Wara t-tejatrin ta’ Singapore …………….. lil hinn mill-partiġjaniżmu politiku

Delimara floating gas stirage terminal

 

Qed joqrob il-jum li fih it-tanker għall-ħażna tal-gass tal-power station jidħol u jitqiegħed fil-Port ta’ Marsaxlokk. Qed jgħidulna li dan ser ikun temporanju, jiġifieri għal ftit taż-żmien, sakemm jitlestew l-istudji dwar il-pipline tal-gass bejn Sqallija u Malta. Ovvjament trid iżżid ukoll iż-żmien biex il-pipeline jitqieghed f’qiegħ il-baħar inkluż ukoll il-perjodu tal-finanzjament, tendering u commissioning. Mhux xahar u tnejn.

Kemm ser ikun twil dan il-perjodu temporanju? Jiddependi mix-xogħol li sar diġà. Peró ma neħodiex bi kbira jekk dan iż-żmien ikun bejn 5 u 8 snin.

Sadanittant hemm il-ħtieġa li jkun ikkunsidrat il-permess operattiv tal-power station taħdem bil-gass f’Delimara. Dan il-permess ikun irid jissodisfa tlett tipi ta’ direttivi/regolamenti. Dawk dwar l-impjanti industrijali, dawk dwar l-impatti ambjentali (IPPC – Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control) u dawk dwar il-ħarsien minn inċidenti industrijali u l-impatti kemm ambjentali kif ukoll dawk ta’ protezzjoni ċivili (Direttivi ta’ Seveso).

Dan kollu jkun ikkunsidrat mill-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u Riżorsi flimkien ma’ awtoritajiet oħra, prinċipalment id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili u l-Awtorità għall-Ħarsien tas-Saħħa fuq il-Post tax-Xogħol. Imma ser ikun hemm ukoll bla dubju ħtieġa  ta’ eżami sewwa ta’ issues ta’ navigazzjoni minn Trasport Malta minħabba kemm it-tanker stazzjonarju (marbut mal-moll) fil-bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk kif ukoll minħabba li madwar 8 darbiet fis-sena ser jidħlu tankers bil-ħtiġijiet tal-gass skond kemm tkun qed tikkonsma gass il-Power Station ta’ Delimara.

Dawn huma kollha affarijiet li ġew diskussi f’ċerta dettall madwar sentejn ilu meta kien qed ikun diskuss il-permess ta’ żvilupp quddiem il-MEPA. Dakinnhar kien intqal li dawn kollha kienu affarijiet li riedu jkunu deċiżi iktar tard. Preċiżament issa hu dak il-mument, matul dawn il-ġimgħat u xhur li ġejjin.

Ser naraw matul il-ġimgħat li ġejjin dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ sigurtà huwa u jkun trasferit il-gass mit-tankers ġejjin u sejrin għal ġot-tanker stazzjonarju. Jekk hux veru li għal ċertu ħin il-port ikun jeħtieġlu illi jkun magħluq u kif dan (jekk minnu) ser jeffettwa l-operat tal Freeport u tas-sajjieda.

Irridu naraw kemm il-miżuri ta’ sigurtà fl-operazzjoni tal-power station huma f’posthom u xi drills ser ikunu meħtieġa (inkluż il-frekwenza tagħhom) biex ikun assigurat illi l-popolazzjoni residenzjali fil-viċinanzi tkun imħejjija għal kull eventwalità, anke jekk remota.

Wara l-inċidenti ta’ tmiem il-ġimgħa fil-ħruq tan-nar tal-festa ta’ Marsaxlokk bla dubju jridu jittieħdu prewkazzjonijiet ħafna iktar biex ikun assigurat li dawn it-tip ta’ inċidenti, jekk iseħħu, jinżammu l-bogħod kemm jista’ jkun mill-power station ta’ Delimara u l-ħażna tal-gass.

Dan kollu dwaru hemm l-obbligu li jkun hemm konsultazzjoni pubblika mar-residenti effettwati, dawk ta’ Marsaxlokk prinċipalment, imma probabbilment ukoll dawk ta’ Birżebbuġa.

