Kaxxa tal-ittri

Uħud mill-awtoritajiet li jikkonċernaw l-industrija tal-bini draw jiffunzjonaw qieshom kaxxa tal-ittri, letter-box: jirċievu ittri u dokumenti mingħajr (ġeneralment) ma jieħdu passi dwarhom. Tant huma passivi li rrendew lilhom infushom ineffettivi.

Disa’ xhur ilu, propju minħabba dan il-fatt, il-Gvern ippubblika dokument konsultattiv bl-intenzjoni speċifka li jikkonsolida f’awtorità waħda r-Regolatur dwar il-bini u l-kostruzzjoni, l-entitajiet regolatorji eżistenti u ċioè l-l-BICC (Kumitat Konsultattiv dwar l-Industrija tal-Bini), l-BRO (l-Uffiċċju dwar ir-Regolamentazzjoni tal-Bini), the BRB (l-Bord li Jirregola l-Bini) u l-Bord tal-Bennejja. Proposta li bla dubju ilha tinħass li hi neċessarja!

Il-frammentazzjoni kurrenti tal-funzjonijiet regolatorji fuq l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni wasslet biex dawn saru ineffettivi. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-ilmenti kontinwi tar-residenti dwar kif l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni qed tħarbtilhom ħajjithom ġew ġeneralment injorati. Bosta drabi huma l-awtoritajiet infushom li ma jagħtux kaz tal-ilmenti li huma rifless ta’ ambjent urban ikkontaminat u li qiegħed jirriżulta mill-iżvilupp intensiv fiz-zoni residenzjali.

Il-kollass ta’ tlett binjiet, tnejn minnhom din il-ġimgħa stess, in konnessjoni ma skavar fuq siti ta’ kostruzzjoni bla dubju jnissel tħassib kbir. Imma ħadd ma għandu jkun sorpriż li ġraw. Fortunatament din id-darba ma miet ħadd!

Mhux l-ewwel darba li ġraw dawn l-inċidenti: drabi oħra mietu ukoll in-nies! Li dawn l-inċidenti ma jiġrux iktar spiss hu riżultat ta’ professjonisti dedikati li jagħmlu ħilithom biex jegħlbu l-problemi li jiffaċċjaw kontinwament. Ċertament li f’dan ma għandhom l-ebda mertu l-awtoritajiet li huma passivi għall-aħħar.

Is-sospensjoni temporanja da parti tal-Gvern ta’ kull xogħol ta’ twaqqiegħ ta’ bini jew skavar, apparti milli hi applikazzjoni abbużiva tal-liġi hi ukoll riżultat ta’ reazzjoni ta’ paniku li tipprova fatt wieħed bażiku: l-awtoritajiet regolatorji tal-industrija tal-bini m’għandhomx ir-riżorsi biex iwettqu r-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom u li minnhom ilhom is-snin li abdikaw.

Dwar kull waħda mit-tlett binjiet li waqgħu matul dawn il-ġimgħat hu fatt magħruf li r-residenti kienu ilhom jilmentaw żmien: l-ebda awtorità ma eżaminat l-ilmenti tagħhom u aġixxiet fuqhom, la direttament u l-anqas billi rreferiethom b’mod urgenti f’fora oħra addattati.

Il-Gvern issa hu ppreokkupat. Kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku din il-preokkupazzjoni wrieha iktar kmieni billi pprovda r-riżorsi lill-Uffiċċju għar-Regolamentazzjoni tal-Bini (BRO) mhux biss biex ikun jista’ jaqdi l-inkarigu tiegħu, imma ukoll billi jassigura li l-awtoritajiet kollha jieħdu interess u jinvestigaw l-ilmenti li jirċievu mingħajr dewmien.

Disa’ xhur ilu, il-konsultazzjoni pubblika li saret kellha l-iskop li jkun assigurat li “l-inċidenti” tal-ġimgħat li għaddew ikunu evitati kemm jista’ jkun billi jkunu kkonsolidati u msaħħa l-istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa li għandna illum.

Dawn huma l-inċidenti li nafu bihom. Kemm kien ikollna iktar inċidenti li kieku dawn ma ġewx evitati b’intervent f’waqtu minn numru ta’ professjonisti ddedikati?

Ir-regolamenti ta’ emerġenza li l-Gvern ħabbar li ser jippubblika fil-ġranet li ġejjin jistgħu joffru rimedju għal żmien qasir. Li neħtieġu huma soluzzjonijiet fit-tul: riżorsi adegwati ffukati fuq il-ħtieġa li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tkun issorveljata b’mod kontinwu. Din hi l-unika triq li biha nistgħu naslu ħalli dawk li ma għandhom l-ebda rispett lejn il-komunità residenzjali fiz-zoni urbani tagħna jinġiebu f’sensihom.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 16 ta’ Ġunju 2019

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Letter-box authorities

A number of authorities involved with the construction industry have become accustomed to functioning as a letter-box: receiving letters and documents without (generally) taking any action. They are too passive to the extent that they have rendered themselves ineffective.

