Il-konsultazzjoni hi fl-interess pubbliku

Iktar kmieni illum it-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjannar qabel mal-argumenti ppreżentati minni f’isem il-Kunsill Lokali tas-Siġġiewi u Flimkien għall-Ambjent Aħjar meta ħassar deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar dwar tnaqqis fil-protezzjoni fl-inħawi magħrufa bħala Ta’ Dmejrek, fis-Siġġiewi.

Dan sar minħabba li l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, naqset milli tagħmel konsultazzjoni pubblika: ikkonsultat biss ma sid l-art li kellu kull interess li jnaqqas il-protezzjoni tal-art minħabba li ried ikabbar il-barriera tiegħu.

Għaldaqstant it-Tribunal ordna li immedjatament l-art tkun protetta mill-ġdid.

Din hi deċiżjoni ta’ importanza kbira għax it-Tribunal qiegħed jinsisti b’mod ċar li l-konsultazzjoni pubblika hi ta’ importanza kbira fil-proċess tal-ippjanar anke fejn il-liġi hi siekta dwar dan.

(ritratt : l-inħawi fil-viċin tal-art li kienet ser titlef il-protezzjoni)

Ħmar il-lejl: l-ippjanar għall-kosta u r-riżorsi marittimi

Nhar it-Tnejn il-Parlament beda d-diskussjoni dwar l-implimentazzjoni tal-leġislazzjoni tad-dimanju pubbliku u b’mod partikolari dwar rapport li ħejjiet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fuq is-siti nominati. Ir-rapport jirreferi għal 24 sit nominati prinċipalment mill-għaqdiet ambjentali: 16-il sit kienu nominati minn Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), seba’ siti minn Friends of the Earth u sit wieħed mill-Ministru għall-Ambjent Josè Herrera.

Id-diskussjoni għadha fl-istadji inizzjali u s’issa kienet limitata għal spjegazzjoni tal-liġi li l-Parlament approva lejn nofs l-2016.

Moħbi mill-attenzjoni pubblika hemm il-ħtieġa urġenti li tkun implimentata d-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Ispazju Marittimu. Din id-Direttiva kellha tkun addottata sa tmiem l-2014. Permezz tal-Avviż Legali 341 tal-2016 Malta nnominat lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bħala l-awtorità kompetenti li ser tieħu ħsieb dak li għandu x’jaqsam mal-ippjanar tal-ispazju marittimu fil-gżejjer Maltin.

Wara li staqsejt inġibdet l-atttenzjoni tiegħi li l-Pjan dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu għal Malta diġà jifforma parti mill-Pjan Strateġiku dwar l-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development – SPED). Ngħid il-verità ma kontx irrealizzajt dan. Ħsibt li kien hemm xi paġni f’dak id-dokument li kienu qabżuli u allura mort infittex mill-ġdid u sibt sezzjoni intitolata Coastal Zone and Marine Area u taħtha tlett oġġettivi għall ħarsien tal-kosta. Dawn l-oġġettivi jistgħu, u nittama li jkunu, sviluppati fi strateġija dettaljata dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu Malti.

Waqt li Malta jidher li llimitat ruħha għal tlett oġġettivi xotti, pajjiżi oħra għamlu ħidma kbira biex jippreparaw il-pjani tagħhom dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu. L-Irlanda, per eżempju, ippubblikat dokument ta’ 88 paġna intitolat Harnessing our Ocean Wealth. An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland. Min-naħa l-oħra, ir-Renju Unit ippubblika dokument ta’ 55 paġna intitolat UK Marine Policy Statement.

Dawn iż-żewġ dokumenti jidħlu fid-dettall dwar l-Ippjanar għall-Ispazju Marittimu meħtieġ fl-Irlanda u r-Renju Unit. Bla dubju dawn id-dokumenti jeħtieġ li jkunu supplimentati bi pjani ħafna iktar dettaljati. Id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja fil-fatt tistabilixxi s-sena 2021 bħala d-data sa meta għandhom ikunu ffinalizzati l-Pjani għall-Ispazju Marittimu.

