demokratika hi tal-fehma li id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jeħtieġ reviżjoni sostanzjali jekk għandu jkun konformi mal-prinċipji tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli.

Carmel Cacopardo                                                             Simon Galea

Kelliemi għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli                             Kelliemi għall-Agrikultura

4 ta’ Diċembru 2013

id-document tal-MEPA intitolat : Outside Development Zones. Policy and Design Guidance.

issibu hawn.

Green acres for the tourists

festa frawli 2013

The planning authority has commenced the process of consolidating policies applicable to land use outside the development zones (ODZs) into one policy document. This includes policies applicable to agriculture.

This review exercise has various declared objectives and, possibly, some undeclared ones too. One particular declared objective deals with  agritourism and announces that it aims “to provide new opportunities for agricultural diversification by farm gate sales, visitor attractions and agro-tourism accommodation.”

Encouraging agritourism is good policy, which is long overdue. It has, however, to be developed on the correct lines from day one. In particular, it should be driven by the requirements of agriculture. Certainly it should neither  be tourism driven nor driven by the building construction industry.

Given that the first shot has been fired through a proposed review of land use planning policies it is clear that the initiatives being  considered (declared and undeclared) have more to do with the building industry.  This is more than just an impression.

Agritourism driven by agriculture can be an instrument for developing a sustainable rural development strategy. If properly planned, it can energise the agricultural community. In addition it may  incentivise some part-time farmers to switch back to full-time mode.

Agritourism can be developed on the basis of agricultural activity. It immerses the tourist into an agricultural community.  In view of the fact that most agritourism ventures are generally run by the farmers themselves assisted by their immediate families the tourist will never be just another number.

For his stay, a tourist will be part of the farmer’s family.  This is just a small part of the unique experience of agritourism, irrespective of the length of stay: be it one day, one week or longer.

Most seek agritourism  for their holidays in order to be  away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Agritourism can be linked with various other countryside and agricultural activities:  grape collection, olive picking, grape/olive pressing,  wine tasting,  bird watching, country walks or horse riding all fit in with agritourism.

It is a niche neglected for quite a long time.

Agriculture-themed activities such as the Strawberry Festival held annually in Mġarr are also part of the wider appeal of agritourism. They lay the foundations for a much wider eco-tourism policy.

In Italy, agritourism was recognised in 1985. Almost 30 years down the line it is developed and appreciated as a contributor to rural development as well as to tourism. Statistics for the year 2010 reveal that just under 20,000 agritourism operators in Italy have placed 200,000 beds on the tourism market, an average of 10 beds per operator.

In Malta, developing  agritourism almost  from scratch is a unique opportunity.  It  is also a challenge because, for some, agritourism will be just another excuse which they will try to utilise to justify more building development.  This is in my view one of the undeclared objectives of the policy review.

The ODZ policy review should aim to revitalise agriculture by providing farmers with the opportunity to increase their income through activities related to agriculture, including the provision of small scale accommodation.

Farm gate sales should be encouraged as should farmer-operated small restaurants offering local and traditional cuisine, making use of fresh produce, served directly from the farm to the fork.

Existing agricultural buildings validly built throughout the years should be properly utilised. There are quite a number of them, some having been abandoned years ago. If alterations to these buildings are required they should be considered, provided that the existing footprint of the buildings is not exceeded.

Agricultural buildings constructed illegally should not be sanctioned. Rather they should be demolished immediately.

It should be underlined that the ODZ review exercise should not be one which results in the shifting of bulldozers from an urban to a rural setting  but, rather, one intended to utilise as efficiently as possible the current stock of agricultural holdings and, as a result, benefitting first  agriculture and, as a consequence, tourism too.

If properly implemented, an agritourism policy will revitalise the agricultural community ensuring that its young generation takes charge, thereby halting its movement to other employment opportunities.

The process of revitalising agriculture through agritourism must be owned by the agriculture community in order to succeed. It must be ensured, as far as is possible, that greed and speculation, which have ruined our urban areas, converting most of them into urban concrete jungles, do not shift their attention to rural areas.  The pressure to cash-in on vacant agricultural properties will be enormous but it must be overcome.