Nine months ago, in recognition of this basic fact, the government published a consultation document with the specific intent of consolidating into one authority – a Building and Construction Regulator – the existing regulatory entities, namely the BICC (Building Industry Consultative Council), the BRO (Building Regulation Office), the BRB (Building Regulation Board) and the Masons Board. This proposal is certainly overdue!

The current fragmentation of the regulatory functions over the building industry have led to their being ineffective. The end result is that the continuous complaints of residents regarding the damaging intrusion of the building industry in their daily lives are generally ignored. Often it is the authorities themselves that turn a blind eye towards these complaints – which are a reflection of a contaminated urban environment that is proliferating as a result of the intensive developments carried out in residential areas.

The collapse of three buildings, two of which in the first half of this very week, linked with excavation activity on building sites, is a cause of great concern. No-one should be surprised that these accidents actually did happen. We are indeed very lucky that no lives were lost this time!

It is not the first time that this type of accident has happened: on other occasions they even resulted in deaths. The fact that these accidents do not occur more frequently is due to the dedicated professionals in the building industry who do their best to work properly – at times and against all odds. It is certainly not the result of the authorities who, more often than not, are as passive as can be.

The temporary suspension by the government of all demolition and excavation work, is – apart from being an abusive application of the law – the result of a panic reaction and proves one basic fact: the building industry regulatory authorities do not have the resources to carry out their responsibilities, from which they have abdicated over the years.

In respect of each of the three buildings that have collapsed in recent weeks, it is common knowledge that the residents had been complaining for quite some time and no authority took up their complaints to have them acted upon, either directly or by being  urgently referred to more competent fora.

The government is now preoccupied. It would have been much better had this preoccupation was manifested previously – not only by ensuring adequate resourcing of the Building Regulation Office (BRO) to enable it to carry out its duties and responsibilities, but also by ensuring that all the authorities take an interest in, and investigate without delay, the complaints received.

Nine months ago, a public consultation was launched specifically to ensure that the “accidents” of the past weeks are avoided as much as possible through a consolidation of the existing weak institutions.

These are the accidents we know of. How many more accidents would have occurred, had they not been prevented as a result of the timely intervention of dedicated professionals?

The emergency regulations to be published by government in the coming days can temporarily patch up the current mess. What is required is a long-term vision: sufficient resources focused on the continuous and adequate monitoring of the construction industry. This is the only way to ensure that those who have no respect for the residential community in our urban areas are brought to their senses.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 16 June 2019

L-istupru tas-Saqqajja

Nitkellmu dwar it-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja. Imma jidher li s-Saqqajja għan-niżla!

L-applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp biex żewġt idjar qodma fuq is-Saqqajja r-Rabat ikunu mibdula f’lukanda żgħira (boutique hotel) hu attentat ieħor biex ikun sfrakassat il-wirt storiku tal-pajjiż. Il-fillera sħiħa ta’ djar fuq is-Saqqajja flok ma jitħallew jinqerdu minn dak li wħud isejħulu żvilupp għandhom jingħataw protezzjoni fit-totalità tagħhom. Kif ippropona l-Professur Mario Buhagiar dawn id-djar fuq is- Saqqajja , tal-inqas, jistħoqilhom protezzjoni fi Grade 2, jiġifieri li l-faċċata tagħhom ma tkunx tista’ tintmiss. Possibilment jistħoqilhom iktar minn hekk ukoll: li jkunu mħarsa b’mod komplet fi Grad 1.  

 L-applikazzjoni għal żvilupp bin-numru 9516/18 tipproponi li d-djar 14 u 15 fuq Is-Saqqajja Rabat (b’faċċata ukoll fuq Vjal Santu Wistin) jinbidlu f’lukanda fi klassi 3B . Minn eżami tal-pjanti sottomessi jidher ċar li l-proposta tinkludi ż-żieda ta’ żewġ sulari fuq il-binja eżistenti kif ukoll il-mutilazzjoni tal-partijiet interni ta’ dawn iż-żewġt idjar biex ikunu jistgħu jkunu mibdula f’lukanda żgħira.

Bħal bosta oħrajn jiena ukoll ippreżentajt oġġezzjoni għal dan l-aħħar attakk fuq il-wirt tagħna lkoll. Ir-raġunijiet għal dan huma diversi.

