The Metro consultation: taking us for a ride

In 2008 Professor Mir Ali from the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published a paper entitled “Urban Design Strategy Report on Tall Buildings in Malta.”

Professor Ali comments on the lack of mass transport facilities in Malta and links the functionality of tall buildings with the availability of mass transport facilities. He emphasises that: “Once there is a BRT or MRT system, integration of tall buildings with transportation can result in high efficiency, consolidation of services and a better urban life.” BRT signifies Bus Rapid Transit System. MRT signifies Mass Rapid Transport.

The need for a mass transport network has been felt for a long time. Greens in Malta have been emphasising that it is one of various solutions to address transport issues in the Maltese islands.

Government’s announcement last weekend on a three-route metro is just a first step. Greens definitely agree with the objective though not with the specifics proposed. As ARUP emphasised, government’s massive expenditure on long-term road building will not solve anything. Most of it is money down the drain.

Government’s announcement has only presented a sketch of a solution. The proposal needs to be much more detailed than that. While the identification of the routes as well as the location of the stations is definitely important information, we need more analytical information to digest.

ARUP identified potential routes and stations on the basis of studies. It is said that studies were also carried out on various options, as a result of which ARUP discarded the Bus Rapid Transit, the surface tram, the elevated light metro and combinations. We need to be able to digest these studies to understand why ARUP have discarded alternative solutions. All studies carried out by ARUP should be available for examination in the Metro public consultation. If this is not possible what is the purpose of a public consultation?

The proposal for a Metro should not be an excuse for developing open spaces as has already been pointed out with reference to the proposed B’Kara and Pembroke Metro stations. We already have too few open spaces.

Proposals have to be analysed within the wider context of transport policy in Malta.  Specifically private car use must be substantially reduced for any mass transport proposal to be economically feasible! This must be clear even at this stage. It is inevitable, but government is conveniently being silent on the matter! Has ARUP advised on the matter in its feasibility studies? We have a right to know.

It is the intention to utilise the stations to attract metro users from the surrounding areas. Some, living nearby, will come on foot. Others living or working slightly further away may come by private car, by bus or by bike.  Most potential metro stations do not have parking areas around them. This signifies that it is essential that more emphasis is laid on the interaction between the proposed Metro and local and regional transport.

The metro’s functioning has to be seen within the existing urban context. This is very relevant to the debate but unfortunately the detailed advice which government has received in this respect has not been divulged. Just one tit-bit of information has inadvertently emerged. When asked as to why the Metro will not make it to Gozo, it was stated that there is not sufficient population on the sister island. This begs the question: how come then that a tunnel is planned below the sea to link the two islands?

The announcement further informed us that most of the Metro will be underground with only a small stretch being above ground for topographical reasons.  Depending on the size of the tunnels between the metro stations this could generate a substantial amount of inert waste. An estimated excavation volume of 4.9 million cubic metres, presumably measured in situ, is indicated. Once excavated this would amount to around 8.6 million cubic metres after taking account of the increase in volume after excavation. This is a substantial amount of inert waste which, as already hinted, can only be utilised in land reclamation projects. For comparative purposes 8.6 million cubic metres of inert waste is close to the amount that was used in the whole Freeport project at Kalafrana for land reclamation purposes!

I am not aware of any land reclamation currently required in the national interest. We cannot be forced into land reclamation as the only solution to dispose of the inert waste generated by the Metro project.

Excavation of an underground Metro does not only generate excessive inert waste. It also endangers our historical heritage: in particular when excavating below, around or close to national monuments in Valletta, Mosta, Balluta and elsewhere. Excavation is also proposed next to ecologically sensitive sites.

This is definitely not on.

Proposed solutions above ground have to be examined in detail too and discussed as part of the public consultation. A hybrid metro-tram system mostly above ground, and/or a Bus Rapid Transit system, are other possibilities which should make it on the table of any serious public consultation. They do not generate inert waste, can be implemented in a shorter time frame from that proposed by ARUP and cost a fraction of the proposed outlay. In addition, substantially less environmental impacts are involved. Any selected solutions should respect our historical and ecological heritage.

