A financial surplus, yet an environmental deficit

As was expected, last Monday’s budget speech solemnly announced a budget surplus for the first time in many years. However, the environmental deficit was, as usual, hidden between the lines.

The budget is aptly titled Preparing for the Future (Inlestu għall-Futur). In dealing with environmental issues, the budget speech does not lay down clearly the path the government will be following. At times, it postpones matters – proposing studies and consultations on subjects that have been in the public domain for ages.

On the subject of vacant properties, the government prefers the carrot to the stick. In order to get dilapidated and empty properties in village centres back on the rental market, it is offering a €25,000 grant to renovate such properties, but then rightly insists that, once renovated these should be made available for social housing for a minimum of 10 years. In previous budgets, various other fiscal incentives have been offered to encourage such properties being placed back on the market.

After offering so many carrots, it would also make sense to use the stick by way of taxing vacant properties in situations where the owner is continuously ignoring the signals sent regarding the social, economic and environmental impacts of empty properties.

The budget speech announced improvements to rental subsidies. However, it then opted to postpone the regulation of the rental market. It announced a White Paper on the subject which, when published, will propose ways of regulating the market without in any way regulating the subject of rents. In view of the currently abnormal situation of sky-high rents, this is sheer madness.

It is fine to ensure that the duties and responsibilities of landlords and tenants are clearly spelt out. Does anyone argue with that in 2017? It should have been done years ago. Instead of a White Paper a Legal Notice defining clear-cut duties and responsibilities would suffice: there is no need to wait.

It is, however, too much to bear when a “social democrat” Finance Minister declares  that he will not even consider rent control. There are ways and means of ensuring that the market acts fairly. Other countries have done it and are still doing it, as rental greed has no preferred nationality. Ignoring this possibility is not a good omen. The market should not be glorified by the Finance Minister; it should be tamed rather than further encouraged to keep running wild with the resulting social havoc it has created.

This brings us to transport and roads. The Finance Minister sends a clear message when he stated (on page 44 of the budget speech) that no one should be under the illusion that upgrading the road infrastructure will, on its own, resolve the traffic (congestion) problem. Edward Scicluna hints on the following page of his speech that he is not too happy with the current situation. He laments that the more developed countries encourage active mobility through walking, cycling and the use of motorbikes, as well as various means of public transport, simultaneously discouraging the use of the private car. However, he does not then proceed to the logical conclusion of his statement: scrapping large-scale road infrastructural projects such as the proposed Marsa flyover or the proposed tunnels below the Santa Luċija roundabout announced recently by Minister Ian Borg.

These projects, like the Kappara flyover currently in its final stages, will only serve to increase the capacity of our roads. And this means only one thing: more cars on our roads. It is certified madness.

While the Government’s policy of increasing the capacity of existing roads through the construction of flyovers and tunnels will address congestion in the short term, it will lead to increased traffic on our roads. This moves the problem to the future, when it will be worse and more difficult to tackle. The government is acting like an overweight individual who ‘solves’ the problem of his expanding wasteline by changing his wardrobe instead of going on a painful but necessary diet.

This cancels out the positive impact of other policies announced in the budget speech such as free public transport to young people aged between 16 and 20, free (collective) transport to all schools, incentives for car-pooling, grants encouraging the purchase of bicycles, pedelec bicycles and scooters, reduction in the VAT charged when hiring bicycles as well as the introduction of bicycle lanes, as well as encouraging the purchase of electric or hybrid vehicles.

All this contributes to the current environmental deficit. And I have not even mentioned issues of land use planning once.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 15 October 2017

Advertisements

Għall-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar il-profitti tal-ispekulatur huma prijoritá

Id-deċiżjoni li ħa l-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar nhar il-Ħamis b’għaxar voti kontra tlieta biex 4,748 metru kwadru ta’ art barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ) ikunu żviluppati f’Dar għall-Anzjani fin-Naxxar hi preċedent ikrah li l-Awtoritá għad jiddispjaċiha li ħaditu.

L-applikazzjoni bin-numru PA 3592/16 ġiet ippreżentata biex jitwaqqa’ bini li tela’ qabel l-1978 u floku tinbena faċilitá għall-kura tal-anzjani fuq art “ġa disturbata”.

