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

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Il-mina mhix soluzzjoni: hi problema

Il-mina li hi proposta taħt qiegħ il-baħar bejn Għawdex u Malta ser ikollha impatti negattivi konsiderevoli kemm fuq Għawdex kif ukoll fuq Malta. L-iżjed wieħed ovvju hu l-ġenerazzjoni ta’ madwar miljun u nofs metru kubu ta’ radam li ser jispiċċa fil-baħar. Dan ser jagħti bidu għal ħmar il-lejl ambjentali ieħor: għax l-iżviluppaturi ma baqgħalhomx fejn “jiżviluppaw” fuq l-art! Qed ifittxu l-ispazju. L-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi diġa identifikat fejn dan jista’ jsir. Mhux ta’ b’xejn li r-residenti tax-Xgħajra qed jirvellaw.

Il-problemi assoċjati mal-mina proposta huma bosta. Art agrikola madwar il-punti tad-dħul, fuq iż-żewġ naħat, kemm f’ Ta’ Kenuna fil-limiti tan-Nadur kif ukoll ħdejn

L-Għerien fil-periferija tal-Mellieħa u ma tul il-wied tal-Pwales ser ikollha tagħmel il-wisgħa. Din ser tispiċċa tkun trasformata f’toroq kif ukoll f’faċilitajiet għall-kontroll tad-dħul fil-mina. Magħhom imbagħad jiżdiedu pompi tal-petrol, kull naħa tal-mina.

Hu ċar, minn dak magħruf s’issa, li d-dħul għall-mina min-naħa ta’ Malta ser ikun viċin ħafna tal-ilma tal-pjan tal-Miżieb, jekk mhux dritt minn ġo fih ukoll! Dan l-ilma tal-pjan hu f’kundizzjoni tajba, l-aħjar wieħed fil-gżejjer Maltin. Din kienet ukoll waħda mir-ragunijiet ewlenin l-għaliex fil-passat riċenti kellhom ikunu abbandunati żewġ proġetti kbar fl-inħawi, dak tal-golf course u ieħor konness mat-toroq (in-network TEN-T).

Għandu jingħad ukoll li volum kbir ta’ traffiku ser ikun iġġenerat u dan ser jgħaddi viċin ħafna tar-riżerva naturali tas-Simar fix-Xemxija. Il-ħsejjes, id-dwal u t-tniġġiż tal-arja ser ikollhom impatt negattiv konsiderevoli fuq ir-riżerva, b’mod partikolari matul il-lejl, ħin li fih in-natura ukoll tfittex li tistrieħ.

Dawn il-problemi li inevitabilment jinħolqu mill-mina għandhom iwasslu lil min hu rasu fuq għonqu biex ifittex soluzzjoni alternattiva biex titjieb il-konnettività bejn Għawdex u Malta. Soluzzjoni li tevita dawn il-problemi u iktar.

Ħa nkun ċar: il-konnettività bejn il-gżejjer ta’ Għawdex u Malta teħtieġ titjib konsiderevoli: is-soluzzjoni imma, mhiex il-mina. Is-soluzzjoni għandha tkun waħda li tiffaċilita l-moviment bejn il-gżejjer mingħajr ma żżid mal-problemi li diġa għandna. B’mod partikolari għandna nevitaw li nkabbru l-problema tat-traffiku iktar milli hi diġa. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh jekk niżviluppaw soluzzjoni li tnaqqas flok ma tkabbar id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi.

Hu stmat li l-mina proposta ser iżżid il-medja kull jum tal-movimenti tat-traffiku bejn il-gżejjer mit-3000 tal-lum għal madwar 9000: żieda bi tlett darbiet fuq perjodu ta’ ħmistax-il sena. Wieħed ma jridx wisq għerf biex jifhem dawn iċ-ċifri, li nsibuhom ukoll fl-istudju ekonomiku kkummissjonat fl-2015 mill-Awtorità tat-Trasport u l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija. Għax il-ħlas biex tgħaddi mill-mina ser jinġabar minn fuq kull karozza u allura d-dħul ser jiddependi mill-ġenerazzjoni tal-ikbar ammont possibli ta’ traffiku. L-eżistenza tal-mina tiddependi fuq dan: bla traffiku ma tistax teżisti. Dan imur kontra l-oġġettiv ewlieni tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport (National Transport Master-Plan 2025) li fi kliem mill-iktar ċar jispjega kemm it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna hu l-mira fit-tul tal-politika tagħna dwar it-trasport.