Through constructive criticism we can explore alternative solutions which are being deliberately shut out with a stage-managed consultation. We need more than PR stunts: logos and flashy video clips are not the information we need for a mature public consultation. Government must put all its cards on the table. The ARUP studies must be subject to public scrutiny. Otherwise, the public consultation is taking us for a ride.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 October 2021

Obliterating the future

Humanity is at war with nature. Isn’t it about time for peace?

This is the basic message of António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, in an address delivered at Columbia University earlier this week.

António Guterres said: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes.”

If humanity keeps the current pace there is the danger that we destroy the future before we have even understood the risks that we are continuously creating.

The past decade has been the hottest in human history. Some are still focusing on short term gains ignoring long term losses. Even if all the commitments made at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 are honoured completely, we would still have some way to go in order to attain the agreed minimum objectives: limiting the global mean temperature increase to not more than 2 degrees Celsius, hopefully closer to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Beyond the 2-degree limit climate change will become catastrophic and irreversible.

Climate change is nature fighting back forcefully, without discriminating. The war is on at full speed all over the globe. In some parts it is drought. In others it is floods. Havoc is the result everywhere. The intensity and frequency of storms is on the increase as the cumulative impacts of our actions continuously increase.

There is no possibility to negotiate with nature, her demands are clear and simple: unconditional surrender. We need to change our ways and habits. Nature can be a reliable friend but if transformed into an enemy, it is ruthless as climate change shows unequivocally.

It has been a hectic 48 years since the first ministers for the environment were appointed as a direct result of the deliberations of the international community in the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. Some progress has definitely been achieved over the years but it is certainly nowhere close to enough.

It has been realised that there is only one earth which we need to care for. It has been 34 years since the Brundtland report placed sustainable development on the international agenda. Though officially accepted as an important policy objective, it is still subject to mental gymnastics in determining practical every day action to reduce impacts which threaten our future.

The spirit of the 2015 Paris summit is one which recognised the need for urgent action, yet five years down the line procrastination is still the order of the day. As we may have realised by now, half measures are not effective in addressing nature’s revenge.

We cannot keep postponing the decision to determine the cut-off date for the elimination of petrol and diesel run vehicles from our roads. The decision announced in September 2017 is taking too long to implement leading to the reasonable assumption that reluctance is having the upper hand.

The electrification of our roads is one important step which needs to be implemented rapidly if we are to start the path to carbon neutrality in a meaningful way. It must however also be accompanied by a reduction of the number of cars on our roads, an achievable objective, given the small distances which we travel in such a small country. 

It is to be underlined, once more, that the Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands has identified that around 50 per cent of our car journeys are for short distances in respect if which we can definitely use alternative means.  This signifies that the required changes, in our case, are less painful, even in the short term. We need however to address contradictory policy stances: the required reduction of cars from our roads will be more difficult to achieve if the development of large-scale road infrastructure is still the order of the day. Even the proposed Gozo Channel tunnel falls in this category as its feasibility is dependent on maximising car movements, a requirement which is in direct contradiction to the Paris Climate Summit conclusions!

The risk of obliterating the future is still present. Nature will not be fooled. It can distinguish between greenwash and meaningful action. Unfortunately, it is clear that it has not been impressed by our action to date. There is not much time left to change course.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 December 2020

Il-futur ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

It-tnaqqis tal-voti li Alternattiva Demokratika kisbet fl-elezzjoni ġenerali ta’ tmiem il-ġimgħa l-oħra minn 1.8% għal 0.83% tal-voti totali kienet bla dubju daqqa kbira. Imma kienet daqqa antiċipata u direttament marbut mar-rifjut ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika li tipparteċipa fil-Front Nazzjonali mmexxi mill-Partit Nazzjonalista.

