Simon’s ODZ bluff

Simon Busuttil.Zonqor2


20 January is the closing date for the submission of expressions of interest in response to the call by the Privatisation Unit for the setting up of a Motorsports complex in Malta.

During the press conference that launched the call on 29 September, Parliamentary Secretary for Sport Chris Agius emphasised the fact that the choice of location was up to the investors presenting the submissions, even though several sites were proposed in the consultation process leading up to the call for expressions of interest.

However, Sam Collins, writing on 25 April last year on an online motor-racing guide, under the heading Malta eyes Formula 1 with new circuit stated that a “110 hectare parcel of land has been earmarked for the development.”  It is pretty obvious that the as yet unidentified  “110 hectare parcel of land” to be used for this proposed motorsports complex will be situated outside the development zone (ODZ). Each hectare consists of 10,000 square metres, meaning that 110 hectares equals one million, one hundred thousand square metres.

Sam Collins describes the proposal in this manner: “The government documents relating to the circuit’s development point out that part of its purpose would be to attract major international racing series, including Formula 3 and similar classes. The proposed facility would also include facilities for concerts, conferencing and a racing school. A hotel and museum of motoring and transport heritage would also be built on site. Road safety and driver training would play a major part in the facility’s layout, with a dedicated area for these activities. A CIK Kart circuit would also be built alongside the main track.”

The basic question which had to be addressed – but which most obviously has not been addressed so far – is whether Malta can afford to waste this much land. The answer, in my opinion, irrespective of the number of motor-racing car enthusiasts on the island, is clear and unequivocal: Malta cannot waste any more of its limited land.

The sites that have been possibly earmarked are limited in number, as Malta’s size does not present too many options and the impact of the selected site will be substantial, irrespective of its current use.

Development on the  parcel of land selectedcould have a substantial impact on areas of ecological importance that are protected either in terms of local policy or else as a result of EU or international commitments. Knowing that most of the undeveloped land along Malta’s coastline from Bengħajsa right up to Ċirkewwa is protected for ecological purposes, this could be the case, particularly if the identified parcel of land is close to the coast.

The impact could be further increased in view of the possible proximity of the selected parcel of land to residential areas. A specific area, mentioned consistently through the grapevine, would lump these impacts on Malta’s political south, further adding to the disregard for residents’ quality of life in the region accumulated over the years.

There are, therefore, three issues on the basis of which the proposed facility is objectionable: firstly, that Malta is too small for such a development; secondly, that the environmental impact will be substantial and thirdly, that the neighbouring residents’ quality of life, as well as biodiversity and natural resources, will be bartered for short term economic gain.

Depending on the precise eventual location, it may be possible to mitigate and reduce the impact on residents. However, it is most probable that a reduced impact on residents would signify increased impact on natural resources and biodiversity. In my opinion, this signifies that even on the drawing board the project should have been a non-starter.

In recent months we have had the Żonqor “University” debacle. A major sticking point in that case was that the original proposal was to use land situated outside the ODZ and public opinion’s unifying reaction was “No to ODZ development”.

The Parliamentary Opposition, both inside and outside Parliament, took a clear stand against the ODZ Development proposed at Żonqor. Yet in the case of the proposed motor track facility, the Opposition Spokesperson on Sport, David Agius, was invited to be present when the call for expressions of interest was launched. His presence confirms that, notwithstanding Simon Busuttil’s solemn declarations on the sanctity of ODZ land, the proposal for the (ODZ) motor track facility enjoys bipartisan support.

Which means that Simon’s talk on ODZ is just bluff.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 January 2016

Smelling the coffee


extract MT freeport crane clearancesmell the coffee

Last Thursday was one of those very rare occasions when the MEPA Board, considering two different development applications submitted by the Freeport Terminal operator, decided on the one which will be beneficial to Birżebbuġa residents.

I must confess that I was surprised at this, as I am accustomed to a MEPA which thinks and acts differently. I do not know whether Thursday’s sitting was a one-off or else whether it signals that the Authority has at last realised that the quality of life of our communities should be the real focus of its endeavours. Only time will tell.