L-ewwel punt ta’ interess hu dan il-bini ta’ qabel l-1978 li hemm fuq is-sit. Ir-rapport dwar l-applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp jiddeskrivi din l-art bħala “razzett mitluq u fi stat ta’ abbandun”. Meta inbena, dan ir-razzett kien meħtieġ fl-interess ta’ l-agrikultura. Issa li dan ir-razzett hu abbandunat kien ikun iktar għaqli kieku l-art ġiet irrestawrata għall-istat oriġinali tagħha biex tieħu lura postha bħala parti mill-pajsaġġ rurali. Minflok qed tintuża bħala għodda biex twaqqa’ għar-redikolu l-politika dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art.

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar skont dak li jipprovdi l-Pjan Strateġiku għall-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (SPED: Strategic Plan for Environment and Development) talbet lill-applikant biex jikkummissjona studju ħalli jiġi stabilit jekk fiż-żona ta’ żvilupp, fil-viċinanzi, kienx hemm art tajba għall-iżvilupp li setgħet tintuża għall-iskop mixtieq u ċioe biex tinbena dar għall-anzjani.

Dan ir-rapport (site selection report), datat Mejju 2016, fil-fatt identifika żewġ siti li t-tnejn kienu ikbar milli meħtieġ. Ir-rapport jgħid li s-siti identifikati kellhom “potenzjal kbir” bħala siti alternattivi għall-proġett taħt konsiderazzjoni. L-ewwel sit kellu qies ta’ 11,287 metru kwadru fil-waqt li t-tieni sit kellu qies ta’ 6,844 metru kwadru. It-tnejn kienu fin-Naxxar viċin tas-sit taħt konsiderazzjoni.

Wara, l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar talbet lill-applikant biex jipproduċi studju dwar l-impatti finanzjarji tal-proġett. Dan l-istudju kien lest fi ftit żmien tant li hu datat 30 ta’ Mejju 2016. Fi ftit kliem dan ir-rapport ta’ sitt paġni, miktub minn accountant, jikkonkludi li billi l-art tajba għall-iżvilupp tiswa’ ferm iktar minn art ODZ (li m’hiex normalment ikkunsidrata għall-iżvilupp) il-proġett seta jrendi biss jekk tkun użata art ODZ!

Fid-diskussjoni waqt is-seduta pubblika ta’ nhar il-Ħamis tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, iċ-Ċhairman Eżekuttiv tal-istess Awtoritá qal li l-istudju dwar l-impatt finanzjarju tal-proġett kien ivverifikat mill-konsulenti tal- Awtoritá li wara aċċettatu u talbet lill-applikant biex jibda jikkunsidra art fl-ODZ.

Din id-deċiżjoni tal- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar taqleb ta’ taħt fuq il-politika dwar l-użu tal-art u prattikament tfisser li minn issa l-quddiem proġetti kbar barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp mhu ser ikollhom l-ebda diffikulta biex ikunu approvati. M’hemmx ħtieġa li tkun professor biex tifhem li minn issa l-quddiem kull żvilupp ODZ jista’ jkun iġġustifikat mill- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar a bażi tal-fatt li l-art ODZ tiswa’ ferm inqas mill-art tajba għall-iżvilupp.

Jekk inħarsu ftit sewwa lejn ir-rapport tal-accountant insiru nafu li l-art ODZ kellha l-prezz ta’ €1,200,000 fil-waqt li l-art l-oħra tal-qies meħtieġ għall-proġett kellha prezz ta’ madwar €5 miljuni u nofs f’kull każ. Differenza ta’ madwar 4 darbiet!

Bħala riżultat ta’ din id-deċiżjoni, fl-opinjoni tiegħi, l- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar irmiet ix-xogħol utli li numru kbir ta’ professjonisti tal-ambjent u tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art għamlu tul dawn l-aħħar ħamsa u għoxrin sena. Hi deċiżjoni li tmur kontra l-emfasi kontinwa dwar il-ħtieġa li l-art limitata li għandu l-pajjiż tintuża b’mod sostenibbli. L- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għal darba oħra baxxiet rasha: il-kilba għall-profitti reġgħet rebħet fuq il-ħtieġa tal-ħarsien ambjentali. Il-bilanċ fil-kont tal-bank tal-ispekulatur hu iktar importanti għall- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar mill-użu sostenibbli tal-art f’pajjiżna.

