Common sense at Buleben

The farmers at Buleben have been served with an evacuation order because the land they have tilled for generations is required to make way for the construction of new factories. We are told that our economy needs the land for factories. We also need our fields for agriculture and too much has already been lost!

We have been there before. One hectare after another is being gobbled up by concrete or tarmac. At Buleben, they want to enlarge the industrial estate. In other localities, roads, new residential development or hotels are planned instead of protecting agricultural land. Lately, we gave witnessed a never ending list of applications for petrol stations. There also seems to be an on-going competition of high-rise development: contrasting phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes.

Undeveloped land is under continuous siege.

In this specific case, the government through Malta Industrial Parks Limited is the developer and, like some of the other developers, at times it too tries to ride roughshod over one and all.

Do we consider this as progress? We need to stop and reflect on the consequences of the considerable damage which is piling up. Is anybody considering these impacts?

The expansion of the industrial estate was planned many years ago, as far back as the late 1960s when the then newly set up Malta Development Corporation embarked on the development of industrial estates. Fortunately, not all land available was then developed. However, agricultural rents from farmers in the area have not been accepted since then. They have now received their marching orders and must be gone within one month!

Ta’ Buleben, was always considered as an extremely fertile agricultural area. Erin Serracino Inglott in his dictionary Miklem Malti explains that the word Buleben means “the owner of herds producing large quantities of milk”. When agriculture was the principal economic activity, it was of paramount importance to be able to farm land which yielded abundant harvests.

The land at Buleben is owned by the government. It can argue that there is insufficient space for existing industrial estates to expand. The government could also inform us that an industrial estate which could have been put to use instead of the Buleben one was that of Ricasoli. But in the meantime, the Ricasoli Industrial Estate was given over for speculation by a previous government which ignored the need for more space for industrial use. Such reasoning would be correct. However pointing at yesterday’s serious mistakes to try to justify today’s shortcomings would not solve anything. We are still shouldered with the responsibility to take care of what’s left of society’s assets.

This is what the Zejtun NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun led by Architect Reuben Abela is doing. Even Żejtun requires and deserves protection. It is definitely a step forward that more of our fellow Maltese are voicing their concerns about protecting our national heritage.

As emphasised by Wirt iż-Żejtun, it is possible to address the need to provide more space for factories without taking up more agricultural land. We should take note that the Local Plan for the South, approved twelve years ago, included a declaration on the need to provide protection to agricultural land in the surroundings that contain a large number of protected carob trees which have graced the area for possibly hundreds of years.

It would be pertinent if we remember that  Punic remains were discovered in the Buleben area some years ago and it would be realistic to expect that more archeological remains could be uncovered if more land is disturbed.

Another important consideration concerns the proximity of the proposed industrial estate extension to the residential area of Ġebel San Martin at Żejtun. The proposed factories will be too close to the residential area. I have not seen the drawings of the proposed development, as they have not been made available. However, NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun is on record as stating that only a few tens of metres would actually separate the residential from the industrial.

When one considers that the existing industrial estate is already a cause of nuisance, acoustic primarily, throughout the day, this signifies not only that this nuisance will increase but that it would also be made worse.

At the time of writing this article, Members of Parliament elected on behalf of the Labour Party from the Third Electoral District (which incorporates Żejtun) have declared that the government is in listening mode and is considering alternative sites. This is a good step forward. It is always appropriate to ensure that common sense is in charge. But this also means that the proposal as made was not sufficiently analysed before the planning stage was concluded.

If the proposal is not scrapped, another green lung, this time around Żejtun, will be lost. It is useless to complain that the young generation is barely interested in agriculture if consecutive governments treat farmers in this manner.

Our land needs protection from excessive development. If the Buleben proposal is not discarded at the earliest we may soon see our last carob tree!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 February 2018

published in The Independent on Sunday : 11 February 2018

Advertisements

L-aħħar ħarruba ġo Buleben u s-sens komun

 

Il-bdiewa ġo Buleben ġew ordnati jiżgumbraw għax l-art li ilhom jindukraw ġenerazzjoni wara l-oħra trid tagħmel il-wisgħa għal fabbriki ġodda. Għax qalulna li għandna bżonn il-fabbriki. Qiesu m’għandniex bżonn ir-raba’ wkoll: il-ftit li baqa’!

Hi storja li ilha tirrepeti ruħha, kontinwament. Tomna wara l-oħra qed tinbela mill-konkos jew mit-tarmac. F’Buleben iridu jkabbru ż-żona industrijali. F’inħawi oħra jridu jgħaddu t-toroq jew jibnu id-djar jew xi lukanda, inkella joħolmu b’pompa tal-petrol, waħda wara l-oħra. Inkella nimlew lill-pajjiż bit-torrijiet, kompetizzjoni ta’ simboli falliċi, wieħed ikbar mill-ieħor.

