Sound governance protects the environment

 

green hands

Demerger will cause institutional fragmentation.

The state’s duties are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

 

 

Protection of the environment is not achieved in proportion to the number of authorities established to deal with the environment, resources and land use planning. In fact, subject to sound governance, the number of established authorities is irrelevant.

The government has, through its election manifesto, created a storm in a teacup, raising expectations that the demerger of MEPA would result in a government locked into a green commitment. The Opposition, on the other hand, has spoken of a doomsday scenario which will be triggered by the proposed demerger.

Both are wrong as the path to a green commitment requires a political will that is not easily detectable in the House of Representatives as presently composed. The Labour government and the Nationalist Opposition have entered into other commitments intended to bolster the building development industry. Labour is currently moving along that path, whilst the Nationalists did it throughout their 26 years in government.

As a nation, we are still reeling from the devastating actions of the PN-led government which caused considerable environmental damage. Former Environment Minister Mario de Marco has recently been on record as stating that maybe too much has been sacrificed in the pursuit of economic growth. This is not simply a revival of the past, it is an exercise in trying to understand past PN issues of environmental governance that contradict all the sweet green talk of Simon Busuttil.

When the 2005 census indicated the existence of over 53,000 vacant or under-utilised residential properties, the PN-led government increased the uptake of land for development through the rationalisation exercise. It addition, it simultaneously increased the permissible height in several areas. In a number of instances, this increased from 2 to five floors. It also facilitated the construction of penthouses. This has led to an increase (as of 2011) in the number of  vacant and under-utilised residential properties to 72,000 units.

The proposed demerger of MEPA will neither address nor reverse this mess which is the PN’s environmental legacy to the nation.

Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party – is not in agreement with the MEPA demerger proposed by government due to the resulting institutional fragmentation. As a result, human and financial resources will be spread thin over two authorities, thereby weakening effective environmental governance. As a small country, we actually require defragmentation, as this reinforces effective environmental stewardship.

Earlier this week, I and AD’s General Secretary Ralph Cassar had a meeting with Environment Minister Leo Brincat during which we discussed AD’s views in relation to the Environment Protection Act currently pending on Parliament’s agenda.

AD noted that whilst the proposed Environment Protection administrative structures do not contain any parliamentary representation, this has been retained in the land use planning structures. In fact, in paragraph 63(2)(d) of the Development Planning Act 2015, it is provided that two MPs will sit on the Planning Board.

AD does not consider it necessary for Parliament to be present in the planning decision-taking structures. It serves no purpose to have MPs involving themselves in decisions as to which individual development permit is approved or rejected. Alternattiva Demokratika suggested to Minister Brincat that MPs have no direct role to play in operational matters regarding land use planning. It would be more appropriate if Parliament’s Standing Committee on the Environment and Development Planning is given wider powers to monitor both the Planning Authority as well as the authority dealing with the environment and resources. This would entail the availability of financial and human resources so through its Standing Committee, Parliament would be in a better position to identify, and consequently nip in the bud any irregularities or inconsistencies.

Both the Development Planning Act as well as the Environment Protection Act list the duties and principles which the state should observe to ensure “a comprehensive sustainable land use planning system” and “to protect the environment”.   However, after going into detail to explain such duties, the legislation before Parliament then proceeds to state that these “are not enforceable in a Court of Law”. This is specified in Article 4 of the Development Planning Act and in Article 5 of the Environment Protection Act.

One should state that there are similar provisions in present legislation. It is, however, high time that such provisions are removed so that it will be possible for Maltese citizens to seek redress against the state if it attempts to circumvent its duties and abdicate its responsibilities.

Last April, following a legal challenge by the environmental NGO Client Earth, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court  squashed Her Majesty’s government’s ineffective plans to reduce illegal levels of air pollution in Britain and ordered it to deliver new ones by the end of 2015.

Similarly,  last June Courts in Holland ordered the Dutch Government to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 25 per cent within 5 years in what is being termed as the world’s first climate liability suit.

Maltese citizens deserve no less. It would therefore be appropriate if the above mentioned provisions of the Development Planning Act and the Environment Protection Act are enforceable in a Court of Law.

Another proposal made by Alternattiva Demokratika in the meeting with Minister Brincat concerns the method of selection of the board members of the  two Authorities, as well as their senior executives (CEOs and Directors). AD believes that before government proceeds to appoint such members/executives, it should seek and subsequently follow the advice of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Environment and Development Planning . Such advice should be given by the Parliamentary Committee after the persons nominated are examined by the Committee during a sitting held in public. This change would increase the possibility of the appointment of a higher percentage of competent people as members of the board/senior executives. It would also reduce the possibility of appointing people whose only qualification is membership in the government party.

