Sandro’s Monaco: as if tomorrow never comes

 

Having an area of 2.02 square kilometres, the principality of Monaco is around 58 per cent the size of Comino, which has an area of 3.50 square kilometres. Monaco is home to 38,000 persons: Comino having only one resident!

There is practically no ODZ in Monaco: in fact land development there is so intensive that it has been taking up small chunks of the Mediterranean along its coastline which it has been reclaiming since way back in 1880 in order to make up for a lack of land for development.

Malta Development Association (MDA) President Sandro Chetcuti is on record as stating that Malta’s future ought to be one that follows the path traced by Monaco. This, in my opinion, signifies just one thing: the development of every possible square metre of these islands.

The building development lobby is only concerned about today: making hay (today) while the sun shines. Sandro Chetcuti believes that the Monaco blueprint is the only realistic one. This is a vision very similar to Joseph Muscat’s “Dubaification” of the Maltese islands: a vision of high rises and land reclamation.

Chetcuti and Muscat sing from the same song sheet. They think and act as if tomorrow never comes. Development cannot stop, maintains Chetcuti, as “many” would be hurt. The “many”, obviously, being those seeking to make hay, while their sun still shines. They are aware that, at some point, their sun will set and hence they will no longer be able to make hay. Until such a day comes, should they be allowed to ruin everywhere?

Tomorrow will come, and the sun will rise again only for us to realise that we have increased substantially the problems bequeathed to future generations.

Obviously, the point about Monaco which sets Chetcuti ticking is that practically all its 2.02 square kilometres is an urban area. Monaco has no ODZ which can be taken up by rationalisation schemes to increase its building stock. Instead, it reclaims land from the sea and thus slowly adding to its land mass over the years.

The concrete jungle developing all around us is suffocating. It is fuelled by a building development industry which has no idea of where to stop and which wants more land for development.

It is about time that the building industry is cut down to size. We  should all realise, before it is too late, that the ongoing building spree is unsustainable and that progress is not measured in terms of buildings, roads or the enormous number of cars on our roads.

Our quality of life is actually measured through the open spaces we can enjoy and through rediscovering our natural roots, which have been obliterated through the ever- expanding urban boundaries.

The building industry is bent on producing more hay while the sun shines: on building more and more until such time that the Dubaification policy of the present government remains in implementation. Unfortunately the resulting “hay-fever” is being inflicted on all of us.

The sun rises for everyone, not just for those seeking to make hay, and when it sets, we rest – preparing for the morrow and hoping that, when it comes, we will still be in time to repair the extensive damage being done to us all.

(note cartoon published in Malta Today)

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 August 2018

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Comino: beyond sun-block and deckchairs

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During the past weeks, the island of Comino has been in the news. The controversy surrounding the deckchair/umbrella hawkers free-for-all at the Blue Lagoon focused on overcharging, breaching of permit conditions and the resulting lack of space for the public making use of public facilities at the beach.

Fines were imposed by the Malta Tourism Authority. This is fine (pun intended) in the short term. However, we need to plan for the long term, keeping in mind  that the island of Comino, is first and foremost a Natura 2000 site and a touristic destination second. Sites forming part of the Natura 2000 network are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA) according to the Habitats and Birds Directives of the European Union, where habitats and species are listed. The Directives are designated to provide protection to the most vulnerable of the species listed.

It has been stated that every day, at the peak of the summer season, as many as 5,000 visitors land on Comino, most of whom remain in the Blue Lagoon and its environs .

The Natura 2000 Management Plan for Comino published recently, considers that tourism at the Blue Lagoon needs to be controlled efficiently in order to ensure that it is “in harmony with the site’s conservation needs”. One of the measures which the Comino Management Plan establishes as an operational objective is “to plan and implement a tourism carrying capacity assessment of the Blue Lagoon”.

The Management Plan believes that the tourism carrying capacity assessment should be carried out within the first year of the plan’s implementation, which means pretty soon! The issue is of fundamental importance in ensuring that the activity permitted on the island of Comino is compatible with its ecological requirements.