The first application was to renew an approved permit in connection with  dredging work aimed at enabling larger ships to make use of the West Quay of Terminal 1. The second application proposed the installation of larger cranes with 140-metre jibs. The cranes currently in use have 110-metre jibs.

After repeated representations from the Birżebbuġa local council, as well as Birżebbuġa residents, MEPA-weeks before Thursday’s meeting- informed the Freeport Terminal Operator that siting these large cranes along the West Quay of Terminal 1 was unacceptable due to their impact on the quality of life of  residents, a number of whom live just across the road from the Freeport Terminal boundary wall.

The management of the Freeport Terminal complied with MEPA’s instructions to relocate the 140-metre jib cranes. This, however, begged the further question as to whether or not the pending dredging work was, in fact, now required.

The MEPA Board unanimously accepted the submission from the local council that, in view of the relocation of the cranes, there was no further need for the dredging permit and this was therefore not renewed.

Regarding the second application, seeking authorisation to replace a number of existing cranes with 110-metre jibs with more modern models having 140-jibs, the local council sought an explanation as to why a proposal for the siting of a power station close by – at il-Mara Bengħajsa (with an 80-metre high chimney) in the late 1980s was shot down by the Civil Aviation authorities, who are now accepting the installation of 140-metre high jibs.

During the discussion, it transpired that the clearance issued by Transport Malta was ambiguous. In fact, Transport Malta stated that the 140-metre jib cranes “will penetrate one of the established aeronautical protection surfaces by circa 18m and although this situation is not desirable, given the importance of this facility to the economy, on exceptional basis and without prejudice to any future request it is being considered acceptable subject to the following mitigations ………………”

You have read correctly. The 140-metre jib cranes are “not desirable” yet they are “being considered acceptable” by Transport Malta due to the importance of the Freeport to the economy.

The MEPA Chairman is insisting that Transport Malta owes us an explanation. He could have added that safety should not be compromised for any reason, including “economic importance”.

In a further twist in the whole saga, the Freeport Terminal management proceeded with the installation of the new cranes without waiting for a MEPA decision on the development permit requested.

Public opinion has been repeatedly critical of MEPA for its insensitivity to the impact of developments on residents in various localities. Economic operators were afforded  sufficient protection to be able to over-ride the growing environmental concerns of our communities.

The same MEPA Board which, last Thursday, unanimously decided to refuse the renewal of a development permit to carry out dredging work had, 18 months ago, voted by a large majority in favour of changes to the Freeport’s environmental permit such that it would have been permissible to carry out repairs to ships and oil rigs at the Kalafrana Terminal.  It was only at the insistence of the Birżebbuġa Local Council that the Freeport Terminal management opted not to use the permit issued.

The question to which I seek an answer to is whether Thursday’s events signify that MEPA has awoken up from its slumber and smelled the coffee  It would indeed be commendable if it is capable of standing up to corporate (and state) arrogance.

Ending MEPA’s Rip van Winkle phase would signify that, after all, the possibility to improve the quality of life in Malta through better environment protection does exist, after all. But time is running out.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 22 November 2015

The Freeport’s neighbours at Birżebbuġa

freeport.aerial viw



Two incidents occurred at the Freeport Terminal last week. The first led to the spill of an oily-like chemical when a container was accidentally hit and part of its contents spilled out into the sea. The second concerned odours resulting from the handling of fuels at the Oil Tanking Terminal.  The second accident led to the precautionary hospitalisation of six employees. The first incident, on the other hand, led to the suspension of bathing activities at Pretty Bay, Birżebbuġa for a number of days.

The accident leading to the spill occurred on Monday, 8 June at around noon. Yet on Friday, 12 June, personnel from the Civil Protection Department were still dealing with the spill as by this time water currents had moved it from the Freeport Terminal to Pretty Bay. It was only late on Tuesday, 16 June that the Environmental Health Department certified that Pretty Bay was once more fit for swimming.


Unfortunately, such accidents are bound to happen. That they do not happen more often is only due to adequate training and the availability of the adequately maintained equipment available on  site.

The Freeport Terminal extension – approved five years ago by MEPA and currently in hand – is intended to tap into the container movement market in the Mediterranean even further. In the coming years, this will lead to a increased activity and, consequently, the likelihood of similar but more frequent accidents happening in the future is possible.

