Malta u Għawdex: problema komuni tat-trasport

Id-dibattitu dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex għaddej.

Jekk tifli l-argumenti ta’ dawk li qed jesprimu ruħhom favur din il-mina taħt qiegħ il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex hemm raġuni waħda li tispikka: iridu jnaqqsu l-ħin li “jaħlu” jivvjaġġaw. Imma din il-problema, jiġifieri l-ħtieġa li nnaqqsu l-ħin li nivvjaġġaw hi problema tagħna lkoll, mhux tal-Għawdxin biss. Hi problema mifruxa prattikament ma Malta kollha. Imma ħadd mhu qiegħed jipproponi li nħaffru mina taħt il-Bajja ta’ Marsamxett biex innaqqsu l-ħin meta immorru minn Tas-Sliema għal Marsamxett. L-anqas mhi qed isir proposta ta’ mina taħt il-Port il-Kbir bejn il-Belt u Bormla avolja din kieku tnaqqas il-ħin biex nivvjaġġaw.

Is-soluzzjoni biex innaqqsu il-ħin tal-ivvjaġġar bejn Tas-Sliema u Marsamxett inkella biex naqsmu min-naħa għall-oħra tal-Port il-Kbir hi li nagħmlu użu aħjar tat-trasport bil-baħar u mhux mini taħt qiegħ il-baħar. Ir-riżultat hu aċċess f’iqsar ħin biex taqsam bejn naħa u oħra taż-żewġ portijiet. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, kuljum ikun hemm inqas karozzi fit-toroq tagħna. Dan esperiment li diġa qed jaħdem b’ċerta success: min-naħa għall-oħra ma jċaqalqux karozzi imma biss lin-nies.

Il-mobilità bejn Malta u Għawdex tista’ tkun faċilitatà bl-użu ta’ fast ferry service bejn Għawdex, Tas-Sliema u l-Belt Valletta. Ikun mezz li jindirizza l-problema reali: il-mobilità tan-nies.

Sfortunatament dawk li qed jikkampanjaw favur il-mina, immexxija kif inhuma mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija, iddeċidew li l-unika soluzzjoni biex tkun indirizzata in-nuqqas ta’ mobilità sostenibbli bejn Malta u Għawdex hi mina. Din hi fil-fatt l-agħar soluzzjoni għax tagħmel ħsara kbira u irriversibbli lill-Għawdex.

Il-problema f’dan kollu huma l-karozzi: jekk jirnexxielna inneħħuhom mill-konsiderazzjoni tagħna, naslu. Dan hu fil-fatt l-ikbar ostaklu biex naslu għal soluzzjoni sostenibbli għall-problemi ta’ mobilità li qed niffaċċjaw: mhux biss dawk ta’ Għawdex imma f’kull rokna tal-gżejjer Maltin.

Jiena emfasizzajt repetutament li is-soluzzjoni għall-probemi tagħna ta’mobilità qegħdin filli nirrispettaw u nimxu mal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport 2025 li kien approvat għal Malta fl-2016. Is-silta segwenti li ħadt minn dan il-pjan tispjega b’mod ċar dak kollu li hemm ħażin fl-ippjanar tat-trasport f’Malta:

“Improve integrated and long-term strategic planning and design: This objective has been defined since historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (paġna 88 tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport 2025)

Ħallejtha appost fl-oriġinal għax naħseb li tinftiehem mingħajr ħtieġa ta’ traduzzjoni. Fi ftit kliem din is-silta tgħidilna li ma nistgħux nibqgħu nippjanaw mil-lum għal għada. Hemm ħtieġa li nħarsu fit-tul. In-nuqqas li nagħmlu dan fisser li bqajna ma indirizzajniex id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi. Għax is-soċjeta Maltija tibża’ mill-bidla: tippretendi li kulħadd jibdel id-drawwiet tiegħu biex hu (jew hi) jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozz!

