Servizz Soċjali għall-iżviluppaturi

Iktar kmieni dan ix-xahar l-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin (MDA) permezz tal-President tagħha Sandro Chetcuti ħeġġet lill-Gvern biex jindirizza sewwa l-problema tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni.

Flok ma jaġixxi kif mitlub, il-Gvern għandu jitlob lill-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi bħala r-rappreżentant ta’ dawk li jipproduċu l-parti l-kbira ta’ dan l-iskart biex tassumi responsabbiltà diretta għall-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni ġġenerat mill-membri.

Il-lobby tal-iżviluppaturi kontinwament temfasizza li temmen bis-sħiħ fl-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Forsi wasal iż-żmien li jibdew jipprattikaw dak li jgħidu li jemmnu fih. Dan billi japplikaw il-prinċipji li (jgħidu li) jemmnu fihom biex isolvu l-problema tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni li jiġġeneraw u b’hekk inaqqsu l-impatti ambjentali tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni.

Hawn kunsens ġenerali li l-ġebla hi riżors skars. Imma ma hawn l-ebda sforz fis-seħħ biex l-iskart iġġenerat mill-kostruzzjoni jkun riċiklat, kollu inkella in parti. Il-gebla tifforma parti sostanzjali mill-iskart iġġenerat mill-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni.

Ir-riċiklaġġ ifakkarna fil-kontenituri kbar għall-karta, plastik, metall jew ħġieġ f’uħud mit-toroq tagħna. Illum ma dan ninkludu l-iskart organiku kif ukoll l-iskart elettriku u elettroniku.

Imma meta ser nibdew nindirizzaw il-problema tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni bis-serjetà u nirriċiklawh? Qatt kellek bżonn xi xorok tal-franka biex tibdel oħrajn li kienu maqsumin? Mhux qed nirreferi biss għal dawk ta’ daqs żgħir li nsibu f’uħud minn djarna imma ukoll għal dawk ferm ikbar fid-daqs li fl-industrija nirreferu għalihom bħala xorok tal-qasba li ħafna drabi ssibhom f’bini qadim, inkluż irziezet, u li għalihom tħallas minn imnieħrek.

Ma nafx jekk qatt rajtux reklami ta’ bejgħ ta’ garigor tal-ġebel żarmat li jkun ġie salvat minn bini, x’aktarx qadim, li jkun twaqqa’?

Għax bħala fatt ir-riċiklar ta’ dak li uħud iqisu bħala skart tal-kostruzzjoni diġa qiegħed isir, avolja fuq skala żgħira. Ir-realtà hi li dan hu mod prattiku kif tista’ tkun indirizzata din il-materja b’mod sostenibbli. Irridu nsibu użu għal dak kollu li llum inqiesuh bħala skart sostenibbli.

L-Istrateġija dwar l-Immaniġjar tal-Iskart għall-Gżejjer Maltin addottata fl-2014 għandha sotto-titlu li jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li din l-istrateġija twassal għall-immaniġjar aħjar tar-riżorsi. B’referenza għall-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni dan ifisser li titwal il-ħajja utli tar-riżorsi u bħala riżultat ta’ dan il-ġebla tintuża aħjar. Din hi opportunità biex nissalvagwardjaw ir-riżorsi limitati ta’ pajjiżna.

Li nżidu l-barrieri biex fihom jitqiegħed l-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni mhu ser isolvi xejn. It-tħabbira riċenti dwar il-ħlas miżjud ta’ €8 għal kull tunellata ta’ skart tal-kostruzzjoni li jinġabar fil-barrieri huwa baxx. Il-piz fuq il-pajjiz bħala riżultat tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni hu ferm iktar minn miżerja ta’ €8-il tunellata. Fil-prattika dan ifisser li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni hi sussidjata.

Lura fl-2012 kien irrappurtat fil-medja lokali li l-Wasteserve kienet qed titlob ħlas ta’ €20 għal kull tunellata ta’ skart mingħand il-Gvern. Il-parti l-kbira ta’ dan il-ħlas dakinnhar kien sussidjat u mħallas minn fondi pubbliċi.