The proposed demerger is, in my view a non-issue. Legislating to facilitate the entrenching of good governance should be the real objective. After discussing the matter with Minister Leo Brincat I believe that, even at this late hour, this is still attainable.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16 August 2015

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€9 biljuni mitluqa?

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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

Environmental Governance

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Having over 70,000 vacant residential properties is a very serious matter which both the Nationalist and the Labour parties have ignored in their electoral manifestos. Rather than being ignored this fact ought to serve as the launching pad for a different way of looking at land use planning issues.

The Housing Authority in the past months has opted not to build new social housing units but instead decided to tap the stock of vacant dwellings held by the private sector. It was a very positive decision pushed forward by Minister Chris Said on taking up his Ministerial responsibilities early in 2012.

In its electoral manifesto Alternattiva Demokratika has listed a number of specific proposals which would go a long way to address the land use planning chaos which will be inherited by the government that takes office after the 9 March general elections.

As a first step Malta requires a moratorium on large scale residential development. The building industry cannot keep constructing flats and maisonettes in hundreds, adding to the stock of vacant dwellings. The number of vacant residential properties is equivalent to 9 times the size of the residential parts of B’Kara.

While the Malta Environment and Planning Authority has issued development permits, the State has, through our taxes, been paying up for the development of the infrastructure (roads, public sewer, water and electricity distribution networks………) which is underutilised. These funds could have been put to better use than to service vacant dwellings.

The boundaries of the development zone have to be rolled back. Those lands which, in August 2006, were included as land suitable for development as part of the so-called rationalisation exercise and have not yet been committed to development should return forthwith outside the development zone where they belong.

The construction industry, aided by a myopic MEPA, has made a havoc of our towns and villages through encouraging overdevelopment. In 2006, when the final decisions on most of the Local Plans were being considered,  the Government had access to the 2005 census results which determined the existence of 53,136 vacant dwellings. This was a substantial increase over the 17,413 vacant dwellings identified 10 years earlier as part of the 1995 census.

Publication of the 2011 census results on property is long overdue, but it is expected that the numbers this time will exceed the 70,000 mark substantially.

Faced with these numbers, a responsible government would never have proposed extending the development zones. The 2005 census result provided the evidence for their curtailment not for their extension. In addition to extending the development zones, the PN-led government increased the permissible building heights practically all over Malta, the end result being a further substantial increase in the number of vacant dwellings.

In addition, the height relaxation policy put in place in 2006 had another serious impact. It placed a number of dwellings in the shade of new buildings surrounding them, these being built in line with the new permissible heights. As a result, the residents in these dwellings cannot make use of solar energy. Not only the use of photovoltaic panels is out of the question but also their solar water heaters are in most cases no longer of any use!

Faced with this situation, it is political madness to propose considering the construction industry as an important and fundamental component of the economy, as the PL is proposing. The construction industry must shrink rather than expand. It must be assisted to manage its essential and unavoidable restructuring.

The construction industry can be directed towards three specific areas of activity: rehabilitation of old properties, road construction/maintenance and marine construction works. Each of these three areas of activity requires training in construction skills. Rehabilitation works require old building trades on the verge of disappearance. Roadworks, though improving in quality, still require a more skilled labourforce. We also need to take stock of our marine infrastructure which requires substantial improvement as well as regular maintenance.

The Government can assist the construction industry to change through providing training facilties for its labour force, thereby reducing the social impacts of change. Funds from the European Social Fund are available to assist in this exercise.

Land use planning should be subject to environmental governance rules. It is for this reason that AD considers it essential that rather then splitting up MEPA, the Government should go for a defragmentation, consolidating all environmental functions in one authority through the amalgamation of MEPA with the Resources Authority.

In such a consolidated authority, environmental considerations should be overriding and, in particular, land use planning should be put in its proper place: under the continuous supervision of a properly staffed Environment Directorate.

This is the basic change required in environmental governance. Placing the land use planning and the construction industry in their proper place and ensuring that environmental governance is defragmented.

published in The Times, Saturday 23rd February 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: (5) Development and Land Use

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

Development and Land Use.

The results of the 2011 Census have not yet been published. It is however very clear that when the result is known the number of vacant residential properties shall be well in excess of the 53,000 vacant dwellings documented in the 2005 Census. This clearly shows how the building industry was given a free rein, building in an uncontrolled manner with substantially more land being built up.