L-operazzjoni tal-power station bil-gass bla dubju ser tnaqqas it-tniġġż tal-arja u b’mod ġenerali ittejjeb l-impatti ambjentali. Il-kostruzzjoni tal-pipe tal-gass eventwalment tnaqqas u tbiegħed il-perikli. Imma sa ma jasal dak il-jum, il-possibiltà tal-perikli, anke jekk remoti xorta qegħda wara l-bieb tagħna.

Lil hinn mill-partiġġjaniżmu politiku għandna l-obbligu li nassiguraw li l-affarijiet isiru sewwa. Biex dan isir għandna l-obbligu li neżaminaw kull pass li jsir. Għax b’hekk biss kulħadd joqgħod attent li jagħmel xogħolu sewwa.

ippubblikat fuq iNews : it-Tlieta 2 t’Awwissu 2016

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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-Freeport : il-ħmar iwaħħal f’denbu!

MEPA Board April 2013

Matul dawn il-ġranet kienu ppubblikati diversi artikli b’kummenti dwar id-deċiżjoni li ħa l-Gvern u kkomunikata mill-Prim Ministru li mhux għaqli li l-Port Ħieles jitħalla jikber fid-direzzjoni ta’ Birżebbuġa minħabba l-impatti fuq ir-residenti.

Id-deċiżjoni hi waħda tajba imma ………………. tfisser li l-awtoritajiet li wassluna sa dan il-punt m’għamlux xogħolhom sewwa. B’mod partikolari l-MEPA li repetutament ħadet deċiżjonijiet mingħajr ma qieset sewwa l-impatti fuq in-nies, residenti f’Birżebbuġa.

Sentejn ilu, f’April 2014, il-MEPA kienet anke ddeċidiet li tagħti permess biex isiru xogħolijiet ta’ tiswija żgħira ta’ vapuri u oilrigs fil-Port Ħieles. Deċiżjoni li kienet wasslet għal dikjarazzjoni pubblika kuntrarja minn Joseph Muscat.

Quddiem dan kollu hemm mistoqsija waħda: kemm ser idumu jinħatru dawn it-tip ta’ nies fit-tmexxija tal-awtoritajiet jekk m’humiex kapaċi jmexxu? Għax dawk magħżul sal-lum ftit li xejn għandhom sensittività dwar kif dak li huma ser jiddeċiedu dwaru jeffettwa lir-residenti.

Dawn min jagħżilhom? Mhux kollha bil-barka tal-Prim Ministru jintagħżlu? Hemm xi cans li jintagħżlu persuni aħjar? Forsi ma nibqgħux bil-ħmar iwaħħal f’denbu!

 

Il-Freeport : tagħlima kbira

BBugia. two Mayors

Jekk Simon Busuttil  inħasad, jiena xejn ma kont sorpriż bid-dikjarazzjoni tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat li huwa ma jaqbilx li l-Port Ħieles jibqa’ jespandi fid-direzzjoni ta’ Birżebbuġa. Dan għaliex osservajt id-deċiżjoni tinbena biċċa biċċa. Kultant b’sogru kbir għal dawk involuti.

Forsi l-iktar mument kritiku kien meta l-Bord tal-MEPA kien iddiskuta emenda għall-permess ambjentali tal-Port Ħieles u dan il-Bord kien ivvota fil-maġġoranza kbir tiegħu favur din l-emenda. Ħlief tlieta: iż-żewġ membri Parlamentari (Joe Sammut u Ryan Callus) u r-rappreżentant tal-NGOs ambjentali Alex Vella tar-Ramblers Association.

L-emenda kienet biex ikun permess fil-Port Ħieles xogħol żgħir ta’ tiswija ta’ vapuri u oilrigs! Il-Kunsill ta’ Birżebbuġa dakinnhar kien għamel lobbying qawwi kontra l-emenda, imma din xorta kienet approvata mill-Bord tal-MEPA.

