Mhux tad-daħq : l-ODZ fil-Karnival

Joseph.Simon.Karnival

 

Bħalissa f’pajjiżna kulħadd irid jurina kemm għandu qalbu taħarqu għall-ambjent.

Waqt il-Laqgħa Ġenerali Annwali tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi, fi tmiem il-ġimgħa, Sandro Chetcuti tkellem dwar il-ħtieġa li nħarsu l-ambjent, għax, qalilna, li mingħajr ma nħarsu l-ambjent ma jistax ikollna ekonomija b’saħħitha.

Sadanittant fit-toroq tal-Belt il-bieraħ, wieħed mill-karrijiet tal-Karnival għandu fuqu l-ittri ODZ u ingħata l-isem : L-ambjent m’għandux futur, għax seraqulu l-kuntrattur.

L-importanza tal-ambjent tirrifletti x-xewqa ta’ bosta minna li ngħixu f’armonija man-natura u dan flok ma nkunu f’konflitt kontinwu magħha. Jekk (u meta) dan jirnexxielna nagħmluh inkunu qed nagħmlu sforz ġenwin biex intejbu l-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ kulħadd, imma l-iktar ta’ dawk li huma bla mezzi jew b’mezzi limitati. Għax il-karba tal-art hi l-ewwel u qabel kollox il-karba tal-fqir.

Tul is-snin inbniet ħafna art bla ħtieġa, tant li fl-aħħar ċensiment (li sar fl-2011) ġie stabilit li iktar minn 70 elf propjetà residenzjali f’Malta u Għawdex huma vojta. Meta wieħed iqis li l-ikbar lokalità ta’ Malta, B’Kara, fl-aħħar ċensiment kien fiha 9,977 propjetà residenzjali, dan ifisser li f’Malta u Għawdex għandha żona li hi kbira 7 darbiet daqs B’Kara li hi vojta.

Nistgħu nargumentaw dwar id-daqs u l-kundizzjoni ta’ din il-propjetà kollha 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 nibqgħu nittolleraw din il-ħela ta’ art, l-iktar riżors skars li għandu pajjiżna. Iċ-ċokon tal-pajjiż kellu jwassal għal iktar ħsieb dwar użu razzjonali tal-art. Imma minflok inħliet ħafna art, inkluż art  barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Mhux l-art biss inħliet. Inħlew ukoll riżorsi sostanzjali biex saru toroq kif ukoll biex twasslu s-servizzi tal-ilma, l-elettriku u drenaġġ għal dawn is-70 elf propjetà li hemm vojta.  Qed jinħlew ukoll riżorsi sostanzjali biex dawn it-toroq u servizzi jinżammu f’kundizzjoni raġjonevoli.

L-isfida għal pajjiżna hi waħda kbira. L-ewwel, 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 jiddependi minn din l-industrija) jkunu imħarrġa. It-taħriġ tagħhom huwa meħtieg kemm għal xogħol fl-industrija 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-possibiltà 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.

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Il-Gvern jiftaħar li ser jarmi l-ilma tax-xita fil-baħar

Malta storm

 

Spikkat l-aħbar il-bieraħ li x-xogħol fuq il-mina ta’ tnax-il kilometru li ser tiżbokka f’Ta’ Xbiex biex ittaffi l-impatt tal-għargħar wasal fl-aħħar.

Din il-mina ser isservi biex fiha jinġabar l-ilma tax-xita li jkun għaddej mit-toroq. Il-parti l-kbira ta’ dan l-ilma ser jintefa l-baħar. Il-Gvern qiegħed jiftaħar li dan l-ilma tax-xita ser jintefa’ fil-baħar.

Tajjeb dan? Dan hu ħela ta’ riżorsi u ma nistax nifhem min kien dak l-għaref li approva li juża’ l-miljuni ta’ euros f’fondi Ewropej biex narmu dan l-ilma tax-xita l-baħar.

Il-parti l-kbira ta’ dan l-ilma tax-xita ikun fit-toroq minħabba li ħafna bini li inbena matul dawn l-aħħar 50 sena huwa mingħajr bir. Għal din ir-raġuni l-ilma tax-xita mill-bjut ta’ dan il-bini jispiċċa fit-toroq jew jintefa’ fid-drenaġġ li għax ma jlaħħaqx ifur fit-toroq ta’ diversi lokalitajiet.

Mela meta l-Gvern (ta’ Gonzi) ta’ bidu għal dan il-proġett kien qed jagħmel tajjeb għall-abbużi li saru mill-industrija tal-bini tul dawn l-aħħar 50 sena. Il-Gvern sikwit jipprietka li min iħammeġ għandu jnaddaf (the polluter pays). Allura għax ma darx fuq min kien responsabbli u ġiegħlu jerfa’ l-konsegwenzi ta’ egħmilu?