The Census results should be taken note of and lessons should be learnt. It should not be ignored as the 2005 Census was in relation to building and land use.

In view of this large number of vacant residential units AD insists that there is no need of large scale residential projects and it shall thus propose a moratorium on this type of development. It is also necessary that the rationalisation exercise through which additional land for development was identified in 2006 should be reversed in all those cases where land so identified has not yet been developed.

The increase in permissible heights for development in various localities which was brought into effect by the Local Plans approved in 2006 should be reversed. In these cases land speculators are placing in the shade various residential areas and as a result they are ruining investments which Maltese families have made in solar energy technology.

The construction of penthouses should be discouraged in order that roofs can be better used for the generation of solar energy.

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

Il-Bini u l-Użu tal-Art

Ir-rizultat taċ-ċensiment tal-2011 għadu mhux ippubblikat. Iżda huwa ċar li meta ser joħroġ dan ir-riżultat in-numru ta’ postjiet residenzjali vojta ser ikun ferm ikbar mit-53,000 li kienu irriżultaw fiċ-ċensiment tal-2005. Dan juri kemm l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tħalliet għal riħha, tibni bl-addoċċ u bir-riżultat li iktar art inbniet.

Ir-riżultat taċ-ċensiment irridu nieħdu l-lezzjonijiet minnu, mhux kif ġara bir-riżultat taċ-ċensiment tal-2005 li prattikament ġie injorat fil-qasam tal-bini u tal-użu tal-art.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan in-numru ta’ postijiet vojta, Alternattiva Demokratika tinsisti illi ma hemmx ħtieġa ta’ proġetti residenzjali ġodda fuq skala kbira u għaldaqstant qed tipproponi moratorju fuq dan it-tip ta’ żvilupp. Hemm ħtieġa ukoll li l-proċess li bih żdiedu bosta artijiet għall-iżvilupp fl-2006, magħruf bħala l-proċess tar-razzjonalizzazzjoni, safejn ma bediex il-proċess ta’ bini fuq dawn l-artijiet għandu jitreġġa’ lura.

Għandu jitreġġa’ lura l-għoli ta’ bini permissibli f’diversi partijiet ta’ Malta li sar permezz tal-Pjanijiet Lokali approvati fl-2006 u li bħala riżultat tagħhom spekulaturi qed jidfnu diversi żoni residenzjali fid-dell u jagħmlu ħerba minn investimenti tal-familji Maltin fit-teknoloġija tal-enerġija solari.

Il-bini tal-penthouses għandu jkun skoraġġit u dan biex il-bjut ikunu jistgħu jintużaw għall-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija solari.

Malta’s Nine Ghost Towns

The 2005 Census had revealed that 53,136 residential units in Malta were vacant. This was an increase of 17,413 units over the 35,723 vacant residential units identified during the 1995 Census. Faced with an increase of over 48 per cent in 10 years, a responsible government would have contained the development boundaries as existing supply can satisfy the demand for residential accommodation for many years to come.

In 2006, just nine months after the 2005 Census, the Nationalist Party-led Government defied common sense and, instead of applying the brakes, it further increased the possibilities for building development through three specific decisions. Through the rationalisation process, the PN-led Government extended the boundaries of development in all localities. Then it facilitated the construction of penthouses by relaxing the applicable conditions. If this were not enough, it increased the height limitations in various localities, intensifying development in existing built-up areas.

As a result of increasing the permissible heights, sunlight was blocked off low-lying residential buildings in the affected areas.

These residences were using sunlight to heat water through solar water heaters or to generate electricity through photovoltaic panels installed on their rooftops.

They can now discard their investments in alternative energy thanks to the PN-led Government’s land use policies!

The result of these myopic land use planning policies further increased the number of vacant properties, which is estimated as being in excess of 70,000 vacant residential units. (Mepa chairman Austin Walker, in an interview in June 2010, had referred to an estimated 76,000 vacant residential properties.)

The estimated total of vacant residential properties is equivalent to nine times the size of the residential area of Birkirkara, the largest locality in Malta, which, in 2005, had 7,613 residential units.

These ghost towns over the years have gobbled up resources to develop or upgrade an infrastructure that is underutilised. Spread all over the Maltese islands, these ghost towns have required new roads, extending the drainage system, extending the utility networks and street lighting as well as various other services provided by local councils.

The funds channelled to service ghost towns could have been better utilised to upgrade the infrastructure in the existing localities over the years.

The above justifies calls for an urgent revision of development boundaries through a reversal of the 2006 rationalisation exercise where land included for development in 2006 is still uncommitted.