Mhux l-ewwel darba li Alternattiva Demokratika qalgħet dawn id-daqqiet. Ħarsu, per eżempju, lejn l-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2003. Dakinnhar, id-daqqa kienet ikbar, għax il-vot mixħut favur Alternattiva Demokratika kien niżel sal-livell ta’ 0.69% tal-voti totali, l-agħar riżultat fit-28 sena storja ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika. Imma fi żmien sena dan reġa’ tela għal 9.33% tal-vot popolari fl-elezzjonijiet tal-2004 għall-Parlament Ewropew.

Tul is-snin Alternattiva Demokratika qatt ma organizzat ruħha fuq livell lokali jew reġjonali. Dan minħabba nuqqas ta’ voluntiera imma ukoll minħabba allerġija tat-tmexxija għal kull xorta ta’ burokrazija (anke dik l-iktar minima) kif ukoll minħabba l-profil tal-votant tipiku ta’ AD. Dan hu difett f’Alternattiva Demokratika li ilu preżenti sa minn meta twaqqfet liema difett qatt ma ngħata l-attenzjoni mistħoqqha.

Fil-fehma tiegħi, dan hu l-kawża ewlenija għan-nuqqas ta’ kapaċitá ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika li tilqa’ għall-attakki diretti mmirati lejn il-votanti tagħha. Hi ukoll ir-raġuni għala AD ma rnexxieliex, tul is-snin, tapprofitta ruħha daqstant miċ-ċaqlieq ta’ votanti minn partit għall-ieħor.

Huwa tajjeb li jkollok prinċipji soddi, imma n-nuqqas ta’ presenza kontinwa u organizzata fil-lokalitajiet inaqqas l-interazzjoni mal-elettorat, liema interazzjoni teħtieġ li tkun waħda kontinwa biex tkun effettiva. Dan fisser li waqt li AD setgħet tieħu d-deċiżjoni politika dwar l-involviment jew le f’allejanza pre-elettorali ma kelliex il-kapaċitá organizzattiva biex tilqa’ għall-konsegwenzi.

Tajjeb li l-qarrej jiftakar li Alternattiva Demokratika kienet taqbel li titwaqqaf allejanza pre-elettorali wiesa’ kontra l-korruzzjoni u favur il-governanza tajba. Il-punt ta’ nuqqas ta’ qbil mal-proposta tal-PN kien li fil-fehma ta’ AD l-allejanza proposta kellha tkun distinta mil-partiti politiċi individwali li jiffurmawha. F’Alternattiva Demokratika konna inkwetati li l-proposta tal-PN biex AD tissieħeb mal-istess PN billi tifforma parti mill-istess lista elettorali inevitabilment kienet ser twassal għal diversi sitwazzjonijiet li ma kienux aċċettabbli: bħal posizzjonijiet dwar proposti politiċi inaċċettabbli kif ukoll il-presenza ta’ kandidati mhux aċċettabbli. Ir-riskju kien kbir wisq u ma konniex disposti li noħduh.

Sfortunatament iż-żmien tana raġun. Dan seħħ, per eżempju, meta l-PN approva li jippreżenta lill-kandidat omofobiku Josie Muscat. Seħħ ukoll bid-dikjarazzjonijiet politiċi kemm ta’ Marlene Farrugia kif ukoll ta’ Simon Busuttil favur il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa kif ukoll favur l-insib. Seħħ ukoll bil-posizzjonijiet kontradittorji dwar iċ-ċirkwit tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi kif ukoll bl-emfasi ta’ Simon Busuttil dwar il-mina proposta li tgħaqqad Malta u Għawdex. Posizzjonijiet politiċi li huma kollha inaċċettabbli għal Alternattiva Demokratika.