Meta ttieħed il-vot finali, tlieta biss kienu l-membri tal-Bord tal- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li ivvutaw kontra: is-Sindku tan-Naxxar Anne Marie Muscat Fenech Adami, iċ-Chairman tal- Awtoritá tal-Ambjent w ir-Riżorsi Victor Axiaq kif ukoll r-rapprezentanta tal-għaqdiet ambjentali – Annick Bonello It-tlieta li huma mmotivaw id-deċiżjoni tagħhom li jivvutaw kontra l-proposta ta’ żvilupp minħabba li mhux aċċettabbli li tkun użata art ODZ għal dan l-iskop.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 23 ta’ Lulju 2017

Planning Authority says: develop ODZ, it is cheaper!

The decision taken by the Board of the Planning Authority last Thursday, with ten votes in favour and three votes against the development of 4,748 square metres of land Outside the Development Zone (ODZ) for a home for the elderly in Naxxar, will come back to haunt it in the very near future.

Application number PA 3592/16  was submitted in order to demolish a pre-1978 existing building and construct a facility for the care of the elderly and nursing home on disturbed land.

The first point of interest is the existing pre-1978 building on site. The Development Permit Application report describes this as an unoccupied derelict farm. When it  was constructed, this building was necessary in the interests of agriculture. Now that it is in a derelict state, the land should have been returned to its former state, rehabilitated as part of the rural landscape. Instead it is being used as a tool through which to ridicule land use planning policy.

Applying the provisions of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) policy document, the Planning Authority requested the applicant to commission a site selection exercise in order to ascertain whether, within the development zone, there existed land in the vicinity that could be developed for the desired purpose – a home for the elderly. 

The site selection report, dated May 2016, identified two sites – both of which were larger than required.  Specifically, the report states that the identified sites offered very good potential as alternative sites for the project under consideration.  The first site had an area of 11,287 square metres, while the second had an area of 6,844 square metres. Both sites are in Naxxar, very close to the site that is the subject of the application.

The Planning Authority next proceeded to request the applicant to produce a financial feasibility study. This study was produced days after the site selection exercise was completed. In fact, it is dated 30 May 2016. Briefly, the six page study – drawn up by a certified public accountant – concludes that, due to the fact that land within the development scheme costs substantially more than ODZ land, the project would only be financially feasible if ODZ land were used.

During last Thursdays Planning Authority Board public hearing, the Authority’s Executive Chairman stated that the PA’s own consultants had check this feasibility study before accepting it and instructing the applicant to proceed with considering ODZ sites.

This PA decision turns land use planning policy on its head and practically gives the green light to large-scale ODZ development in the future. It does not require rocket science to arrive at a conclusion that this specific decision signifies that practically any ODZ development can be justified on the basis that ODZ land is cheaper than land in the development zone. Perusal of the feasibility study submitted by applicant to the Planning Authority indicates that the ODZ land to be developed for this project has been priced at 1,200,000. The alternative sites, of equal area to the ODZ site under consideration, were each priced at approximately 5,500,000 : a four-fold difference.

In my opinion, the result of this decision is that the Planning Authority has thrown into the dustbin the hard work of a large number of planning and environmental professionals over the last 25 years.   This decision contradicts the continuous policy emphasis on the need to use land in a sustainable manner. The Planning Authority has once more bowed its head when faced with gluttonous greed. Profit has once more carried the day, to the detriment of environmental protection. The speculators bottom line is more important to the Planning Authority than sustainable use of land resources.

When the final vote was taken, only three members of the Planning Authority Board voted against, namely the Mayor of Naxxar Anne Marie Muscat Fenech Adami, the Chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority Victor Axiaq and the environmental NGOs’ representative Annick Bonello. All three were motivated in their decision to vote against the proposal because they deemed it unacceptable to have the development in ODZ land.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 23 July 2017

Wiċċu bla żejt

 

Persuna li ma tistħix ngħidulha li jkollha wiċċ bla żejt. Taġixxi b’mod sfaċċat, qiesu ma ġara xejn. Bħall-membru parlamentari tal-PN David Agius.

David Agius, meta kien membru parlamentari fuq in-naħa tal-Gvern kien, flimkien ma oħrajn, ivvota favur li art f’diversi partijiet ta’ Malta, fil-parti l-kbira tagħha art verġni, tingħata għall-iżvilupp. Issa qasam fuq in-naħa l-oħra u qiegħed jappoġġa lir-residenti li qed jipprotestaw kontra dan l-iżvilupp li hu ivvota favur tiegħu.