Imma wara l-laqgħa tal-Bord tal-MEPA qamu l-irwiefen kollha. Ir-residenti semmgħu leħinhom b’mod mill-iktar ċar u irnexxielhom joħolqu diskussjoni mqanqla anke fil-Partit Laburista tant li wasslu lil Joseph Muscat biex b’mod ċar jgħid fil-pubbliku illi hu ma kienx jaqbel mad-deċiżjoni li kien ħa l-Bord tal-MEPA. Kien iddikjara publikament li kien jaqbel mal-vot kontra (fil-Bord tal-MEPA) tal-Membru Parlamentari Laburista Joe Sammut, inċidentalment li jirrappreżenta lid-Distrett li minnu jifforma parti Birżebbuġa fil-Parlament. Eventwalment minħabba r-reażżjoni pubblika l-Port Ħieles ma baqax jinsisti għall-permess li kien kiseb għal xogħol ta’ tiswijiet minuri fuq vapuri u oilrigs.

Wara dan l-inċident jidher li kompla id-dibattitu fil-Partit Laburista li wassal għad-deċiżjoni li n-nies f’Birżebbuġa jixirqilhom li jkunu mħarsa mill-impatti tal-Port Ħieles ħafna iktar milli kienu sal-lum.

Jiena naħseb li dan huwa punt importanti ħafna u l-mertu għalih huwa prinċipalment tal-Kunsilliera Laburisti fil-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa: fuq quddiem nett is-Sindku tal-lum, Kevin Barun, imma ukoll Joseph Farrugia ir-Ricky li bħala l-ewwel Sindku ta’ Birżebbuġa ħejja t-triq illi wasslet għal din id-deċiżjoni.

Imma issa huwa importanti li din ma tkunx biss rebħa ta’ Birżebbuġa. L-effetti tagħha jeħtieg li jinfirxu billi minnha l-Partit Laburista jieħu tagħlima kbira: il-konsiderazzjoni tal-impatti fuq in-nies ta’ kull proġett ta’ żvilupp (hi x’inhi n-natura tiegħu) hija fundamentali daqs, jekk mhux iktar, mill-konsiderazzjonijiet ekonomiċi.

Ikun tajjeb li naraw jekk u kif din it-tagħlima ser tkun applikata tul ix-xhur li ġejjin. Taqbida bejn is-saħħa tan-nies u s-saħħa tal-flus.

ippubblikat ukoll fuq iNews : l-Erbgħa 27 ta’ Lulju 2016

L-istorbju madwarna

noise_pollution

Nhar il-Ġimgħa li għaddiet, kmieni fil-għodu, bosta residenti ta’ Marsaxlokk u Birżebbuġa qamu maħsudin bi ħsejjes li bdew jinstemgħu għall-ħabta tas-sitta ta’ fil-għodu, liema ħsejjes baqgħu għaddejjin għal ftit minuti. S’issa, wara li għaddew iktar minn tlett ijiem għad mhux magħruf x’kien il-kawża ta’ dawn il-ħsejjes ħlief li dawn oriġinaw mill-inħawi tal-power station ta’ Delimara.

Għar-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa din mhiex xi esperjenza ġdida għax f’Birżebbuġa  ilhom is-snin jisimgħu l-ħsejjes matul il-lejl: ħsejjes ġejjin mid-direzzjoni tal-Port Ħieles. Ħsejjes ikkawżati minn containers li jaħbtu jew jistabtu huma u jkunu qed jiġu mċaqalqa minn post għall-ieħor, inkella ħsejjes ikkawżati mill-generators tal-vapuri mal-mollijiet tal-Port Ħieles.

Ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa, kif ukoll dawk ta’ diversi lokalitajiet fil-madwar, kemm matul il-lejl kif ukoll matul il-jum iridu jissaportu ukoll il-ħsejjes tal-ajruplani nieżla għall-mitjar Internazzjonali ta’ Malta fil-Gudja. Dawn l-ajruplani ħafna drabi jkunu l-iktar qrib il-bini meta jkunu għaddejjin minn fuq iż-żona residenzjali  tal-Papa f’Birżebbuġa.

Ir-residenti tal-Isla (u dawk ta’ Bormla) ilhom jilmentaw ukoll mill-ħsejjes matul il-lejl ġejjin mit-Tarżna ta’ Palumbo. Ħsejjes ġejjin mill-grit blasting li jkun għaddej matul il-lejl fit-tarżna, inkella minn xogħol ta’ tiswija ta’ vapuri jew ta’ oil rigs. Ħsejjes li ma jħalluhomx jorqdu.