Malta u Għawdex għandhom problema tat-transport komuni. Problema deskritta minn kelma waħda: karozza. Is-soluzzjoni għal din il-problema tirrikjedi alternattivi għall-karozza: il-mina mhiex waħda minn dawn is-soluzzjonijiet. Fil-mument li nkunu lesti li naqtgħu d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozza il-problema tissolva b’faċilità.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Jannar 2019

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Malta & Gozo share a transport problem

The Malta-Gozo tunnel debate is now in full swing.

Going through the arguments of those expressing themselves in favour of the proposed tunnel between Malta and Gozo, one specific reason sticks out: the need to reduce travelling time.

May I point out that this problem – the need to reduce travelling time – is not peculiar to Gozitan commuters: it applies all over the Maltese Islands. Yet no one is proposing the drilling of a tunnel below Marsamxett Bay to reduce travelling time between Valletta and Sliema. Nor is a tunnel between Valletta/Floriana and Bormla on the books, even though this would reduce the travelling time between Valletta/Floriana and the Cottonera area.

The solution adopted to reduce travelling time across Marsamxett Bay and the Grand Harbour has been to tap sea transport and not the drilling of tunnels below the seabed! The end result is a faster access between Valletta and Sliema on the one hand and between Valletta and Cottonera on the other hand: and a number of cars off our roads, every day.

Facilitating the mobility between Malta and Gozo can easily be carried out by means of a fast ferry service between Gozo, Sliema and Valletta. It would be a ferry facilitating the movement of people and, as a result it will be addressing the real issue: the mobility of individuals.

Unfortunately, the Gozo tunnel lobby, led by the Gozo Business Chamber, has decided that the only solution to the lack of sustainable mobility between Gozo and Malta is a tunnel. It is, in fact, the worst possible solution because, in the process, it will ruin Gozo in an irreversible manner.

The real issue to be addressed is to remove cars from the equation. This is, in fact, the real obstacle to achieving a sustainable solution to our mobility issues, not just in respect of Gozo but also with reference to Malta.

I have emphasised time and again that adherence to the National Transport Master Plan 2025 approved for Malta in 2015 is the solution to most of our sustainable mobility issues. This extract from the Master Plan clearly explains all that is wrong with transport planning in Malta:

“Improve integrated and long-term strategic planning and design: This objective has been defined since historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (page 88 of National Transport Master Plan 2025)

Malta and Gozo share the same transport problem. The problem is a three-letter word: car. The solution to our mobility problem requires alternatives to the use of the private car and the tunnel is not one of them. If we are ready to dump our dependency on cars, the rest is not difficult to achieve.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 January 2019

In-nifs li nieħdu

Meta, riċentment, kienu intervistati mill-medja lokali Uffiċjali tal-Awtoritá tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA), ikkonfermaw dak li ilna nafu għal żmien konsiderevoli: it-tniġġiż tal-arja f’Malta hu prinċipalament ikkawżat mill-mezzi tat-trasport. Triq Sant’Anna fil-Furjana hi l-iktar triq bl-arja mniġġsa f’Malta filwaqt li mhux ‘il-bogħod li l-kwalitá tal-arja tal-Imsida teċċedi dak permissibli mir-regolamenti tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar il-kwalitá tal-arja.

Hu ovvju li l-ħtija ewlenija għal dan hi ġejja min-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna. Gvern wara l-ieħor dejjem qagħda lura milli jindirizza l-problema bis-serjetá. Dejjem iduru mal-lewża: jindirizzaw il-konsegwenzi mingħajr il-kuraġġ li jiffukaw fuq il-kawża.
Is-soluzzjoni qegħda billi jonqos in-numru tal-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna kif ukoll li simultanjament titjieb il-kwalitá tal-karozzi li jibqgħu.

Waqt il-kampanja elettorali tal-2017 f’Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet li fi żmien 20 sena l-karozzi kollha fit-toroq tagħna jkunu jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Din il-proposta tfisser li fuq perjodu ta’ mhux iktar minn għoxrin sena ma jkollniex iktar karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-disil fit-toroq tagħna. B’hekk, bla dubju, it-tniġġiż tal-arja, jonqos drastikament.