Is-soluzzjoni meħtieġa trid tindirizza l-moviment tan-nies u mhux il-moviment tal-karozzi. L-unika soluzzjoni raġjonevoli allura hi l-introduzzjoni ta’ katamaran (fast ferry service) bejn Għawdex u Malta: bejn l-Imġarr f’Għawdex u punti varji mal-kosta f’Malta li jistgħu jinkludu x-Xemxija, Tas-Sliema u l-Belt Valletta. Ma dan imbagħad ikun hemm ħtieġa tat-titjib tas-servizz tat-trasport pubbliku minn fejn jieqaf il-katamaran għall-bqija tal-pajjiż.

Hu essenzjali li s-soluzzjonijiet li nagħżlu għall-problemi tagħna tat-trasport ikun jħarsu fit-tul ħalli nnaqqsu u mhux inżidu l-problemi li nħallu lil ta’ warajna.

Ippubblikat f’Illum: il-Ħadd 3 ta’ Frar 2019

The proposed Tunnel is not a solution: it is a problem

The proposed tunnel below the seabed linking Malta and Gozo will have considerable negative impacts on both Gozo and Malta. The most obvious one is the generation of around one and a half million cubic metres of bits of rock which will be dumped into our seas, kick-starting another environmental nightmare, land reclamation. The construction lobby has run out of space to “develop” on land. The Environment and Resources Authority has already started identifying potential sites. The residents of Xgħajra have good reason to be up in arms.

The problems associated with the proposed tunnel are manifold. Agricultural land around the two points of exit of the proposed tunnel will be gobbled up: at Ta’ Kenuna on the outskirts of Nadur, and close to L-Għerien, on the periphery of Mellieħa and further along the Pwales valley. This agricultural land will make way for the roads and toll-control facilities leading to the tunnel. Then, they will inevitably be complemented by more petrol stations.

On the basis of what is known so far, it is already clear that on the Malta side the tunnel will be bored through or very close to the Miżieb aquifer, which is still in a very good state – the only one on the island so graded. This fact has been one of the determining issues leading to the abandonment of other large scale projects in the area (the golf-course and part of the TEN-T network).

One could also add that a substantial amount of traffic will be channelled very close to the Simar Nature Reserve in Xemxija. The resulting noise, light and air pollution will have a considerable negative impact on the reserve, especially at night, a time when nature seeks its resting time.

The problems generated by the proposed tunnel are substantial. There is, however, a reasonable solution to the connectivity issue.

Let me be clear: connectivity between the islands of Gozo and Malta needs considerable improvement. The proposed tunnel, however, is not the solution. The solution should be one which facilitates movement between the islands without creating more problems than we already have! In particular, we should avoid worsening the traffic problem. This can be done if the solution we seek is not one which increases our car dependency.

It is estimated that the proposed tunnel will increase average daily traffic movements between the two islands from the current 3,000 to a projected 9,000 – a threefold increase estimated over a fifteen-year period. One immediately understands the purpose of these projections referred to in the feasibility study commissioned jointly by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber in 2015. The toll to be charged – and, consequently, the tunnel’s economic performance – is dependent on generating the maximum traffic possible. Traffic underpins the very existence of the tunnel. This runs counter to the basic objective of the National Transport Master-Plan 2025 which in crystal clear language spells out the reduction of cars from our roads as the long-term objective of Malta’s National Transport Policy.

The solution needs to address the movement of people between the islands, not the movement of cars. The only reasonable solution would be the introduction of a fast-ferry service between Gozo and Malta, between Mġarr in Gozo and various points in Malta, which would include Xemxija, Sliema and Valletta. This should be linked to an improvement in the public transport links between these points and the rest of the country.

It is essential that we seek long-term solutions to our transport problems, such that we do not leave future generations burdened by our problems.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 3 February 2019

Sandro’s Monaco: as if tomorrow never comes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(note cartoon published in Malta Today)

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 August 2018

Making hay …….. in St George’s Bay

The 23-storey Pender Gardens high-rise is nearly completed, after nearly 10 years of continuous construction activity. The application for the 31-storey Mercury House was approved last month and next Thursday, the Planning Authority Board will consider planning application PA2478/16 submitted by Garnet Investments Limited in respect of a substantial stretch of land along St George’s Bay on the outskirts of Paceville St Julian’s.

The applicant has requested the following: “Demolition of all existing buildings forming part of St. George’s Bay Hotel and ancillary facilities, Dolphin House, Moynihan House and Cresta Quay. Construction of Parking facilities, Hotels and ancillary facilities, Commercial Area, Multi Ownership holiday accommodation, Bungalows, Language school with accommodation. Restoration of the Villa Rosa and upgrading of the facilities including parking facility, kitchen and toilets all below existing site levels within the Villa Rosa Area to address catering facilities/wedding hall.”