B’żieda ma dan, il-PN, naqas milli jindirizza l-kontradizzjonijiet interni fi ħadnu dwar il-governanza tajba. Dawn jinkludu n-nuqqas ta’ Claudio Grech li jiftakar x’laqgħat kellu ma George Farrugia dwar l-iskandlu taż-żejt, il-kaz ta’ Beppe Fenech Adami dwar in-nuqqas ta’ deċiżjoni għaqlija meta aċċetta li jkun direttur tal-kumpanija Capital One Investments Limited, il-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Mario de Marco dwar il-grupp kummerċjali db kif ukoll it-taħwida ta’ Simon Busuttil innifsu dwar l-invoices tal-grupp db u l-assoċjazzjoni tagħhom mal-iffinianzjar tal-PN innifsu.

Dan kollu, safejn hu magħruf, ma kellu l-ebda importanza għall-Partit Demokratiku imma għal Alternattiva Demokratika kien kollu ostaklu għall-formazzjoni ta’ alleanza pre-elettorali għax kien imur b’mod sfaċċat kontra l-proposti elettorali favur tmexxija tajba. Dawn il-materji semmejnihom waqt il-laqgħa esploratorja li kellna mal-PN imma id-delegazzjoni tal-PN ma wriet l-ebda interess: tbissmet u injorathom. Meta jkun meqjus dan kollu, id-deċiżjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika li ma tissieħibx fil-Front Nazzjonali mmexxi mill-PN kienet waħda tajba u dan għax, kif spjegat iktar il-fuq, kienet toħloq bosta diffikultajiet u kontradizzjonijiet.

Matul ix-xhur li ġejjin nittama li jkun hemm it-tibdil meħtieg f’Alternattiva Demokratika biex din tiġġedded u tissaħħah. Huwa tibdil meħtieġ biex AD tkun iktar effettiva u tkun kapaċi tikkomunika mal-votanti aħjar is-sena kollha, u dan minkejja l-limitazzjoni li għandha ta’ riżorsi.

Ippubblikat minn Illum : il-Ħadd 11 ta’ Ġunju 2017

AD’s future

The reduction of Alternattiva Demokratika’s share of the national vote from 1.8 per cent  to 0.83 per cent was a heavy blow. It was, however, anticipated and was directly linked to AD not accepting to form part of the PN-led National Front.

Alternattiva Demokratika has been there before, its share of the national vote having dipped in the past – particularly during the 2003 general election. On that occasion it went down further than this year’s performance and reached 0.69 per cent, the lowest point ever in AD’s 28-year history – only to rebound with a vengeance to win a staggering 9.33 per cent of the popular vote in the 2004 European Parliament elections, just 12 months later.

Over the years, AD has refrained from extending its organisational arm at a regional and possibly local level. This was primarily dictated by the numbers of available volunteers but also by an in-built allergy to anything deemed even minimally bureaucratic, as well as by the volatile profile of the typical AD voter. This is AD’s major weakness: it has been ever-present since the party’s foundation and has never been adequately addressed.

This weakness, is in my view, the major cause of AD’s inability (to date) to successfully withstand or substantially mitigate frontal attacks on its voter base. Likewise, it is the reason why AD has not been able to tap adequately and successfully into voter dissatisfaction with other political parties over the years.

Having sound principles is fine, but not having the organisational tools to propagate your views and effectively link up with grass-roots support is damaging. This lack of organisational capability signified that while AD could take the political decision on whether to form part or not of a pre-election alliance, it could not adequately handle the consequences of this decision.

It would be pertinent to remind readers that AD was in favour of establishing a broad based pre-electoral alliance against corruption and in favour of good governance. The basic point of contention regarding the PN’s proposal for the foundation of such an alliance was the need that it be distinct from its constituent political parties. At AD, we were worried that the PN proposal to add AD and as an appendage to the PN was unacceptable on a point of principle and would inevitably lead to being lumped with undesirable situations such as unacceptable policy positions as well as undesirable candidates. We were not prepared to take such a risk.