Pajjiżna hu żgħir fid-daqs. L-ispazju li naħdmu fih hu ristrett u allura kull ħidma li issir fih bil-fors li jkollha impatt fuq l-inħawi tal-madwar li huma viċin wisq ta’ xulxin.

Uħud qed jargumentaw li dawn l-ilmenti kollha kontra l-ħsejjes huma ta’ theddida għall-għixien tal-familji li jiddependu għall-ħobża ta’ kuljum tagħhom mit-Tarżna ta’ PaIumbo, inkella mill-Port Ħieles jew mill-mitjar Internazzjonali tal-Gudja.

Għall-bosta snin l-awtoritajiet tal-pajjiż (kif ukoll il-management ta’ dawn l-azjendi) ġew jaqgħu u jqumu mill-fatt li l-gwadann ekonomiku ta’ dawn l-azjendi qed isir għad-detriment tar-residenti madwarhom, li lejl u nhar iridu jissaportu impatti kbar fuq ħajjithom. Impatti li qed iħallu effett fuq saħħithom u l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom u tal-familji tagħhom.

Il-mistoqsija li teħtieġ tweġiba hi : kemm jagħmel sens li din il-ħidma issir daqshekk viċin ta’ żoni residenzjali? It-tweġiba, ħafna drabi tkun li din l-attività ekonomika ilha għaddejja s-snin u li m’hemm imkien iktar fejn issir. Allura, qiesu jridu jgħidu li m’hemm xejn x’tagħmel. Jgħidulna li Malta ajruport wieħed għandna u li l-faċilitajiet għat-tarznari jew għall-Port Ħieles ma hemm imkien iktar fejn isiru jekk mhux fejn ġja qegħdin. Sfortunatament dan hu kollu minnu bħalma hu minnu ukoll li dawn il-faċilitajiet ġew żviluppati meta ħadd ma kien jagħti kaz tal-impatti fuq ir-residenti.

Imma allura, nistaqsi, jekk ta’ qabilna ma kienux jagħtu kaz għandna nibqgħu aħna ukoll ma nagħtux kaz? Jekk il-Gvernijiet u l-awtoritajiet tal-bieraħ għalqu għajnejhom u widnejhom, dawn għandhom jibqgħu b’għajnejhom u widejhom magħluqa illum ukoll? L-ewwel pass jista’ jkun li dawn l-azjendi, matul il-lejl, iwaqqfu l-ħidma tagħhom li tikkawża l-istorbju.

Il-Gvern mhux ser jiċċaqalaq jekk in-nies tibqa’ lesta li tissaporti. Jekk in-nies ma titkellimx iktar l-ebda Gvern jew awtorità m’hi ser tiċċaqlaq.

Jiddependi minnek ukoll li qed tisma’ jew taqra dawn il-kelmtejn jekk jittieħdux passi. Mela jekk xbajt tissaporti qum minn hemm u tkellem. Jekk ma tagħmilx hekk, ikun inutli toqgħod tgorr, għax ser jibqgħu jgħadduk biż-żmien.

F’Birżebbuġa, issa l-pass li jmiss.

Noise Report 2015.draft

 

Nigel Mifsud, il-bieraħ, fuq TVM, spjega f’rapport konċiż u informattiv, kif issa, hemm il-provi li l-kontributur ewlieni għat-tniġġiż mill-ħsejjes f’Birżebbuġa hu l-Port Ħieles.

Biex inkun preċiż ir-rapport dwar l-impatti tal-ħsejjes mill-Port Ħieles fuq Birżebbuġa għadu mhux lest għal kollox. L-istudju lest u l-ewwel abbozz tar-rapport ġie diskuss. Jonqos issa li jsiru l-aħħar irtokki biex ikun konkluż ir-rapport finali.

Li sar l-istudju huwa importanti ħafna. Għax issa hemm il-provi li dak li ilhom jgħidu r-residenti hu minnu. Huwa ukoll ikkwantifikat.