Similarly, the relaxation of height limitations and the facilitated possibility to construct penthouses should be reversed forthwith.

All this is clearly in conflict with the efforts being made by the Government itself, assisted with EU funds, to increase the uptake of solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels.

I am aware of specific cases where decisions to install photovoltaic panels have had to be reversed as a result of the development permitted on adjacent property subsequent to the 2006 height relaxation decisions.

In its electoral manifesto for the forthcoming election, AD, the Green party, will be proposing a moratorium on large-scale development in addition to the reversal of the above policies as it is unacceptable that the construction industry keeps gobbling up land and, as a result, adding to the stock of vacant property.

The market has been unable to deal with the situation and, consequently, the matter has to be dealt by a government that is capable of taking tough decisions in the national interest.

Neither the PN nor the Labour Party are capable of taking such decisions as it has been proven time and again that both of them are hostages to the construction industry.

The slowdown of the activities of the construction industry is the appropriate time to consider the parameters of its required restructuring. It is clear that the construction industry has to be aided by the State to retrain its employees in those areas of operation where lack of skills exist.

There are three such areas: traditional building trades, road construction and maintenance as well as marine engineering.

Traditional building skills are required primarily to facilitate rehabilitation works of our village cores and to properly maintain our historical heritage. Our roads require more properly-trained personnel so that standards of road construction and maintenance are improved and works carried out in time. Our ports and coastal defences require a well-planned maintenance programme and various other adaptation works as a result of the anticipated sea-level variations caused by climate change.

The construction industry employs about 11,000 persons. It is imperative that its restructuring is taken in hand immediately.

In addition to halting more environmental damage, a long overdue restructuring will also serve to mitigate the social impacts of the slowdown on the families of its employees through retraining for alternative jobs both in the construction industry itself and elsewhere.

The so-called ‘social policy’ of the PN and the PL have neglected these families for years on end.

 

published in The Times on 29 September 2012

Its time to halt the process

 

The objective of a census is to collect data to accurately inform decision-makers. The 2005 census identified 53,136 vacant properties in the Maltese islands; 24,295 units (45.7 per cent) of these were flats and penthouses, 13,872 were terraced houses and 9,857 were maisonettes. Most were identified as being in either a good state of repair or else as requiring only minimum repairs in order to be habitable.

It also resulted that 5,724 units (10.8 per cent) of the vacant dwellings were in a shell state. Twenty per cent of the vacant dwellings were identified as summer residences, a substantial number in Gozo.

Comparing the 2005 census with that taken in 1995, one notes that the number of vacant dwellings in the 10-year period increased from 35,723 to 53,136, up 48.74 per cent. Faced with such an increase in vacant dwellings a responsible government would have applied the brakes to the construction of residential units. In particular, it would have either reduced the land available for development or, as a minimum, it would have retained the status quo.

Faced with this information the Nationalist government, a few months after the 2005 census, ignored the results and instead increased the land available for development. It did this through three specific measures.

Firstly, through the rationalisation exercise it extended the limits of development in most localities. Secondly, it increased the permissible heights for development in a number of localities. Thirdly, it changed the rules for the development of penthouses. Instead of being constructed over a four-storey high building they could now be constructed over a three-storey building.

This has resulted in a further increase in the number of vacant dwellings, which have now been estimated as being in excess of 70,000. The results of the latest census are awaited with trepidation.

The 2005 census had identified that there were a total of 192,314 residential units on the Maltese islands. This means that the 53,136 vacant dwellings then identified amounted to 27.63 per cent of the housing stock.

The number of vacant residential properties in Malta and Gozo in 2005 was equivalent to seven times the size of Birkirkara, which, then, had 7,613 residential units. The number of vacant residential properties in 2011 is estimated to be even larger: nine times the size of 2005 Birkirkara.

This means that today approximately one third of the existing dwellings in Malta are vacant. Additionally, it signifies that expenditure for the development and maintenance of part of the islands’ infrastructure (currently servicing vacant properties) could have been avoided and instead channelled to maintain the infrastructure that services utilised properties. This applies to roads, public sewers and the networks distributing/servicing electricity, water, street lighting and telecommunications.

Millions of euros have been thrown down the drain to keep the construction industry happy.

In view of the above, when the construction industry boasts of its contribution to the gross national product one is justified in being sceptical. When a contribution to the economic development of the country is manifested in such negative results (thousands of vacant dwellings) one starts to question whether the GNP is in reality an adequate means of measurement.