It is not known whether this carrying capacity assessment has been carried out yet. If not it should be done at the earliest.

This is not the first time that Maltese authorities have been asked to consider a proposal to study the possibility of limiting access to a specific site for protection purposes. Around 12 years ago, after rehabilitation work carried out at the Hypogeum in Ħal-Salfieni was concluded, it was decided that there was an urgent need to control its microclimate in order to better protect this archeological jewel so a maximum limit of 80 visitors per day was established.

Various other countries place limits on tourism in order to better control its environmental impacts. There are various examples, but permit me to point to the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, 545 kilometres off the coastal city of Recife. The archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the number of visitors is restricted in order  to adequately protect its environmental patrimony. The environmental protection rules of the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha go into such detail as to even forbid the use of sunprotection lotions/creams or even the use of footwear on the beach, as well as curtailing various other activities incompatible with the archipelago’s ecological characteristics!

It is a path we should consider following for Comino, if we are serious about protecting the little that we still have.

It is welcome news earlier this week as three of Malta’s environmental NGOs, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth and Nature Trust, have endorsed the proposal for carrying out the capacity assessment of the Blue Lagoon at Comino. Comino deserves our protection. Implementing the Natura 2000 Management Plan for Comino would be a suitable first step.

And the sooner, the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 September 2016

Kemmuna: mhux dwar l-umbrelel

comino

 

Matul il-ġimgħat li għaddew diversi paġni tal-gazzetti imtlew b’aħbarijiet minn Kemmuna: il-battalja bejn dawk li jikru l-umbrelel.

Issa l-għaqdiet ambjentali ħarġu bi proposta dwar il-kontrolli rejali li hemm bżonn isiru fuq Kemmuna: kemm għandhom jirfsu l-art persuni? X’inhu dak in-numru li  jkun aħjar li ma jinqabiżx?

In-numru jrid ikun stabilit bi ħsieb. Imma jeħtieġ li jkun stabilit.

L-idea tal-għaqdiet ambjentali (Nature Trust, Din l-Art Ħelwa u Friends of the Earth) m’hiex oriġinali għax diġa tqegħdet fil-prattika f’diversi postijiet oħra mhux biss fil-postijiet li ġew indikati fil-gazzetti (Blue Lagoon fl-Iżlanda u fir-reġjun pittoresk Taljan Cinque Terre).

Il-Bhutan (pajjiż fil-Lvant imbiegħed) jikkontrolla n-numru ta’ turisti li jidħlu fil-pajjiż għax hu kinxju li numru esagerati ta’ turisti jistgħu jagħmlu ħsara mhux żgħira. Hemm ukoll il-ġzira turistika Latino Amerikana ta’ Fernando de Noronha (parti mit-territorju Brażiljan) li kienet tillimita n-numru massimu ta’ turisti li jistgħu joqgħodu fuq il-gżira għal 420, u kull wieħed minn dawn kellu jħallas taxxa ambjentali li tiżdied iktar ma jdum!

F’Malta ukoll xi żmien ilu kienu ġew introdotti kontrolli fuq in-numru ta’ turisti li f’ħin wieħed jistgħu jidħlu fl-Ipoġew ta’ Ħal-Saflieni kif ukoll in-numru massimu li setgħu jidħlu matul il-ġurnata. Dan kien sar għax kien ġie stabilit li biex dan is-sit arkejolġiku jkun protett aħjar kellhom ikun hemm kontrolli tal-mikro-klima. Dan fil-fatt sar billi kien ġie identifikat in-numru massimu ta’ 80 persuna li setgħu jidħlu f’ġurnata fl-Ipoġew.

L-istess jista’ jsir dwar il-gżira ta’ Kemmuna. Tista’ tiġi protetta billi jkunu limitati n-numri ta’ persuni li jistgħu jinżlu l-art. Dan ikun pass tajjeb li jagħmel il-ġid, lill-Kemmuna, naturalment mhux lil dawk li jikru l-umbrellel!

Wara li qerdu kullimkien, issa jmiss Kemmuna ?