L-ikbar raġuni hi li l-iżvilupp propost jistona fil-kuntest li hu propost li jsir.  Ser jeqred darba għal dejjem l-omoġenejità u l-armonija tal-faċċati tal-bini kemm fuq is-Saqqajja kif ukoll fuq Vjal Santu Wistin. Fuq Vjal Santu Wistin  l-iżviluppatur irid iħarbat parti kbira mill-ġnien li jagħti karattru uniku u hu parti integrali mill-binja. Hi l-binja kollha, kif inhi, bil-ġnien kollu  li teħtieġ li tkun protetta.

Il-Pjan Lokali, li jqis liż-żona bħala waħda ta’ konservazzjoni urbana jillimita l-iżvilupp fiż-żona għal żewġ sulari. Il-proposta ta’ żvilupp tinjora din il-limitazzjoni kompletament. Huwa għaldaqstant ovvju li jekk din l-applikazzjoni tibqa’ għaddejja u tkun approvata ser twassal għall-qerda tal-filliera sħiħa tad-djar  fuq is-Saqqajja għax li jgħodd għal wieħed jgħodd għal kulħadd. Imbagħad  tkun ġiet stuprata ż-żona kollha.

Iżjed ‘l-isfel, fit-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja, fejn sa ftit ilu kien hemm it-Tattingers Club u xi propjetajiet oħra, il-ħerba tkompli.  Dan is-sit ukoll għandu mdendla miegħu proposta ta’ żvilupp: lukanda massiċċa ta’ 110 kmamar mifruxa fuq 5600 metru kwadru. Mhumiex l-uniċi applikazzjonijiet fl-inħawi għax hemm oħrajn. Iżda huma l-iktar li jagħtu fil-għajn. 

Jidher li waslet id-daqqa tar-Rabat li jrid jiffaċċja l-forza tal-qerda li tpoġġi l-flus qabel il-wirt komuni tagħna lkoll.

Il-mod kif ġiebet ruħha l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fil-passat ma tantx hu ta’ awgurju tajjeb li din b’xi mod kapaċi tieqaf lill-forzi tal-qerda. Permezz tad-deċiżjonijiet tagħha sal-lum, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bagħatet messaġġ ċar li, fil-fehma tagħha, l-impatt ekonomiku tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni jixirqilha ferm iktar attenzjoni minn kwlaunkwe ħaġa oħra.  B’ġustizzja ngħid li hemm xi żewġ membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li jispikkaw minħabba li b’differenza minn sħabhom jiddefendu regolarment kemm il-wirt storiku kif ukoll dak naturali. Imma dawn qegħdin f’minoranza assoluta, avolja xi kultant ġieli jappoġġawhom uħud mill-bqija.

Imma x’tistenna minn Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li l-membri tiegħu ma jħossuhomx skomdi madwar l-istess mejda ma’ agent tal-propjetà biex jgħaddu ġudizzju dwar liema applikazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp jixirqilhom ikunu approvati u liema le?  

M’għandi l-ebda idea dwar x’deċiżjoni ser ikollna, imma fid-dawl ta’ kif ġiebet ruħha sal-lum l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar xejn ma niskanta jekk tagħti l-approvazzjoni tagħha biex il-qerda tibda tiela’ t-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja. 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 9 ta’ Diċembru 2018

The mutilation of Saqqajja

The planning application to convert two old town-houses at Saqqajja, Rabat into a boutique hotel is another attempt to mutilate our historical heritage. The whole row of town houses at Saqqajja, rather than being placed on the chopping board of so-called development should be protected in their totality. As proposed by Professor Mario Buhagiar, these Saqqajja town houses, as a minimum, deserve a Grade 2 protection, that is to say their elevation must be preserved in its entirety. Their protection should possibly be even more extensive: total protection at Grade 1.

Planning application 9516/18 proposes to change the use of residences at 14 and 15 Is-Saqqajja Rabat (with back elevations onto Vjal Santu Wistin) into a Class 3B hotel. Through an examination of the proposed drawings, it is clear that the proposal includes the addition of two new floors as well as an internal mutilation of the properties to render them usable as a boutique hotel.

I have joined countless others in submitting an objection to this latest assault on our historical heritage. The reasons for objecting are numerous.

The most obvious reason for objecting is that the proposed development is out of tune with its surroundings. It will ruin the homogenous eloquence of both the Saqqajja elevation as well as that of Vjal Santu Wistin on which elevation the developer is proposing to gobble up an extensive part of the existing garden that contributes to a unique setting which needs the maximum protection possible.

The Local Plan, defining the area as an Urban Conservation Area, limits any proposed development in the area to two floors. This limitation is blatantly disregarded by the proposal for this boutique hotel. If this application is not stopped in its tracks, it is inevitable that it will eventually lead to the complete mutilation of the whole row of Saqqajja town-houses, because what’s good for the goose is naturally good for the gander.

