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

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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

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

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

Gozo tunnel nightmares

Minister Ian Borg informed us, earlier this week, that he seeks to turn into reality a Gozitan “long-held dream” by starting the process for a Malta-Gozo tunnel below the seabed. After debating the matter for years, it is clear that rather more than dreams, Ian Borg should prepare himself for a nightmare.

Geological studies have now been carried out and the results therof are being treated as some state secret. Three years ago, geologist Peter Gatt had drawn attention to the fact that the Enemalta tunnel between the Marsa power station and Delimara had a cost overrun of 100 per cent as a result of rock collapse along several points of the tunnel. This had occurred due to inadequate geological information fed into the design process. If the same were to happen during the Malta-Gozo tunnel works, a series of disasters, including possibly loss of life, would be inevitable.

It is a known fact that the Gozo channel is full of geological faults. It is pertinent to note that two of the tunnel options put forward by Transport Malta advisors Mott MacDonald pass through an active fault in the Gozo channel.

Taking borehole samples and examining them in a laboratory over a few weeks certainly increases our knowledge of the geology of the area but it is nowhere near the sufficient knowledge on the basis of which one can conclude the design parameters of the project. Suffice it to point out that notwithstanding the detailed geological studies spanning over many years and underpinning planning for the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent and Coquelles near Calais, the drilling of the tunnel had to be deviated at certain points because of unpredicted geological formations.

Serious studies take years to conclude: they cannot be rushed to meet a deadline set by a political agenda.

Feasibility studies have been carried out some time ago, long before the geological studies were even taken in hand. Three years ago, the Gozo Business Chamber in conjunction with Transport Malta commissioned a study entitled Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options. In the study, which was carried out by E-Cubed Consultants, it was argued that the average annual daily traffic (AADT) between the islands is projected to increase from 3000 to 9000 vehicle movements over a 15-year period.

This feasibility study makes assumptions which run counter to the National Transport Master Plan objective of reducing cars from our roads.

Basically, the proposed tunnel requires a critical mass of vehicular movements which would be subject to the payment of a toll and hence contribute to the recovery of the capital outlay, maintenance costs and profits. This runs counter to current Maltese Transport policy, which (at least on paper) aims to reduce the use of private cars from our roads.

This is an issue which would undoubtedly be examined by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the proposed Tunnel which study is currently in its initial stages after the Environment and Resources Authority recently approved the terms of reference of such a study. The EIA is an essential stage of the assessment of the project.

It was therefore irresponsible for the Minister of Transport, earlier this week, to announce that within six months an international call for tenders would be issued relative to the Malta-Gozo undersea Tunnel. Does this mean that the government considers the EIA irrelevant? This, in my opinion is the clear message being conveyed.

It is the worst form of bad governance as it undermines the efforts of the established authorities in carrying out their responsibilities. With this in mind, I have written to the Ombudsman and asked him to investigate this breach of good governance. Government should have the patience of awaiting the outcome of the EIA before taking any further decisions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 December 2018

Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex: il-qerda finali t’Għawdex wara l-bieb

Nhar l-Erbgħa festa pubblika. Hi ukoll id-data tal-egħluq għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika li qed tagħmel l-Awtoritá tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) fuq it-termini ta’ referenza għall-istudju dwar l-impatt ambjentali (EIA) tal-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex.

Is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA jippreżenta żewġ dokumenti sabiex jassistu lil dawk li qed jipparteċipaw f’din il-konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dawn id-dokumenti jispjegaw il-proposta u jidentifikaw numru ta’ fatturi li jistgħu jkunu jeħtieġu investigazzjoni, u dan biex dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjoni jkunu megħjuna jagħmlu l-“aħjar” għażla.

F’dawn id-dokumenti hemm numru ta’ nuqqasijiet li jistunaw u juru kemm Transport Malta tiġi taqa’ u tqum mill-wirt ambjentali tagħna.

Transport Malta tibbaża l-proposti tagħha fuq ir-rapport ta’ Mott MacDonald, datat Marzu 2012 u intitolat: Preliminary Analysis: Assessment of Road Tunnel Options between Malta and Gozo. Wara li kkunsidrat erba’ proposti differenti għall-mina kif imfisser fir-rapport ta’ Mott MacDonald, Transport Malta ddeċidiet li tagħżel il-proposta numru 4 b’emenda: hi proposta li tkun tikkonsisti f’mina waħda b’żewġ karreġjati u tibda mill-inħawi taħt Ta’ Kenuna fin-Nadur Għawdex u tispiċċa fl-Imbordin biswit il-Wied tal-Pwales f’San Pawl il-Baħar.