Flok ma mexa b’responsabbilta, l-Gvern daħħal idejh fil-but tagħna u mill-kaxxa ta’ Malta kif ukoll mill-fondi Ewropej qed jagħmel tajjeb għall-ħsara kbira li l-industrija tal-bini għamlet tul is-snin.

Din ir-realta’ ma jgħidulkomx biha meta jkunu qed jippużaw għar-ritratti.

Ta' Xbiex storm water

 

 

Il-permess tal-Mistra Village: ftit riflessjonijiet

Mistra Village proposed development

L-approvazzjoni għall-ħruġ ta’ permess finali biex dak li kien il-Mistra Village ikun żviluppat m’hu xejn ġdid. Bħalu kellna u ser ikollna bil-gzuz.

Imma hemm numru ta’ affarijiet li ġraw li ta’ min jaħseb ftit dwarhom.

L-ewwel nett insellem lil Simone Mizzi minn Din l-Art Ħelwa u Astrid Vella minn Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar li ippresentaw il-każ f’isem is-soċjeta’ ċivili. Li ma rnexxilhomx jikkonvinċu maġġoranza tal-membri tal-Bord tal-MEPA mhux tort tagħhom. L-approvazzjoni tal-permess hi kaġun tal-fatt li l-maġġoranza tal-membri tal-Bord tal-MEPA jaħsbuha b’mod differenti.

Kien hemm wieħed mill-membri tal-Bord li ddejjaq bil-kummenti li kienu għaddejjin u ħin minnhom żbroffa u qal li kulħadd irid jifhem li l-Bord tal-MEPA kif kostitwit illum għandu fuq spallejh obbligi li jirriżultaw mid-deċiżjonijiet tal-Bord ta’ qabel.

Issa huwa veru li kien hemm outline permit, jiġifieri permess fil-prinċipju. Imma hu veru ukoll li fil-passat kien hemm ċirkustanzi li fihom il-Bord tal-MEPA xorta ma approvax permess ta’ żvilupp minkejja l-eżistenza ta’ outline permit. Hekk kien ġara fil-każ ta’ żvilupp mill-ġdid (redevelopment) tal-fabbrika tas-7 Up f’Santa Venera. Minkejja l-outline permit il-Bord tal-MEPA dakinnhar immexxi minn Austin Walker kien irrifjuta li joħroġ permess ta’ żvilupp.

Punt ieħor huma l-veduti li jikkuntrastaw fi ħdan il-PN. Ir-rapprezentant tal-Partit Nazzjonalista fuq il-Bord tal-MEPA ippropona li l-iżvilupp propost jitnaqqas u dan biex jonqos l-impatt fuq ir-residenti. Dan jikkuntrasta mal-presenza tal-President tal-PN Dr Ann Fenech fil-kwalita’ tagħha ta’ konsulent legali tal-iżviluppaturi mill-Kuwait. Mhux biċċa tiegħi min ikunu l-konsulenti legali tal-iżviluppaturi. Imma huwa importanti li ninnotaw li President tal-Eżekuttiv tal-PN  xejn ma iddejqet li tagħti messaġġ li jikkuntrasta b’mod negattiv mal-posizzjoni li ħa r-rappresentant tal-grupp Parlamentari Nazzjonalista fuq il-Bord tal-MEPA.

Dan iġibni għall-aħħar osservazzjoni. Iż-żewġ partiti fil-Parlament, il-Partit Nazzjonalista u l-Partit Laburista, it-tnejn li huma, kull wieħed bil-mod tiegħu, fittxew li jaġevolaw l-industrija tal-bini.

Tul is-snin il-PN ipprova jitħabbeb maż-żewġ naħat, kemm mal-industrija tal-bini kif ukoll mal-ambjentalisti. Ir-riżultat hu li m’għandu kredibilita’ ma ħadd għax ma tistax togħġob lil kulħadd.

Il-Labour hu iktar ċar: l-industrija tal-bini għalih hi mutur importanti għall-ekonomija. U ħalef li jagħtiha l-għajnuna kollha possibli. Hekk qed jagħmel. Qed jimxi ma dak li wiegħed.  Il-permess tal-Mistra Village hu wieħed li bħalu għad irridu naraw ħafna oħra.

Nipprotestaw? Iva mela le.  Huwa tajjeb li nuru li ma naqblux ma dawn id-deċiżjonijiet. Imma kien ikun aħjar li iktar nies fehmu x’wegħdu l-PN u l-Labour qabel l-elezzjoni ġenerali. Kieku forsi kien ikun hemm bżonn ta’ inqas protesti.