L-attakk fuq l-art mhux żviluppata donnu li ma jistax jieqaf. L-iżviluppatur f’dan il-każ hu l-Gvern permezz tal-Malta Industrial Parks Limited. Anke l-Gvern qed jipprova jagħmel bħal uħud mill-iżviluppaturi: jipprova jibqa’ għaddej minn fuq kulħadd.

Dan xi progress hu? Għandna bżonn nieqfu naħsbu ftit dwar il-konsegwenzi ta’ dak li għaddej, tat-tħarbit li qiegħed jiġi ippjanat. Min qed iqis l-effett ta’ dan kollu?

Bla dubju l-espansjoni taż-żona industrijali ilha ippjanata żmien, snin kbar, sa minn meta tfassal għall-ewwel darba l-inħawi fis-snin sittin meta l-Korporazzjoni Maltija tal-Iżvilupp bdiet tiżviluppa l-ewwel żoni industrijali. Imma fortunatament dakinnhar ma kienx hemm bżonn l-art kollha u z-zona industrijali ma kienitx kbira daqs kemm kien ippjanat. Imma l-qbiela mingħand il-bdiewa ilha sa minn dakinhar ma tkun aċċettata. Issa tawhom ordni ta’ żgumbrament u għandhom xahar żmien biex joħorġu ‘l-barra.

Ta’ Buleben, dejjem kienet meqjusa bħala art mill-iktar għammiela, sakemm ħallewha bi kwieta. Fil-fatt Erin Serracino Inglott fil-Miklem Malti jfisser il-kelma Buleben bħala “sid l-imrieħel li jagħtu ħafna ħalib”. Kien għalhekk li meta l-agrikultura kella importanza ekonomika ikbar li l-art ta’ Buleben kienet meqjusa bħala ta’ importanza għax kienet art li tirrendi. Min għandu Ta’ Buleben, jgħid wieħed mill-qwiel li ħolqu missierietna, id-dinja tagħtih widen. Għax agrikultura għammiela kienet tfisser ukoll saħħa ekonomika, meta l-agrikultura kellha importanza ċentrali fil-ħajja ta’ missierijietna.

L-art hi tal-Gvern li bla dubju issa ser jargumenta li ma baqax biżżejjed art fejn jikbru ż-żoni industrijali. Forsi jgħidilna ukoll li wieħed mill-oqsma industrijali li seta jintuża flok dak ta’ Buleben kien dak tar-Rikażli. Imma ż-żona industrijali tar-Rikażli sadanittant ingħatat għall-ispekulazzjoni minn Gvern ieħor li injora l-ħtieġa ta’ iktar spazju għall-fabbriki. Ikollu raġun jekk jgħid hekk il-Gvern. Imma mhux biżżejjed li nippuntaw subgħajna lejn l-iżbalji ħoxnin tal-bieraħ biex niġġustifikaw l-iżbalji tal-lum. Xorta jibqalna l-obbligu li illum nagħmlu ħilitna kollha biex nipproteġu l-ftit li baqa’.

Huwa għalhekk floku dak li qed tagħmel l-għaqda Żejtunija Wirt iż-Żejtun, immexxija mill-Perit Żejtuni Reuben Abela. Għax anke iż-Żejtun, jeħtieġ u jixraqlu l-protezzjoni. Huwa pass ‘il-quddiem li n-nies, huma għajnejhom miftuħin beraħ biex, safejn hu possibli, huma ukoll iħarsu wirt missirijietna.

Hu possibli, kif qalet l-assoċjazzjoni Wirt iż-Żejtun li jintuża spazju fiż-żona industrijali mingħajr ma tintmiss iktar raba’. Ikun floku ukoll li niftakru li l-Pjan Lokali għan-Nofsinnhar, approvat tnax-il sena ilu, jinkludi dikjarazzjoni dwar il-ħtieġa li jkun imħares il-valur agrikolu tal-art fl-inħawi li fiha kwantità mhux żgħira ta’ siġar tal-ħarrub li huma f’saħħithom u li ilhom hemm mijiet ta’ snin.

Tajjeb li niftakru ukoll li fl-inħawi f’dawn l-aħħar snin instabu fdalijiet Puniċi u li jekk iktar art ser tkun disturbata probabbilment jinstabu bosta iktar fdalijiet arkeoloġiċi.

Hemm imbagħad konsiderazzjoni oħra. Il-binja tal-estensjoni taż-żona industrjali ser tqarreb il-fabbriki lejn iż-żona residenzjali ta’ Ġebel San Martin fiż-Żejtun. Il-fabbriki l-ġodda jidher li ser jiġu viċin wisq tar-residenzi. Il-pjanti proposti jiena ma rajthomx, ma jidhirx li huma pubbliċi s’issa. Imma l-għaqda Wirt iż-Żejtun tgħid li ser ikun hemm biss ftit għexieren ta’ metri li jifred iż-żona residenzjali minn dik industrijali.