Imma tajjeb li nifhmu li biex l-istudju sar kien hemm ħtieġa ta’ ħafna ħidma. Minnu innifsu kien ukoll proċess edukattiv li fih imxew flimkien il-MEPA, l-Port Ħieles u l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa.

Kienet triq twila, għax għal bidu mhux kulħadd kien konvint li dik kienet it-triq. Anke matul it-triq kien hemm min ġieli qata’ qalbu. Imma fl-aħħar wasalna. U biex wasalna għandhom mertu diversi persuni.

Dan hu awgurju tajjeb fi tmiem din is-sena. Li bil-paċenzja hu possibli li tasal.

Issa irridu bl-istess ħeġġa nagħmlu l-passi li jmiss: li jittieħdu l-miżuri neċessarji biex il-ħoss jonqos.

Għax, kif dejjem ngħid: hu tajjeb li l-Port Ħieles jagħti kontribut għall-ekonomija tal-pajjiz. Dan il-kontribut, iżda, m’għandux inaqqas il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa.

Hi rebħa kbira, mhux biss għal Birżebbuġa, li wasalna sa hawn. Inħarsu l-quddiem b’kuraġġ. I

ppubblikat ukoll fuq iNews : l-Erbgħa 30 ta’ Diċembru 2015

 

Land use planning : beyond rhetoric

Freeport 2015

 

There is a common thread running through a number of local land-use planning controversies: they are tending to either ignore or give secondary importance to environmental, social and/or cultural issues, focusing instead on economic considerations.

On this page I have discussed the impact of the Freeport Terminal on  Birżebbuġa a number of times. The basic problem with the Freeport is that its impact on the Birżebbuġa community were ignored for a very long time. In fact, an attempt to include a Social Impact Assessment as an integral part of the EIA which was carried out some years ago was given the cold shoulder by MEPA. The end result was that the decision-taking process was not adequately informed of the impact of the terminal extension, both those already apparent and those which were yet to come. In particular, no assessment was made of the disintegration of the sports infrastructure in the area that has  slowly been eaten up – primarily by the Freeport.

Most of this could have been avoided through an active engagement with the local community over the years at the various stages of the project’s planning and implementation. This is why plans for the Freeport’s expansion, as indicated by the Freeport Corporation’s CEO  earlier this week in an interview with The Business Observer, should be explained  immediately. Even at this early stage it must be ascertained that the situation for  Birżebbuġa residents will not deteriorate any further.

No one in his right mind would deny that, over the years, the Freeport has made a significant contribution to Malta’s economic growth. Few, however, realise that the price paid for this economic success has been the erosion of the quality of life of the Birżebbuġa community. This is certainly unacceptable but it will only get worse, once the gas storage tanker for the Delimara Power Station is parked within Marsaxlokk Bay in the coming months, very close to the Freeport terminal.

The same story is repeating itself in other areas. Consider, for example, the 38-floor tower proposed at Townsquare and the 40-floor tower proposed for the Fort Cambridge project, both on the Tignè Peninsula in Sliema. The Townsquare assessment process is reaching its conclusion, whilst the one in respect of Fort Cambridge is still in its initial stages. Yet both are linked to the same fundamental flaw: the lack of consideration of the cumulative impact of the development of the Tignè Peninsula – which includes the MIDI development as well as the individual small scale projects in the area.

The adoption of plans and policies which have made it possible for the authorities to consider the development of the Tignè Peninsula were not subject to a Strategic Impact Assessment and, as a result, the cumulative impact of implementing these plans and policies were not identified and assessed. The end result is that the proposed towers are justifiably considered as another disruptive and unwelcome intrusion by the Tignè and Qui-Si-Sana communities.

The developers and their advisors focus exclusively on the impacts which are generated by their proposals, with the authorities generally avoiding the consideration of the big picture at the earliest possible stage.

Preliminary indications from the proposed Gozo Tunnel and the Sadeen “educational” setup at Marsaskala/Cottonera are already pointing in the same direction. In both cases, the alternatives that were generally brushed aside are the very options that need to be examined in detail in order to ensure that the challenges that will be faced in 2016 and beyond have not been prejudiced by myopic considerations in 2015.