Imma għal bosta dan it-tip ta’ “żvilupp” ma kienx konsiderazzjoni importanti qabel l-elezzjoni! Huwa biss issa li qed jirrealizzaw li wara kollox dan il-bini b’mod goff ser jeffettwalhom il-kwalita’ ta’ ħajjithom.

Imma issa l-froġa lesta.

Vacant properties and solar rights

solar rights

Parliamentary Secretary Michael Farrugia has announced that MEPA  will be launching the process which ought to lead to a revision of all seven Local Plans.

The Environment and Development Planning Act 2010 provides for such a revision which in the view of many is long overdue. The difference of opinion will arise when the nature of the revisions to be put in place are announced.

It is obvious that the proposals for revision will result from the process of consultation just launched. But it is also pretty obvious that the direction which government would like such revisions to take  is one which encourages the construction industry. This is where we part company.

Any environmentalist worth his salt is aware that the unbridled development encouraged during the past years has resulted in a large stock of vacant residential properties. It is estimated that this is well in excess of 70,000 and still rising, even though at a reduced rate.

This glut of vacant residential properties should be the primary motivation directing those seeking the way forward for the seven Local Plans.

It is in view of Malta’s small size that as a Nation we cannot afford to take up more land for building development. We should rather seek to maximize the use of the building stock already in hand. This signifies that revised Local Plans should restrict additional development of virgin land. This can be done by reversing the rationalisation exercise carried out in 2006, by declaring a moratorium on large scale residential development and by reducing permissible heights to what they were in 2006.

The revised Local Plans should focus on the utilisiation of the existing building stock, with an emphasis on rehabilitation and redevelopment where necessary.

The revised Local Plans must also protect solar rights. This aim can be achieved through discarding the increased permissible building heights introduced  in 2006 as well as by subjecting the possible  development of penthouses to the solar rights of residents in the same residential block.

Reducing the potential for development means that the building construction industry would reduce its activity to a sustainable level. It will require help to pursue such a road. This would be the first step which should not be postponed. The revision of the Local Plans is the optimum time for such a step: to commence the restructuring of the building industry.

Land Reclamation and the construction industry

land reclamation 01

The issue of land reclamation should be tackled in a responsible manner.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

In Malta land reclamation was used in the past to create the Freeport Terminal at Kalafrana in the limits of Birżebbuġa.

MEPA has during the recent past engaged consultants to assess the potential of land reclamation in Maltese waters.

A 2005 study was commissioned by MEPA and carried out by  Carl Bro. This study identified six relatively large coastal areas as search areas for potential land reclamation sites. The study had  recommended that these six areas, or a selection of them, be “investigated in further details in parallel with the execution of a pre-feasibility study, before a principal decision is taken on whether land reclamation is considered realistic under Maltese conditions. It is recommended that such investigations and studies be carried out by the Government prior to the involvement of the private sector in possible land reclamation projects.” (page 8 of report).

MEPA took up this proposal and commissioned ADI Associates together with Scott Wilson to carry out a detailed study on two of the identified coastal areas. These studies were finalised in 2007 and 2008 and consist of 4 volumes. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline.

These latter studies conclude with a detailed set of recommendations on more focused studies relative to environmental and economic impacts which would be necessary if land reclamation is to be further considered.

In Chapter 10 of its electoral manifesto the Labour Party is committed to utilise a programme of land reclamation as an important tool in the infrastructural development of the country.  The said electoral programme emphasises the environmental and economic sensitivity of such projects and underlines a  commitment to high standards in environmental, social, economic, land use planning and sustainable development fields.

In Parliament it has been declared that the next step would be for expressions of interest to be submitted by those proposing  projects for  development on reclaimed land. A call should be issued in the near future.

I believe that this is not the way forward.  On the basis of the studies carried out to date and such additional studies as may be required it would have been much better if government presents for public consultation a detailed draft land reclamation strategy.  Such a strategy would then be subjected to public consultation. A dialogue is required, not just with the developers but also with civil society, including most importantly with environmental NGOs.

The draft strategy would undoubtedly indicate the proposed permissible development on the reclaimed land. It would be interesting to note if the said strategy would consider the need for residential development in view of the over 70,000 vacant residential properties  on the islands. On the basis of existing and possibly additional studies the strategy would also seek to ensure that Malta’s coastline is protected much more effectively than Malta’s countryside has been to date.

All views should be carefully considered before such a strategy is finalised.

Once the strategy is finalised its environmental impacts should be carefully scrutinised  as is provided for in the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU. This Directive now has the force of law in Malta. It is only when this assessment has been finalised and the impacts identified are suitably addressed through changes in the draft strategy  itself (if required) that it would be reasonable to invite expressions of interest from interested parties.