Malta hi gżira mdawra bil-baħar Mediterran. Fatt li għandu jkun rifless f’politika marittima serja u aġġornata. Sfortunatament dan mhux il-kaz għax jidher li għalina f’Malta it-tlett oġġettivi dwar il-kosta fil-Pjan Strateġiku dwar l-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (SPED) huma biżżejjed.

Id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Ispazju Marittimu bla dubju hi intenzjonata biex iċċaqlaqna ħalli nimlew it-toqob fil-politika tagħna. L-ekonomija l-blu, jiġifieri l-ħidma ekonomika li tiddependi fuq l-użu tar-riżorsi marittimi, teħtieġ attenzjoni ħafna iktar dettaljata.

Il-Gvernijiet Maltin, wieħed wara l-ieħor, għamlu ħerba fuq l-art u ħsara bla qies fiż-żoni naturali. F’xi kazi l-ħsara li saret ftit tista’ tiġi rimedjata. L-ilma tal-pjan hu l-eżempju ewlieni.

L-ippjanar b’attenzjoni tal-Ispazju Marittimu jista’ jkun ta’ għajnuna biex din l-imġieba żbaljata tal-Gvernijiet ma tkunx esportata lil hinn mill-kosta ħalli wara li ħarbatna l-art ma nħarbtux il-baħar ukoll.

Snin ilu kien pass għaqli li kienet indirizzata l-kwalità tal-ilma baħar bl-introduzzjoni tal-impjanti għat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ. Għad baqa’ xi jsir biex l-ilma msoffi, flok jintrema, jibda jintuża. Kontinwament għadna niffaċċjaw it-tniġġiż mill-gaġeġ tal-ħut li għandna fl-ibħra u li qed ikollhom impatti kemm fuq iż-żoni residenzjali kif ukoll fuq il-faċilitajiet turistiċi. Imbagħad hemm ukoll is-sajd, it-tibdil fil-klima, l-bijodiversita, is-sigurtà marittima, il-fdalijiet arkeologiċi fil-baħar kif ukoll il-ħmar il-lejl li nassoċjaw mar-riklamazzjoni tal-baħar. Pjan għall-Ispazji marittimi fil-gżejjer Maltin irid jindirizza dawn l-oqsma u bosta oħra b’mod integrat.

Il-gżejjer Maltin fihom 316 kilometru kwadrat. L-ibħra Maltin sa 25 mil nawtiku mill-kosta fihom medda ferm ikbar b’kejl ta’ 11,480 kilometru kwadrat filwaqt li l-blata kontinentali taħt il-ġurisdizzjoni Maltija fiha 75,779 kilometru kwadrat.
Din hi l-isfida li għandna quddiemna biex inħarsu l-ibħra tagħna.

ippubblikat fuq Illum – 24 ta’ Diċembru 2017 

Planning nightmares: the coastline and marine resources

 

Last Monday, Parliament commenced a discussion on the implementation of the Public Domain legislation, in respect of which the Planning Authority has submitted a report entitled “Sites Nominated to be declared as Public Domain”. This report refers to 24 sites, nominated primarily by eNGOs: 16 sites were nominated by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), seven by Friends of the Earth and one by Minister for the Environment Josè Herrera.

The discussion is still in its initial stages and so far it has been limited to an explanation of the legislation enacted by Parliament in mid-2016.

Currently under the radar is the urgent need to implement the EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning, which had to be adopted by end of 2014. Malta has, in fact, adopted it and through Legal Notice 341 of 2016 it identified the Planning Authority as the competent authority which will deal with issues of maritime spatial planning in the Maltese Islands.

After submitting a query, it was pointed out to me that the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) shall constitute Malta’s Maritime Spatial Plan – something I had not realised. Thinking that I had missed something, I checked the SPED and found a text entitled Coastal Zone and Marine Area under which are listed three coastal objectives. These are clearly objectives that can (and hopefully will) be developed into a detailed Maritime Spatial Plan.

While Malta has apparently limited itself to three brief objectives, other countries have gone into considerable detail to prepare their Maritime Spatial Plans. Ireland, for example, has published an 88-page document entitled Harnessing our Ocean Wealth – an Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland and the United Kingdom has published a 55-page document entitled UK Marine Policy Statement.