Further down the hill, on the site currently occupied by Tattingers Club and a number of adjoining properties, the mutilation exercise continues. This site has another development proposal for a massive 110-room hotel spread over an area of around 5600 square metres. There are other planning applications in the vicinity but the above two are the most conspicuous. It seems that the mutilation brigade has shifted their attention towards Rabat and its surroundings.

The past performance of the Planning Authority is not very reassuring as it does not seem capable of withstanding the pressures of the development lobby. The Planning Authority has, as a result of its past decisions, sent a clear message that it considers the economic activity of the building industry more worthy of its attention and protection than anything else. In all fairness, there are a couple of members on the Planning Authority Board who stand out because they continuously defend the national heritage and the natural environment. But they are unfortunately a very small minority even when, occasionally, they are supported by others.

What else do you expect from a Planning Authority Board whose members are not uncomfortable when they sit with an estate agent in judgement as to which applications for a development permit are approved or refused?

I have no idea what the decision will be, but, based on past performance it is not beyond the Planning Authority Board to give its approval to the massacre brigade marching up Saqqajja Hill.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 December 2018

L-ilma tax-xita: l-inkompetenza tal-awtoritajiet

Il-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna, fl-aħħar diskors tal-Baġit qalilna : “Il-Gvern huwa wkoll kommess li jkompli jaħdem biex jitnaqqas ir-riskju tal-għargħar f’pajjiżna. Għaldaqstant, se jsiru studji dettaljati sabiex jiġu żviluppati aktar miżuri li jistgħu jnaqqsu dan ir-riskju filwaqt li jimmassimizzaw l-użu tal-ilma tax-xita.”

Edward Scicluna bla dubju jaf li bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima l-maltempati kif ukoll ix-xita qed ikunu ta’ natura iktar intensivi. Meta tinżel ix-xita, b’mod partikolari meta tkun qawwija, l-infrastruttura tagħna ma tistax tlaħħaq. Imma minbarra l-impatti kkawżati mill-klima għandna fuqna ukoll il-piz u r-riskji kkawżati minn regolaturi nkompetenti.

F’Malta għal dawn l-aħħar 138 sena, il-liġi pprovdiet biex ikun hemm l-obbligu li jkollna l-bjar għall-ilma tax-xita fid-djar. Il-qisien tal-bjar varja tul is-snin. Originalment il-qies kien dipendenti fuq il-qies total tas-sulari kollha mibnija. Illum il-ġurnata dan tnaqqas biex ikun relatat mal-qies tal-art mibnija.

Sfortunatament dawn ir-regoli ftit huma osservati. Din mhiex storja li bdiet illum, ilha għaddejja snin twal possibilment sa mis-snin 60, żmien meta l-industrija tal-bini kienet għaddejja b’rankatura kbira. Jiena niftakar, meta kont għadni student, ftit snin ilu mhux ħażin, kont rajt rapport li kien tħejja għall-Gvern Malti minn esperti mibgħuta mill-Ġnus Magħquda. Dakinnhar diġa kien ċar li waqt u wara maltempati qawwija l-ilma għaddej mis-sistema tad-drenaġġ kien jiżdied b’mod astronomiku u dan billi ħafna ilma tax-xita flok ma jinġabar fil-bjar kien qed jintrema fid-drenaġġ. Is-sitwazzjoni, minn dakinnhar, marret ħafna għall-agħar!

Flok mal-ilma tax-xita jinġabar fil-bjar, f’ħafna każi qed jintrema fit-toroq, inkella direttament fis-sistema tad-drenaġġ pubbliku. Ammont enormi ta’ ilma tax-xita li nistgħu nutilizzaw qed jintrema. Ħafna, jekk jużaw l-ilma tax-xita jistgħu jnaqqsu b’mod drastiku l-kontijiet tal-ilma!

Meta l-ilma tax-xita jintrema fid-drenaġġ, dan mhux biss ifur fit-toroq tagħna imma minħabba li jgħabbi l-impjant tal-purifikazzjoni tad-drenaġġ b’ammont zejjed ta’ ilma iżid b’mod konsiderevoli l-ispejjes għat tmexxija tal-impjant.

Il-parti l-kbira tal-ħtija għal dan trid tinġarr minn dawk li jiżviluppaw il-propjetá. Anke l-Gvern, direttament, kif ukoll permezz tal-aġenziji tiegħu, fil-passat riċenti kien responsabbli għall-iżvilupp ta’ housing estates li fihom ma tinġabarx qatra ilma tax-xita!
Hu fatt magħruf li fejn żvilupp residenzjali jkun fih garaxxijiet parzjalment jew kompletament taħt il-livell tat-triq ftit għandna bjar għall-ilma tax-xita. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar hi responsabbli biex tassigura li l-kundizzjonijiet tal-permessi tal-iżvilupp ikunu osservati: dawn kważi dejjem jinkludu l-obbligu li jinbena bir biex fih jinġabar l-ilma tax-xita. Imma ħafna drabi, għall-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, qiesu ma ġara xejn jekk il-bir ippjanat jibqa’ fuq il-karta.