F’Ħ’Attard, fl-inħawi magħrufa Tal-Idward, fil-periferija taż-żona tal-iżvilupp, David Agius jappoġġa lir-residenti li qed jipprotestaw biex art agrikola ma tkunx żviluppata. Ir-residenti huma rrabjati għax issa hemm it-tieni applikazzjoni biex ikun determinat kif tista’ tkun żviluppata l-art fl-inħawi tal-Idward.

David Agius kien hemm, kważi ċass, bla espressjoni f’wiċċu. Ħdax-il sena ilu, fil-Parlament kien ivvota favur l-istess żvilupp li issa kien qed jipprotesta kontra tiegħu!

L-istorja kollha hi dwar dak li hu magħruf bħala l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li permezz tiegħu meded kbar ta’ art imxerrda mal-gżejjer Maltin, sa dakinnhar barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp, saru tajbin għall-bini. Bil-vot tiegħu favur dan kollu David Agius għin biex dan ikun possibli li jsir. David Agius mhux waħdu. Fuq il-bankijiet tal-Opposizzjoni għad hemm diversi kollegi tiegħu li għamlu bħalu.

L-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art hu strument li għandu jkun użat fl-interess tal-komunitá kollha, u mhux fl-interess tal-ftit. Sfortunatament, illum, ħdax-il sena wara huwa ċar iktar minn qatt qabel kemm l-eżerċzzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni injora lill-komunitajiet residenzjali tagħna madwar il-pajjiż kollu biex jaġevola lill-ispekulaturi.

Meta l-Parlament approva li meded kbar ta’ art barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp isiru żviluppabbli kien jaf li ma kien sar l-ebda studju biex ikunu mkejla l-impatti kumulattivi li rriżultaw minn din id-deċiżjoni. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-impatti tat-traffiku, l-kwalitá tal-arja, l-għargħar, id-dellijiet fuq bini diġa armat b’pannelli fotovoltajċi kif ukoll in-numru dejjem jiżdied ta’ propjetá vojta kienu fatturi injorati kompletament meta l-Parlament iddeċieda li japprova l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni.

Sfortunatament, l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, minkejja li kienet taf b’dan in-nuqqas baqgħet għaddejja u ma ppruvatx tagħmel tajjeb għan-nuqqas tal-Parlament.

Sadanittant, fil-Parlament, il-Ministru Ian Borg huwa u jwieġeb għall-kritika ta’ din id-deċiżjoni tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar ipponta subgħajh lejn l-Opposizzjoni. Imma dan mhux biżżejjed għax anke l-Partit Laburista wara 4 snin fil-Gvern ma għamel xejn dwar dan kollu.

Bosta minna niftakru li meta l-Partit Laburista kien fl-Opposizzjoni, fil-Parlament, kien ivvota kontra dan l-eserċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni. Dan iwassal għall-mistoqsija inevitabbli dwar jekk il-Partit Laburista bidilx fehmtu. Għax ħlief għal ftit kummenti waqt il-kampanja elettorali l-Partit Laburista qatt ma qal xejn dwar dan kollu. Dan x’jfisser? Għandna ninterpretaw in-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni mill-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern bħala qbil mal-ezerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni?

Sa fejn naf jiena, Alternattiva Demokratika biss indirizzat dan kollu waqt il-kampanja elettorali li għadha kif intemmet. Dan billi pproponiet li dawn it-tip ta’ permessi m’għandhomx joħorġu f’dawk il-lokalitajiet fejn hemm numru konsiderevoli ta’ propjetajiet residenzjali vakanti.

Jidher imma li l-partiti fil-parlament issa bidlu ir-rwol tagħhom. David Agius hu l-eżempju ovvju: meta l-partit tiegħu kien fil-Gvern jappoġġa l-ispekulazzjoni, u issa li qiegħed fl-Opposizzjoni taparsi jappoġġa lir-residenti.

ippubblikat fl-Illum il-Ħadd  9 ta’ Lulju 2017

David Agius’s mental gymnastics

 

David was always into sport – primarily basketball, if I remember correctly. He has, however, now dedicated considerable time to the practice of mental gymnastics.