Flok rata ta’ €8-il tunellata l-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni għandu jkun soġġett għall-ħlas ferm għola ta’, ngħidu aħna €100-il tunellata: €8 jkunu ħlas għall-operaturi tal-barriera u l-bqija taxxa ambjentali. Dan jassigura li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tagħmel tajjeb għall-ħsara li qed tikkawża. Ħlas sostanzjali jkun ukoll xprun biex l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tibda tipprattika r-riċiklaġġ fuq skala kbira.

Dak li illum inqiesuh skart tal-kostruzzjoni jista’ jistablu użu divers. Ikun ifisser imma li t-twaqqiegħ tal-bini, meta dan ikun neċessarju, isir b’mod ordnat li jassigura l-inqas ħsara possibli fl-elementi tal-bini li jkun ser jitwaqqa’ biex ikun assigurat l-użu mill-ġdid tagħhom. Għax il-parti l-kbira tal-materjali li nsibu fil-bini li jitwaqqa’ jista’ jerġa’ jintuża.

L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni teħtieġ li taġixxi b’mod responsabbli u dan billi terfa’ b’mod dirett ir-responsabbiltà għall-impatti ambjentali tagħha. Huwa b’dan il-mod li nistgħu nindirizzaw bis-serjetà l-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni u mhux bis-“servizzi soċjali” għall-iżviluppaturi, permezz ta’ tariffi baxxi jew issussidjati.

ippubblikat fuq ILLUM : Il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Frar 2019

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A social service for the developers

Earlier this month the Malta Developers Association (MDA) – through its President Sandro Chetcuti – urged the government to tackle the problem of construction waste.

Instead of acting as requested, the government should request that the MDA, being a representative of the major producers of this waste stream, should assume responsibility for the construction waste which is mostly generated by its members.

Time and again, development lobby has emphasised the fact that it strongly believes in sustainable development. How about putting its beliefs into practice and applying them to resolving the issue of the construction waste which it generates, thereby contributing to a reduction in the environmental footprint of the construction industry?

There is general agreement that stone is a scarce resource, yet no efforts are being made to divert construction waste – in whole or in part – to recycling, although stone forms a substantial part of the construction waste generated.

When we speak of recycling, the paper, plastic, metal and glass recycling bins come to mind. To these, nowadays, we include organic waste as well as electric and electronic waste. We are rightly told that we need to “sort it out”.

What about sorting out construction waste and recycling it? Can’t be done? You are joking! Ever been in need of a stone slab to replace a damaged one? I am not only referring to the small normal-sized ones, but the large ones – those we refer to in the building industry as “xorok tal-qasba” – which fetch a considerable price on the market.

Have you ever come across a dismantled stone spiral staircase put up for sale?

As a matter of fact, the recycling of what some consider to be “construction waste” is already in hand but it is carried out on a very small scale. In reality, this is the only practical and sustainable solution: finding a suitable use for what is now considered as being “construction waste”.

The Waste Management Strategy for the Maltese Islands, adopted in 2014, is sub-titled: A resource management approach. With reference to construction waste this entails “lengthening the life cycle of virgin resources” thereby maximising the limestone resource. It is an opportunity to safeguard the limited resources of our islands.

Opening up more landfills is no solution to addressing the issue of construction waste. The recently announced charge of €8 per tonne of construction waste is too little. Construction waste imposes much higher costs on the country than a mere €8 per tonne. In effect, this means that the construction industry is being subsidised.

Way back in 2012, it was reported in the local media that Wasteserve was charging the government €20 per tonne for waste deposited at its landfills. Most of these charges were then subsidised, they were paid out of public funds.

Instead of the €8 per tonne of construction waste, a high landfill charge – say €100 per tonne – should be charged: €8 being the landfill operational charges with the rest being an environmental tax. This would ensure that the construction industry internalises its costs, that is, it pays for them itself. It would also kick-start the construction industry into actively recycling on a large scale.

Many uses can be found for construction waste. It would certainly, however, signify that demolition work, where necessary, are carried out in a more orderly manner, with the aim of preserving stonework with the least amount of damage for possible re-use. Most recoverable materials can be recycled and re-used.

The construction industry needs to act responsibly: it must accept direct responsibility for its environmental footprints. This, rather than the introduction of “social services” for Sandro’s MDA in the form of low or subsidised landfill charges, is the only way to address the construction waste generated.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 17 February 2019

Regulating the building industry

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 September 2018

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.

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!