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

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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

Biex niġu f’sensina

ostrich

Il-pjani lokali li jsiru m’humiex hemm għal dejjem. Jeħtieġ li jkunu aġġornati minn żmien għal żmien skond dak li jkun jeħtieġ il-pajjiż.

Mhux kulħadd jagħti prijorita’ lill-istess affarijiet.

Min iħares sal-pont ta’ imnieħru, (short term) bħalma qed jagħmel il-Gvern Laburista li għandna illum kif ukoll kif għamel il-Gvern Nazzjonalista ta’ qablu, jagħti prijorita’ lill-industrija tal-bini għax iqies l-kontribut li  suppost illi din l–industrija qed tagħti lill-ekonomija tal-pajjiż.

Bħalma ġara f’pajjiżi oħra b’konsegwenzi diżastrużi, l-investiment fil-propjeta’ hu bużżieqa li f’pajjiżna ukoll għad trid tinfaqa’ u meta tinfaqa’ ser iweġġgħu ħafna nies. J’alla ddum ma tinfaqa’ u sa dakinnhar nittama li min għandu jiftaħ għajnejħ ikun fetaħom beraħ u  jkun diġa beda jirrimedja.

Hemm bżonn urġenti li nifhmu li l-industrija tal-bini għandha bżonn tkun ristrutturat. Ma tistax tibqa’ tipproduċi iktar propjetajiet reżidenzjali  biex il-parti l-kbira minnhom jibqgħu vojta. Hemm ħtieġa li din l-industrija tkun mgħejjuna tfittex toroq oħra. Hemm ħafna modi kif dan jista’ jsir.

Il-programm elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għall-elezzjoni ta’ Marzu 2013 kien ċar fuq din il-materja. Kien l-uniku wieħed li tkellem ċar fuq l-industrija tal-bini u dwar il-ħtieġa li ma jkollnix iktar proġetti massiċċi ta’ kostruzzjoni reżidenzjali.

72,150 post residenzjali vojt ifisser ħela tar-riżorsi tal-pajjiż. Ifisser ħela ta’ art. Ifisser ħela ta’ kapital investit li seta’ faċilment ġie investit f’oqsma oħra iktar produttivi. Ifisser ħela ta’ riżorsi umani li huma dedikati biex jipproduċu bini destinat li jibqa’ vojt. Riżorsi umani li l-pajjiż jeħtieġ f’oqsma iktar produttivi. Għall-ġid tagħhom, għall-ġid ta’ familtom, għall-ġid tal-pajjiż.

L-industrija tal-bini għandha impatti negattivi ekonomiċi, soċjali u ambjentali.

Ir-reviżjoni tal-pjani lokali hi l-opportunita tad-deheb biex nibdew mexjin fi triq li fuq medda ta’ żmien hi inqas problematika. Triq iebsa u diffiċli. Triq ta’ sagrifiċċju.  Triq li tirrikonoxxi li ġaladarba hawn dan il-bini kollu vojt ma nistgħux nibqgħu nibnu bl-istess ritmu. Ifisser ukoll li jeħtieġ li jonqsu l-impieġi fl-industrija tal-bini u jinħolqu f’oqsma oħra.  Mhux faċli. Imma l-problema saret daqshekk kbira għax Gvern wara l-ieħor għaddas rasu fir-ramel, bħan-ngħam.

Hi l-unika triq li tagħmel sens. Għax ikunu ifisser li bħala pajjiż bdejna ġejjin f’sensina.

kif gie ippubblikat fuq iNews nhar l-Erbgha 4 ta’ Settembru 2013

€9 biljuni mitluqa?

building industry Malta

In-numru ta’ propjetajiet reżidenzjali  vojta qiegħed dejjem jiżdied.

Iċ-ċensiment tal-1995 kien wera li   f’Malta u Għawdex kien hawn 35,723 propjetá reżidenzjali vojta. Għaxar snin wara,  fl-2005 dan in-numru żdied sewwa u laħaq 53,136. L-uffiċċju nazzjonali tal-istatistika diġa’ indika li fiċ-ċensment ta’ Novembru 2011 dan in-numru kompla jiżdied u laħaq it-72,150 post reżidenzjali vojt.

Din il-propjeta’ vojta għandha valur ta’ biljuni ta’ euros. Snin ilu kienet stmata b’valur ta’ €5 biljuni. B’żieda sostanzjali ta’ propjeta’ vojta l-valur issa hu iktar qrib id-€9 biljuni. Dan hu kapital mejjet.  Investiment li sar jew li intiret u ġie mitluq.