The present crisis facing the construction industry is a unique opportunity for the government to embark on its inevitable and long overdue restructuring. The large number of vacant dwellings is the proverbial writing on the wall that does not require any special deciphering skills. The construction industry should be cut down to size in order to avoid further environmental damage and to channel part of its labour force towards activity of tangible benefit to the economy.

Restructuring will lead to a migration of jobs, especially those that do not require any particular skill. Offering retraining now to the unskilled segment would be an appropriate policy initiative. This would ease the social impacts of restructuring and facilitate the migration from one sector o another.

Now is the time to halt the development of uncommitted land. In particular, the rationalisation exercise of 2006, the relaxation of permissible building heights and penthouse regulations require immediate reversal.

A positive signal was forthcoming from the 2012 Budget through the introduction of incentives for the rehabilitation of village cores and protected buildings.

These incentives were first mentioned when the Rent Reform White Paper was launched in the summer of 2008. Unfortunately, the gestation period of this initiative was of elephantine proportions.

The availability of incentives to encourage the rehabilitation of the historic heritage in towns and villages is not enough. It must be coupled with an increased commitment to train on a continuous basis the required tradesmen and women who need to be at the forefront of this effort. The industrialisation of the construction industry over the years has been the cause of the loss of much skilled labour. It is time to halt the process.

This is the way forward. The economy has been toxically dependent on the construction industry for far too long. I look forward to the time when all this would be history.

A Happy New Year to all.

 

originally published in The Times of Malta – December 31, 2011

9 ghost towns in Malta

 
 
Malta has nine ghost towns each of them being equivalent in size to B’Kara.
 
I made this statement when addressing an environmental conference organised by the Church Environment Commission on Friday afternoon at Floriana.
 

The 2005 census had identified 53,000 vacant properties. It is estimated that the current census would identify a substantial larger number which would be well above 70,000. 

The Census is intended to aid policy makers by providing information relevant to their decision-making. Unfortunately when the 2005 Census was concluded Government ignored the information available. The 2005 Census had identified that in the 10 years leading to 2005 vacant properties had increased by 17,413. Yet Government went on to increase substantially land available for developement through three specific measures. This was done notwithstanding that there was a large amount of vacant property.

The three measures through which additional land was released for development were :

1) the extension of the development zones through the rationalisation exercise,

2) the increase in the permissible height of development in various localities.

3) the relaxation of the height at which a penthouse can be constructed. A penthouse can now be constructed when the maximum permissible height is three floors.   This was previously permissible when the permissible height was four floors.

When faced by such a quantity of vacant property it does not make sense to encourage more building construction through a relaxation of land use policy. Government’s land use planning policy has resulted   in more than 70,000 vacant properties. These are the equivalent to 9 ghost towns each  of which is the size of B’Kara.

The full text of the delivered address which was delivered in Maltese is the following :

_______________________________________________________________________

 

Kummissjoni Interdjoċesana Ambjent

 

Konferenza dwar ir-riżorsi u l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

 

 Biżżejjed għal kulħadd ? 

 

minnCarmelCacopardo

 

kelliemi ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

 

dwar l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli u l-Intern

 

 

 

Tajjeb li nibda bil-frażi “biżżejjed għal kulħadd” li jeħtieġ li tkun iċċarata ftit. Il-kliem kif imqiegħed jinftiehem illi dak li hawn madwarna qiegħed hemm biex naqsmuh bejnietna. Għalhekk meta jingħad li hawn “biżżejjed għal kulħadd” speċi qed jingħad li m’hemmx għalfejn tinkwieta għax sehemek tista’ tieħdu inti ukoll.

 

Naħseb li dan hu mod żbaljat kif infissru l-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Għax dak li hawn madwarna la hu tagħna u l-anqas ma hu għalina biss. Xi darba forsi nifhmu li aħna l-bnedmin ma nippossjedux id-dinja iżda qegħdin hawn u niffurmaw parti minn eko-sistema.  Aħna parti minn xi ħaġa ikbar: m’aħniex waħedna. Hawn ħlejjaq oħra madwarna. Xi wħud mill-bnedmin għarfu dan u irrikonoxxew li aħna parti minn familja kbira li fiha hemm ukoll ħuna x-xemx, oħtna l-qamar u ħlejjaq oħra. Dawn huma sentimenti li ma ġewx espressi biss minn persunaġġi reliġjużi bħal San Franġisk t’Assisi iżda insibuhom fl-egħruq tal-komunitajiet indiġeni imxerrda mal-erbat irjieħ tad-dinja.    