The Freeport Terminal activity is only one of a number which, over the years, have transformed Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. Delimara Power station and fish- farming  as well as the ever-present fuel reception points at the San Luċjan and Enemalta stations are other examples of industrial activity along the Marsaxlokk Bay coastline. We should also remember that, at some time in the near future, bathers at Pretty Bay will also have an enhanced landscape: they will be able to enjoy in full view a gas storage tanker permanently anchored just opposite the sandy beach, along the Delimara part of the Marsaxlokk Bay coastline. The spectacle will include its refuelling between eight and 12 times a year, with possibly three of such refuelling instances occurring during the summer bathing season.

The compatibility of this situation with the EU Seveso Directives is debatable.

All this industrial activity may be healthy when considering the general economic requirements of the country on its own. It is, however, generally incompatible with the needs of Birżebbuġa both as a residential community as well as a touristic venue.

Efforts to mitigate the impacts of this industrial activity on the residential community  of Birżebbuġa (and to an extent even on the locality of Marsaxlokk) are in place. Yet with so much going on, the effects of these mitigation measures are necessarily limited. In fact, one wonders why the decision to locate all this industrial activity in the area was not also accompanied by a decision to restrict the development of land for residential use so close to these industrial facilities. In one particular case, at il-Qajjenza in the 1980s,  residential development was accelerated in the vicinity of the then Enemalta Gas Depot. Fortunately the Gas Depot has now been closed down and decommissioned, however it has been moved to the other side of Birżebbuġa, close to the entrance of Marsaxlokk Bay at Bengħajsa.


The Freeport Terminal management, supported by MEPA, had also decided to extend the permissible facilities at the Freeport Terminal to include minor repair work to ships and oil rigs. The decision was only reversed when it was faced with the vociferous opposition of the Birżebbuġa residential community led by its local council.

Recently, Transport Malta has added to the summer pleasures at Birżebbuġa. It has planned a mooring area for pleasure craft and small boats adjacent to the swimming zone, right in the middle of Pretty Bay. It seems that Transport Malta does not give a fig about the impact of anti-fouling agents used on a large number of craft berthed very close to a swimming zone.


With all this activity going on around Pretty Bay, it is inevitable that that there will be an increase in unacceptable environmental impacts on land, air and sea. Some accidents will also be inevitable.

As a result, however, it is very possible that in future there will be further restrictions on the use of Pretty Bay as a bathing venue. One hopes that this will not be often. It is, however, unavoidable and is the direct result of the ongoing activity which is definitely incompatible with the needs and requirements of the Birżebbuġa residents.

One interesting development at the time of writing is that Hon. Marlene Farrugia, as Chairperson of Parliament’s Committee on the Environment and Development Planning, has placed last week’s incidents at the Freeport Terminal on the Parliamentary Committee’s agenda. For the time being, a request for information has been sent out. The resulting discussion will hopefully direct the spotlight on the manner in which successive governments have transformed Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port, in the process at times ignoring – and at other times not giving sufficient attention to the plight of the residents in the area.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 21 June 2015

Il-PN u l-ambjent: l-impjant ta’ Sant Antnin : żball jew sabutaġġ?


Nhar il-Ħadd 7 ta’ Ġunju 2015, il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Simon Busuttil qalilna li l-PN ħa diversi żbalji fuq materji ambjentali. Anżi. Żied jgħidilna li jaf li dwar l-ambjent il-PN m’għandux fama tajba. Imma, żied jgħid Simon Busuttil, il-PN tgħallem mill-iżbalji tiegħu u jaf fejn għandu jtejjeb lilu innifsu (Il-Malta Today irrappurtatu jgħid hekk : “He acknowleged the PN’s unfavourable track record on environmental matters  but said that the party had learnt from its mistakes and knew where to improve.”)

Imma, kif diġa għidt, ir-rapport tat-telfa tal-istess PN għall-elezzjoni tal-2013 ma jitkellimx dwar żbalji imma dwar sabutaġġ. Jiġifieri dwar tfixkil. Dan ir-rapport kien iffirmata, fost oħrajn minn Ann Fenech (illum President tal-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-PN) u minn Rosette Thake (illum Segretarju Ġenerali tal-PN).