Fid-dokumenti jgħidulna li l-ewwel tliet proposti kienu skartati għax setgħu jikkawżaw ħsara ambjentali sostanzjali, f’qiegħ il-baħar jew lir-riżerva naturali tal-Għadira. Imma la Transport Malta u l-anqas l-ERA ma ħassew il-ħtieġa li jgħidulna fid-dokumenti li ippubblikaw li meta ntagħżlet il-proposta numru 4 u ġġebbdet sal-Imbordin biswit il-Wied tal-Pwales din ġiet viċin wisq tar-riżerva naturali l-oħra, tas-Simar, u tgħaddi dritt mill-Miżieb, mal-pjan tal-ilma.

Ir-riżerva naturali tas-Simar hi sit ikklassifikat bħala Natura 2000 tal-UE, u l-pjan tal-ilma tal-Miżieb hu l-unika wieħed sura li fadlilna. Allura hemm il-possibilitá kbira li din il-proposta għal mina tmur kontra żewġ direttivi importanti tal-Unjoni Ewropea: id-Direttiva Qafas dwar l-Ilma u d-Direttiva dwar il-Abitat.

Fl-2015 il-medja ta’ movimenti ta’ karozzi bejn Malta u Għawdex, kif jirriżulta mill-istatistika uffiċjali, hi ta’ madwar 3000 kuljum. Id-diversi studji u rapporti ppubblikati sal-lum jikkalkulaw li l-mina, meta tkun lesta, tista’ twassal sabiex in-numru ta’ karozzi li jaqsmu bejn iż-żewġ gżejjer jitla’ bejn 9000 u 10000 kuljum. Gordon Cordina minn Ecubed fir-rapport tiegħu kkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija jindika li ser tintlaħaq iċ-ċifra ta’ 9000 karozza kuljum, fil-waqt li r-rapport Mott MacDonald jipponta lejn l-10,000 karozza kuljum.

Din iż-żieda konsiderevoli fil-moviment ta’ karozzi teħtieġ li tkun analizzata fil-kuntest tal-politika kurrenti dwar it-trasport. Il-master plan dwar it-trasport addottat mill-Gvern preżenti u ffinanzjat mill-Fond Ewropew għall-Iżvilupp Reġjonali hu ċar. Dan il-pjan jgħid li matul l-għaxar snin li fih ser ikun effettiv (2016-25), wieħed mill-oġġettivi ewlenin tal-politika tat-trasport f’Malta hi emfasi fuq l-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi għall-karozzi privati u li fil-gżejjer Maltin jonqos l-użu tal-karozza privata.

Mela Transport Malta, għan-nom tal-Gvern Malti fl-2016, tistabilixxi politika dwar it-trasport biex tkun indirizzata l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku billi tinkoraġixxi bdil fl-imġieba favur mobilitá sostenibbli, u mbagħad toħroġ bi proposti bħal dawn tal-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex, li biex jagħmlu sens, jirrikjedu żieda enormi fit-traffiku.

Id-dokumenti fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA għall-informazzjoni ta’ dawk li jridu jipparteċipaw f’din il-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex jinjoraw kompletament il-politika dwar it-trasport.

Din hi s-sitwazzjoni li għandna illum. Drajna b’awtoritá tal-ippjanar sinkronizzata mal-lobby favur l-iżvilupp. Sfortunatament jidher li l-Awtoritá dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi miexja fuq l-istess passi. Il-jiem huma magħduda. Bla dubju dan ser iwassal għall-qerda ta’ Għawdex ukoll.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 12 t’Awwissu 2018

The Malta-Gozo tunnel: the final countdown to Gozo’s plunder starts now

Next Wednesday is a public holiday. It is also the closing date of the public consultation being carried out by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) on the terms of reference for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be carried out on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel.

The ERA website presents two documents to assist those participating in the public consultation. These documents explain the proposal and highlight a number of issues that will require further investigation in order to assist the decision-takers in choosing for the “optimum” solution.

There is a number of glaring deficiencies in these documents which indicate the contempt that Transport Malta has for our environmental heritage.

Transport Malta bases its proposals on the Mott MacDonald Report of March 2012 entitled: Preliminary Analysis: Assessment of Road Tunnel Options between Malta and Gozo. After considering the four options for a tunnel as resulting from the Mott MacDonald report, Transport Malta opted for an amended version of option number 4 which is proposed as consisting of a single bore two lane tunnel between the area below Ta’ Kenuna in Nadur, Gozo and L-Imbordin along the Pwales Valley in St Paul’s Bay in Malta.