Encouraging agritourism is a unique opportunity to plan integrated rural development. The focal point of such development must be the agriculture community and the sustainable use of natural resources. Embedding environmental responsibilities in the revised and consolidated policies applicable outside the development zones would ensure that the Maltese farmer once more actively takes up his responsibilities as the custodian of the rural environment.  This will be of great benefit not only to our present agricultural communities but future generations too.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday September 21, 2013

L-agri-turiżmu

Agritourism 1

L-agri-turiżmu ma jfissirx li jkollna l-lukandi fil-kampanja. L-agri-turiżmu hu ġabra ta’ attivitajiet u servizzi li l-komunitajiet rurali joffru biex jiġbdu l-viżitaturi. Dan it-turiżmu hu kkaraterizzat minn negozju ta’ daqs żgħir ġeneralment immexxi  b’mod dirett mis-sidien infushom (il-bdiewa) u jkun sitwat f’żoni fejn l-agrikultura hi l-użu predominanti tal-art.

M’hemmx agri-turiżmu jekk m’hemmx ukoll l-agrikultura.

L-agri-turiżmu għandu għaldaqstant tlett karatteristċi prinċipali: iseħħ flimkien mal-ħidma agrikola, jagħti esperjenza tal-ħidma agrikola lit-turist u joħloq iktar ħidma utli u li tirrendi lin-negozju agrikolu.

L-agri-turiżmu  ma jieħux post l-agrikultura iżda hu prodott ieħor tal-istess agrikultura.  It-turist  f’dan l-ambjent għal żmien qasir jifforma parti mill-komunita’ agrikola hu ukoll għaliex jgħix għal xi ġranet f’nofs komunita’ agrikola ħajja. L-agri-turiżmu hu turiżmu sostenibbli għax l-impatti tiegħu huma posittivi. L-impatti ambjentali huma minimi. L-impatti soċjali huma tajbin. L-impatti ekonomiċi huma eċċellenti. L –impatti kulturali tiegħu joħolqu rabta mal-komunita agrikola. It-turist m’huwiex sempliċiment qed jingħata servizz iżda għal żmien qasir isir parti mill-familja agrikola.

L-agri-turiżmu hu mod kif il-bdiewa jistgħu iżidu fid-dħul tagħhom u fl-istess ħin jibqgħu jaħdmu fir-raba’ tagħhom stess.

Fil-pajjiż ġar tagħna l-Italja, l-agri-turiżmu ġie rikonoxxut fl-1985. Illum għandhom agri-turiżmu żviluppat u varjat. Fl-2010 fl-Italja madwar 20,000 operatur agri-turistiku bejthom ipprovdew 200,000 sodda lis-suq turistiku Taljan. Offrew lit-turist fl-Italja prodott varjat:  minn razzett żgħir immexxi minn familja sa servizz ta’ lussu. Kif jidher miċ-ċifri l-medja hi ta’ 10 sodod għal kull operatur. Ċara ħafna li l-operaturi tat-turiżmu agrikolu huma operaturi żgħar li filwaqt li jibqgħu għaddejjin bil-ħidma agrikola normali tagħhom iżidu ftit fix-xogħol billi jipprovdu ukoll is-servizz ta’ ospitalita’.

Il-MEPA għadha kif ħabbret illi ser tikkonsolida f’dokument wieħed il-politika ta’ l-użu tal-art barra miż-żoni ta’ żvilupp  kif ukoll dik dwar l-agrikoltura. Fost l-iskopijiet li trid tilħaq hemm li jkun inkoraġġit l-agri-turiżmu. Minnu innifsu dan hu skop tajjeb dejjem sakemm ma jintużax biex jiġġustifika iktar żvilupp ta’ art barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp.

Hu necessarju li l-bini eżstenti fiż-żoni agrikoli tagħna nagħtuh użu li jgħin lill-komunita agrikola tissaħħaħ u per konsegwenza tkun f’posizzjoni aħjar li tħares l-art li tinħadem. Hemm bosta binjiet agrikoli abbandunati li jistgħu jerġgħu jingħataw il-ħajja kemm għall-ġid ta’ l-agrikultura innifisha kif ukoll għal turiżmu agrikolu. Huwa eżerċizzju iżda li jirrikjedi l-għaqal u l-paċenzja.