Din il-proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika kienet għoġbot lil Joseph Muscat li f’ Settembru 2017, f’waħda mill-prietki tiegħu ta’ nhar ta’ Ħadd kien tkellem favur tagħha. Imma ma smajna xejn iktar dwarha minn dakinnhar!

Billi l-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi tagħna fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom idumu inqas minn ħmistax-il minuta hu ħafna possibli li n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna jonqos. Dan faċilment jinftiehem għax għal dawn id-distanzi qosra hawn diversi mezzi alternattivi li jassiguraw mobilitá effiċjenti.

Jonqos biss ħaġa waħda: ma hawnx rieda politika biex jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa.

Il-Furjana, minn barra li għandha t-triq bl-iktar arja mniġġsa f’Malta trid tiffaċċja ukoll l-emissjonijiet tal-vapuri tal-passiġġieri (cruise liners), li, skond id-direzzjoni tar-riħ, iktar iva milli le, jonfħu d-dħaħen tagħhom direttament għal ġoż-żona residenzjali tal-Furjana. Din hi problema li f’miżura inqas hi ffaċċjata ukoll minn Birżebbuġa bħala riżultat tal-moviment tal-vapuri fil-Port Ħieles.

Il-vapuri suppost li jaqilbu l-magni tagħhom fuq żjut u fjuwil li jniġġes inqas hekk kif jidħlu fil-port. Din hi materja li hi regolata minn diversi direttivi tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Id-diffikultá, bħal dejjem, hi, li l-infurzar tal-liġijiet ftit li xejn ikun osservat.

Teoretikament teżisti soluzzjoni oħra biex ikun ikkontrollat u jonqos sostanzjalment it-tniġġiż mill-vapuri ġaladarba dawn jkunu siguri fil-port. Jista’ jkun possibli li jagħmlu użu minn sors elettriku li joriġina mill-art flok mill-ġeneraturi tal-elettriku fuq il-vapuri.

Lokalment diġa tħejjew żewġ studji preliminari dwar dan: wieħed jiffoka fuq il-Port il-Kbir u l-ieħor fuq it-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles f’Birżebbuġa. Dawn l-istudji saru kif ġie inkoraġġit li jsir mir-rakkomandazzjoni tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea dwar il-promozzjoni tal-użu ta’ elettriku mill-art mill-vapuri fil-portijiet tal-Unjoni Ewropea.

Rakkomandazzjoni li saret fl-2006.

Dawn l-istudji jaslu għal konklużjonijiet simili fis-sens li ma jistax iseħħ progress bħala riżultat ta’ azzjoni unilaterali f’portijiet individwali. L-azzjoni u d-deċiżjonijiet jeħtieġ li jittieħdu fuq livell tal-industrija tal-vapuri u trid tkun misjuqa internazzjonalment jew mill-Unjoni Ewropea.

Huwa magħruf li huma biss il-vapuri li jbaħħru lejn l-istat Amerikan ta’ Kalifornja li għandhom il-kapaċita teknika li jutilizzaw l-elettriku ġġenerat fuq l-art. Dan minħabba li l-Kalifornja għandha liġijiet li tobbliga li dan isir.

Ir-rakkomandazzjoni tal-2006 tal-Unjoni Ewropea ħejjiet it-triq biex saru numru ta’ studji dwar diversi portijiet tal-Unjoni dwar kemm jagħmel sens ekonomiku li fejn hemm portijiet viċin ħafna ta’ żoni residenzjali jitfu l-magni tagħhom u jagħmlu użu tal-elettriku mill-art. Nistgħu biss nittamaw li dawn l-istudji jittieħdu in konsiderazzjoni meta titfassal t-triq il-quddiem.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Lulju 2018

The air we breathe

Officers of the Environment and Resources Authority, interviewed by the local media, emphasised what we have known for ages: the main contributor to air pollution in Malta is transport. St Anne Street in Floriana is the most polluted street in Malta, while Msida will soon exceed the maximum permissible limits of EU regulations on air quality.