San  Niklaw-Comino

Jidher li qed toqrob id-daqqa ta’ Kemmuna.

Madwar sena ilu kienet inbniet triq illegali fuq Kemmuna. Wara kellna s-skiet.

Issa l-Malta Today qed tirrapporta li qed jitħejjew pjani biex il-lukanda u l-bungalows f’Kemmuna jkun żviluppati mill-ġdid.

Kemmuna hi protetta bħala sit Natura 2000. Imma ma nistgħux neskludu logħob tas-soltu biex iduru ma din il-protezzjoni u fl-aħħar, għal darba oħra, tinqered biċċa oħra mill-wirt naturali ta’ dan il-pajjiż.

Id-Direttiva dwar il-Habitats tal-EU tagħti protezzjoni lill-Kemmuna. Meta Kemmuna kienet ġiet dikjarata sit Natura 2000 kienu ġew identifikati l-ispeċi tal-flora u l-fawna li kienu qed jiġu protetti b’din il-miżura. Irridu naraw kemm din il-protezzjoni tista’ tiddgħajjef bħala riżultat tal-iżvilupp li ser ikun propost fuq Kemmuna.

L-impatti kollha huma importanti, kemm dawk waqt il-kostruzzjoni proposta (inkluża t-twaqqiegħ tal-lukanda u bungalows eżistenti u l-possibli tqattiegħ ta’ blat biex jiżviluppaw parti ġdida taħt l-art) kif ukoll bl-użu ta’ dak li eventwalment ikun kostruwit. minflok il-bini li jkun twaqqa’.

Fis-snin li għaddew, jiena infurmat li diġa saru diskussjonijiet u negozjati bejn dawk li għandhom għajnejhom fuq Kemmuna u d-Direttorat għall-Ħarsien tal-Ambjent li llum hemm fil-MEPA. Billi d-Direttorat dakinnhar żamm iebes, naħseb li jkun hemm min jipprova jibdel id-deċiżjonijiet li diġa ittieħdu fil-passat bit-tama li jkunu jistgħu jiżviluppaw biċċa ikbar minn Kemmuna: biċċa ikbar mill-art li illum hi okkupata mill-lukanda u l-bungalows, inkluż faċilitajiet sportivi taħt l-art fejn qed jiġi ippjanat li jitqatta’ l-blat.

Ħalluna naħdmu, kienu qalulna! Issa naraw safejn ser jaslu.

Wara li qerdu kullimkien, issa jmiss Kemmuna, għax il-kilba tagħhom għall-flus ma tixba’ qatt.

 

M’hemmx silġ fuq Kemmuna

Comino

 

Issa mhux fuq l-isfidi tas-silġ.

Imma fuq l-għajdut persistenti li jidher li issa jmiss li tkun Kemmuna li titħarbat. It-triq illegali li saret f’Kemmuna u li ħadd ma nduna biha hi biss il-bidu.

Wara l-ispekulazzjoni ta’ kull rokna u toqba ta’ Malta jidher li dal-waqt tmiss id-daqqa ta’ Kemmuna. Jidher li qed jinħema l-ħsieb li jwaqqgħu u jiżviluppaw mill-ġdid il-Lukanda ta’ Kemmuna u l-bungalows ta’ madwarha.  Hemm min investa u issa jrid isarraf l-investiment li għamel. Għax l-investiment jeħtieg li jirrendi, mhux hekk?

Ħa naraw x’inhu ġej.

MEPA leaves no stone unturned

Alfred E. Baldacchino's Blog

times

Mepa leaves no stone unturned

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 The illegally extended road on Comino. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The illegally extended road on Comino. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Times of Malta lately reported the construction of a dirt and concrete road on Comino, an island with barely half a dozen residents and an EU Natura 2000 site.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority, which is the Competent Authority for the EU environment acquis, thus also for Natura 2000 sites, was quick to show its surprise and lack of awareness of the matter.

It immediately issued an enforcement notice on the Commissioner of Land, on the grounds that Comino is government land. Pontius Pilate would have envied this. Incidentally, the Commissioner of Land falls within the portfolio of the Prime Minster.

