Gozo Channel: tunnelling discounts

discounts

 

When the current Gozo Channel tunnel debate was initiated around five years ago, the then Minister Chris Said went on record to emphasise that the proposed tunnel, to be bored under the seabed would cost approximately €150 million. This estimate has now been upped to €300 million.

This is one of the basic assumptions underlying the study commissioned by Transport Malta, together with the Gozo Business Chamber, and carried out by E Cubed Consultants Ltd, commonly referred to as the “economic and financial feasibility study”.

The study makes interesting reading as it considers the economics of the so-called permanent link between the islands of Gozo and Malta. I respectfully submit that the conclusions of this study are as valid as the basic assumptions which underpin it.

I draw the attention of readers to the fact that proposals for various tunnels are currently under consideration in other countries.

The first is the proposed Trans-Pennine tunnel, intended to improve the transport links between Sheffield and Manchester in the UK. The ambitious 18- mile (29km) tunnel would be built under the A628 Woodhead Pass. After having established that the geology of the Pennines was suitable for such a project, it was estimated that the approximate cost would be a staggering £6 billion (€8.40 billion).

The second UK project is the much-debated and controversial tunnel at Stonehenge. Intended to upgrade the A303 road, it is projected to have a length of 1.8 miles (2.9 km) and is currently estimated to cost £490 million (€700 million).

Another projected tunnel, recently given the green light, will pass between the Danish island of Lolland and the German island of Fehmarn. Construction work on this 19 km tunnel should start next January and it is estimated to cost €8.7 billion.

The estimates for the proposed tunnels in the United Kingdom indicate that the cost of a 10 km tunnel would exceed the €2 billion mark, even before taking into account the fact that excavating below the seabed would cost substantially more. In addition, the Danish/German tunnel indicates a pro-rata cost of €4.7 billion for a 10 kilometre tunnel.

In addition, the geological parameters below the Gozo Channel are still largely unknown: geological studies have to be carried out and examined in detail in order to establish the facts. Without these facts, the basic information necessary to take essential design decisions is still unavailable. What is known is worrying enough: the presence of active geological faults running right through the proposed route of the tunnel.

The study’s conclusions – that the proposed tunnel is economically viable – have  been reached prior to the carrying out of geological studies. Even the estimated costs used in the economic viability study have been established before these essential geological studies.

In this type of project, no estimate of costs can be precise – especially if it is not based on adequate and essential information.

This indicates that the conclusion of the economic viability study was premature.

In addition to the geological studies, additional important (and essential) studies have (as far as is known) not yet been commissioned. These include studies on the environmental impact, business impact and social impact.

Once concluded, such studies will inevitably point to other issues that will require detailed consideration, including the extent to which the projected permanent link between Malta and Gozo will toll the death knell for holiday accommodation in Gozo: hotels, flats and farmhouses.

The above indicates that, unless the promoters of the tunnel have some cast-iron guarantee of substantial discounts on the costs, the proposal is a non-starter even before any consideration of the environmental, business and social impact. It is about time to begin serious work on the practical alternative: a fast ferry service between Gozo and the Grand Harbour.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 December 2015

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Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex

Gozo_tunnel_route_alignment_options

 

Ma nafx jekk il-Ministru tal-Finanzi kienx jaf x’inhu jgħid meta qal li l-feasibility study “ikkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Gozo Business Chamber” dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex kien lest. Imbagħad fis-sentenza ta’ wara jgħidilna li l-pass li jmiss issa huwa l-istudju tekniku u ġeoloġiku dwar il-mina.

Il-mistoqsija toħroġ waħedha: kif tista’ tagħmel feasibility study sura, jiġifieri studju dwar jekk jaqbilx li jsir il-proġett, meta għadek ma lestejtx l-iktar studju importanti: dak ġeoloġiku.

Dan ilu żmien jingħad minn kull min jaf l-affarijiet.

Jiena ktibt dwar dan kważi ħames snin ilu.

Iktar importanti milli ktibt jien, illum tkellem mat-Times il-ġeoloġista Peter Gatt. Tkellem ukoll mat-Times nhar it-3 ta’ Frar 2011.