Both documents go into some detail as to the Maritime Spatial Planning required in Ireland and the United Kingdom and they will undoubtedly have to be supplemented with more detailed plans. The EU Directive determines the year 2021 as the deadline for the establishment of Maritime Spatial Plans.

The fact that Malta is an island should be reflected in more importance being given to maritime policy. Unfortunately, this is clearly not the case as it seems that we have to manage with three coastal objectives in our Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED).

The EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning is intended to nudge us to fill the gaps in our policies and plans. The blue economy, which is the economic activity dependent on the utilisation of marine resources, requires much careful planning.

Successive Maltese governments have ruined land-based resources and natural habitats. At times this has been done almost beyond repair. The water table is one such glaring example.

Careful maritime spatial planning could be of assistance in not exporting this erroneous behaviour beyond the coastline so that the environmental damage inflicted on the land is not repeated at sea.

Some years ago, addressing the quality of seawater by ensuring that urban wastewater dumped into the sea was adequately treated was a positive step. More still needs to be done to use the treated water. We repeatedly face issues of contamination arising out of fish-farms that has a negative impact on our residential and tourist facilities. What about fishing, energy, climate change, biodiversity, maritime safety, marine archaeological remains and land reclamation nightmares? A Maritime Spatial Plan for the Maltese Islands has to address all these issues and many more, in an holistic manner.

The Maltese Islands have a land area of 316 square kilometres. On the other hand, the area around the Maltese islands up to 25 nautical miles from the shoreline measures 11,480 square kilometres, while the area of the Continental Shelf under Malta’s jurisdiction in terms of the Continental Shelf Act measures approximately 75,779 square kilometres.

This is the physical extend of the challenge we face to protect our sea.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 24th December 2017 

A stinking amnesty

It smells

 

The planning amnesty which Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri launched last week to regularise development illegalities that cannot be addressed through a proper application of planning policies is a throwback to the Stone Age of land use planning in Malta.

While land use planning in Malta has been and  always will be the most controversial of activities of public bodies, it has to be stated that, since 1992, the Planning Authority (warts and all) has developed into the most transparent government authority. It could be much more transparent but no one in his right senses doubts that, to date, it still surpasses all the other government departments and authorities in issues of transparency.

Applications for the issuance of a development permit are publicised through a site notice and on the Planning Authority website, as well as in the Malta Government Gazette. On the Planning Authority website one can also examine the exact proposal, as all the drawings submitted can be viewed online. On the basis of this available  information, it is possible to submit to the Planning Authority observations about – and objections to – the development proposal , which observations and objections have to be addressed when the final report on the particular application is drawn up recommending approval or refusal of the development proposal.

To date there is one exception, commonly referred to as the DNO  (Development Notification Order) application which is a fast-track application process. Generally, this type of application is non-controversial and involves minor or straightforward applications. However, recently the Planning Authority considered that it was advisable to reduce the number of cases to which the DNO process applies, thereby widening the number of proposals for development which are subject to public consultation.

Legal Notice 285 of 2016, published under the authority of Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri, stands in stark contrast to all this and stinks. Entitled Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations 2016, these regulations establish the procedures to be followed in order to regularise existing development illegalities. We have to thank Dr Schembri for small mercies, as she excluded illegal ODZ developments from the regularisation process. However, she did not consider it appropriate to similarly exclude illegal developments in UCAs (Urban Conservation Areas) or illegalities concerning scheduled or protected properties.

Nor is there a distinction between minor illegalities and major illegalities. Had the proposed regularisation process sought to sanction minor illegalities, matters would have been substantially different and most probably the proposal would have been acceptable. This would be so even though most of the minor illegalities would most probably not require an amnesty. Most can easily be dealt with within the parameters of existing policies and regulations. These cases of minor illegalities are, in fact, the perfect camouflage for the major illegalities.