Planning failures have serious consequences on those of our local communities that have to bear the brunt of the decisions taken for a long period of time. These can be avoided if the authorities refocus their efforts and realise that the economy is a tool which has to be a servant, and certainly not a master.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 20 December 2015

Symbolic gestures do not compensate for planning failures

MFT.4 new cranes

Last Thursday, the MEPA Board finally decided to approve the Freeport Terminal’s application to install four cranes with 140-metre high jibs at the terminal. This decision was taken after the Board, in an anticipated about-turn, accepted a second declaration from Transport Malta as a recommendation for approval of the proposal.

In August, Transport Malta had pointed out that the installation of these new cranes was “not desirable” as, due to their height, they would “penetrate one of the established aeronautical protection surfaces by circa 18m”. However notwithstanding the conclusion that, for this reason, the Freeport’s proposal was not considered as undesirable, “given the importance of this facility to the economy”  Transport Malta gave its go-ahead to the Freeport’s proposal subject to a number of mitigation measures.

The Freeport facilities are too close to the residential area of Birżebbuġa and, over the years, MEPA has not given sufficient consideration to the impact that this facility has had – and is still having – on the quality of life of the residential community.

At no point during its consideration of the various planning applications submitted over the years has MEPA considered it necessary to consider the social impact of this economic activity. In fact, primarily as a result of the Freeport’s operations, most of the sport facilities in the area, introduced by the British services over the years, have disappeared. It is only recently that the extensive damage to the waterpolo pitch was made good,  through the reconstruction of a new waterpolo pitch. The activities of the Sailing Club, which  borders the terminal, have also been badly affected as a result of the increase in the number of ships making use of the terminal. The Birżebbuġa Sailing Club, ironically sponsored by the Freeport itself, is the only one of its kind in Malta’s political south.

Last Thursday, MEPA, despite opposition from the Freeport Terminal management, decided on compensating the Birżebbuġa community through the creation of an ad hoc fund to the amount of €955,000 to fund environmental improvement projects in the Birżebbuġa area. It is the second time in six years that MEPA has considered it necessary to take such a symbolic decision. The first time was in 2009, when a fund of €741,820 was created for the same purpose. That decision was, however, quashed by the Lawrence Gonzi-led Cabinet as a result of the planning appeal process, even though the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal  in an 11-page recommendation, explained why the original decision was to be confirmed.

The decision to create this latest ad hoc fund is symbolic in that it recognises the Freeport’s negative impact on the local community. It will not, however, have any substantial effect. It is just a symbolic recognition of the fact that the contribution of the Freeport Terminal to Malta’s economic growth is being achieved at the expense of the quality of life of Birżebbuġa residents.

It  is known that a number of residential properties in the area closest to the terminal have been vacant for a considerable time, as the noise generated through its operation is at times unbearable, irrespective of the time of day.

This is certainly a major failure of land-use planning in Malta, a failure that will be compounded in the coming months when other major planning decisions –  such as the gas storage facilities for the Delimara Power Station just across the bay from the Freeport Terminal – come into operation.

The transformation of Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port is now practically complete and, gradually, a substantial number of residents will be squeezed out.  It is the same process as that experienced by the Three Cities at Cottonera as a result of the activities of Malta Drydocks. The results can be seen by all.  Soon, the shedding of crocodile tears will commence and then the rehabilitation of Marsaxlokk Bay may possibly be planned.

originally published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 13 December 2015

Issa li l-MEPA stenbħet …………..

alarm clock 2

Id-deċiżjoni tal-Bord tal-MEPA nhar il-Ħamis li għadda hi deċiżjoni li għal darba tagħti każ tar-residenti.  Tajjeb li l-MEPA stenbħet, għax sal-lum konna drajna deċiżjonijiet li ftit li xejn jagħtu kaz tan-nies.

Hemm bżonn li jkun dejjem iktar ċar għal kulħadd li l-ħidma ekonomika trid tagħti każ in-nies, għax inkella iktar tagħmel ħsara milli ġid.

Tul is-snin, il-Port Ħieles tħalla jersaq dejjem iktar qrib ir-residenzi. L-impatt tal-istorbju tul 24 siegħa huwa esaġerat f’kull ħin, imma l-iktar matul is-siegħat tal-mistrieħ.

