Land Reclamation and the construction industry

land reclamation 01

The issue of land reclamation should be tackled in a responsible manner.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

In Malta land reclamation was used in the past to create the Freeport Terminal at Kalafrana in the limits of Birżebbuġa.

MEPA has during the recent past engaged consultants to assess the potential of land reclamation in Maltese waters.

A 2005 study was commissioned by MEPA and carried out by  Carl Bro. This study identified six relatively large coastal areas as search areas for potential land reclamation sites. The study had  recommended that these six areas, or a selection of them, be “investigated in further details in parallel with the execution of a pre-feasibility study, before a principal decision is taken on whether land reclamation is considered realistic under Maltese conditions. It is recommended that such investigations and studies be carried out by the Government prior to the involvement of the private sector in possible land reclamation projects.” (page 8 of report).

MEPA took up this proposal and commissioned ADI Associates together with Scott Wilson to carry out a detailed study on two of the identified coastal areas. These studies were finalised in 2007 and 2008 and consist of 4 volumes. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline.

These latter studies conclude with a detailed set of recommendations on more focused studies relative to environmental and economic impacts which would be necessary if land reclamation is to be further considered.

In Chapter 10 of its electoral manifesto the Labour Party is committed to utilise a programme of land reclamation as an important tool in the infrastructural development of the country.  The said electoral programme emphasises the environmental and economic sensitivity of such projects and underlines a  commitment to high standards in environmental, social, economic, land use planning and sustainable development fields.

In Parliament it has been declared that the next step would be for expressions of interest to be submitted by those proposing  projects for  development on reclaimed land. A call should be issued in the near future.

I believe that this is not the way forward.  On the basis of the studies carried out to date and such additional studies as may be required it would have been much better if government presents for public consultation a detailed draft land reclamation strategy.  Such a strategy would then be subjected to public consultation. A dialogue is required, not just with the developers but also with civil society, including most importantly with environmental NGOs.

The draft strategy would undoubtedly indicate the proposed permissible development on the reclaimed land. It would be interesting to note if the said strategy would consider the need for residential development in view of the over 70,000 vacant residential properties  on the islands. On the basis of existing and possibly additional studies the strategy would also seek to ensure that Malta’s coastline is protected much more effectively than Malta’s countryside has been to date.

All views should be carefully considered before such a strategy is finalised.

Once the strategy is finalised its environmental impacts should be carefully scrutinised  as is provided for in the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU. This Directive now has the force of law in Malta. It is only when this assessment has been finalised and the impacts identified are suitably addressed through changes in the draft strategy  itself (if required) that it would be reasonable to invite expressions of interest from interested parties.

Land reclamation is no magic solution to a construction industry which is in urgent need of restructuring. Even if land reclamation is permitted it cannot and will not offer a long term solution to an ailing construction industry which has been capable of contributing to an accumulating stockpile of vacant dwellings which are equivalent to 9 ghost towns, each the size of B’Kara.

The country would be economically and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would  be required  to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

This  would certainly be much more beneficial and sustainable than land reclamation.

published in The Times  on 27 April 2013 under the title: Land Reclamation and Building

Flok Skejjel “żejda” ………….. iktar flats u maisonettes

building industry Malta

Qed jgħidulna li biex ġie iffinanzjat il-programm ta’ bini ta’ skejjel (waħda fis-sena) il-Gvern permezz tal-Fondazzjoni għall-Iskejjel ta’ Għada issellef €73 miljun mingħand l-HSBC bir-rata ta’ 2.9%.

Dan is-self irid jitħallas lura fl-2014, jiġifieri s-sena d-dieħla.

Lill-Malta Today infurmawha li jidher li l-ħlas ta’ dan is-self lura kif ukoll il-finanzjament ta’ programm ambizzjuz ta’ bini ta’ iktar skejjel ġodda, programm stmat li jiswa €60 miljun oħra, jista’ jkun possibli biss jekk jinbiegħu l-iskejjel meqjusa żejda (surplus schools tgħidilna l-Malta Today).

Dawn l-iskejjel meqjusa “żejda”, qalulna, jkunu jistgħu jigu żviluppati f’bini residenzjali u/jew kummerċjali.

Ma nafx min qed jagħmel dawn il-pjanijiet. Imma jidher li mhux kulhadd hu konxju li f’Malta hawn il-fuq minn 70,000 post residenzjali vojt, li l-art tajba għall-bini żdiedet konsiderevolment fl-2006 u issa qed jikkunsidraw ukoll li jibnu fil-baħar (land reclamation).

Nistennew  u naraw jekk flok l-iskejjel żejda hux ser ikollna iktar flattijiet u maisonettes. Inkomplu nżidu mas-70,000 u fuqhom li hawn vojta.

Anke’ l-baħar tagħna ilkoll

Malta taghna lkoll

Mela l-Gvern ta’ Joseph qalilna li l-art li għandna f’Malta, Għawdex u Kemmuna mhux biżżejjed. Hemm bżonn inkabbru.  Għalhekk jista’ jkun hemm bżonn li noħolqu gżejjer oħra fil-baħar. Land reclamation.

Rapporti dwar dan diġa saru. Fl-2005 u fl-2007 mill-MEPA. Jeżaminaw sew u fid-dettall. Jistabilixxu b’mod ġenerali l-impatti li l-ħolqien ta’ dawn il-gżejjer jistgħu joħolqu.

Jiena mhux qiegħed nikkundanna dak li qed jingħad u dan kuntrarjament għal dak li għoġobhom jgħidu dawk li f’daqqa waħda saru ambjentalisti. Li qiegħed ngħid hu li jekk il-Gvern fi ħsiebu jibqa’ għaddej b’din l-idea, ta’ l-inqas għandu jagħmel  l-affarijiet sewwa. B’dan il-mod kullħadd ikollu għajnejħ miftuħin beraħ u allura jkun jista’ jifhem il-jekk u l-kif tal-ħsara li tista’ issir. Kemm dik ekoloġika kif ukoll dik ekonomika.

L-ewwel nett l-affarijiet għandhom isiru bi pjan ċar liema pjan għandu jitħejja mill-Gvern,  mhux mill-kuntratturi jew kif isejħu lilhom infushom bil-pulit illum: l-iżviluppaturi.

Gvern li jkun tagħna lkoll jitkellem magħna lkoll qabel ma jfassal pjan jew strateġija ta’ x’inhuma dawk l-iżviluppi li għalihom m’għandniex spazju fuq l-art.  Għax tagħna lkoll, il-pjan jew l-istrateġija li jfassal jiddiskutihom magħna lkoll f’dik li nsejħula konsultazzjoni pubblika.

Gvern tagħna lkoll jisma’ dak li għadna xi ngħidu aħna lkoll u jqiesu sewwa qabel ma jiddeċiedi. Meta imbagħad ikun ċar fejn irid jasal Gvern tagħna lkoll jara xi ħsara tista’ issir. Iqis ir-rapporti li diġa saru u jekk ikun hemm bżonn jgħarbel iktar biex ikun żgur dwar xi ħsara tista’ issir. Jekk il-ħsara li jsir jaf biha ma jkunx jista’ jsib tarf tagħha, jaħsibha darbtejn.

Għax Gvern serju jaf li anke’ l-baħar huwa tagħna ilkoll.