Min-naħa l-oħra, l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma (WSC) matul dawn l-aħħar snin assumiet ir-responsabbiltá għas-sistema kollha tad-drenaġġ, liema responsabbiltá qabel kienet f’idejn id-Dipartiment tad-Drenaġġ. Din ir-responsabbiltá tinkludi l-għoti tal-permess biex bini ġdid jiġi imqabbad mas-sistema tad-drenaġġ.

Il-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma x’verifiki qed tagħmel li l-katusi tad-drenaġġ biss qed jitqabbdu mas-sistema pubblika tad-drenaġġ? Qed isiru verifiki li m’hemmx katusi tal-ilma tax-xita ukoll? It-tweġiba teħduha waħedkom fit-toroq tagħna f’ġurnata ta’ xita qliel. Ħadd mhu jagħmel verifika dwar dak li qed jiġri.

Dan kollu jwassal għall-konklużjoni li waqt li l-ħtija ewlenija għall-qagħda preżenti hi tal-industrija tal-bini, għax, iktar le milli iva ma tipprovdix bjar għall-ilma tax-xita fi żvilupp ġdid, il-ħtija mhiex tagħha biss. L-awtoritajiet u d-dipartimenti tal-Gvern għandhom ukoll iġorru s-sehem tagħhom tar-responsabbiltá minħabba li ma onorawx l-obbligi regolatorji tagħhom. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar u l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma (u dawk li ġew qabilhom) setgħu waqqfu dan l-abbuz, imma ma għamlu xejn.

Meta jkollna xita qliel, jew xita għal ħin twil, diffiċli tgħaddi minn ċertu toroq f’Malta u Għawdex. Dan hu sors ta’ periklu u fil-fatt id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili ikun okkupat ħafna f’dawn iż-żminijiet jgħin lil min ikun f’diffikulta minħabba l-għargħar.
Fondi tal-Unjoni Ewropea ntużaw biex jiġu ffinanzjati mini taħt l-art biex l-ilma tax-xita fit-toroq jinġabar u jintrema l-baħar. Fondi pubbliċi intużaw biex jinħbew irregolaritajiet li sar mis-settur privat. Mhux biss, imma ntużaw ukoll biex riżors prezzjuż jintrema. Dawn il-fondi setgħu intużaw ferm aħjar kieku intużaw biex l-ilma inġabar u nħażen fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna, flok ma ntrema.

Il-parir tiegħi lil Edward Scicluna hu li, flok ma jinħlew iktar fondi pubbliċi, għandu jassigura ruħu li l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar u l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma jwettqu l-obbligi regolatorji tagħhom. Meta jagħmlu dan, parti mdaqqsa mill-problema tal-ilmijiet fit-toroq tagħna tisparixxi.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 4 ta’ Novembru 2018

Rainwater: the cost of incompetence

In his latest Budget speech, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna informed us that more studies will be carried out to identify flooding risks, simultaneously seeking to maximise the use of rainwater.

Edward Scicluna is aware that, as a result of climate change, storms are more intense than ever. When it rains, it pours, and our infrastructure is not capable of handling the resulting rainwater. To add to the impact of climate change, we also have to deal with the risks created as a direct result of incompetent regulators.

For the past 138 years,legislation in Malta has specifically provided for the construction of water cisterns in buildings, primarily residential ones. The dimensions of these water cisterns varied over time. Originally, they were related to the floor area of the residence but in the recent past, the required volume was reduced to be related to the footprint of the building.

These regulatory provisions are, however, more honoured in the breach, even when reduced. This is not a recent phenomenon. Regulatory control in Malta has been in steep decline since the building boom of the 1960s. I remember, while I was still a student – many moons ago- leafing through a UN expert-financed report penned in the late 1960s which, even then, had measured the significant increase in foul water in our sewers during intense rainfall, clearly indicating that too much rainwater was going to waste notwithstanding the collection obligations. The situation has not improved since!

Instead of being collected in rainwater cisterns, in an ever-increasing number of cases rainwater is discharged directly onto our roads or into the public sewers. Large volumes of rainwater, which can be utilised for various purposes, are being wasted. Its use domestically could substantially reduce water bills.

When rainwater is discharged into our public sewers, not only does the water overflow onto our streets, but it also increases the costs of sewage purification unnecessarily.
The major culprits are a substantial portion of the developers of blocks of flats and maisonettes. The government, both directly, as well as through its agencies, has also (in the recent past) been responsible for the development of housing estates without providing for the collection of rainwater.