The project includes mixed-uses covering a total site area of 48,723 square metres, a building footprint of 18,345 square metres and a total gross floor area of 82,917 square meters.

It is a small part of the area that was tentatively tackled by a draft Masterplan for Paceville which, after being rejected by public opinion was sent back to the drawing board. I consider it highly unethical for the Planning Authority to proceed with considering this application after the clear and resounding verdict of public opinion. As a minimum, the consideration of this application should have been postponed until a new, reasonable and acceptable Masterplan has received the go-ahead. A minimum effort at achieving consensus as to what development is acceptable is essential.

The Planning Authority is unfortunately insensitive to public opinion. It is amply clear that it, and those who appoint most of its Board members, are on the same wavelength as the development lobby, which is hell-bent on making hay while the sun shines. At this point in time, it is the turn of the St George’s Bay area.

The project is obviously recommended for approval in the 43-page report from the Planning Directorate.

The basic point of contention with such large-scale projects is that they are considered in isolation. Most of them would never get off the drawing board (real or virtual) if the consolidated impact of all neighbouring projects (existing or in the pipeline) are taken into account. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to address similar concerns to the EIA public consultation on the db Group ITS site project.

Five large-scale projects are earmarked for St George’s Bay. Each will generate considerable havoc from excavation throughout construction and right through operation in the whole St George’s Bay area. Cumulatively it will be hell. Who cares?

Way back in 2006, when the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive of the EU was about to be implemented in Malta, the Lawrence Gonzi – George Pullicino tandem rushed through the approval of the Local Plans in such a manner as to ensure that the accumulated environmental impact resulting from their implementation was not scrutinised and acted upon. The present state of affairs is the direct result of that irresponsible Gonzi-Pullicino action 12 years ago.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) occasionally tries to patch things up. For example, within the framework of the ITS EIA exercise ERA suggested that the traffic assessment of the ITS and the Villa Rosa projects be consolidated. This has, however, been avoided: a case of too little, too late.

So where do we go from here?

The development lobby is maximising its efforts to make hay while the sun shines. In reality, a consolidated mess is taking shape with massively built-up areas in a relatively restricted space punctured by high rises mimicking phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes spread all over the place. Pender Place has 23 floors. Mercury House will have 31. The ITS phallus will have a 37-floor residential tower. The Villa Rosa/Cresta Quay project will have more modest heights.

Next Thursday, the Planning Authority has the opportunity to scrutinise the proposal for this Villa Rosa-Cresta Quay project. We will see once more the extent to which the concrete lobby still holds the Authority by its balls – obviously where this is applicable.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 February 2018

Sandro favur l-ambjent

sandro chetcuti

Hekk qalilna l-bieraħ f’kumment li ta lis-Sunday Times dwar l-applikazzjoni tal-Lidl għal supermarket ieħor, din id-darba mal-bypass ta’ B’Kara.

Ovvjament emmen jekk trid.

Għax issa hi moda li kulħadd jitkellem favur l-ambjent u l-iżvilupp sostenibbli.  Imma eżattament dwar x’jifhmu b’dan kollu, dik storja oħra.

Għax, fi kliem li jifhmu kulħadd, l-iżvilupp ikun sostenibbli meta jħares fit-tul. L-iżvilupp ikun sostenibbli meta jassigura li d-deċiżjonijiet li nieħdu illum ma jorbtux mażra m’għonq il-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ għada. Għax huwa neċessarju li anke l-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ għada jkunu jistgħu jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet li jkunu meħtieġa għalihom.

Fi ftit kliem l-iżvilupp ikun sostenibbli meta id-deċiżjonijiet tal-lum iżommu għada ukoll quddiem għajnejhom.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan nistgħu ngħidu bla tlaqlieq li l-politika tal-iżvilupp tal-art f’Malta hi kollox minbarra sostenibbli. Din mhiex qed ngħidha  illum, ilha ngħidha is-snin. Għax fis-sustanza m’hemmx differenza dwar dan bejn il-partiti politiċi li huma preżentement rappreżentati fil-Parlament.

Għax mhux Sandro biss hu favur l-ambjent. Anke Joseph u Simon jgħidu dan.

Ovvjament emmen jekk trid!

_________________

ara ukoll fuq dan il-blog il-kitbiet dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli li ġew ippubblikati fl-2015:

22 ta’ Frar 2015 : Harvesting Rainwater.