Jekk isir sewwa jagħti tifisira ġdida lill-karriera agrikola. Joħloq skop għal iktar investiment f’dan il-qasam u jiġbed’ lura lejn l-art lil bosta minn ulied il-bdiewa li dabbru rashom snin ilu. Fuq kollox jista’ jagħti l-ħajja lill-bini agrikolu li ilu mitluq għal snin twal.

Il-protagonist ta’ din il-bidla jrid ikun il-bidwi li filwaqt illi jibqa’ jaħdem l-art jew irabbi l-bhejjem jibda bil-mod joffri servizzi ġodda.

Dan hu l-mod li bih nimxu l-quddiem.

Ippubblikat fuq iNews nhar it-Tlieta 17 ta’ Settembru 2013

Local plans, and not regional

grand-harbouraerial

MEPA has embarked on a process which will lead to a revision of the seven existing  Local Plans. Five were approved in 2006. Two of them were approved earlier: the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (1995) and the Grand Harbour Local Plan (2002).

With the exception of the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (which regulates  Birżebbuġa, Marsaxlokk and their surrounding areas) all the Local Plans cover extensive areas. The Structure Plan, approved in 1990 and currently subject to revision, had identified the need for 24 Local Plans addressing urban areas, as well as other unspecified plans for Rural Conservation Areas. Initially when MEPA approved the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan it started along this path but then it opted for plans which are more regional than local in nature.

Local Plans are necessary in order that planning policy is appropriately applied at a local level where one can focus on practical considerations. Though there may be overlaps between Local Plans covering similar areas there will also be variations resulting from the specific nature of the different localities. There will be inevitable similarities between, for example, a Local Plan addressing Valletta and Floriana on one hand and another one addressing the Three Cities due to the fact that both contain vast stretches of fortifications.  However the planning issues arising may also lead to different considerations both in respect of what is to be prohibited as well as in what ought to be encouraged.

Local Plans are not neutral policy instruments. Departing from the common need to ensure a continuous maintenance programme for the fortifications (which programme is currently in hand)  Local Plans may explore different potential uses to which the fortifications in two completely different areas may be put. This would be dependent on the infrastructural services in the area  and on the impacts generated by the potential use  on the surrounding amenities and localities. It would be much easier to ensure that this is done through two separate local plans, one specifically addressing Valletta and Floriana and the other addressing just the Three Cities.

It is not just an issue of fortifications. The large number of vacant properties, currently totalling  over 72,000 cannot be addressed adequately at a regional level. Different policies and different targets have to be identified at a local level as both the causes as well as the extent of the problem vary from one locality to another.

Boundaries of a number of Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs) were substantially revised in 2006 on the understanding that it is better to limit the extent of a UCA to that which is necessary and essential. Consequently it should stand to reason that a smaller UCA is much better to regulate and monitor.

A number of vacant properties lie within UCAs as it costs much more to bring such properties to an adequate state compatible to modern standards of living. This is an area which has already been explored in the last years with various fiscal incentives being offered to encourage rehabilitaton and the reuse of such properties. Much more needs to be done. The revision of the Local Plans is another opportunity to re-examine the way forward in tackling the ever increasing number of vacant properties. The proposed policies must however be focused and local in nature as otherwise they will fail to have any impact at all.

As emphasised by eNGOs  the Local Plans should also be an opportunity to consider the integration of environmental policy and its applicability at a local level. Whilst all environmental policy is of relevance to our localities two particular areas easily spring to mind: air quality and noise pollution.

Both air quality and noise control standards can be undoubtedly upgraded if action is taken at a local level. Traffic generated is a major contributor to both. Heavy traffic through residential areas has to be reduced. If the Local Plans address this issue they will be simultaneously contributing to a better air quality and less acoustic pollution in urban areas.

From declarations made in the past weeks it is obvious that one of the controversial issues to be tackled, (most probably in a plan addressing rural areas) would be agro-tourism.  This is a very sensitive matter . If the point of departure is to seek to establish new development zones on the pretext of tourism than such proposals would be unacceptable. If on the other hand such a Rural Plan addresses the use of existing  agricultural holdings aiming to maximise the use of their existing footprint, provide a different touristic experience as well as  provide alternative or additional employment opportunities to our agricultural communities then there is room for considerable discussion.

