The Metro consultation: taking us for a ride

In 2008 Professor Mir Ali from the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published a paper entitled “Urban Design Strategy Report on Tall Buildings in Malta.”

Professor Ali comments on the lack of mass transport facilities in Malta and links the functionality of tall buildings with the availability of mass transport facilities. He emphasises that: “Once there is a BRT or MRT system, integration of tall buildings with transportation can result in high efficiency, consolidation of services and a better urban life.” BRT signifies Bus Rapid Transit System. MRT signifies Mass Rapid Transport.

The need for a mass transport network has been felt for a long time. Greens in Malta have been emphasising that it is one of various solutions to address transport issues in the Maltese islands.

Government’s announcement last weekend on a three-route metro is just a first step. Greens definitely agree with the objective though not with the specifics proposed. As ARUP emphasised, government’s massive expenditure on long-term road building will not solve anything. Most of it is money down the drain.

Government’s announcement has only presented a sketch of a solution. The proposal needs to be much more detailed than that. While the identification of the routes as well as the location of the stations is definitely important information, we need more analytical information to digest.

ARUP identified potential routes and stations on the basis of studies. It is said that studies were also carried out on various options, as a result of which ARUP discarded the Bus Rapid Transit, the surface tram, the elevated light metro and combinations. We need to be able to digest these studies to understand why ARUP have discarded alternative solutions. All studies carried out by ARUP should be available for examination in the Metro public consultation. If this is not possible what is the purpose of a public consultation?

The proposal for a Metro should not be an excuse for developing open spaces as has already been pointed out with reference to the proposed B’Kara and Pembroke Metro stations. We already have too few open spaces.

Proposals have to be analysed within the wider context of transport policy in Malta.  Specifically private car use must be substantially reduced for any mass transport proposal to be economically feasible! This must be clear even at this stage. It is inevitable, but government is conveniently being silent on the matter! Has ARUP advised on the matter in its feasibility studies? We have a right to know.

It is the intention to utilise the stations to attract metro users from the surrounding areas. Some, living nearby, will come on foot. Others living or working slightly further away may come by private car, by bus or by bike.  Most potential metro stations do not have parking areas around them. This signifies that it is essential that more emphasis is laid on the interaction between the proposed Metro and local and regional transport.

The metro’s functioning has to be seen within the existing urban context. This is very relevant to the debate but unfortunately the detailed advice which government has received in this respect has not been divulged. Just one tit-bit of information has inadvertently emerged. When asked as to why the Metro will not make it to Gozo, it was stated that there is not sufficient population on the sister island. This begs the question: how come then that a tunnel is planned below the sea to link the two islands?

The announcement further informed us that most of the Metro will be underground with only a small stretch being above ground for topographical reasons.  Depending on the size of the tunnels between the metro stations this could generate a substantial amount of inert waste. An estimated excavation volume of 4.9 million cubic metres, presumably measured in situ, is indicated. Once excavated this would amount to around 8.6 million cubic metres after taking account of the increase in volume after excavation. This is a substantial amount of inert waste which, as already hinted, can only be utilised in land reclamation projects. For comparative purposes 8.6 million cubic metres of inert waste is close to the amount that was used in the whole Freeport project at Kalafrana for land reclamation purposes!

I am not aware of any land reclamation currently required in the national interest. We cannot be forced into land reclamation as the only solution to dispose of the inert waste generated by the Metro project.

Excavation of an underground Metro does not only generate excessive inert waste. It also endangers our historical heritage: in particular when excavating below, around or close to national monuments in Valletta, Mosta, Balluta and elsewhere. Excavation is also proposed next to ecologically sensitive sites.

This is definitely not on.

Proposed solutions above ground have to be examined in detail too and discussed as part of the public consultation. A hybrid metro-tram system mostly above ground, and/or a Bus Rapid Transit system, are other possibilities which should make it on the table of any serious public consultation. They do not generate inert waste, can be implemented in a shorter time frame from that proposed by ARUP and cost a fraction of the proposed outlay. In addition, substantially less environmental impacts are involved. Any selected solutions should respect our historical and ecological heritage.

Through constructive criticism we can explore alternative solutions which are being deliberately shut out with a stage-managed consultation. We need more than PR stunts: logos and flashy video clips are not the information we need for a mature public consultation. Government must put all its cards on the table. The ARUP studies must be subject to public scrutiny. Otherwise, the public consultation is taking us for a ride.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 October 2021

Simon Busuttil u l-konkos ta’ Mater Dei


Dal-għodu, il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Simon Busuttil, ġo B’Kara, ikkummenta dwar il-Bord tal-Inkjesta li saret dwar Mater Dei.