To ensure that this camouflage works as planned, Legal Notice 285 of 2016 makes short shrift of the transparency process by ensuring that it is not applicable to applications for the regularisation of illegal developments. The legal notice, in its regulation 5, emphasises only one exception, which is those cases where an illegal development was subject to an enforcement order. In such cases where an enforcement order would have been issued “following the submission of a formal complaint by third parties” the said third parties will be informed that an application has been submitted for the regularisation of the illegalities and they will be given the opportunity to be considered “interested parties”.

In all other cases, contrary to the provisions of the Development Planning Act of 2016, no one has the right to be considered an interested party. This can be stated with certainty as being a specific objective in view of the fact the regulation 3 of Legal Notice clearly spells out its objectives, which are: “to lay down procedures by which any person may request the regularisation of an existing irregular development.”

The legal notice makes no provision either for access to information about the proposals submitted or on the timeframe for submissions of observations and/or objections by interested third parties other than by the solitary exception referred to previously.

This is the state of affairs which led four environmental NGOs – Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth (Malta) and Ramblers Association – to submit in Court a judicial protest in which they insisted that the government cannot ignore the transparency provisions of the Development Planning Act 2016 when considering whether to regularise illegal development. These applications have to be publicised and the public has a right to scrutinise them as well as submit comments and objections when they consider these to be appropriate.

There is only one simple question to ask: why this stink?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 4 September 2016

Political calculation or environmental principle?

calculator

 

Joseph Muscat’s declaration that the Freeport Terminal will not be permitted to expand in Birżebbuġa’s direction due to its impacts on the residential community will inevitably have an effect on the Planning Authority. Viewed in the context of the recent Planning Authority decision not to approve the proposed Ħondoq ir-Rummien development, a pattern seems to be developing.

Given the fact that these two decisions are closely associated with localities that politically support the Labour Party it is still not clear whether this newly discovered sensitivity to restrict development which negatively impacts residential communities is based on political calculation or on environmental principle. This consideration is inevitable, in particular due to the report in this newspaper on 22 June that the Prime Minister had stated, in a discussion with environmental NGO Flimkien għall-Ambjent Aħjar, that he does not care about impact assessments, as residents get used to everything. As far as I am aware, the Office of the Prime Minister never corrected this report.

The Freeport Terminal debate clearly indicates that Birżebbuġa residents are determined to deliver a different message: they have had enough. During the last seven years there has been an ongoing tug-of-war between Birżebbuġa Local Council, MEPA and the Freeport Terminal Management. This has led to a number of improvements, the most important of which was the setting up of a tripartite Environmental Monitoring Committee that has served to build some bridges and to explore solutions to existing problems caused by the operation of the Freeport Terminal.

There was a time, around two years ago, when pressure was put on Birżebbuġa Local Council to drop its objections to specific operations. I distinctly remember representatives from the oil-rig repair industry  trying to convince the Council of the “benefits” that an oil-rig industry based at the Freeport Terminal could generate.

When these representatives realised that no one was convinced, an amendment to the environmental permit was forced through the then MEPA Board. To their credit, only three of the then board members understood the real issues and voted against the proposal: the two MPs (Joe Sammut and Ryan Callus) and the environmental NGO representative Alex Vella of the Ramblers Association.

The amended environmental permit would have permitted minor repairs to ships and oil-rigs berthed at the Freeport Terminal. However, after the MEPA Board meeting all hell broke loose, leading Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to disassociate himself from its decision and publicly align himself with the minority on the board opposing the changes. He then stated that he was in agreement with “his representative”, Labour MP Joe Sammut.

While the Freeport Terminal, faced with the reaction of residents, eventually relinquished the newly-acquired permit, the internal debate within the Labour Party continued, leading to the recent statement by Joseph Muscat that he is not in agreement with an expansion of the Freeport Terminal operations that would have a negative impact on the Birżebbuġa community.

Irrespective of whether it is a matter of principle or a political calculation which has led the Prime Minister to make such a statement, I submit that this is still a significant turning point that has been achieved as a direct result of Birżebbuġa Local Council’s persistent lobbying. It contrasts with the position taken by the Leader of the Opposition, who looks forward to an increase in the operations of the Freeport Terminal, without batting an eyelid over the resulting, continuously increasing, impact on the residential community.