Unfortunately, we were proven right, for example, through the selection by the PN of homophobic candidate Josie Muscat as well as through policy declarations by both Marlene Farrugia and Simon Busuttil in favour of spring hunting and bird-trapping, as well as contradictory stances on the motor racing track, or Simon Busuttil’s emphasis on the tunnel between Malta and Gozo with which AD disagrees.

The PN, in addition, failed to address its internal contradictions on good governance. Pending internal PN governance issues include Claudio Grech’s amnesia in relation to meetings with George Farrugia of oil-scandal fame, Beppe Fenech Adami’s error of judgement in taking-up the directorship of Capital One Investments Ltd, Mario de Marco’s db Group conflict of interest, as well as Simon Busuttil’s mishandling of the db Group invoices saga and its relevance to the financing of the PN.

From what is known, these issues, did not bother the Democratic Party, but in AD’s view they were a serious impediment to the proper functioning of a pre-election alliance, as they run directly opposite to an electoral platform based on good governance. We raised all this during the exploratory talks held with the PN, but the PN delegation dismissed these concerns outright.

Given the above, Alternattiva Demokratika took the right decision in not joining the PN-led National Front. Any Parliamentary seat that AD could have gained had it joined the pre-election alliance without the above issues having being addressed would have been tainted.

The future for AD holds great potential. In the coming months changes will be made but these will be carried out at AD’s pace. These changes are an essential prerequisite for ensuring that AD can function more effectively and efficiently in such a way that it can communicate better with its voter base.

published by The Malta Independent on Sunday, 11 June 2017

M’għandekx għalfejn tagħżel bejniethom



Meta tiġi biex tivvota, nhar is-Sibt, mgħandekx għalfejn tagħżel bejniethom.

Mhux importanti min hu l-iżjed jew l-inqas korrott.

Mhux importanti min hu l-iżjed jew l-inqas inkompetenti.

Mhux importanti min hu imċappas l-iktar jew l-inqas.

Mhux importanti min kellu jirreżenja, imma ma rreżenjax fuq iżżewġ naħat.


Il-każ tal-Panama Papers u l-kumpaniji ta Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri hu wieħed ta gravitá kbira. Daqskemm huma gravi l-allegazzjonijiet dwar is-sid ta Egrant Inc. u l-flus li waslu mingħand il-familja ta Aliyev fil-kontijiet fil-Bank Pilatus.

Mhux gravi ħafna ukoll il-fatt li Claudio Grech, l-Onorevoli tal-Partit Nazzjonalista nesa jekk qattx iltaqa ma George Farrugia, dak tal-iskandlu tażżejt?

Mhux gravi ukoll kif Beppe Fenech Adami spiċċa Direttur tal-Capital One Investment Limited u ma kien jaf xejn dwar it-taħwid li qed jirriżulta dwar din l-istess kumpanija?

U xi ngħidu għar-rapporti tal-Awditur Ġenerali dwar il-qaddis miexi fl-art Jason Azzopardi?

U l-villa ODZ li Toni Bezzina ried jibni fl-istess ħin li kien qed jikteb il-politika ambjentali tal-PN?

It-tnejn jgħidu kif għandhom qalbhom ġunġliena għall-ambjent.

Imma t-tnejn iridu l-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex.

It-tnejn iridu l-korsa tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi.

It-tnejn jilgħaqu l-kaċċaturi u n-nassaba.

It-tnejn jappoġġaw il-boathouses tal-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa (Armier, Little Armier u Torri l-Abjad).

Xhemm xtagħżel bejniethom?

Wara kollox mgħandekx għalfejn tagħżel bejniethom!

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

Gozo Channel: tunnelling 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?



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



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.