It is pretty obvious that the main culprit is the number of cars on our roads. Successive governments, however, have been reluctant to bell the cat. Instead they go around in circles, tackling the effects and continuously avoiding the causes.

The solution lies in reducing the number of cars on our roads and simultaneously improving the quality of the remaining numbers.

During the 2017 Electoral Campaign in Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party proposed the electrification of cars on Maltese roads within a maximum of 20 years. This proposal means that all petrol and diesel run cars would be taken off our roads within a maximum of 20 years. Inevitably, air pollution would decrease drastically.

Alternattiva Demokratika’s proposal was subsequently taken up by Joseph Muscat in September 2017 in one of his Sunday sermons. However, we have not heard anything more on the matter since.

Reducing the number of cars on our roads is achievable due to the fact that most of the trips made by cars are of less than 15 minutes duration. This is understandable, as most of the distances we travel are short.

Only one thing is missing: the political will to act.

Floriana, in addition to having the most polluted street on the island, must also cope with emissions from cruise liners, which, depending on the direction of the prevailing wind, more often than not blow their fumes directly across the Floriana residential area. To a lesser extent, this is an experience also shared by Birżebbuġa as a result of the ship movements at the Malta Freeport Terminal.

Ships should switch over to less polluting fuels when in port, a matter which is regulated by a number of European Union Directives. The difficulty with this is that enforcement is practically non-existent.

Theoretically, there is also another solution to control and substantially reduce pollution from ships, once these are berthed. It would be possible to switch over the electricity supply required by a ship from one dependent on the ship generators to a source of electrical power which is land-based. Two preliminary studies have been carried out locally, one focused on the Grand Harbour and the other focused on the Freeport Terminal at Birżebbuġa. These studies were carried out in terms of the EU Commission Recommendation on the promotion of shore-side electricity for use by ships at berth in Community ports, a recommendation that was adopted in 2006.

The above-mentioned studies have reached similar conclusions in that it is considered that progress cannot be achieved by unilateral action at individual ports. Action must be industry-wide and must be driven internationally or by the EU.

It is known that only sea vessels which call at ports in the American state of California are equipped to take onshore power supply, because California has legislated on the matter.

The EU recommendation of 2006 has paved the way for a number of studies across the EU on the economic feasibility of onshore power supply to ships berthed close to residential areas. We can only hope that these studies are taken into consideration when plotting the way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 22 July 2018

Local plans, and not regional

grand-harbouraerial

MEPA has embarked on a process which will lead to a revision of the seven existing  Local Plans. Five were approved in 2006. Two of them were approved earlier: the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (1995) and the Grand Harbour Local Plan (2002).

With the exception of the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (which regulates  Birżebbuġa, Marsaxlokk and their surrounding areas) all the Local Plans cover extensive areas. The Structure Plan, approved in 1990 and currently subject to revision, had identified the need for 24 Local Plans addressing urban areas, as well as other unspecified plans for Rural Conservation Areas. Initially when MEPA approved the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan it started along this path but then it opted for plans which are more regional than local in nature.

Local Plans are necessary in order that planning policy is appropriately applied at a local level where one can focus on practical considerations. Though there may be overlaps between Local Plans covering similar areas there will also be variations resulting from the specific nature of the different localities. There will be inevitable similarities between, for example, a Local Plan addressing Valletta and Floriana on one hand and another one addressing the Three Cities due to the fact that both contain vast stretches of fortifications.  However the planning issues arising may also lead to different considerations both in respect of what is to be prohibited as well as in what ought to be encouraged.

Local Plans are not neutral policy instruments. Departing from the common need to ensure a continuous maintenance programme for the fortifications (which programme is currently in hand)  Local Plans may explore different potential uses to which the fortifications in two completely different areas may be put. This would be dependent on the infrastructural services in the area  and on the impacts generated by the potential use  on the surrounding amenities and localities. It would be much easier to ensure that this is done through two separate local plans, one specifically addressing Valletta and Floriana and the other addressing just the Three Cities.