Għalhekk, meta nhar il-Ħamis il-MEPA ma ħallietx li jsir iktar tħammil mal-moll l-iktar viċin tar-residenzi (Terminal 1, West Quay) kienet qed jillimita l-attività ta’ vapuri ta’ daqs ikbar f’żona fejn joħolqu l-iktar impatt negattiv.

Jiena sodisfatt imma sorpriż b’din id-deċiżjoni, u nittama li jkun hemm iktar deċiżjonijiet bħal din. Għax issa li l-MEPA stenbħet ikun xieraq li ma terġax torqod.

Smelling the coffee

 

extract MT freeport crane clearancesmell the coffee

Last Thursday was one of those very rare occasions when the MEPA Board, considering two different development applications submitted by the Freeport Terminal operator, decided on the one which will be beneficial to Birżebbuġa residents.

I must confess that I was surprised at this, as I am accustomed to a MEPA which thinks and acts differently. I do not know whether Thursday’s sitting was a one-off or else whether it signals that the Authority has at last realised that the quality of life of our communities should be the real focus of its endeavours. Only time will tell.

The first application was to renew an approved permit in connection with  dredging work aimed at enabling larger ships to make use of the West Quay of Terminal 1. The second application proposed the installation of larger cranes with 140-metre jibs. The cranes currently in use have 110-metre jibs.

After repeated representations from the Birżebbuġa local council, as well as Birżebbuġa residents, MEPA-weeks before Thursday’s meeting- informed the Freeport Terminal Operator that siting these large cranes along the West Quay of Terminal 1 was unacceptable due to their impact on the quality of life of  residents, a number of whom live just across the road from the Freeport Terminal boundary wall.

The management of the Freeport Terminal complied with MEPA’s instructions to relocate the 140-metre jib cranes. This, however, begged the further question as to whether or not the pending dredging work was, in fact, now required.

The MEPA Board unanimously accepted the submission from the local council that, in view of the relocation of the cranes, there was no further need for the dredging permit and this was therefore not renewed.

Regarding the second application, seeking authorisation to replace a number of existing cranes with 110-metre jibs with more modern models having 140-jibs, the local council sought an explanation as to why a proposal for the siting of a power station close by – at il-Mara Bengħajsa (with an 80-metre high chimney) in the late 1980s was shot down by the Civil Aviation authorities, who are now accepting the installation of 140-metre high jibs.

During the discussion, it transpired that the clearance issued by Transport Malta was ambiguous. In fact, Transport Malta stated that the 140-metre jib cranes “will penetrate one of the established aeronautical protection surfaces by circa 18m and although this situation is not desirable, given the importance of this facility to the economy, on exceptional basis and without prejudice to any future request it is being considered acceptable subject to the following mitigations ………………”

You have read correctly. The 140-metre jib cranes are “not desirable” yet they are “being considered acceptable” by Transport Malta due to the importance of the Freeport to the economy.

The MEPA Chairman is insisting that Transport Malta owes us an explanation. He could have added that safety should not be compromised for any reason, including “economic importance”.

In a further twist in the whole saga, the Freeport Terminal management proceeded with the installation of the new cranes without waiting for a MEPA decision on the development permit requested.

Public opinion has been repeatedly critical of MEPA for its insensitivity to the impact of developments on residents in various localities. Economic operators were afforded  sufficient protection to be able to over-ride the growing environmental concerns of our communities.

The same MEPA Board which, last Thursday, unanimously decided to refuse the renewal of a development permit to carry out dredging work had, 18 months ago, voted by a large majority in favour of changes to the Freeport’s environmental permit such that it would have been permissible to carry out repairs to ships and oil rigs at the Kalafrana Terminal.  It was only at the insistence of the Birżebbuġa Local Council that the Freeport Terminal management opted not to use the permit issued.

The question to which I seek an answer to is whether Thursday’s events signify that MEPA has awoken up from its slumber and smelled the coffee  It would indeed be commendable if it is capable of standing up to corporate (and state) arrogance.

Ending MEPA’s Rip van Winkle phase would signify that, after all, the possibility to improve the quality of life in Malta through better environment protection does exist, after all. But time is running out.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 22 November 2015