Uħud jirraġunaw li x’jiġri (jew ma jiġrix) minn propjetá vojta m’hu affari ta’ ħadd ħlief tas-sidien tal-istess propjetá. Dan ir-raġunament  hu wieħed żbaljat għax il-fatt li propjetá ma tkunx qed tintuża u titħalla vojta għandu impatt fuq il-komunita kollha.

Waqt li hawn 72,150 propjetá reżidenzjali vojta għandna mat-3,000 familja jfittxu saqaf diċenti għal fuq rashom!

Meta propjetá titħalla vojta din toħloq pressjoni biex tinbena iktar art għall-ħtiġijiet li jinqalgħu minn żmien għal żmien. Dan meta dawn il-ħtiġijiet jistgħu faċilment ikunu sodisfatti b’uħud mill-propjetajiet vojta.  L-art li għandna hi limitata u ma nistgħux nibqgħu nibnu iktar art.  Il-pressjoni biex tinbena iżjed art iġġib magħha l-ħtieġa ta’ iktar toroq kif ukoll il-bżonn li jkunu estiżi s-servizzi: is-sistema tad-drenagg, is-servizz tad-distribuzzjoni tal-ilma u tal-elettriku kif ukoll id-dwal fit-toroq.  Dawn is-servizzi huma diġa ipprovduti għall-propjetajiet vojta.  L-ispiża saret imma għal xejn, għax il-propjetá vojta! L-ispiża trid terġa’ issir għall-propjetá li qed tkompli tinbena biex b’hekk inkomplu nżidu ċ-ċimiterju ta’ propjetajiet vojta.

It-72,150 post reżidenzjali vojt f’Novembru 2011 jokkupaw spazju 9 darbiet daqs B’Kara!

Iffaċċjat b’din is-sitwazzjoni l-Gvern immexxi mill-Partit Nazzjonalista mexxa l-quddiem politika irresponsabbli għax meta fl-2006 ikkonkluda l-pjani lokali flok fittex li jikkkontrolla l-firxa esaġerata tal-bini ġieb il-quddiem politika li tinkoraġixxi iktar bini li m’għandniex bżonnu. Fl-2006 l-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi kellu quddiemu r-riżultat taċ-ċensiment tal-2005 li kien juri żieda sostanzjali fin-numru ta’ propjetá reżidenzjali vojta (minn 35,723 fl-1995 għal 53,136 fl-2005). Flok ma applika l-brejkijiet: żied b’mod sostanzjali l-art li tista’ tinbena, żied in-numru ta’ sulari li jistgħu jinbnew f’ħafna lokalitajiet u għamilha iktar faċli li jinbnew il-penthouses!

Is-sitwazzjoni illum bħala riżultat tal-politika żbaljata tal-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi hi ħafna agħar! Iċ-ċifra ta’ 72,150 post residenzjali vojt f’Novembru 2011 hi allarmanti u tfisser li l-pajjiż m’għandux bżonn ta’ żieda fil- bini reżidenzjali għal snin kbar.

Presentement għaddejjin proċeduri biex ikunu reveduti l-Pjani Lokali. Ikun ġenn jekk dan il-fatt ma jingħatax piż sostanzjali huma u jitħejjew il-Pjani Lokali ġodda.  Ir-reviżjoni tal-Pjani Lokali għandha titlaq minn dan il-punt.

Iż-żmien jagħtina parir jekk il-Gvern immexxi minn Joseph Muscat hux ser ikun irresponsabbli daqs dak immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi jew jekk hux ser jibda jsewwi l-problemi.  Id-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru s’issa li l-industrija tal-bini hi meqjusa mill-Partit Laburista bħala pilastru importanti għall-ekonomija tal-pajjiż m’huwiex ta’ awgurju tajjeb.

Flok nibnu iktar ikun aħjar li nagħmlu użu aħjar minn dak li hu diġa mibni. Hawn propjeta’ reżidenzjali  mibnija iżda mhiex użata li tista’ isservi l-ħtiġijiet tal-pajjiż  għal snin twal.

ippubblikat oriġinalment fuq iNews nhar it-Tlieta 27 t’Awwissu 2013

Restructuring the building industry

portomaso

Both Labour and the PN consider the building industry as a very important element of the economy. AD disagrees and considers that it is time for the building industry to be restructured.

In AD’s manifesto it is stated that : The current slow down of the building industry makes it ripe for restructuring. The first step would be acceptance of the fact that too much of the Maltese islands are built up and that the up-take of more land for building should cease forthwith. Nor can we continue demolishing the core of our towns and villages and replacing them with more intensive development. The restoration of old buildings and their adaptation to uses compatible with today’s needs is the necessary way forward.

With over 70,000 vacant properties it is about time that we take stock of the situation and finally decide that it does not make sense to keep adding to the stock of vacant dwellings.