Dr Peter Gatt jispjega fit-Times tal-lum għaliex qabel ma jsir l-istudju ġeoloġiku ma tista’ tikkonkludi xejn. Dan l-istudju hu “a vital first step”. Dan minħabba li l-istudju ġeoloġiku, jekk isir sewwa, jidentifika l-problemi ġeoloġiċi fuq ir-rotta li tkun ser titħaffer. Min-naħa l-oħra, jispjega Dr Gatt, jekk l-istudju ma jsirx, jew ma jsirx sewwa l-ispejjes tal-proġett jimmoltiplikaw. Kif ġara, jgħidilna Dr Gatt, fil-mina bejn Delimara u l-Marsa [bejn iż-żewġ power stations] li swiet id-doppju ta’ dak ippjanat minħabba li, billi ma kienx hemm informazzjoni ġeoloġika adegwata f’idejn min fassal il-proġett, kien hemm kollass tal-blat f’diversi partijiet tal-mina.

Dr Gatt isemmi l-eżempju tal-istudju ġeoloġiku li sar bi preparazzjoni għaċ-Channel Tunnel bejn l-Ingilterra u Franza. Dan l-istudju dam 50 sena biex sar u minkejja dan, l-ispiża taċ-Channel Tunnel xorta varjat bi 80% mill-istima oriġinali.

Meta wieħed iqis dan kollu ma nafx x’feasibility study sar!

Qalulna ukoll (mhux fil-baġit) li l-mina ser tiġi tiswa madwar €250 miljun. Meta tqis l-ispejjes li jistgħu jkunu meħtieġa minħabba l-kundizzjonijiet ġeoloġiċi taħt il-Fliegu bejn Malta u Għawdex, naħseb li din l-istima hi baxxa ħafna. Fil-fatt jiena fl-artiklu tiegħi tal-2011 kont għidt li probabbilment li l-ispiża tkun bejn €1 biljun u €1.5 biljun. Dan kont ibbażajtu fuq l-ispiża stmata għall-mina bejn il-gżira Daniża ta’ Lolland u l-gżira Ġermaniża ta’ Fehmarn li kienet qed tkun diskussa f’dak iż-żmien. Għalkemm dawn huma stimi imma xorta hemm diskrepanza kbira li mhiex ġustfikata.

Hemm dawn il-problemi kollha u għandna ma bdejniex nitkellmu dwar impatti ambjentali, li minnhom hemm bosta.

Il-mina, biex issir, ser tiġġenera kwantità kbira ta’ blat imqatta. Dan ivarja skond id-diżinn u jista’ jammonta sa żewġ miljun metri kubi ta’ blat. Hemm ukoll is-siti Natura 2000 li qegħdin viċin ħafna taż-żona fejn ser tiżbokka l-mina fl-inħawi taċ-Ċumnija limiti tal-Mellieħa.

Imma l-feasibility study lest, qalilna l-Ministru!

Kummissarju għal Malta fi Brussels: raġel jew mara?

Orizzont.300814.cahda KVella

 

Il-ġimgħa l-oħra fl-Orizzont ġie miċħud li kien hemm xi ħsieb li l-Gvern Malti jibdel in-nomina ta’ Karmenu Vella għal Kummissarju Ewropew billi jinnomina mara għall-ħatra floku. L-Orizzont f’artiklu ippubblikat nhar is-Sibt 30 t’Awwissu 2014 iffirmat minn Jake Azzopardi w intitolat Miċħud rapport li ser tiġi nominata mara flok Karmenu Vella jirraporta dak li qal ġurnal fil-Croatia u jiċħad l-istess rapport.

It-Times tal-bieraħ it-Tlieta 2 ta’ Settembru 2014 iġġib il-boċċa ftit iktar qrib il-likk. Tgħidilna li qed issir pressjoni fuq il-Gvern Malti biex flok Karmenu Vella jinnomina mara bħala Kummissarju Ewropew. Din il-pressjoni qed issir mhux biss fuq il-Gvern Malti imma ukoll fuq diversi Gvernijiet oħra. Jean-Claude Junker irid ta’ l-inqas 9 Kummissarji nisa minn fost is-27 Kummissarju li flimkien miegħu ser jiffurmaw il-Kummissjoni Ewropeja l-ġdida. S’issa għad m’għandux 9 Kummissarji nisa. Għandu 6 biss  u ċjoe l-Kummissarji nominati mid-Danimarka, mill-Iżvezja, ir-Repubblika Ċeka, l-Italja, Ċipru u l-Bulgarija. Jonqsu ta’ l-inqas tlett Kummissarji nisa oħra u għalhekk qed issir pressjoni “diplomatika” mit-team ta’ madwar Junker fuq diversi pajjiżi, fosthom fuq Malta biex tinbidel in-nomina ta’ Karmenu Vella. Għax Malta hu wieħed minn dawk il-pajjiżi li sal-lum qatt ma nnominaw mara ghall-post ta’ Kummissarju Ewropew.