In particular, it is common knowledge that in cases where basement or semi-basement garages are constructed, the duty to provide for the collection of rainwater is very rarely complied with. The Planning Authority (PA) is responsible for determining and ensuring the observance of the conditions of development permits which, in most cases, specify the required capacity of a rainwater cistern.

Over the years, the Water Services Corporation (WSC) has taken over responsibility for the management of the public sewers from the former Drainage Department. This responsibility includes authorising the owners of newly- constructed properties to connect the drains with the public sewer. Is the WSC verifying that it is only the drains that are connected and, in particular, that rainwater pipes are not connected to the public sewer too? The obvious answer is provided by our streets on a rainy day. Clearly, no one is bothering to check what is connected to the public sewer.

This leads to the conclusion that, while the culprit for the present state of affairs is the building industry because, more often than not, it does not provide for rainwater storage in new developments, it is not the only one to blame. The authorities and government departments must take a substantial share of the blame for not complying with their regulatory responsibilities. The PA and the WSC could have stopped the abuse, but they did not.

A number of areas are practically out of bounds whenever heavy or continuous rain hits the Maltese islands. This is a source of danger and, in fact, the Civil Protection Department is heavily involved in assisting residents or motorists who are trapped as a result of flooding.

Money made available by the EU has been used to fund a project for the construction of underground tunnels, as a result of which rainwater from our streets and roads is being collected and discharged into the sea. Public funds have been used to cover up private irregularities.

The EU funds utilised in the construction of these tunnels have been used to squander a very precious resource. European taxpayers’ money has also have been flushed down the drain. This could have been put to a much better use had it been applied to address the lack of adequate rainwater harvesting in our towns and villages.

My advice to Edward Scicluna is that before wasting any more public funds he should ensure that the Planning Authority and the Water Services Corporation carry out their regulatory responsibilities. When they do, a considerable part of the problem of the flooding of our streets will disappear.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 November 2018

Regulating the building industry

 

Last Wednesday, a White Paper to consolidate and streamline existing legislation relative to the building and construction industry was published for public consultation.

It is being proposed to set up a new authority, a Building and Construction Regulator, to consolidate under its authority the statutory responsibilities currently entrusted to the various scattered entities responsible for the regulation of the building and construction industry at post-permit stage. This, it is suggested, would facilitate the revisiting and consolidation of current building laws and regulations, thus bringing them into line with current technical and legal exigencies.

In particular, the White Paper points towards the need to consolidate four specific entities: the BICC (Building Industry Consultative Council), the BRO (Building Regulation Office), the BRB (Building Regulation Board) and the Masons Board.

The proposal is certainly long overdue and should, if properly implemented through timely enforcement, lead to an improvement in both quality and safety standards throughout the building and construction industry.

The proliferation of boards and other entities throughout the years, even though well intentioned, rendered them almost ineffective. Their consolidation and coordination will hopefully restore them into effective tools through which to ensure that their objectives are implemented and, where necessary, brought in line with present day technological realities.

Updating property legislation, if carried out under the direction of a consolidated authority can also be more focused and fruitful.

The new authority should ensure that the building industry has an informed voice, capable of interacting with the existing regulatory structures such as the Planning Authority. In so doing the newly proposed structure would be in a position to complement the input of other entities such as the Civil Protection Department, the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD), the Department of Environmental Health (DEH) and the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA).

As inevitably happens whenever such initiatives are taken, there will initially be some overlaps with the responsibilities of other entities. Time and adequate coordination will be required in order that these initial difficulties are overcome, as they will most probably be.

The new authority will be welcomed by the large-scale operators in the building industry, most of whom are more than adequately equipped to deal with an industry that is driven by technology, improved quality and safety standards. It will however initially be considered as intrusive and bureaucratic by the smaller operators. This is, in fact, the area in which the building regulatory framework is currently largely ineffective and, consequently, where the impacts of the resulting consolidation is most needed.

Improvements will not result overnight. They will however, slowly build up once the resources are made available to the newly established authority, enabling it to provide adequate monitoring of building sites that currently cannot be ensured due to the fact that the existing boards are starved of sufficient resources.

I do not think this consultation is in anyway controversial, which may explain why it is  below the media’s radar. But let us not underestimate its importance.

 

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 September 2018

Ghost towns in the Maltese Islands

The last Census, carried out in 2011 – with results published in late 2014 – revealed that in the Maltese islands only 68.2 per cent of residential property is regularly occupied. The rest is either vacant (18.4 per cent) or else used seasonally or for some secondary use (13.3 per cent).