Land reclamation is no magic solution to a construction industry which is in urgent need of restructuring. Even if land reclamation is permitted it cannot and will not offer a long term solution to an ailing construction industry which has been capable of contributing to an accumulating stockpile of vacant dwellings which are equivalent to 9 ghost towns, each the size of B’Kara.

The country would be economically and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would  be required  to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

This  would certainly be much more beneficial and sustainable than land reclamation.

published in The Times  on 27 April 2013 under the title: Land Reclamation and Building

Environmental Governance

construction_site_img_9716

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

Ħalluna naħdmu ………ħalluna ngħixu

Ħalluna naħdmu.

Hekk qal l-iżviluppatur Sandro Chetcuti waqt laqgħa organizzata man-nies tan-negozju mill-Partit Laburista. Dan hu slogan li qed jintuża issa biex ifisser ġlieda kontra l-burokrazija. Fost oħrajn kontra l-hekk imsejħa burokrazija fil-MEPA.

Qalulna li fil-Ġermanja permess ta’ żvilupp joħroġ fi tlett xhur iżda f’Malta jieħu ta’ l-inqas tmien xhur.

Li ma qalulniex li f’Malta l-industrija tal-bini tħalliet għal snin sħah tagħmel prattikament dak li trid. Bil-konsegwenza li presentement hawn iktar minn 70,000 post residenzjali vojt. Dawn il-postijiet vojta huma ekwivalenti għal 9 darbiet daqs iż-żona residenzjali ta’ B’kara.

Ma qalulniex li minkejja l-attaparsi kontrolli l-MEPA ħarġet permessi li qatt ma kellhom joħorġu.

Il-Lidl ta’ Ħal Safi inbena bħala riżultat ta’ permess ta’ żvilupp li qatt ma kellu joħroġ. Tant li wara li l-Uffiċjal tal-Verifika (Audit Officer) tal-MEPA fi Frar 2008 ikkonkluda l-investigazzjoni tiegħu kienet irreżenjat il-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp.

Il-Lidl ta’ Ħal-Luqa mhux biss nbena f’żona li ma kienx permess li jsir dan il-bini talli l-parkeġġ tiegħu qiegħed sitwat taħt l-aħħar parti tal-flight path għall-mitjar internazzjonali ta’ Malta. Jiena infurmat li waqt li kien għaddej ix-xogħol ta’ kostruzzjoni fis-sit tal-Lidl f’Ħal-Luqa minħabba l-jib tal-krejnijiet li kien hemm fil-parking area l-aċċess għall-mitjar ingħalaq għal xi ħin. Huma u neżlin l-ajruplani tant ikunu fil-baxx meta jkunu fuq il-parkeġġ tal-Lidl ta’ Ħal-Luqa li kien hemm periklu serju ta’ inċident minħabba dawn il-krejnijiet.

Il-problemi konnessi mal-MEPA huma is-swaba politiċi li hemm fiha l-ħin kollu. Ir-riforma tal-MEPA ma indirizzatx l-iżjed element essenzjali u ċjoe kif jinħatru dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dwar dan Alternattiva Demokratika fil-manifest elettorali li ser tippreżenta għall-elezzjoni ġenerali li għandna wara l-bieb ser terġa’ tipproponi soluzzjoni li lill-politiku toħorġu l-barra mill-proċess li permezz tiegħu preżentement qiegħed involut direttament fid-deċiżjonijiet u minflok issaħħaħ ir-rwol tiegħu (tal-politiku) fejn tidħol is-sorveljanza.

Il-MEPA għandha rwol importanti. Sfortunatament m’hiex titħalla taqdi dan ir-rwol. Tkun tista’ taqdi dan ir-rwol meta jinħatru persuni kapaċi fit-tmexxija tal-MEPA. Dawn il-persuni jeħtieġ li jkunu disponibbli biex kontinwament jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom. Ir-rwol tal-MEPA mhux biss li toħroġ jew iżżomm il-permessi tal-iżvilupp. Fuq kollox għandha l-obbligu li fid-deċiżjonijiet tagħha u permezz tagħhom tassigura li l-kwalita’ ta’ ħajja li ngħixu lkoll kemm aħna titjieb.

Biex dan ikun jista’ jsir il-MEPA trid trabbi is-snien mal-Gvern u l-awtoritajiet pubbliċi. (Għax fost l-agħar deċiżjonijiet tal-MEPA hemm dawk fejn huwa involut il-Gvern: il-power station f’Delimara, il-Freeport f’Birzebbuga, l-impjant tal-iskart ta’ Sant’ Antnin f’Marsaskala……) Meta dan ikun jista’ jsir, imbagħad  ikun possibli li jingħad li l-MEPA qed taqdi l-missjoni tagħha.

Ħalluna ngħixu!

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