The rationalisation exercise in 2006 extended the development zones when the 2005 Census  was already clearly indicating that the number of vacant dwellings was on the increase. Yet prodded by developers the PN in government (supported on this issue by the PL) not only increased the limits of development but also increased the permissible heights in various localities. Today the situation is even worse.

The need to restructure the building industry is consistent with AD’s electoral proposals for a moratorium on large scale residential development, and the reversal of the extension of the limits to development and the permissible building heights.   Instead of shedding its surplus labour force the building industry should be encouraged to seek alternative avenues. Applying usefully EU funds Government can assist through training programmes in such areas as traditional building skills, road building and marine construction works.

originally published at di-ve.com on Friday 15 February 2013

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (6) The Building Industry

building industry Malta

The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 14 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

The Building Industry.

The current slow down of the building industry makes it ripe for restructuring. The first step would be acceptance of the fact that too much of the Maltese islands are built up and that the up-take of more land for building should cease forthwith. Nor can we continue demolishing the core of our towns and villages and replacing them with more intensive development. The restoration of old buildings and their adaptation to uses compatible with today’s needs is the necessary way forward.

L-Estratt segwenti hu mehud kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 14 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

L-Industrija tal-Bini.

Tnaqqis fir-ritmu u l-volum tal-bini jfisser illi wasal iż-żmien li l-industrija tal-bini tibda proċess ta’ ristrutturazzjoni. L-ewwel passi ikun li jkun rikonoxxut il-fatt li hawn wisq bini u li jrid jieqaf it-teħid ta’ iktar art għall-bini. Lanqas ma nistgħu nibqgħu bħala pajjiż inwaqqgħu ċ-ċentri tal-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna biex flokhom noħolqu binjiet bi żvilupp iktar intensiv. Wasal iż-żmien li nifhmu li r-restawr tal-bini l-qadim u l-addattament tiegħu għal użu kompatibbli mal-ħtiġijiet tal-lum hi t-triq neċessarja.

Biex dan iseħħ hemm bżonn ta’ taħriġ fi snajja’ qodma li qed jintilfu u dan biex il-bini l-qadim ikun jista’ jiġi restawrat b’sengħa.

The concrete jungle at Marsascala

 

Marsascala is fast becoming a concrete jungle. Houses have been pulled down and redeveloped over the past years with blocks of flats and garages taking their place. This is the manner in which the building industry is proceeding, raping what’s left of our built environment with the assistance of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. The number of vacant dwellings in the meantime keeps increasing. It has surpassed the 54,000 mark established in the 2005 census.

The latest addition to this jungle is the massive development at Ta’ Monita. Dwarfing the Marsascala parish church it ruins the skyline.

A letter entitled Marsascala Ruined Once And For All was published on March 22, 2011 in The Times. The online comments it generated are indicative of the perceived links between politics and the building industry. The fact that the Ta’ Monita Mepa permit was issued in April 2004, two years before the present Marsascala mayor was first elected, does not in any way diminish the seriousness of the perceived contamination.

George Vella, elected as member of Parliament for many years from the electoral district of which Marsascala forms part, made a very passionate intervention on the matter in the House of Representatives on April 11, 2011. He lamented the fact that a local council that has been under the guidance of his party’s local councillors appears insensitive to the manner in which the Ta’ Monita development is engulfing the Marsascala community.

While subscribing to most of what Dr Vella stated on the matter, I noted that during his intervention he did not consider it appropriate to refer to the impacts which the financing of electoral campaigns could have on the behaviour of politicians. It is an issue the Labour Party should seriously examine in order to determine whether any of its representatives has risked being domesticated as a result of the financing of electoral campaigns.

Dr Vella used his observations on the Ta’ Monita development to launch a pre-emptive strike on what could be another potential bombshell.

St Anne public garden in Marsascala has been devolved to the local council since November 2010. Rumours have been circulating for some time as to what uses are being considered for the area. The said rumours would also have us believe as to who will be favoured by decisions yet to be taken.

On March 15, 2011 the Marsascala local council was informed by its mayor that a call for “an expression of interest” on St Anne public garden would be issued shortly. He said that, while embellishment works would be one of the objectives, these would be in addition to the construction of administrative offices, some shops, an underground car park and linkage to the Church parvis in order to develop what is, to date, a missing village square. In addition, according to the council’s published minutes, the Marsascala mayor deems it essential to carry out a traffic survey. He also considers that the opening up of Triq il-Qrempuċ could ease traffic pressures on the waterfront, thereby permitting more leisurely commercial activity.

I have had the opportunity to ask the mayor various questions about the project. He is envisaging public consultation and an involvement of the private sector. According to the published minutes, decisions are to be taken by the local council at some time in the future after considering submissions by the private sector and comments from the community.