The Prime Minister’s statement, while being a positive first step, is certainly not enough. It needs to be translated into policy as an integral part of the revised Local Plans currently under consideration. It is also important that the Prime Minister’s newly identified sensitivities are exported to other areas in Malta and Gozo. It is essential that, in a small country such as ours, third party rights opposing “development” are reinforced.

The issue at stake is far larger than Birżebbbuġa or the Freeport Terminal. It is a tug-of-war between those supporting “development” at all costs and our residential communities. The government must, through planning policy, be supportive of all our residential communities without exception.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 31st July 2016

Il-ħarsien ta’ Villa Gwardamangia

Villa Guardamangia 07

Għandha raġun Astrid Vella f’isem FAA (Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar) li ffukat fuq Villa Gwardamangia fil-konferenza stampa ta’ nhar is-Sibt li għadda. Għax il-wirt storiku tagħna hemm l-obbligu li nieħdu ħsiebu dejjem, irrispettivament minn min hu s-sid tiegħu. Veru li l-istat Malti jgħin. Imma s’issa għin lil min seta jgħin ruħu. Fejn sidien ta’ propjetà ma kellhomx ir-riżorsi neċessarji s’issa ma sar xejn. Jew kważi xejn.

Kien għalhekk inkuraġġanti li fl-ewwel reazzjoni tiegħu l-Gvern qal li qed ifittex soluzzjoni għall-problema ta’ Villa Gwardamangia. Tajjeb. Issa huwa importanti li s-soluzzjoni mhux biss ifittxuha, imma li nsibuha ukoll!

X’għandu jsir?

L-ewwel nett irridu nifhmu li mhux kull sid ta’ propjetà għandu biżżejjed riżorsi biex jieħu ħsieb din it tip ta propjetà.

It-tieni, jekk il-wirt storiku tagħna m’aħniex ser nieħdu ħsiebu bħala nazzjon dan ser ikompli jitmermer u b’hekk, biċċa biċċa,  jintilef darba ghal dejjem.

It-tielet: l-istat għandu l-obbligu li ġaladarba jkun ikklassifika bini bħala protett għandu jassigura li dan il-bini jibqa’ f’kundizzjoni tajba. Ma jagħmilx sens li niċċaqalqu meta l-froġa tkun diġa saret.

Ir-raba’ huwa meta l-bini jingħata l-protezzjoni għall-ewwel darba li l-awtoritajiet għandhom jagħmlu l-verifiki jekk is-sidien tal-bini jistgħux jieħdu ħsiebu. Jekk f’dan l-istadju jistabilixxu li s-sidien ma jistgħux jieħdu ħsieb tal-bini allura l-awtoritajiet għandhom dak il-ħin jagħmlu l-arranġamenti alternattivi meħtieġa biex ikunu huma li jidħlu għal din ir-responsabbiltà. Il-Gvern għandu ħafna strumenti legali li jippermettulu jagħmel arranġamenti ta’ din ix-xorta.

Huwa biss b’dan il-mod li nistgħu nieħdu ħsieb sewwa tal-wirt storiku tagħna.

Fil-kaz ta’ Villa Gwardamangia din ġiet skedata fl-20 t’April 2001 (ara pjanta hawn taħt). L-iskedar ta’ propjeta’ fil-prattika jfisser li hemm limitazzjonijiet dwar xi żvilupp jista’ jsir fil-bini innifsu (inkluż alterazzjonijiet) u madwaru. Ikun tajjeb illi l-protezzjoni li l-MEPA tagħti lill-bini storiku jkun ifisser ukoll għarfien aħjar tal-obbligu li nżommu dan il-bini f’kundizzjoni tajba.

Il-mistoqsija loġika hi: matul dawn l-14-il sena x’sar mill-awtoritajiet biex jassiguraw ruħhom li Villa Gwardamangia tinżamm f’kundizzjoni tajba?

It-tweġiba ovvja hi : xejn. Għax li sar xi ħaga ma kienitx tkun fil-kundizzjoni li hi illum.