It is not just an issue of fortifications. The large number of vacant properties, currently totalling  over 72,000 cannot be addressed adequately at a regional level. Different policies and different targets have to be identified at a local level as both the causes as well as the extent of the problem vary from one locality to another.

Boundaries of a number of Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs) were substantially revised in 2006 on the understanding that it is better to limit the extent of a UCA to that which is necessary and essential. Consequently it should stand to reason that a smaller UCA is much better to regulate and monitor.

A number of vacant properties lie within UCAs as it costs much more to bring such properties to an adequate state compatible to modern standards of living. This is an area which has already been explored in the last years with various fiscal incentives being offered to encourage rehabilitaton and the reuse of such properties. Much more needs to be done. The revision of the Local Plans is another opportunity to re-examine the way forward in tackling the ever increasing number of vacant properties. The proposed policies must however be focused and local in nature as otherwise they will fail to have any impact at all.

As emphasised by eNGOs  the Local Plans should also be an opportunity to consider the integration of environmental policy and its applicability at a local level. Whilst all environmental policy is of relevance to our localities two particular areas easily spring to mind: air quality and noise pollution.

Both air quality and noise control standards can be undoubtedly upgraded if action is taken at a local level. Traffic generated is a major contributor to both. Heavy traffic through residential areas has to be reduced. If the Local Plans address this issue they will be simultaneously contributing to a better air quality and less acoustic pollution in urban areas.

From declarations made in the past weeks it is obvious that one of the controversial issues to be tackled, (most probably in a plan addressing rural areas) would be agro-tourism.  This is a very sensitive matter . If the point of departure is to seek to establish new development zones on the pretext of tourism than such proposals would be unacceptable. If on the other hand such a Rural Plan addresses the use of existing  agricultural holdings aiming to maximise the use of their existing footprint, provide a different touristic experience as well as  provide alternative or additional employment opportunities to our agricultural communities then there is room for considerable discussion.

The Local Plans to be produced will have an impact on our quality of life for the next ten years. It is hence imperative to not only ensure a high level of participation in the consultation process but that the resulting proposals are given due consideration.

This article was published in The Times of Malta, Saturday August 10, 2013

Labour : A case of sour grapes

Floriana has re-elected Nigel Holland as Mayor.

His election has been criticised by the Labour Party as it is the result of a deal between Mr Holland, the last of the independent councillors, and the two PN councillors elected on the Floriana Local Council.

The Labour Party obtained a relative majority of votes in the March 2012 Local Council elections. In fact, they polled 49.51% of the votes cast. A large amount, but still not an absolute majority. In fact, it elected two out of five councillors.

It was clear to all from day one that taking leadership at the Floriana Local Council was dependent on arriving at an agreement between the five elected local councillors. I fully understand that arriving at an agreement with Mr Holland was tough as his demands as an eventual “junior partner”  included taking the leadership himself. It was too high a price for Labour, which clearly they were not willing to concede. It was their basic political position. It is clear that at a point in time, even the PN councillors were thinking of an alternative solution.

In fact, it is known that at one point, the PN councillors considered forming a “grand coalition” with Labour with the consequential sharing of the spoils. The PN proposal clearly aimed to squeeze Mr Holland out of local politics, in the long term. But fortunately for Mr Holland, Labour only thinks in the short term.

So back to square one.

At the end of the day it all boiled down to one simple fact: PN was willing to pay the high price demanded by Mr Holland: the mayorship. Labour was not. Hence, the agreement was concluded between PN and Mr Holland.

There is nothing undemocratic in such an agreement: the parties leading the Floriana Council have a clear mandate supported by  50.49% of the Floriana voters .

This is the stuff of which coalitions are made. If it is possible to agree, you form part of it. If not, you just watch helplessly as others do it.

I sincerely hope that the Labour Party has learnt something in the process. Is this a case of sour grapes or a missed opportunity?

originally published at di-ve.com, August 10, 2012