 

Sfortunatament id-dinja żviluppat b’mod differenti minn hekk għax il-bniedem fittex li jaħtaf u jiddomina kemm fuq il-bnedmin kif ukoll fuq in-natura. U n-natura li issa xebgħet bdiet tirritalja u bil-ħerba li qed tnissel permezz tal-bidla fil-klima qegħda tkaxkar minn nofs kull ma issib. Jeħel ma rasha kulħadd, mhux biss min ħarbat.

 

L-iżvilupp jista’ jkun sostenibbli meta nifhmu dan kollu u naġixxu fuqu. Hu sostenibbli meta nifhmu li hemm limiti li l-eko-sistema timponi (li l-ebda Gvern ma jista’ jeżentak minnhom) u li meta dawn il-limiti jinqabżu hemm il-konsegwenzi mhux biss għalik iżda għal kulħadd fuq firxa ta’ żmien. L-iżvilupp hu sostenibbli meta l-bniedem jimxi b’rispett lejn kull ma hemm madwaru: rispett kemm lejn in-natura kif ukoll lejn il-bnedmin l-oħra. Għandna l-obbligu ukoll li nirrispettaw il-ħidma ta’ ħaddieħor. Obbligu li jimmanifesta ruħu fil-mod kif il-bniedem jorganizza l-ħidma tiegħu (l-ekonomija) kif ukoll fil-mod kif in-natura torganizza l-ħidma tagħha f’dak li nsejħu l-habitats naturali. L-ekonomija tal-bniedem m’hiex iktar importanti mill-ekonomija tan-natura. Jekk inħalluhom iżda jistgħu jimxu id f’id.

 

Uħud jitkellmu fuq bilanċ bejn l-ekonomija, l-ambjent u l-politika soċjali biex juru kemm fehmu u li huma fuq quddiem nett fit-triq tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Min jitkellem fuq dan il-bilanċ immaġinarja għadu ma fehem xejn. Il-qerda ambjentali li issir kontinwament f’isem dak li jissejjaħ żvilupp ma tista’ qatt titqies ġustifikata mit-tkabbir ekonomiku.  Ekonomija li tikber b’dan il-mod m’għandniex bżonnha.

 

Dan iġibni għas-suġġett tal-lum. Il-bini ta’ madwarna.

 

Qed jingħad li hawn biżżejjed għal kulħadd. Iżda waqt li hawn eluf ta’ units residenzjali vojta hawn ftit iktar minn 2,000 persuna reġistrati mal-Awtorita’ tad-Djar għax m’għandhomx saqaf diċenti fuq rashom. Ma dawn l-2000 persuna hemm oħrajn li qatgħu qalbhom mis-sistema u ma jfittxux l-għajnuna. Dan hu qasam li fih il-politika falliet għax filwaqt li ntqal minnkollox biex jiġġustifika bini bl-adoċċ fl-erbat irjieħ ta’ Malta u Għawdex għandna ammont kbir ta’ bini li hu vojt. Iżda xorta għandna soċjeta’ li m’hiex kapaċi tipprovdi għad-dgħajjef.

 

Iċ-ċensiment tal-2005 kien identifika il-fuq minn 53,000 post vojt. Iċ-ċensiment li għaddej bħalissa ser jidentifika numru ferm ikbar ta’ postijiet vojt, numru li uħud qed ibassru li ser jaqbeż sew is-70,000.

 

Iċ-ċensiment isir biex tinġabar l-informazzjoni li iktar tard tista’ tkun ta’ għajnuna lill-awtoritajiet biex jieħdu deċiżonijiet li jkunu meħtieġa. Sfortunatament meta sar iċ-ċensiment tal-2005 il-Gvern ma tax każ tal-informazzjoni li inġabret.

 

Ħa nispjega ftit.

 

Iċ-ċensiment tal-2005 wera li l-propjetajiet vojta kienu jammontaw għal 53,136     Mhux biss. Iżda ċ-ċensiment wera ukoll li matul l-għaxar snin 1995-2005 il-propjetajiet vojta kienu  żdiedu minn 35,723 għal 53,136. Minkejja din iż-żieda ta’ 17,413 propjeta’ vojta fis-suq fuq perjodu ta’ 10 snin il-Gvern 9 xhur wara ċ-ċensiment kompla jillaxka l-politika tiegħu dwar l-ippjanar għall- użu tal-art bi tlett miżuri partikolari.