We are told in the published documentation that the first three options were discarded because they could be the cause of considerable environmental damage to the seabed, as well as to the Għadira Nature Reserve. However, neither Transport Malta nor the ERA considered it appropriate to mention that the selected option, an amended option 4, stretches the Malta portal of the proposed tunnel to the Pwales valley very close to the Simar Nature Reserve and right through the Miżieb perched aquifer.

The Simar Nature Reserve is an EU Natura 2000 site, while the Miżieb perched aquifer is the only part of our water table that is still in a relatively good state. Consequently, two important EU Directives will most probably be infringed: The Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive.

Based on NSO statistics, in 2015 average number of daily vehicular crossings between Malta and Gozo was around 3,000. The various studies and reports published to date indicate that it is estimated that a tunnel between the two islands would trigger an increase to between 9,000 and 10,000 vehicle crossings daily. Gordon Cordina of Ecubed in his report commissioned by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber indicates a 9,000-daily mark, while Mott MacDonald points towards the 10,000 mark.

This considerable increase in vehicular movements needs to be analysed in terms of current transport policy. The Transport Master Plan, adopted by the current government and funded by the European Regional Development Fund, is very clear. It lays down that during its 10-year lifespan (2016-25) it will be an operational objective of transport policy in Malta to aim to provide alternatives to the use of private vehicles and to reduce the role of the private car as a means of transport in the Maltese Islands.

So, Transport Malta, on behalf of the Maltese government, spells out transport policy in 2016 aimed at addressing traffic congestion in Malta by encouraging a modal shift towards sustainable mobility. Yet it then comes out with proposals such as the Malta-Gozo Tunnel, which can only be feasible if there is an astronomical increase in vehicular traffic on our roads.

The documents placed by the ERA on its website to feed the public consultation process on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel ignore transport policy altogether.

This is the current state of affairs. By now we are accustomed to having a Planning Authority acting in synch with the development lobby. Unfortunately, it seems that the Environment and Resources Authority is closely following in its footsteps. The final countdown is on. It will inevitably lead to the plunder of Gozo as well.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 August 2018

Gozo Channel: tunnelling discounts

discounts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 December 2015

L-istima tal-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex: kemm marret smerċ?

Gozo_tunnel_route_alignment_options

 

Meta madwar ħames snin ilu beda d-dibattitu kurrenti dwar il-mina taħt il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex, Chris Said, dakinnhar Ministru, kien qal li l-istima approssimattiva biex din issir kienet ta’ €150 miljun.

Issa qiegħed jingħad illi l-istima hi ta’ €300 miljun. L-istima irduppjat f’ħames snin!

Bħalissa fir-Renju Unit għaddej dibattitu dwar ta’ l-inqas żewġ mini.

Waħda minnhom hi bejn Manchester u Sheffield, mina twila 18-il mil (29 kilometru). L-ispiża dwarha hi stmata sitt biljun sterlina (madwar €8.4 biljun). Somma mhux żgħira.  Bl-istess rata ta’ infieq, il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex li ser tkun twila 10 kilometri tiġi tiswa €2.8 biljun. Ħafna iktar mit-€300 miljun li qed jgħidu l-esperti Maltin.

Hemm ukoll għaddejja diskussjoni dwar mina minn taħt Stonehenge tat-tul ta’ 2.9 kilometri bl-aħħar stima tkun ta’ £ 460 miljun sterlina. Bl-istess rata ta’ infieq, il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex li ser tkun twila 10 kilometri tiġi tiswa €2272 miljuni.

Dan kollu hu indikazzjoni ta’ kemm tista’ tiġi tiswa l-mina taħt il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex. M’huwiex definittiv imma juri li ċ-ċifri li qed jikkunsidra l-lobby favur il-mina huma żbaljati.  Għax bejn €300 miljun u ċifra sostanzjalment iktar minn €2 biljuni, bil-fors li hemm xi ħaga ħażina x’imkien.

Dan hu importanti li jingħad, għax l-istudju dwar il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-mina, li ġie ikkummissjonat minn Transport Malta flimkien mal-Gozo Business Chamber, hu bbażat fuq stima ta’ €300 miljun. Issa l-ebda stima ma tkun preċiża. Dejjem ikun hemm xi varjazzjoni anke meta tkun stima ibbażata fuq pjan preċiż, għax f’dan ix-xogħol dejjem jinqala’ xi ħaġa li ma tkunx prevista. Imma altru li l-istima ma tkunx preċiża u altru li jkun hemm differenza ta’ iktar minn 7 darbiet.