Ikkummenta fuq il-fatt li wieħed mill-membri tal-Bord tal-Inkjesta kien Karl Cini, l-istess persuna li f’isem in-Nexia BT kien qed jieħu ħsieb it-twaqqif tal-kumpaniji fil-Panama għal Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri l-Kasco u oħrajn mhux magħrufa, preżentement fl-aħbarijiet.

Bla dubju l-presenza ta’ Karl Cini fuq dak il-Bord tal-Inkjesta jitfa’ dell fuq il-proċess kollu ta’ investigazzjoni dwar l-isptar Mater Dei, ħlief għall-istat tal-konkos. Għax l-istat tal-konkos huwa riżultat ta’ eżami xjentifiku fil-laboratorji mid-ditta Arup u fil-fatt Karl Cini ma kellu xejn x’jaqsam biex ġie stabilit li l-konkos kien dgħajjef.

Tajjeb li l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Simon Busuttil jiftakar f’dak li qal kważi sena ilu meta insista li dawk responsabbli għall-konkos dgħajjef għandhom iwieġbu għal għemilhom. Dakinnhar kien staqsa lil min kien qed jiddefendi l-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat. Jiġifieri mhux kontestat li l-konkos hu dgħajjef. Pero għadu mhux stabilit ċar min hu direttament responsabbli għal dan.

Tajjeb li niftakru li reċentement in-Nexia BT li f’isimha aġixxa Karl Cini, riċentment ingħataw inkarigu addattat ħafna mill-Gvern. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu inkarighom biex jirrappurtaw dwar il-latrini pubbliċi ta’ Malta u Għawdex. Materja li mid-dehra jifhmu sewwa fiha.

Fuq dan il-blog ara ukoll hawn.

The hospital’s concrete

concrete sampling


The issue came to the fore last September when Minister Konrad Mizzi said that there were problems with constructing additional wards on the Emergency Department of Mater Dei Hospital.  The contractor whose tender had been selected proceeded to carry out the necessary tests to ascertain that the existing buildings had the specified load-bearing properties. It was found that they did not.

All hell broke loose. Questions were asked as to how this was possible. Only one person kept his cool, former Finance Minister Tonio Fenech who, in September ,  declared  that he was not at all surprised by what was being said. He added that he was aware that Skanska, the contractor in charge of the hospital construction project, had repeatedly refused to construct additional floors because (it maintained)  the structure was not designed to carry such additional loads.

How come that only former Minister Tonio Fenech seems to have been aware of the design limitations of the hospital’s concrete?

On the other hand, whilst an inquiry is under way, Minister Konrad Mizzi is unethically disseminating selective titbits of information in order to make heavily loaded political statements.

Arup Group, a UK engineering firm, was commissioned by the government to analyse  the concrete used in the hospital’s structure. The report, which has already been submitted to the government and parts of which are being selectively quoted by Minster Konrad Mizzi, has not yet been published.

Likewise, the government is selectively quoting a waiver agreement between the Foundation for Medical Services and Skanska, signed on the conclusion of the project, presumably putting in writing what had been  agreed when addressing the final list of pending issues between the parties. The quotes being made lead to the conclusion that the waiver agreement was a blanket waiver. In fact, Minister Konrad Mizzi is actively encouraging such a conclusion. A full disclosure of the agreement would make it possible to consider whether the selective quotes are misleading –  as they most probably are.

Contrary to the manner in which the public debate has so far developed, the issue of the hospital concrete is primarily one of quality control on site, that is whether adequate quality control existed on site throughout the duration of the project. Such quality control requires that all concrete used on the Mater Dei project should have been sampled on use and tested according to established standards. Generally speaking, 28  days after use the project management team would have been in possession of the laboratory results on the concrete’s strength.

The questions which logically arise are whether the project managers had results indicating that the concrete supplied was not compatible with the relative specifications and, if such results did in fact materialise,  the manner in which they reacted to them.

The answers to these questions will point to the technical responsibilities arising both professionally and managerially.

Are there political responsibilities? I do not know. However,  the question of political responsibilities could arise if the politicians in charge interfered (directly or indirectly) in the technical decision taking. Political responsibilities  could also arise if the politicians obstructed the Foundation for Medical Services in the performance  of its duties by, for example, withholding funds or by dishing out appointments to persons who were not fit for purpose.

These are undoubtedly issues which the inquiry led by Mr Justice (retired) Philip Sciberras will examine, hopefully in some detail.

The sooner this whole saga comes to an end, the better. It is about time that everybody’s mind is at rest. This includes the taxpayer, who is not yet certain whether he will end up footing the bill.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 31 May 2015