Il-pont taċ-Ċiniżi bejn Malta u Għawdex

Chinese bridge


It-Times u l-Independent irrappurtaw li ġie konkluż l-istudju taċ-Ċiniżi dwar il-pont bejn Malta u Għawdex.  Hu stmat li biex dan jinbena jiġi jiswa’ biljun euro bħala spiża kapitali kif ukoll spiża addiżżjonali ta’ madwar €4 miljuni fis-sena għaż-żamma tiegħu.

L-ispiża finanzjarja hi kbira, pero din mhux l-unika spiża għax magħha trid tiżdied ukoll l-ispiża ambjentali u l-ispiża soċjali.

Qabel l-elezzjoni kellna fil-media l-proposta l-oħra ta’ mina taħt il-baħar liema proposta diġa ktibt dwarha diversi drabi. Meta qiest xogħol simili li kien ser isir fid-Danimarka jiena kont ikkalkulajt li mina bħal din kellha tiġi tiswa’ bejn €1 biljun u €1.5 biljun, bejn sitta u għaxar darbiet l-istima ta’ kelliema tal-Gvern immexxi mill-PN. Din il-mina trid tiffaċċa ukoll problemi ġeoloġiċi u area taflija kbira fil-Fliegu. Dan apparti bejn miljun u nofs u żewġ miljuni kubi ta’ blat li jkun jeħtieġ li jitqatta’.

Hemm il-possibilita teknika ta’ diversi proposti oħra.

Il-qagħda attwali, jiġifieri li Għawdex hu maqtugħ għalih bħala gżira hemm bosta li jikkonsidrawh bħala ta’ benefiċċju (asset) filwaqt li oħrajn iqiesu dan il-fatt bħala problema (liability).

Għawdex bħala gżira għandha diversi karatteristiċi li jagħmluha unika bħala destinazzjoni. Għawdex b’kuntatt dirett u permanenti bħall-bridge jew mina ma jkun xejn differenti għat-turist minn kwalunkwe raħal f’Malta.  Dan jista’ jeffettwa sostanzjalment l-industrija tat-turiżmu b’mod partikolari l-lukandi f’Għawdex.

Diversi li ġejjin u sejrin bejn Malta u Għawdex iħarsu b’mod differenti lejn in-nuqqas ta’ aċċess faċli bejn il-gżejjer. Għalihom is-serviżż tal-vapuri eżistenti mhux aċċettabbli, u għandhom raġun.

Is-soluzzjoni għal dan kollu mhux li noqgħodu nfajjru l-proposti fl-ajru. Is-soluzzjoni tinstab f’analiżi tal-alternattivi kollha. Analiżi li trid tindirizza l-impatti kollha biex id-diskussjoni pubblika tkun waħda infurmata. L-impatti li jridu jkunu indirizzati huma dawk ekonomiċi, ambjentali u soċjali. Jinkludu mhux biss l-ispiża meħtieġa imma ukoll l-impatt fuq l-ekonomija Għawdxija, kif ukoll l-impatti ambjentali fuq l-art u l-baħar, ewlenin fosthom dawk viżivi kif ukoll dawk ekoloġiċi. L-impatti soċjali fuq Għawdex tal-proposti differenti jeħtieġ li jkunu indirizzati b’mod metikoluż.

Għandna bżonn soluzzjoni li tkun waħda sostenibbli. Biex dan isir irridu nagħżlu dik il-proposta li ssaħħaħ l-ekonomija Għawdxija filwaqt li ftit li xejn tagħmel ħsara ambjentali u soċjali.

Nistennew l-informazzjoni kollha li tkun pubblika. Anke ir-rapport tal-pont Ċiniż għandu jkun wieħed pubbliku. S’issa għadu m’huwiex pubbliku għax huma l-gazzetti biss li rawh.

Meta naraw dan kollu imbagħad tkun tista’ issir diskussjoni serja.


Ara ukoll fuq dan il-blog:

The right link that remains missing. 12 ta’ Frar 2012

Għawdex Tagħna lkoll. 16 ta’ Ġunju 2013.