Li hu żgur hu li dak l-istudju (dwar il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-mina) kien prematur minħabba li l-analiżi ġeoloġika għadha ma saritx. Issa l-analiżi ġeoloġika inevitabilment ser ikollha impatt sostanzjali fuq il-proposta definittiva tal-mina. Hu magħruf li r-rotta tal-mina tgħaddi minn żona li hi ġeoloġikament attiva, liema fatt, bla dubju, jżid in-nefqa minħabba l-prewkazzjonijiet li ser ikunu meħtieġa.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu, ħaga waħda hi ċara: hemm min għandu interess li jibqa’ jittama li l-mina hi possibli li ssir. Apparti l-problemi ta’ ġeoloġija, ambjent, impatt soċjali u impatt fuq in-negozju (li l-istudji dwarhom għad iridu jsiru) hemm ukoll indikazzjonijiet ċari li l-proġett l-anqas hu vijabbli ekonomikament, għax l-istima li fuqha nħadmu l-kalkoli ta’ vijabilità ekonomika hi ħafna l-bogħod mir-realtà.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu, bil-fors tasal għall-konkluzjoni li hemm min irid jgħaddi n-nies biż-żmien. Għax għalkemm hu kmieni biex tasal għal stima definittiva, l-indikazzjonijiet kollha juru li ċ-ċifra użata sa issa għall-argumentazzjoni minn dawk kollha favur il-proposta tal-mina hi ħafna l-bogħod mir-realtà.

Tunnel vision

cart-horse

 

Gozo’s connectivity issues are considered as a problem when in reality they define Gozo and determine its distinct features. Unfortunately, in this respect both the government and the opposition have developed a tunnel vision, that is they tend to focus on just one view and ignore everything else.

The latest twist in the current debate is the declaration by the Finance Minister in his budget statement earlier this month that the feasibility study commissioned by Transport Malta, together with the Gozo Business Chamber has been concluded positively  and that the next step would be  the commissioning of a technical and geological study relative to the projected tunnel across the Gozo Channel.

Transport Malta, prodded by the Gozo Business Chamber, seems to be bent on putting the cart before the horse as it is inconceivable how a feasibility study could be concluded without first having identified all the geological issues and examined them in detail.  Knowing that the Gozo Channel contains a number of geological faults, including active ones, leads to the logical preliminary conclusion that geological studies of the area proposed to be tunnelled could have a substantial bearing on the technical parameters of the project. This would include the specific  route to be selected, the actual works to be carried out and the costings. The geological studies could also lead to a technical recommendation to select an alternative solution other than boring a tunnel below the seabed .

When the PN-led government placed the issue on the national agenda, former Minister Chris Said gave his guesstimate that the tunnel would cost in the region of €150 million. We have recently been informed that this guesstimate has increased substantially to between €250 and €300 million.

These guesstimates are on the low side, because when the geological issues have been examined the estimate could well shoot up to over €1 billion- this being around 4 times what has been taken into consideration in the so-called “feasibility study”.

These type of project very rarely follow estimated costs. The tunnel linking the Marsa and Delimara powers stations in Malta, for example, overshot its projected costs by around 100% due to the absence of adequate geological information. As a result, parts of the  tunnel caved in during works, necessitating substantial additional work, including redirecting parts of it. On the other hand,  expenditure on the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles near Calais exceeded the projected estimates by around 80% notwithstanding the availability of detailed geological studies.

Last week, one of the Sunday newspapers referred to a survey carried out by the Gozo Tourism Association which indicates that 64% of tourism operators in Gozo are adamantly against the proposed tunnel because the direct result of this would be to render Gozo as an appendage of Malta. Gozo would be transformed into a one- day destination, just like most of the other tourism attractions spread over the Maltese islands.

Gozitan tourism operators have a very valid point, as the direct result of this tunnel vision is that Gozo would be transformed from an island into a remote village. Most hotels in Gozo as well as the flats and farmhouses available to let, could then require the identification of another use.

This matter has not yet been examined and yet it is fundamental to the decision-making process and should have been the first step in the whole exercise.

All this muddle and I have not yet commenced discussing the environmental impacts of the proposed tunnel!

The tunnel will generate large quantities of rock which require disposal. The precise amount would depend on the route to be followed (and consequently the length of the tunnel) as well as the selected design (the cross sectional area) and could be anything between one and two million cubic metres of fragmented rock.

In addition, the proposed point of entry of the tunnel at Iċ-Ċumnija on the outskirts of Mellieħa, would most probably be accessed through a new road network in the area immediately behind the Għadira Nature Reserve and bird sanctuary. This means that all the environmental issues which were discussed when the proposed TEN-T network was being debated will once more be of relevance.

There are many other ways through which Gozo’s connectivity issues can be addressed and there are certainly more cost effective ways than the proposed tunnel. The costs to be considered are not just financial: they include social and environmental costs, which should be considered on the drawing board and not as an afterthought.

This is the problem with the tunnel vision – you just have one view, excluding all the others.