If we focus on the regional data, the situation is much clearer. The rate of occupied residential property varies – from 79.5 per cent in the Western Region (between Dingli, Siġġiewi and Balzan) to 46.4 per cent in the Gozo and Comino Region. Table 1 gives the full data. Property that is completely vacant varies from a rate of 16 per cent in the Northern Region (between Naxxar and Mellieħa) to 23.9 per cent in Gozo and Comino as shown it Table 2. Finally, property which is used seasonally or for some secondary use varies from an insignificant three per cent in the Southern Harbour Region (Valletta to Xgħajra, up to Paola and Luqa] to a staggering 29.7 per cent in Gozo, with the Northern Region (between Naxxar and Mellieħa) with a 25.9 per cent rate being a close second as shown in Table 3. This data has been extracted from the 2011 Census Final Report pages 221 and 222.

This amounts to more ten times the size of residential Birkirkara, meaning that the vacant or underutilised properties in Malta and Gozo at this time are equivalent to 10 ghost towns – each of which is equivalent to Birkirkara, the largest locality in the Maltese Islands. This represents a substantial waste of public funds. As a minimum it means that funds spent on the development of the infrastructure (roads, electricity, water, drainage and telecommunications) for these 10 ghost towns went down the drain and could have been mostly avoided.

While all this built-up residential property is vacant or under-utilised, the building industry keeps building more – thereby adding to the glut. They call this progress and a significant contribution to the economy. Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party and the environment lobby in Malta has been vociferous about this over-development of the Maltese Islands. This state of affairs has been worsening, with neither the Labour Party nor the Nationalist Party giving a fig about the consequences.

Instead of addressing the issue, the PN government increased the size of the development zone through the addition of the so-called “rationalisation” exercise. On the other hand, the Labour Party has, during the past four years, encouraged more development.

Last March I had the opportunity to represent a number of Mosta residents in opposing the scheming of a large tract of land at Tad-Durumblat, Mosta. This concerned 38,600 square metres of land which formed part of the rationalisation exercise piloted in 2006 by a PN-led government. Mosta has a sizable vacant and under-utilised residential area consisting of 19.4 per cent of the housing stock as in November 2011. The Executive Council of the Planning Authority accepted my arguments and rejected the relative planning control application, thereby saving – at least temporarily – this large tract of land from the greedy forces of development.

Faced with this situation, AD considers that the number of vacant properties in any locality should be an important criterion in determining whether development applications for larger areas are approved or not. This should also apply to the large tracts of land forming part of the rationalisation exercise, in respect of which the determination of the applicable scheme should not be decided if the number of vacant properties is substantial.

It is about time that this situation is addressed and for this purpose, AD’s election manifesto is making this specific proposal: in those localities where the number of vacant properties is substantial, large-scale residential projects will not be permitted.

This would be a good first step in addressing Malta’s ghost towns, ensuring that their enlargement is restrained and thereby applying a significant brake to over-development in the Maltese Islands.

 published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 14 May 2017

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 29,107 75.9
Northern Harbour 46,181 72.9
South Eastern 22,279 71.6
Western 19,584 79.5
Northern 23,989 58.1
Gozo and Comino 11,630 46.4

Table 1: Occupied property by Region 

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 1,113   3
Northern Harbour 6,650 10.5
South Eastern 3,294 10.6
Western 6,33  2.6
Northern 10,692 25.9
Gozo and Comino 7,444 29.7

Table 2: Property used seasonally or for secondary use by Region

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 8,126 21.2
Northern Harbour 10,556 16.7
South Eastern 5,552 17.8
Western 4,420 17.9
Northern 6,582 16.0
Gozo and Comino 5,996 23.9

 Table 3: Vacant Property by Region

Inħarsu l-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ kulħadd

mdalogo

indirizz li għamilt lil Laqgħa Ġenerali Annwali

tal-Malta Developers Association

il-Ħamis 4 ta’ Frar 2016

Bħalissa pajjiżna għaddej minn fażi fejn kulħadd qed iħoss il-ħtieġa li jgħid li għalih l-ambjent hu ta’ importanza kbira. Dan huwa importanti ħafna, anke jekk ma jistax jitwemmen kull ma jingħad.

L-importanza tal-ħidma favur l-ambjent hi rifless tax-xewqa li ngħixu f’armonija mal-eko-sistema u dan flok ma nkunu f’konflitt kontinwu magħha.  Dan itejjeb il-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ kulħadd imma l-iktar ta’ dawk li huma bla mezzi jew b’mezzi limitati.

Il-ħidma tagħkom hi assoċjata ma ħsara ambjentali sostanzjali minħabba li tul is-snin inbniet ħafna art li wasslet għall-fatt stabilit fl-aħħar ċensiment ta’ il-fuq minn 70 elf propjetà residenzjali li huma vojta. Nistgħu nargumentaw dwar id-daqs u l-kundizzjoni ta’ din il-propjetà vojta, jew dwar il-fatt li numru mdaqqas tagħha hi użata bħala akkomodazzjoni staġjonali, imma l-fatti jibqgħu dak li huma: li pajjiżna hu żgħir wisq biex nittolleraw din il-ħela ta’ art, l-iktar riżors skars li għandna. Iċ-ċokon tal-pajjiż kellu jwassal għal iktar ħsieb dwar użu razzjonali tal-art. Mhux illum, iżda snin kbar ilu.