Ikun tajjeb kieku Simon Busuttil jgħidilna liema kienu dawn l-iżbalji li l-Partit Nazzjonalista tgħallem minnhom.

Pereżempju, l-impjant ta’ Sant’ Antnin f’Marsasakala, dan kien każ ta’ żball ambjentali jew każ ta’ sabutaġġ? Mela ejja niftakru ftit minn dak li ġara dwar l-impjant tar-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart f’Sant’ Antnin, Marsaskala.

Il-impjant kif riedu l-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi kien propost li jsir fuq art tal-qies ta’ 45,000 metru kwadru (4.5 hectares). Dik hi l-area tal-impjant ta’ Sant’Antnin.

Meta ġew meqjusa artijiet alternattivi ġew ippreżentati tlett possibilitajiet oħra :  f’Wied Għammieq il-Kalkara, L-Għallies il-Magħtab limiti tan-Naxxar u l-Mara Bengħajsa limiti ta’ Birżebbuġa.

L-art f’Wied Għammieq Kalkara kellha qies ta’ 24,000 metru kwadru (2.4 hectares), madwar nofs ta’ dak li kien meħtieġ .

L-art fl-Għallies, Magħtab limiti tan-Naxxar kellha qies ta’ 20,000 metru kwadru (2 hectares), inqas min-nofs ta’ dak li kien meħtieġ.

L-art fil-Mara, Bengħajsa, limiti ta’ Birżebbuġa kellha qies ta’ 17,000 metru kwadru (1.7 hectares), ħafna inqas min-nofs ta’ dak li kien.

Kull waħda mit-tlett alternattivi kien ferm iżgħar mill-qies tas-sit f’Sant Antnin, u allura kien ovvju li ma kien hemm l-ebda proposta ta’ sit alternattiva għal Sant’ Antnin.  Ta’ l-inqas hekk ried min għażel l-alternattivi.   Qiesu ried li l-impjant isir bil-fors f’Sant’Antnin.

Dan kien żball, jew sabutaġġ? Għidulna ftit. Min għamel l-iżball, inkella min għamel is-sabutaġġ?


ippubblikat fuq iNews l-Erbgħa 10 ta’ Ġunju 2015

Ħtieġa ta’ kalma u attenzjoni

 Gas Cloud Freeport Fairway

Madwar il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk diġa hemm attivita’ diversa li hi ta’ riskju.

Matul din l-aħħar sena għadu kif għalaq l-impjant tal-gass tal-Enemalta fil-Qajjenza. Impjant li kien imdawwar b’residenzi għal snin twal. L-impjant ingħalaq u sar wieħed ġdid f’Bengħajsa u dan wara snin kbar ta’ ilmenti.

Ġo nofs Birżebbuġa hemm l-impjant tal-fuel tal-Enemalta. Ilu hemm snin kbar. Imdawwar bir-residenzi. L-Enemalta ilha s-snin tħabbel rasha biex tagħlaq dan l-impjant. Imma s’issa għadu hemm qalb in-nies.

Hemm ukoll il-ħażna tal-fuel f’San Luċjan bejn Birżebbuġa u Marsaxlokk w il-ħażna taż-żjut fil-kumpless tal-Freeport, l-Oil Tanking.

Dawn ir-riskji diġa qegħdin hawn u dan flimkien mal-ħażna tal-fuel (HFO u gasoil) presentement użat mill-Enemalta f’Delimara.

L-istudji li diġa saru dwar l-impjant tal-gass f’Delimara jinkludu studju minn Roberto Vaccari li għalkemm huwa studju preliminari diġa juri numru ta’ diffikultajiet u riskji ġodda li l-ħażna tal-gass tista’ toħloq. Riskji li meta tieħu in konsiderazzjoni r-riskji li diġa hawn fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk ikomplu jagħmlu is-sitwazzjoni agħar milli diġa hi.

Huma riskji li pajjiżi oħra sabu tarf tagħhom billi madwar is-sors ta’ riskji joħolqu żona li fiha l-aċċess ikun wieħed limitat u ikkontrollat. Il-ħolqien ta’ żona bħal din issolvi l-problema: ma teliminax ir-riskju imma tnaqqas sostanzjalment l-impatt tiegħu.