The Local Plans to be produced will have an impact on our quality of life for the next ten years. It is hence imperative to not only ensure a high level of participation in the consultation process but that the resulting proposals are given due consideration.

This article was published in The Times of Malta, Saturday August 10, 2013

Resurrection of eco-Gozo

The Gozo Channel

There is much more to a Gozo Channel bridge than its financial cost calculated in euros. There are also social and  environmental costs.

The proposal to link Malta and Gozo permanently has been around for ages. It involves connecting the islands such that there are no physical obstructions to proceed from one island to the other.

Gozo’s connectivity is a serious matter. Yet Gozo’s double insularity may well be its greatest asset which has been misunderstood and ill-used throughout the years.

The improvement of existing transport links  by introducing more efficient means or through alternative  means of transport is one way of looking at the channel crossing-challenge. Almost all  alternatives have been tried out in the past. Fast sea links linking Mġarr Gozo directly with a central location have been tried and subsequently discontinued. Alternatively, air links through the use of amphibious small planes  and helicopters too have been tried.

Will Gozo be better off if it is permanently linked to Malta?  I think that those insisting on the bridge or the tunnel genuinely believe that because they themselves may be better off everyone else will possibly be better off too.

Reality, unfortunately, is considerably different as with a physical link between Malta and Gozo there will be both winners and losers.   The process leading to a decision has to be both honest and transparent if it is to be of any help.

It has to be honest as it has to consider all the anticipated impacts of each proposal under consideration. Improved connectivity for industry to deliver goods produced in Gozo to Malta and elsewhere also signifies improved connectivity for working men and women living in Gozo and working in Malta. This could suggest that there may then be no more scope in locating industry in Gozo as the labourforce would easily access their working place. To date, providing work for Gozitans in Gozo has been an important social and political objective. If a physical link materialises this may no longer be so. Gozo will then be a locality just like any other in Malta.

Double insularity, if ditched by choice, will no longer be able to justify subsidies and incentives to lure industry to Gozo.  Double insularity will no longer be justification for EU regional development funds as it will no longer exist. What purpose then for the projected Gozo office in Brussels?

What about the impacts on the tourism industry?  Tourism policy relative to Gozo has always focused on Gozo as the destination with a difference. Gozo’s potential as an eco-tourism destination has been occassionally tapped. Diving is a well-developed niche market for eco-tourism in Gozo. Agri-tourism in Gozo has substantial potential, which is to date largely untapped.

These are issues whose potential could and should have been developed within the context of the eco-Gozo project. Unfortunately, this project has been hijacked by those who, after plagiarising the idea from  Alternattiva Demokratika used it as a slogan and ignored it as a vision.

The contribution to tourism of cultural activities such as opera performances  in Gozo is not to be underestimated. Such cultural activities contribute substantially to the viability of hotel operations in Gozo through the generation of revenue in the winter months. The introduction of a permanent link will undoubtedly increase the potential audiences for opera and other cultural activities in Gozo. However, with a bridge or tunnel in place, the use of hotels in Gozo will not be required by opera enthusiasts as they would be in a position to drive back home immediately. This has already been evident when Gozo Channel increased its trips through the introduction of late night trips.

In addition one has to consider environmental impacts. Impacts on protected marine areas in the Gozo Channel would be substantial. Add visual impacts in the case of the bridge or over two million cubic metres of excavated material in the case of the tunnel.

And what about the geological features of the Gozo Channel? As the area is riddled with geological faults, the first logical step is obviously a detailed geological examination of the area.  But what is obviously a logical first step seems not to have been given due weight.

Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta advocates a different line of action. A connectivity strategy for Gozo considering in detail all the different options is to be drawn up. After subjecting it to a Strategic Environment Assessement in line with the EU environmental legislation such a strategy should be subject to a public consultation, not just with the Gozitans but on a national level.

Taking into consideration all impacts would ensure that the decison taken is a sustainable one. Not in the interests of one specific sector but in the interests of all. Resurrecting (the real) eco-Gozo in the process would not be a bad idea.

Published in The Times of Malta – Saturday June 29, 2013