Ikun inġust li nitfa f’ħoġorkom biss il-ħtija għal dan l-istat ta’ fatt. Parti kbira mill-ħtija trid tintrefa mill-partiti politiċi mmexxija miż-żewġ sinjuri li ser jitkellmu warajja li, kif iddeskriva b’mod ikkulurit l-President tagħkom, qieshom żewġ supermarkets kbar li jippruvaw iħajjrukom bl-offerti tagħhom tant li daqqa tiġru wara wieħed u drabi oħra wara l-ieħor. Offerti li tul is-snin lilkom fetħulkom il-bibien imma fl-istess ħin għalquhom għal ħafna oħrajn għax kienu l-kawża ta’ ħsara ambjentali sostanzjali f’kull rokna ta’ Malta u Għawdex.

Filwaqt li tajjeb li nħarsu l-quddiem, ma nistgħux indaħħlu rasna fir-ramel, għax inkella ninsew l-abbużi w it-tmexxija ħażina li wasslu lil dan il-pajjiż fl-istat ambjentali li qiegħed illum. Kull darba li ninsew il-passat inkunu fil-periklu li jkollna repetizzjoni tal-istess żbalji ħoxnin li kienu responsabbli biex għaġnu l-preżent.

Ma għandi l-ebda dubju li kull wieħed minnkom jixtieq li l-kwalità tal-ħajja tkun aħjar għal kulħadd. Tixtiequ dan, l-ewwel u qabel kollox, għall-familji tagħkom u tagħmlu sewwa. Tajjeb imma li tifhmu li l-familji l-oħra ukoll għandhom l-istess xewqat u aspirazzjonijiet. Xewqat u aspirazzjonijiet li huma maħnuqa ma’ kull biċċa raba’ li tinbela’ mill-konkos biex jinbena xi blokk flats, inkella ma kull torri (żgħir jew kbir) li jdellel iż-żoni residenzjali ta’ madwaru u dan apparti t-tniġġiż tal-arja u l-ħsejjes ġġenerati. Il-profitti ġġenerati minn dan l-hekk imsejjaħ żvilupp iħallsu qares għalih il-ġirien. Dan ma jidhirx li jitkejjel minn xi indiċi ambjentali fażull ta’ xi Università Amerikana.

Il-ħolqien tal-assoċjazzjoni tagħkom kienet pass il-quddiem għax miġburin flimkien hemm ċans ikbar li tifhmu li lkoll kemm aħna qegħdin fl-istess dgħajsa. Miġburin flimkien hemm iktar ċans li titjieb l-attitudni. Huwa pożittiv li anke intom konxji li l-waħdiet fostkom li jabbużaw jagħmlu ħsara lil kulħadd, l-iktar lilkom stess, u li dawk fostkom li jimxu tajjeb b’rispett lejn il-komunità kollha fl-aħħar jagħmlu isem tajjeb għall-industrija kollha kemm hi.

Huwa neċessarju li tifhmu li biex l-industrija tal-bini jkollha futur jeħtieġ li lkoll nifhmu li din trid tagħti każ tar-realtajiet ta’ madwarna: u l-ikbar realtà hi ċ-ċokon tal-pajjiż li ma jistax jibqa’ jżid il-firxa tal-bini, la fuq l-art (inkluż permezz ta’ torrijiet) u wisq inqas fuq il-baħar. Nawgura li xi darba dan tifhmuh, għax qabel ma jasal dak il-jum ma nistgħux nimxu l-quddiem.

Sadanittant għandna bżonn li nsaħħu djalogu strutturat għax huwa biss b’dan il-mod li nistgħu nifhmu iktar lil xulxin. Hu għalhekk li Alternattiva Demokratika ltaqgħet magħkom u tibqa’ tiltaqa’ magħkom kull meta jkun meħtieġ.

Hu inutli li nfittxu li ntejbu l-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ dawk ta’ madwarna jekk biex naslu ngħaffġu l-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ ħaddieħor. It-tajjeb li nixtiequ lil dawk ta’ madwarna jeħtieġ li nferrxuh mal-bqija tal-pajjiz. Għax il-familja tagħna hi ikbar minn dik bejn l-erba’ ħitan ta’ darna. Huwa biss meta naħsbu f’ din il-familja estiża li inkunu nistgħu nitkellmu dwar il-progress. Imbagħad biss jibda jagħmel sens il-paroli ma jispiċċa qatt favur l-ambjent.

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