Ikun għaldaqstant xieraq li meta l-awtoritajiet Maltin jagħtu l-protezzjoni lill-bini storiku tagħna jieħdu ukoll passi biex jassiguraw ruħhom li dan ser jinżamm f’kundizzjoni tajba.

Villa GMangia scheduling2

Wasal iż-żmien li jinbidel il-menú

menu

 

Attendejt għal forum dwar it-titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja fin-nofsinnhar ta’ Malta li sar fi SmartCity nhar is-Sibt li għadda u li kien organizzat mill-NGO ambjentali Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar.

F’dawn l-okkazjonijiet, il-fus tad-diskussjoni, bħal dejjem, , idur fuq il-konflitt bejn il-ħarsien tal-ambjent u l-kilba għall-flus. Ser jirnexxilna nimxu il-quddiem biss meta jkun ċar li l-interess tan-nies jiġu qabel il-flus: meta l-iżvilupp propost ikun wieħed sostenibbli.

Sfortunatament dan mhux dejjem ċar. M’huwiex ċar minn kif jitkellmu uħud li jħawwdu f’dak li jissejjaħ żvilupp. L-anqas m’hu ċar minn uħud mid-deċiżjonijiet u policies li jiġġebbdu iktar mil-lastku.

L-awtoritajiet pubbliċi suppost li qegħdin hemm biex jiddefendu lill-komunità. Iżda, sfortunatament, bosta drabi iktar iwasslu l-messaġġ li qegħdin hemm biex iservu lill-flus u lill dawk li għax għandhom is-saħħa tal-flus iwieżnu kontinwament  lill-poter.

Dan mhux atteġġjament li qed nosservawh illum għall-ewwel darba. Iżda hu mod ta’ imġieba li issa drajniha. Il-kokijiet donnhom li qegħin jinbidlu regolarment. Imma l-menú baqa’ l-istess.  It-taħwida fil-borma għadha l-istess, avolja inbidlu l-idejn li qed iħawdu u jagħġnu.

Għax minn kokijiet li mhux imdorrijin jipproduċu ħlief frejjeġ u kawlata ma tistax tistenna żvilupp sostenibbli.

Jeħtieġ li jinbidel il-menú. In-nies trid spazji miftuħa u inqas konkos. Mhux biss spazji mhux mibnija imma fuq kollox aċċess ikbar għan-natura. Anke fin-nofsinnhar tal-pajjiż.

ippubblikat fuq iNews L-Erbgha l-1 t’April 2015

Abolish spring hunting

time is running out2

Spring hunting has been a contentious issue for many years in the Maltese Islands. Throughout the years both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party have sought to deal with spring hunting through backroom deals with organisations representing the hunting community. Time and again promises to uphold hunters’ privileges have been made by both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party.

Only one political party in Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party, expressed itself clearly and unequivocally against spring hunting. The others boot-licked their way through imaginary exceptions and ineffective enforcement measures.

The current state of affairs is the direct result of government policies which have repeatedly ignored Malta’s obligations. Unfortunately even the Environment Directorate General of the European Union has proven itself to be ineffective in enforcing the provisions of the Birds’ Directive in Malta. Hence the only practical solution to tackle spring hunting is for the Maltese electorate to decide the matter itself as is provided for in the Referenda Act.

The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting is composed of Ramblers Association of Malta, Nature Trust (Malta), Movement of Organic Agriculture in Malta (MOAM), Moviment Graffiti , International Animal Rescue Malta, Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation,Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), Din l-Art Ħelwa,Coalition for Animal Rights, Birdlife Malta and Alternattiva Demokratika. It was formed some eight months ago for one specific purpose: the abolition of spring hunting at the earliest possible date.

Last week, the Coalition submitted a petition to the Electoral Commission calling for an abrogative referendum to end spring hunting on the Maltese islands. The signatures to the petition had to exceed 10% of the registered voters in the latest electoral register, that is 33,418 signatures were required as a minimum.