Id-diffikulta f’Delimara hi li l-ispazju li hemm hu limitat u ma jidhirx li hu possibli li tinħoloq din iż-żona b’aċċess  limitat u kkontrollat. Għalhekk il-proposta tal-ħażna tal-gass hi waħda problematika.

Li l-Gvern jgħid illi ser jagħmel iktar studji biex jipprova jsib tarf tal-problema hu pass tajjeb.  Irridu nħarsu iktar fil-fond mhux biss lejn l-impjant propost f’Delimara, imma ukoll lejn l-impatt fuq is-sajjieda, fuq il-komunitajiet ta’ Marsaxlokk u Birżebbuga kif ukoll fuq il-Port Ħieles.

Ir-riskju li jkun hemm inċident hu wieħed żgħir u rari. Imma l-konsegwenzi jekk iseħħ l-inċident ikunu kbar ħafna. Għalhekk jeħtieg li nimxu b’kalma u b’attenzjoni kbira.

ippubblikat fuq iNews : it-Tlieta 25 ta’ Frar 2014

Qajjenza time-bomb defused

Earlier this week the Gasco gas plant at Bengħajsa was inaugurated. It marked the first phase of a project which will eventually lead to the dismantling of the Enemalta gas plant at Qajjenza.

The Qajjenza gas plant was surrounded by a residential area built primarily as a result of the issuing of building permits in the late 1970s and early 1980s by an administration which was insensitive to the safety of residents. There were also various allegations of corruption as to the development permits issued  at Qajjenza. Being in the vicinity of the gas plant land at Qajjenza was slightly cheaper to purchase and hence eventual permits rendered substantially higher profits.

This is the reason why an area which should have been retained as undeveloped was in fact developed with residential units.

The transfer of the gas plant from Qajjenza to Bengħajsa solves this problem. It was a time bomb which fortunately never exploded.

The commencement of the second phase will lead to the dismantling of the equipment on site at Qajjenza gas plant as well as a decontamination of the site if this proves necessary.

This is progress even if it has taken a considerable time to achieve.

 originally published at on November 16, 2012 

Gonzi u l-gass

Kont preżenti għall-inawgurazzjoni tal-impjant tal-gas f’Bengħajsa li ser jieħu post l-impjant tal-Qajjenza f’Birżebbuġa.

Fid-diskors tiegħu Lawrence Gonzi qal li l-power station ta’ Delimara  tkun konvertita għall-gass meta jiġu l-fondi mill-Unjoni Ewropea. Jiġifieri irridu nistennew id-deċiżjoni dwar il-budget tal-EU għall-perjodu 2014-2020.

Fil-waqt li l-Kummissjoni Ewropea jidher li qablet mal-Gvern fuq l-utilita għall-Malta u l-politika tagħna tal-enerġija li dan il-proġett iseħħ, min-naħa l-oħra għadu m’huwiex ċar x’ser jigri mill-budget Ewropew. Id-diskussjonijiet ma tantx jidher li mexjin il-quddiem.

Kif irrappurtat il-Financial Times, nafu li in-negozjati dwar il-budget tal-EU waqfu (EU budget talks collapse). Ir-Renju Unit,  l-Olanda u l-Iżvezja jridu tnaqqis fil-budget tal-EU. M’humiex jaqblu mal-proposta tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea li jkun hemm żieda u dan għal raġuni ovvja: huma fost il-pajjiżi li jħallsu iktar milli jirċievu u għandhom pressjoni  politika li bħalma sar tnaqqis fin-nefqa domestika għandu jkun hemm ukoll tnaqqis fil-kontribuzzjoni tagħhom fl-EU.

Dwar dan messu tkellem Lawrence Gonzi.   Dwar il-preokkupazzjoni li l-opposizzjoni tar-Renju Unit, l-Olanda u l-Iżvezja għall-budget propost mill-Kummissjoni Ewropea tista’ toħloq diversi diffikultajiet għal dan il-proġett essenzjali għal Malta.

Mercaptan: blunder or collusion ?

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