 

L-ewwel estenda ż-żoni ta’ żvilupp billi żied ammont konsiderevoli ta’ artijiet bil-politika ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni taż-żoni ta’ żvilupp. It-tieni fil-Pjani Lokali approvati f’Awissu 2006 estenda l-għoli permssibli f’diversi żoni residenzjali. It-tielet illaxka r-regoli dwar il-bini tal-penthouses billi ppermetta li dawn ikunu jistgħu jinbnew ukoll fejn l-għoli permissibli hu ta’ tlett sulari (b’żieda mat-tlett sulari) flok kif kien qabel f’zoni fejn l-għoli permissibli kien ta’ erba’ sulari.

 

F’sitwazzjoni fejn il-propjetajiet vojta żdiedu b’medja ta’ 1,800 propjeta fis-sena ma jagħmilx sens li tinkoragixxi iktar bini.

 

Il-bini vojt fl-2005 kien jikkonsisti primarjament fi flats u penthouses (24,295 – 45.7%). Kien hemm ukoll 13,872 terraced house u 9,857 maisonette. Il-parti l-kbira minn din il-propjeta’ kienet jew fi stat tajjeb ta’ manutenzjoni inkella kienet tirrikjedi ftit li xejn tiswija.

 

5,724 (10.8%) mill-postijiet vojta kienu għadhom fi stat ta’ ġebel u saqaf.

 

Il-posizzjoni illum hi agħar milli kienet fiċ-ċensiment ta’ sitt snin ilu. L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni hi konxja minn dan u fil-fatt naqsu l-ammont ta’ applikazzjonijiet għal permessi ta’ żvilupp kif ukoll per konsegwenza naqsu n-numru ta’ permessi li qed jinħarġu.

 

Il-kriżi li qed tiffaċċja l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni toffri l-opportunita’ lil din l-istess industrija biex tirristruttura ruħha. Huwa l-mument li tieqaf tibni art verġni jew twaqqa’ l-bini u tiżviluppah mill-ġdid iżda b’mod iktar intensiv. Hu meħtieġ li l-industrija titfa ħarsitha lejn ir-riabilitazzjoni ta’ bini qadim u r-riġenerazzjoni tal-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. L-iskemi imħabbra mill-Gvern fl-aħħar budget huma fid-direzzjoni tajba, iżda għandhom jitqiesu biss bħala l-bidu. Biex dan isir hemm ħtieġa ta’ taħriġ fis-snajja li bħala riżultat tal-industrializzazzjoni tal-kostruzzjoni intilfu jew naqsu konsiderevolment.

 

Din hi l-isfida. Li inħarsu l-art li baqgħalna flimkien mal-bini qadim. B’madwar 70,000 post vojt ftit li xejn hemm ħtieġa ta’ bini ġdid fis-snin li ġejjin. Huwa neċessarju li nużaw aħjar dak li għandna.

 

Hemm bżonn inċentivi biex il-bini vojt ikun utilizzat. Hemm bżonn li nifhmu ukoll li l-bini li jinżamm vojt jitfa piż fuq l-infrastruttura tal-pajjiż. Meta wieħed iqis li fl-2005 kien hawn ftit iktar minn192,000 unit residenzjali dan ifisser li 70,000 post vojt ifissru li l-ispejjes għat-toroq, elettriku, ilma u drenaġġ għal bejn kwart u terz tal-pajjiż huma spejjes moħlija li faċilment setgħu ntużaw biex itejbu l-infrastruttura tal-bqija tal-pajjiż.

 

Meta wieħed iqies li miċ-ċensiment tal-2005 jirriżulta li f’B’Kara kien hemm 7,613 propjeta’ residenzjali ifisser illi bil-propjeta’ vojta li hawn illum qiesu għandna 9 lokalitajiet daqs B’Kara vojta (speċi ta’ ghost towns).  U biex inbnew dawn il-propjetajiet vojta ġiet sagrifikata raba’ u ġonna ta’ propjeta qadima fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna li kienu jservu bħala l-pulmun tagħhom.  

 

L-isfida tal-pajjiż hi waħda kbira. L-ewwel li ma nistgħux nibqgħu nibnu iżjed art. It-tieni li r-riżorsi umani fl-industrija tal-bini (hemm madwar 11,000 ruħ li l-impieg tagħhom jiddependiminn din l-industrija) jkunu iħarrġa. It-taħriġ huwa meħtieg kemm għal xogħol fl-indutrija innifisha kif ukoll biex tkun iffaċilitata l-migrazzjoni għal xogħol ieħor. Dan hu inevitabbli jekk l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tirridimensjona ruħha għall-ħtiġjiet reali tal-pajjiż. Huwa hekk biss li naqbdu t-triq tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli, meta inħarsu fil-bogħod u nippjanaw b’mod li dak li nagħmlu illum ma jkunx biss ta’ ġid għalina illum iżda jservi ukoll biex il-ġenerazzjonjiet ta’ għada jkollhom huma ukoll il-possibilta li jippjanaw ħalli jilqgħu għall-isfidi l-ġodda li huma ukoll ser ikollhom.