44,376 persons signed the referendum petition making it the first ever submitted petition requesting an abrogative referendum in the Maltese islands since the Referenda Act was amended in 1996 to introduce the right to call an abrogative referendum.  Those who signed the petition have considered it their duty to respond to the Coalition’s invitation because they care. They care about the birds and they care about Malta. They deserve everybody’s appreciation as their commitment is sending one clear message: that voters can decide on spring hunting and in so doing they will clear the mess created by the parliamentary political parties.

This is an historic moment, very important for the protection of biodiversity but also of paramount significance in the development of democracy in the Maltese islands. It was not easy to achieve and cannot be underestimated.

There are various reasons which have motivated voters to sign the petition calling for a referendum to abolish spring hunting.

Spring is breeding time for birds which fly over the Maltese islands on their way back to mainland Europe. Signatories to the referendum petition believe that birds should be able to fly safely over Malta on the way to their breeding grounds.

During the spring hunting season, when nature is at its best, people do not feel at ease in the Maltese countryside as they consider themselves to be under the constant threat of hunters, few in number but convinced just the same that they have a free hand. Access to the countryside during spring is further hampered by public footpaths which are closed to the public so as to facilitate the free access of hunters. The aggressiveness of some hunters has given all their colleagues a bad name.

Spring is a very special time of year when the Maltese countryside invites all to appreciate its abundance of life and colour. Those who have signed the petition feel that they are being impeded from enjoying nature’s gifts. Furthermore, hunting in spring definitely has a negative impact on birds which breed or can breed in the Maltese islands.

A large number of the signatories of the petition believe that the deals (both secret and the not so secret) that the hunting lobby has signed with successive governments to gain more privileges is not how a modern democracy should function. They believe that governments should work in the common interest. This has not been the case so far and the only solution is the utilisation of the referendum as a decision tool. It is only the referendum which will settle matters once and for all.

These birds flying through our airspace in spring do not belong to us. Other countries dedicate a lot of time and resources to ensure that these birds are adequately protected, only to be blasted when they fly through Malta.

We now await the Electoral Commission to verify the petition signatures and hand over the process to the Constitutional Court. This will enable all of the Maltese voters to finally have their voice heard on spring hunting so it can be stopped on these islands once and for all.

 

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday April 5, 2014

MEPA: from bad to worse

mistra-monster

Government acting through MEPA is playing to the interests of property developers and speculators. This was stated by a group of environmental NGOs who decided to act together in voicing their concern. The eNGOs are Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Birdlife Malta, Friends of the Earth Malta, Moviment Graffiti, Greenhouse Malta, Malta Organic Agricutural Movement, Nature Trust Malta and Ramblers’ Association.

There is nothing new in stating that government is in cahoots with property developers and speculatiors. The new element is that it is much more obvious that it ever was. MEPA in fact is functioning worse than it ever did in its 21 year history.

And we have seen nothing yet. It will get worse .

The recent approval of the redevelopment of the Mistra Village site is a case in point.  In addition to its being a blot on the landscape the approved project consisting of 774 residential units [yes its seven hundred and seventy four] as well as 1,800 square metres of retail area [including a supermarket] spread in 6 rectangual blocks of various heights up to and including 13 floors.  The traffic load on an area already bursting at the seams will be enormous.

In fact, Transport Malta  had initially objected to the project as it was considered that the situation would inevitably develop from bad to worse.

Transport Malta has however had second thoughts and withdrew its objections.  FAA is on record as commenting that “In dropping its objection, Transport Malta insults local residents by claiming that the traffic situation is already so bad that adding heavy construction vehicles and another 1,500 cars to the area will not make a difference.”

This signifies that Transport Malta will now go back to its archives and reconsider the development of the TEN-T road network in the area. All the options have already been discussed and all of them will create even more probelms.  One proposal signifies cutting through the Miżieb aquifer. Other proposals pose serious threats to Manikata, the agricultural community in L-Imbordin as well as being a threat to the Simar Nature Reserve.

This is what MEPA’s decisions are leading to.  It will get worse soon.

Having nine NGOs voicing their concern together on the above and more is a good step. Their protest in Valletta’s streets on the 30th November 2013 deserves everyone’s support.

I will be there.

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.