8 ta’ Marzu 2015 : The politics of Sustainable Development.

7 ta’ Ġunju 2015 : Addressing the environmental deficit.

23 ta’ Lulju 2015 : Nature provides solution.

9 t’Awwissu 2015 : Sustainable Development Goals: beyond rhetoric.

 

The elephant in the room

elephant-in-the-room

 

When Malta’s EU accession negotiations approached the final stages, a merger of the then Planning Authority and the Department for the Environment was announced.

While the merger was the right thing to do, it was done in a hurry and as a result, an organised Planning Directorate overshadowed an understaffed Environment Directorate.  A number of  civil servants employed in the former Environment Department had refused to go along to MEPA, thus further diluting the newly established Environment Directorate. This was further exacerbated by long spells during which the post of Environment Director was vacant. This did not involve weeks, but years. Currently, in fact, there is no Environment Director in place- the post having been vacated around two years ago.

The Environment Department was then one of the youngest departments in the civil service which, overnight, as a result of EU accession had to shoulder responsibility for a substantial portion of the EU acquis for which it was largely not equipped. The situation has slightly improved over the years. The previous administration declared many times that it would bridge the gap in human resources, but, unfortunately, it never lived up to its declarations. As a result, the Environment Directorate was, and still is, overshadowed. In addition, to make matters worse, the consolidated authority was (and still is) led by a Board in which environmental knowledge  was (very) scarce. This was the perfect recipe for a good initiative not to yield any results by design.

Malta requires more consolidation of environmental governance, not its fragmentation. Further consolidation will increase the chances of being more effective in coordinating related areas of policy: land-use planning and environment protection are two such areas. Fragmentation, on the other hand, increases ineffectiveness. However, mergers require commitment and resources – both of which have been manifestly lacking.

The potential fruits of the merger would only have been reaped if the consolidated MEPA had been led by an Environment Directorate. Unfortunately, it was designed differently: a combination of bad design and an absence of good faith.

The solution to this problem is not to reverse the merger but rather to reverse the roles of land-use planning and environment protection in a consolidated MEPA, meaning that land-use planning should be subjected to rigorous environmental control. Unfortunately, this was never on the cards, nor is it contemplated in the de-merger bills. The agenda of the parliamentary political parties has always been very clear: to ensure that land-use planning is subject to the least possible environmental controls in the interests of the development lobby.

This is the elephant in the room. The PN in government implemented this objective by a merger of a highly organised Planning Directorate with a weak but dedicated Environment Department. Labour has opted to achieve the same objective through fragmentation.

At the end of the day, the government’s misguided de-merger will not  cause additional damage: it will be more of the same, as we have been accustomed to throughout the years. The attainment of the full potential of the newly-created authorities will be postponed until such time as they are inevitably reunited under the leadership of a revamped Environment Directorate.

In the meantime, other important issues in the projected legislation can be focused upon. The manner of appointment of boards and top officers of the newly created authorities is one such issue.

Having the Minister’s trust is not a sufficient requirement justifying appointments to boards and authorities – and this not just with reference to appointments of an environmental nature. It would be appropriate if the competence of those selected for office is scrutinised in public. Other democracies, the United States of America for example, regularly use public hearings as an instrument for carrying out such  public scrutiny for a number of appointments of national importance.

In its 2013 election manifesto, Alternattiva Demokratika  specifically proposed the adoption of this method in order to examine the government’s nominees to public bodies. In particular, AD proposed  that government nominees to land-use planning, environment and resource-management boards (including directors and CEOs) should not take up their post until Parliament’s Environment and Land Use Planning Committee had examined such nominations in public and signified its consent thereto. Such a public hearing  should be carried out to establish whether the nominees are suitable for the posts to which they have been nominated.

Were nominees  required to subject themselves to such a public hearing, Malta would  definitely have a much better crop of administrators than that which it has been accustomed over the years. This would also reinforce the notion that administrators of public authorities are, at the end of the day, accountable to the whole country and not just to the government Minister who nominates them for the post.

The merger of land-use planning and environment protection at MEPA should be strengthened by ensuring that the Environment Directorate calls the shots. It is, however, equally important to ensure that those nominated to lead the authority (irrespective of whether we have one or more) are suitable for running the show.  Parliament should thus reclaim back its powers and vet the government’s nominees in public. When this has been done, we will be able to state that we have commenced down the path to improving environmental governance. Otherwise, it will be more of the same for many years to come.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 12 July 2015