 

S’issa bħala pajjiż ġejna naqgħu u nqumu minn għada. Inkunu bdejna nimxu l-quddiem meta nibdew inħarsu fit-tul u nibdew nagħtu importanza lill-għada daqs kemm nagħtu importanza lil illum.

 

9 ta’Diċembru 2011

Overdevelopment of the Tigné peninsula

_________________________________________________________

by Carmel Cacopardo

published on April 10, 2010

The publication of the State of the Environment Report (SoER) for 2008 is an opportunity to take stock of the manner in which environmental responsibilities are being shouldered or neglected. One point the SoER fails to inform about is the link between overdevelopment and a negative social and environmental impact on the community.

Tigné peninsula in Sliema is a suitable example.

Two of the mega-projects in Tigné, namely the Midi and Fort Cambridge projects, have government fingerprints. The social and environmental impacts on the Sliema community more than outweigh the economic benefits derived. Yet, they have been given the go-ahead. While these two mega-projects were approved by Mepa, a third (Townsquare) is being processed. Other projects of various sizes and impacts have been approved or are in the pipeline both in Tigné and in other parts of Sliema.

Focusing on the macro-scale, three main issues need to be addressed: vacant dwellings, traffic generation and the quality of air.

In my opinion, given the large number of vacant dwellings, further large-scale development is not required. About 54,000 vacant dwellings were identified during the 2005 census and this number has been on the increase ever since.

Newly-constructed dwellings may or will be occupied but they are still the cause of a disintegration of the existing urban fabric in various localities as a result of an internal migration away from existing settlements.

Some areas are being depopulated, awaiting their turn to be demolished and redeveloped after someone makes a quick buck. The few remaining tenants are then squeezed out by “developers”. Some years back, an old lady at The Strand, Sliema, was faced with buildings being demolished all around (and above) her home in order to persuade her to move out.

This is resulting not just in urban decay but also in the forfeiture of an accumulated social capital.

This is not surprising in a society that only appreciates financial capital. Unfortunately, public authorities are on the same wavelength.

The 710 vehicles on the road per 1,000 population (2008 figures) is substantial. In a small country, rather than being a sign of affluence, this vehicle per capita ratio is the clearest indicator of the failure of public policy to address issues of sustainable mobility over the years. Past governments have been ineffective in this respect. The large number of dwellings being constructed at Tigné peninsula begs the question as to where the substantial additional traffic generated is to be accommodated. I am referring to both the traffic directed at the new residences and that directed towards the new commercial outlets. Roads in Malta are already bursting at the seams.

When Mepa is approving more intensive development through the construction of high-rise buildings, it is not giving sufficient weight to these impacts. In particular, it is ignoring the cumulative effects of so large a number of developments in so restricted a space.

A Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) of the local plans and planning policies would have pinpointed these shortcomings had it been carried out. Yet, the government tried to wriggle out of its responsibilities by clinging to a loophole, which exempted it from applying the SEA to policies on land-use planning. This has been done by a government that boasts about the central importance of the environment in its electoral platform. Yet, when push comes to shove, it wriggles out of its commitments.

Quality of air data is only made available relative to 2006 and 2007 in the SoER indicators.

Limiting my comments to the 2007 data relative to the Msida station, the available SoER indicators clearly show that PM10 measurements exceeded the EU limits on 24 per cent of the days measured and were very close to the permissible limit of 50μg/m3 with respect to the rest.

PM10 measures particulate matter, having a diameter not exceeding 10 microns. The primary source of such particulate matter, as is also emphasised by the SoER indicators, is fuel combustion from traffic and power generation. It is therefore clear that heavy traffic increases the incidence of PM10 with the consequent risks of a greater incidence of respiratory diseases. Studies carried out in Fgura and Żejtun in the 1990s point in this direction too.

These are the risks posed by an increase in traffic in an area such as Sliema, which is already heavily congested.

The issue of development has so far been considered within the framework of the rights of the owners of the property to be developed. It is about time that the rights of the community are factored in as, to date, they are not being given sufficient weight. In particular, the cumulative impacts of development are being ignored. This is applicable not just to Sliema but to all Maltese territory.

The net result is a quality of life which could be much better.