Waqt il-kampanja għall-Presidenza tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja Jean-Claude Junker wiegħed lill-Membri tal-Parlament Ewropew li fil-Kummissjoni mmexxija minnu mhux ser ikun hemm inqas nisa milli kien hemm fil-Kummissjoni Barroso II. Issa din il-wegħda qatt ma seta jkun f’posizzjoni li jwettaqha għax in-nomini ma jsirux minnu, iżda mill-Gvernijiet. Imma din id-dikjarazzjoni kienet “commitment” politiku ta’ Junker li issa jidher li qed  tinkwetah.

Fil-Parlament Ewropew il-Ħodor u s-Soċjalisti diġa iddikjaraw li jekk ma jkunx hemm biżżejjed nisa maħtura fuq il-Kummissjoni Ewropeja ma kiexux lesti biex jivvutaw favur il-Kummissjoni. Il-Liberali għal raġunijiet oħra ukoll iddikjaraw vot kuntrarju. Bil-konservattivi, il-lemin estrem, l-ewroxettiċi u oħrajn ukoll jivvutaw kontra l-approvazzjoni tal-Kummissjoni, Jean-Claude Junker jista’ jkun li qiegħed f’diffikulta li jkollu l-Kummissjoni approvata u għaldaqstant qed jipprova jsalva dak li jista’. Għalhekk il-pressjoni fuq il-Gvern Malti biex flok Karmenu Vella tkun innominata mara. Għax mingħajr ta’ l-inqas 9 Kummissarji nisa, jista’ jkun hemm il-periklu li l-Kummissjoni ma tkunx approvata mill-Parlament Ewropew.

Id-diffikulta’ li għandu Joseph Muscat hi li hu għaġġel wisq biex ħatar lil Karmenu Vella. Hu ovvju li l-ħatra ta’ Karmenu Vella saret minħabba l-ħtiġijiet taċ-ċess politiku lokali. Kif wara kollox isir f’pajjiżi oħra ukoll.

Seta, kieku ried, Joseph Muscat ħalla d-deċiżjoni għal iktar tard biex ikollu stampa iktar kompleta ta’ x’jaqbel mhux biss għalih u għall-Partit Laburista, imma ukoll x’jaqbel għall-pajjiż. Hemm xi pajjiżi li għamlu eżattament hekk u ppreżentaw in-nomina tagħhom f’dawn l-aħħar jiem.

Matul il-ġimgħa d-dieħla inkunu nafu liema huma dawk il-pajjiżi li reġgħu ħasbuha u bagħtu mara flok raġel fil-Kummissjoni Ewropeja. Minkejja ċ-ċaħdiet kollha li saru hu possibli li wara kollox Karmenu jibqa’ Birżebbuġa u Brussels imur xi ħaddieħor floku. Jiddependi minn ħafna affarijiet. Fi Brussels għandhom ħabta kif dak li jidher impossibli jsir ftehim dwaru f’ħakka t’għajn, minkejja dak kollu li jkun ilu jingħad!

Imma dwar x’ser jiġri eżatt irridu nistennew ftit ieħor. Wara kollox anke Joseph jista’ jibdel l-opinjoni tiegħu jekk jidhirlu li jkun hemm raġuni valida biex jagħmel dan.

Karmenu Vella + EU

Ir-riżenja ta’ George Pullicino

Naf li qed noħlom meta ngħid li George Pullicino għandu jirreżenja. Imma naf ukoll li l-politika hi t-twettiq tal-ħolm.

Pullicino għandu jirreżenja għax arroganti u inkompetenti. Dwar l-arroganza tiegħu inkiteb ħafna matul il-perjodu li kien responsabbli għall-MEPA. L-agħar perjodu għal ħafna snin għall-ambjent f’pajjiżna.

Nhar is-7 t’Awissu 2012 il-Kummissjoni Ewropea ippubblikat rapport analitiku dwar kif qed titħaddem fis-27 pajjiż membru l-politika dwar l-immaniġjar tal-iskart. Dan ir-rapport hu intitolat Screening of Waste Management Performance of EU Member States.

F’dan ir-rapport Malta ġiet ikklassifikata fost dawk il-pajjiżi li għandhom deficit fi prattikament l-oqsma kollha tal-implimentazzjoni tal-politika tal-immaniġjar tal-iskart. Ir-rapport hu iktar iebes minn hekk, juża l-kliem implementation gap. Jiġifieri ghad baqa’ ħafna ħafna xi jsir biex il-paroli u l-fatti ma jibqgħux jikkuntrastaw!