Natura 2000 sites are sites listed according to important habitat types in the EU Habitats Directive. On accession, each member state has to declare such sites, and once approved…

View original post 1,012 more words

The right link that remains missing

The proposal by Franco Mercieca (Minding Our Gap, The Sunday Times, January 23) and Parliamentary Secretary Chris Said (Light At The End Of The Tunnel, The Times, January 31) to permanently link Malta and Gozo need to be considered in a strategic context.

Various proposals have been discussed throughout the years addressing Gozo’s double insularity. While the difficulties encountered by Gozitans to cross the channel are to be addressed it has to be underlined that if a permanent link is introduced it may have various other effects in addition to addressing mobility between the islands.

None of the proposals has assessed whether Gozo’s isolation is a positive feature, which, once lost, will never be regained.

Once Gozo is permanently linked with the mainland it will be an integral part of it, for better or worse. In particular, one would have to consider whether a permanent link would impact negatively the contribution of tourism towards the Gozitan economy.

Certainly, with an easier access, Gozitan consumers could tap the retail outlets of northern Malta. With Dr Said being responsible for consumer protection this could be an added bonus.

Whether the proposal is a bridge or a tunnel, a land based or an amphibious airplane. all come at a cost and leave considerable impacts. Costs are not just economic but social and environmental too.

A tunnel excavated below the seabed will undoubtedly eliminate visual intrusion into the Comino and Ċirkewwa landscape but it will certainly cause another rubble mountain resulting from excavating through at least six kilometres of rock under the seabed as well as additional kilometres to create the tunnel’s points of access on land. This rubble mountain could be anything between 1.5 and two million cubic metres of excavated rock depending on the actual design of the tunnel and its selected route.

The experience of various Nordic countries has been mentioned. At the time of writing a similar project has just been approved by the Danish Parliament to link the Danish island of Lolland to Fehmarn, a German island. Both islands are already linked through bridges to their respective countries. When finalised, this project would reduce the duration of a rail journey between Hamburg and Copenhagen by 33 per cent, from 4.5 hours to three hours. The tunnel will be 18 kilometres long. Works are projected to commence in 2014 and will take about six years to conclude. Costs are estimated to be in the region of 32 billion kroner, that is €4.2 billion. The projected tunnel across the Fehmarn strait will not be of the excavated type but prefabricated sections will be laid on the seabed.

The costs of these types of projects are indicative as there are a lot of variables involved. The Channel Tunnel between England and France, for example, overshot its final estimates based on actual designs by over 80 per cent.

Geologist Peter Gatt, commenting on The Times (February 3), pointed out that the Gozo Channel’s geology is riddled with faults. In addition, he pointed out there are areas of the seabed around Comino where clay abounds. This, it was pointed out, compounds the issue of expenses relative to civil engineering solutions, which have to be based on a thorough examination of the geology of the Gozo Channel.

There are a large number of caves in the areas. In addition, as pointed out by marine biologists, the Gozo Channel contains various marine protected areas.

On the basis of the above, it would seem the cost of the projected tunnel would be substantially higher than the €150 million guesstimate of Dr Said. The Fehmarn strait projected tunnel costings point towards an estimate of between €1 billion and €1.5 billion for the Gozo Channel tunnel, that is between six and 10 times the Said guesstimate. This estimate could become more precise when all the constraints, foremost being those of a geological and environmental nature, have been identified.

The government is unfortunately approaching the issue of identifying the suitable missing link between Malta and Gozo in a very amateurish and populist manner. It has so far failed to produce a strategy addressing the interlinking of transport between Gozo and the north of Malta. When such a strategy has been produced it should be subjected to a strategic assessment as laid down by the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the European Union. The social, environmental and economic impacts of the various options on both Malta as a whole and Gozo as a region would thus have been identified and analysed.

The necessary decision can then be taken in the interest of the whole community.

It has to be clear to all that if we are to arrive at a solution in identifying the suitable missing link the populist approach utilised so far should be discarded.

Published in The Times of Malta, February 12, 2011