Issa meta tqis li diġa hemm inkonvenjent prinċipalment ikkawżat minn ħsejjes f’kull ħin tal-jum, dan ifisser li l-inkonvenjent ser jikber u ser ikun iktar qrib ukoll.

Waqt li qed nikteb ħarġet l-aħbar li diversi Membri Parlamentari li jiġu eletti f’isem il-Partit Laburista mit-tielet distrett elettorali (li jinkludi ż-Żejtun) qed jgħidu li l-Gvern qiegħed jisma’ dak li qiegħed jingħad u qed jikkunsidra siti alternattivi. Dan hu pass tajjeb. Għax hu dejjem tajjeb li s-sens komun jingħata ftit ċans. Imma dan ifisser ukoll li l-proposta ma kienitx studjata sewwa qabel ma tħejjew il-pjani għal iżjed fabbriki.

Jekk il-proposta ma tinbidilx ser ikun ifisser li ser noqtlu pulmun ieħor din id-darba dak ta’ madwar iż-Żejtun. Hu inutli li nilmentaw kemm il-ġenerazzjoni żagħżugħa ftit hi interessat fil-biedja jekk Gvern wara l-ieħor jibqa’ jittratta lill-bdiewa daqstant ħażin.

Inħarsu l-art mill-esaġerazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp. Din il-proposta għal Buleben teħtieġ li titwarrab minnufih. Jekk le daqt inkun nistgħu ngħidu li rajna l-aħħar ħarruba!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 11 ta’ Frar 2018

Traffic and the budget

traffic.Marsa

The Budget acknowledges that traffic is a problem; unfortunately it fails to present a vision for the future, as Transport Malta has yet to carry out a consultation exercise.

Acknowledging that Malta’s roads are bursting at the seams is one small step in the right direction. Simultaneously, however, the Budget goes in to propose various measures, amongst which a couple which will definitely increase traffic. Providing more parking spaces, widening roads and improving junctions through the provision of flyovers will improve traffic flow, but it will also increase vehicular traffic.

It is not rocket science to conclude that a long-term plan to reduce car ownership is the only way forward. Currently, with around 341,000 cars on our roads, car ownership in Malta stands at 802 per thousand population. In contrast, the figure for the UK is 516, for Italy 682 and for the USA 786. If Malta’s car ownership profile were to be reduced to a reasonable 500 cars per 1000 population, this would signify that there are currently 130,000 more cars on our roads than is reasonable.

Given the short travelling distances in Malta, public transport should normally be sufficient for most of our needs. Car ownership has increased exponentially over the years as public transport was found lacking – even for such short distances and it  got worse over time.

The recently published White Paper by the Education Ministry pointed out how schools are affected by traffic congestion. They are not, in fact, a  cause of traffic congestion; rather, they are one of its many victims. Introducing a coordinated scheme providing school transport to serve both private and public schools could reducing traffic during rush hours.

The same could be stated in regarding the accessibility of industrial estates. If these were suitably serviced by public transport routes, a substantial reduction in traffic generation could be achieved.

The budget also refers to alternative means of transport. Reinforcing sea links across Grand Harbour between Valletta and the Three Cities as well as across Marsamxett Bay between Sliema and Valletta, could also contribute substantially to a reduction of traffic movements. Various attempts have been made over the years to restore such links but they were not as successful as had been hoped due to the fares having generally been considered as being on the high side.

Reintroducing these maritime links across the harbours on a sound footing would provide a long-term alternative public transport service that would substantially reduce travel time for all its users. However, it would not be reasonable to expect this to be completely self-financed, at least not until such time as it has attracted custom and established itself as a reliable and efficient public transport service.

The budget also encourages the use of small-capacity motorcycles by reducing their annual road licence fee to €10. This reduction would certainly be an encouragement, even though it could very easily been removed completely!  However, as was pointed out – even in the budget speech itself – such a measure can only be effective if it is reinforced by an improvement in the  behaviour of  road-users as well as through better maintenance of our roads.

Improving the use of the existing road infrastructure would be effective as a short-term measure. The proposal to introduce the “tidal lane” in a number of ours roads would  certainly reduce congestion through facilitating traffic flow. It will not, however, reduce vehicle movements.

The EU -funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta carried out by the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta examined the economic impact of traffic in Malta. Such impact included not only time lost due to heavy traffic, but also excessive fuel consumed and the effect on health of the resulting air and noise pollution.  The estimated impact is substantial and add up to around four per cent of GDP. This would completely cancel out the projected 2016 increase of 3.6 per cent in Malta’s GDP.

The current extent of the traffic problem in Malta is due to the failure on the part of the state over a number of years. The mismanagement of public transport has created a vacuum, as a result of which cars have been permitted to take over our roads. Reversing the process is possible, but it will not be easy: it will require a coordinated approach and clear thinking. At the end of the day, all the measures taken must have one clear objective: replacing the private car as the preferred means of transport. It is the only way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 18 October 2015