Il-Greċja u l-Bulgarija biss ġew ikklassifikati agħar minn pajjiżna. Il-Greċja qegħda f’tarf ta’ kollass ekonomiku u l-Bulgarija mifnija bil-korruzzjoni! Il-Litwanja kklassifikati daqsna!

Dak ċertifikat!

Għal dawn l-aħħar tmien snin ir-responsabbilta’ politika għall-politika dwar l-iskart kienet ta’ George Pullicino.

Kienet responsabbilta li għaddhielu Lawrence Gonzi fl-ewwel Kabinett tiegħu. Responsabbilta’ li ħadha mingħand Ninu Zammit u għaddiha lil Pullicino f’Marzu 2004.

F’dawn it-tmien snin Pullicino iktar kien moħħu fil-konfront politiku bħal dak li infexx fih f’Marsaskala dwar l-Impjant ta’ Sant Antnin milli li jiżviluppa politika dwar l-iskart li taħdem għax hi aċċettata. Bl-arroganza tipika tiegħu rnexxielu jkisser il-possibilita ta’ kunsens mal-komunitajiet u tefa lura ħafna l-iżvilupp ta’ sens komunitarju fil-politika tal-immaniġjar tal-iskart. Ir-riperkussjonijiet għadhom qed jinħassu anke’  illum.

Hu veru li r-rapport tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea janalizza l-qagħda kif kienet sentejn ilu u dan għax jaħdem fuq statistika u rapporti li ilhom ftit ippubblikati. Imma dan ma jgħoddx biss għal pajjiżna. Jgħodd ukoll għal pajjiżi bħall-Awstrija, l-Olanda, id-Danimarka u l-Ġermanja li kienu fuq quddiem nett fil-klassifika u komplew jissaħħew!

Anke’ jekk imxejna ftit il-quddiem, ftit iktar milli jindika r-rapport, xorta għadna lura ħafna. Għal dan jaħti biss George Pullicino.

Ir-rapport juri falliment fil-parti l-kbira mill-kriterji addottati biex jitkejjel il-performance tal-pajjiżi membri tal-Unjoni Ewropea.

Dan hu ċertifikat ta’ falliment li għalih għandu jassumi responsabbilta politika l-Ministru George Pullicino. Jiġifieri għandu jkun raġel u jgħid “fallejt” u jirreżenja. Jagħmel il-wisa’ għal min jista’ jagħti kontribut pożittiv għall-implimentazzjoni tal-politika dwar l-iskart.

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

Addressing Our Environmental Deficit

published on Sunday 27 July 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 In his address to Parliament last May, the President had stated: “The government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.”

In December 2006, the National Sustainability Commission had drawn up the National Sustainable Development Strategy. Having been approved by Cabinet, it is appropriate that the pre-budget document just published ignites the debate on its implementation. The strategy is a blueprint for action representing a holistic perspective as to how this country should be administered. Its eventual handling will in due course give a clear indication of the government’s real views on sustainable development.

Malta’s energy policy is undoubtedly up for an upheaval. Due to the absence of strategic planning over the years, Malta is one of the few countries without any significant alternative energy generated. Other countries identified their vulnerability because of fuel oil dependency years ago and took action. Denmark has since built up its wind energy industry from scratch since the oil crises in the 1970s and is now a world leader. In 2005 Denmark generated 18.5 per cent of its electrical energy needs through wind.

The pre-budget document identifies near shore wind technology as the next step forward, contributing 95MW of wind energy or seven per cent of Malta’s projected electricity demand in 2010. The shortfall in meeting the EU target of having 10 per cent of electricity demand met by alternative energy is planned to be met with wind turbines at other exposed land sites and industrial estates, including those to be identified within the framework of the eco-Gozo project.

The pre-budget document focuses on macro-generation and does not give sufficient weight to micro-generation of energy, both with small wind turbines as well as with photovoltaic panels. It must be borne in mind that micro-generation if adequately motivated could add up to a substantial amount of energy generated through alternative technology. In addition to residential application (not flats or maisonettes!), schools and public buildings could be ideal sites for the micro-generation of energy. Moreover, one can consider fitting micro-turbines to the structures of the hundreds of disused windmills (water pumps) that pepper the countryside. These windmills were strategically located by our ancestors in wind-prone areas and are now an integral part of the Maltese countryside.