While the minutes of the local council are in conflict with the rumours in circulation, one never knows what can crop up in the form of proposals to be submitted by the “private sector”.

The Marsascala mayor is on record as stating that “nothing will be done outside public scrutiny”. It is submitted that this is not sufficient because it makes little difference to the community if its assets are ruined openly or in an underhand manner.

An open discussion is urgently required on the very parameters of the project in order that it be ensured that the community is the real beneficiary.

Given that the Local Plan applicable to Marsascala defines the area as being a “public urban open space”, the starting point of the debate should be the compatibility of the project with the Local Plan.

This exercise, when carried out, would reveal that most of the elements of the project, which may be of interest to the private sector, are in conflict with the provisions of the Local Plan for the area (vide South Local Plan policy SMSE 04). The project is hence a non-starter.

So, for the time being, the only matter the public is sure of is that the concrete jungle in Marsascala keeps being extended. Change for the better at times seems to get more distant in time. That is until you realise that you cannot achieve change if you do not vote for it..

Published in The Times of Malta, May 21  2011

Micro-managing environment policy

Issues of environmental nuisance have so far not featured in the debate on the National Environment Policy. Odours would top the list of such nuisances. Consider industrial kitchens. The issue may arise in residential areas that have their ground floor used as a restaurant or a snack bar. This mixed use causes problems as can be attested to by residents in areas such as Buġibba, Qawra, Paceville and Marsascala. Odours are rarely adequately taken care of.

The issue also arises in the case of confectioners when manufacturing is carried out in a residential area. In terms of planning policy, it is possible to site such an activity within a residential area but it must be compatible with its surroundings. When the activity gets too large it is time to move out of the residential area to an alternative site where it belongs: an industrial estate.

A considerable amount of environmental nuisance is caused by noise.

Placing air-conditioning units in common shafts or backyards in residential properties close to someone’s bedroom is, without doubt, the cause of an environmental nuisance. This can cause problems, particularly in the case of maisonettes or flats if proper care is not exercised in identifying the right place for fixing the unit.

Retail outlets in residential areas, in particular those selling frozen foodstuffs and making use of industrial freezers, can also be the cause of nuisance if the noise-generating unit is not properly installed relative to overlying and/or adjacent residential units.

Chimneys in residential areas can cause environmental nuisance. Current policy establishes that the flue must be at least three metres higher than adjacent buildings. For normal domestic use this is generally sufficient to ensure dispersal of smoke emitted. Notwithstanding, problems sometimes occur due to changes in the height of buildings in the vicinity of existing flues, which, all of a sudden, render problematic a flue that has functioned without causing nuisance for ages!

Complaints are also encountered relative to the emissions of bakeries in residential areas. In most cases this state of affairs crops up due to the fact that some of these bakeries are housed in old structures in residential areas that have developed. The building height of part of the residential areas would be such that a number of residential units are normally situated at a height above the flue level.

This means that emissions go straight through the windows of residences. This is certainly not a pleasant experience.

Dust resulting from construction activity is another cause of environmental nuisance. This is an issue which the Construction Management Regulations of 2007 attempted to regulate but, so far, have failed to tackle adequately. The solution (reducing substantially construction dust) can only be attained gradually and is primarily dependent on improved work methods on sites of work and more attention to health and safety issues in the construction industry.

The problem also arises because the construction industry is primarily made up of non-unionised labour. A large proportion are small firms spread over a number of sites. Traditionally, these small units within the industry have not given sufficient importance to health and safety issues. On the other hand, most of the large construction firms are equipped to tackle issues of nuisance on site on both the environment front as well as on the health and safety front. Their complaint is that these measures increase their costs while others in the industry ignore their responsibilities.

Factories making/distributing products used in the building industry are also contributing to the dust problem as is evidenced by the Lija saga, which made the national headlines when Mabel Strickland instituted the first legal action on the matter over 40 years ago. The solution is simple yet expensive: Move all activities indoors in a controlled environment. The expense the industry has not incurred to date has been borne by the community through medication for various ailments: asthma and other allergies topping the list.

Some may consider issues of environmental nuisance as being minor in terms of policy. They are, however, what the environment means to the man in the street. At times impacts resulting from environmental nuisance are the only direct knowledge which Joe Bloggs has of environmental impacts. This requires micro-management of environment policy and is no less important than addressing issues of biodiversity, light pollution or corporate social responsibility.

I hasten to add that ensuring an appropriate micro-management of the environment may sensitise the community to move on and be interested in other important environmental impacts.

Think global but act local. Local communities through local councils can play an important role in identifying environmental nuisances and assisting in their solution. This would develop environmental policy at the grassroots and can help gradually in its acceptance on a much wider scale than at present.

published in the Times of Malta, Saturday October 2, 2010