L-ispekulaturi tal-art mgħejjuna mill-Gvern: ħa jaħtfu l-baħar ukoll

Qieshom mejtin bil-ġuh. Wara li ħarbtu l-art, issa ser iduru għall-baħar. Għalissa qed jillimitaw ruhom mir-Rikasli saż-Żonqor. Imma wara jibqgħu għaddejjin sa Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq.

Hu ċar daqs il-kristall li l-ispekulaturi tal-art lokali dawwru għajnejhom lejn il-kosta tagħna biex jissodisfaw ir-regħba tagħhom bla qies.

L-informazzjoni li l-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) identifikat il-kosta bejn ir-Rikażli u iż-Żonqor bħala l-iktar parti tal-kosta li hi addattata għar-riklamazzjoni hi ta’ tħassib kbir. L-ERA qed tgħid li għaliex iż-żona hija diġa’ iddegradata (jiġifieri prattikament mejta), allura ma jimpurtax li tkompli issirilha aktar u aktar ħsara, għax daqslikieku ma baqax tama għal din iż-żona. Hekk qed tgħid l-ERA b’ħafna logħob bil-kliem.

Għalkemm għadha ma ttieħdet l-ebda deċiżjoni definittiva, l-identifikazzjoni mill-ERA ta’ din iż-żona hija r-riżultat ta’ pressjoni biex jinstab sit adattat għar-rimi ta’ skart tal-kostruzzjoni li jirriżulta minn proġetti fuq skala kbira bħall-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex, kif ukoll il-proġett dB fis-sit tal-ITS u l-proġett Corinthia fuq il-peniżola ta’ Pembroke. Dawn il-proġetti se jipproduċu madwar miljun u nofs metru kubu ta’ skart tal-kostruzzjoni.

Iż-żona matul il-kosta tax-Xgħajra diġà ntużat bħala sit għar-rimi tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni minn proġetti oħra kbar, bħall-proġett mostru tal-MIDI fuq il-peniżola ta’ Tigne. Hi żona li ġiet wkoll effetwat bħala riżultat tal-outfall tad-drenaġġ tul is-snin.

Il-Gvern irċieva madwar għoxrin espressjoni ta’ interess, liema sejħa ħarget mill-Gvern innifsu, għal proġetti li jinvolvu r-riklamazzjoni tal-art f’diversi partijiet tal-kosta. Deċiżjonijiet dwar dawn il-proġetti għadhom pendenti. Huwa magħruf ukoll li fost l-aktar proġetti msemmija huma dawk bejn Portomaso u Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq. Fosthom hemm it-talba riċenti relatata mal-proġett Corinthia fuq il-peniżola ta’ Pembroke kif ukoll iż-żona marbuta ma’ Portomaso li kienet tifforma parti mill-Masterplan ta’ Paceville li illum suppost li ġie skartat.

Sfortunatament il-Gvern huwa favur ir-riklamazzjoni tal-art u għalhekk id-dikjarazzjonijiet minn uffiċjali tal-gvern li jipprovaw jitfgħu l-ballun f’saqajn l-ERA mhux kredibbli.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi kontra l-estensjoni tal-kankru tal-ispekulazzjoni tal-art għal fuq il-baħar tagħna. Tħeġġeġ lill-Gvern biex jieħu miżuri effettivi biex jipproteġi l-kosta u l-aċċess għaliha. Għad hemm diversi talbiet pendenti minn NGOs ambjentali għall-protezzjoni tal-kosta u dan in konnessjoni mal-implimentazzjoni tal-ligi tad-dimanju pubbliku. Kemm se jdumu fuq l-ixkaffa dawn it-talbiet?

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Land Reclamation and the construction industry

land reclamation 01

The issue of land reclamation should be tackled in a responsible manner.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

In Malta land reclamation was used in the past to create the Freeport Terminal at Kalafrana in the limits of Birżebbuġa.

MEPA has during the recent past engaged consultants to assess the potential of land reclamation in Maltese waters.

A 2005 study was commissioned by MEPA and carried out by  Carl Bro. This study identified six relatively large coastal areas as search areas for potential land reclamation sites. The study had  recommended that these six areas, or a selection of them, be “investigated in further details in parallel with the execution of a pre-feasibility study, before a principal decision is taken on whether land reclamation is considered realistic under Maltese conditions. It is recommended that such investigations and studies be carried out by the Government prior to the involvement of the private sector in possible land reclamation projects.” (page 8 of report).

MEPA took up this proposal and commissioned ADI Associates together with Scott Wilson to carry out a detailed study on two of the identified coastal areas. These studies were finalised in 2007 and 2008 and consist of 4 volumes. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline.

These latter studies conclude with a detailed set of recommendations on more focused studies relative to environmental and economic impacts which would be necessary if land reclamation is to be further considered.

In Chapter 10 of its electoral manifesto the Labour Party is committed to utilise a programme of land reclamation as an important tool in the infrastructural development of the country.  The said electoral programme emphasises the environmental and economic sensitivity of such projects and underlines a  commitment to high standards in environmental, social, economic, land use planning and sustainable development fields.

In Parliament it has been declared that the next step would be for expressions of interest to be submitted by those proposing  projects for  development on reclaimed land. A call should be issued in the near future.

I believe that this is not the way forward.  On the basis of the studies carried out to date and such additional studies as may be required it would have been much better if government presents for public consultation a detailed draft land reclamation strategy.  Such a strategy would then be subjected to public consultation. A dialogue is required, not just with the developers but also with civil society, including most importantly with environmental NGOs.

The draft strategy would undoubtedly indicate the proposed permissible development on the reclaimed land. It would be interesting to note if the said strategy would consider the need for residential development in view of the over 70,000 vacant residential properties  on the islands. On the basis of existing and possibly additional studies the strategy would also seek to ensure that Malta’s coastline is protected much more effectively than Malta’s countryside has been to date.

All views should be carefully considered before such a strategy is finalised.

Once the strategy is finalised its environmental impacts should be carefully scrutinised  as is provided for in the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU. This Directive now has the force of law in Malta. It is only when this assessment has been finalised and the impacts identified are suitably addressed through changes in the draft strategy  itself (if required) that it would be reasonable to invite expressions of interest from interested parties.

Land reclamation is no magic solution to a construction industry which is in urgent need of restructuring. Even if land reclamation is permitted it cannot and will not offer a long term solution to an ailing construction industry which has been capable of contributing to an accumulating stockpile of vacant dwellings which are equivalent to 9 ghost towns, each the size of B’Kara.

The country would be economically and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would  be required  to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

This  would certainly be much more beneficial and sustainable than land reclamation.

published in The Times  on 27 April 2013 under the title: Land Reclamation and Building