The pre-budget document rightly refers to energy generated through waste. It speaks of the generation of electricity using animal waste through biogas in a facility to be constructed in the north of the island. This is a long overdue initiative. However, I believe that it is badly conceived. The lessons that should have been learnt following the Sant’ Antnin debacle seem to have been forgotten.

The point at issue is whether one facility covering the whole island is sufficient or desirable. Would it be a good idea to transport animal manure across the whole island to a facility in the north?

One point resulting from the public debate relative to the Sant’ Antnin waste recycling plant was the applicability of the proximity principle. The required plant should be sited as close as possible to the source of the waste being processed. This had led to the Sant ‘Antnin projected operation itself being scaled down to deal with one third of the islands’ waste. The rest, it was stated, should be processed on other sites (possibly two) that have not yet been identified! These other sites should be used for the production of biogas too and they should be identified in a location as close as possible to those areas that have the largest number of animal farms in order to minimise the movement of animal waste. Knowing that a number of these farms are sited very close to each other should make matters easier for our waste management planners.

Bad planning brings out another sore point, which was not discussed in the pre-budget document: namely the management of our water resources. Groundwater (a ‘free’ source of freshwater) still accounts for 40 per cent of our potable water supply. Groundwater accounts for the greater part of the water used by agriculture, the construction sector, landscaping activities and various other industrial and commercial concerns, including some hotels which are supplied by bowsers. However, as a result of over-extraction, the quality of the water in the aquifer is becoming saltier by the day and will become useless within our lifetime.

Yet, illegal extraction of ground water continues unabated and the authority responsible for the sustainable use of this precious resource (the Malta Resources Authority) persists in not taking any concrete action. The recent increase in the surcharge on mains water will inevitably result in a rush to drill more boreholes and extract more groundwater, with the consequence that our aquifer will die an earlier death.

Within this context, the construction of wastewater treatment plants treating urban wastewater and discharging it directly into the sea assumes an alarming relevance. A country whose natural water resources are not sufficient for its use ought to manage its water resources in a much better way. It certainly ought not to permit the illegal extraction of water or the discharge of treated water into the sea. The siting of the wastewater treatment plants in Malta and Gozo is such that discharging treated water into the sea is a foregone conclusion. This decision, undoubtedly arrived at based on the original siting of the sewage outfalls, ignores the possibilities to reuse the treated water, either as a second-class source or (with additional treatment) as potable water. Other developed countries, notably Singapore, produce an ever-increasing percentage of their potable water in this manner. This issue is ignored in the pre-budget report.

All this could easily have been prevented with a proper water management planning strategy, which, instead of large-scale plants for wastewater treatment, could have identified a number of smaller sites along the sewer route on the islands for the construction of small packaged wastewater treatment plants. These would have provided ample treated effluent where and when required for agricultural use, landscaping and other uses not requiring water of potable quality – at little or no distribution costs. The widespread availability of this water would have substituted the need to extract groundwater and facilitated the required enforcement action on its illegal extraction.

The total costs would have been substantially less. By costs I do not just mean economic ones but also the ecological cost of losing a strategic resource (the aquifer), which loss will have to be borne by future generations.

As indicated in the public hearings carried out by Minister Tonio Fenech, the pre-budget document deals with the sustainability of localities, rightly linking this issue to the proposed reform of local councils. It refers to the need for localities to draw up a Local Sustainable Development Strategy. In environmental management, we normally consider this within the Local Agenda 21 process currently espoused by thousands of localities around the globe: think global act local.

The sustainable localities proposal is undoubtedly well intentioned, and if adequately planned and applied can lead to positive results. The difficulty that will arise is that of economies of scale. Our localities vary substantially in size: from the largest – Birkirkara, to the smallest – San Lawrenz in Gozo. I believe that the best manner to apply Local Agenda 21 in Malta would be on a regional level. It would entail the setting up an additional level of local government that could be made up of all the local councils in the region. One possibility for the identification of regions would be to follow the boundaries of the seven local plans. These regions could be the channel for drawing up a Local Agenda 21 in conformity with national policy and strategies, which allow ample room for adequate planning. The proposed Conference on Local Sustainable Development would be a good start.

The basic point at issue in all deliberations is to view the economy as a tool at the service of the eco-system rather than as master of all. Adopting sustainable development as a policy instrument is no easy task. It entails taking a holistic view of public administration and its consequences. It signifies that national policy and administrative action need to have a continuous long-term view.

Economic policy generally takes on board social policy. It now needs to ensure that it is subservient to the eco-system because at the end of the day the eco-system is the source of our being. It is only at this point that we will be in a position to settle our country’s accumulated environmental deficit!