In Attard, in the area known as Tal-Idward – which is just outside the development zone – David has time and again publicly manifested his support of the residents’ cause: opposition to the development of agricultural land. The residents have now vented their anger in a pubic protest against a second planning control application that seeks to identify what would be permissible development in the tal-Idward area at Attard, the first application having been turned down around three years ago.

David Agius, the Opposition Whip, stood there, with a poker face, not batting an eyelid. Eleven years ago, in Parliament, he voted in favour of permitting the same development against which he is now demonstrating!

The issue is the so-called “rationalisation exercise” as a result of which considerable tracts of ODZ land all over the Maltese islands will henceforth to be considered as developable land. In 2006, with his favourable vote in Parliament, David Agius, contributed to making this possible. On the Opposition benches, he is accompanied by a number of other MPs who likewise voted in favour of more virgin agricultural land being given up for development.

Land-use planning should keep in mind the interests of the whole community and not only the interests of a select few. Unfortunately, eleven years down the line, it is now more clear than ever that the rationalisation exercise has  completely ignored the interests of the residential communities all over the islands in order to satisfy the greed of land speculators.

When Parliament considered the approval of removing ODZ status of large tracts of land, primarily (but not exclusively) agricultural land, it did so in full knowledge of the fact that the cumulative impacts of such a decision had not been assessed. Such an assessment, which is prescribed in the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU, would have been mandatory had Parliament’s decision been taken some days later than it actually was.

As a result, traffic impacts, air quality, flooding, the shadowing of existing residential property equipped with photo-voltaic panels and the issue of an ever increasing stock of vacant properties were completely ignored when Parliament approved the rationalisation exercise.

The Planning Authority, unfortunately, notwithstanding that it is aware of the shortcomings underpinning the rationalisation exercise, has failed to take steps to mitigate these shortcomings apart from minor cosmetic changes to the  proposals submitted on behalf of speculators.

In Parliament Minister Ian Borg rightly pointed his fingers at the Opposition when replying to criticism of the above-mentioned Planning Authority’s decision.  Blaming the Opposition is however not enough as the Labour Party had sufficient time to act on the matter in the past four years, but has not done so. Most of us remember that the Labour Party itself, when in Opposition, had voted against the rationalisation exercise in Parliament. This leads to the inevitable question as to whether or not Labour has since changed its mind as – with the exception of a few sympathetic comments on the eve of the June general election – it has never committed itself to changes to the rationalisation exercise. Are we to interpret the Labour Party’s non-action as a change of political position, signifying agreement with the rationalisation exercise in the form approved by Parliament in 2006?

As far as I am aware, Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party, is the only political party to propose a specific measure on changes to the rationalisation exercise. This was done once more during the recent electoral campaign. Such a measure proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika is linked to the large number of vacant properties, which should be a break applied by land-use planning regulators in order not to develop more land unnecessarily.

But is seems that the Labour Party and the PN have switched roles. Hence David’s mental gymnastics: supporting speculators when in government, supporting residents when in opposition.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 9 July 2017

ODZ lessons : from  Żonqor to Għargħur

 

A planning application (PA3592/16)  to construct a home for the elderly in the area between Naxxar and Għargħur was due to be discussed by the Planning Authority Board on Thursday. Less than five hours before it was due to begin, however, the public hearing was postponed. There may be valid reasons for the postponement but, so far, such reasons – if they exist – are still unknown.

For the past few months, Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party in Malta, has been supporting the residents who are opposed to the development of this privately-owned  home in their neighbourhood since the planning application was first published.

There are various reasons which justify opposition to this proposed development. When faced with such a proposal, the first reactions understandably relate to the direct impact that it will have on the residential community – during both the construction phase and  the operational phase of the proposed facility. During the construction phase, this impact would include excavation noise and vibration, the nuisance caused by airborne dust during construction and the general inconvenience resulting from a large construction site very close to a residential community.

Once the home is in use, the traffic generated at all times of the day – as well as the occupying of residents’ parking spaces by visitors – will be one of the most pressing concerns to justify opposition to the proposal.

These are sensible reasons which justify opposition to the proposed development, even though some mitigation of these impacts is generally possible.

In my opinion, however, before even considering the proposal, it has to be emphasised that the construction of a home for the elderly outside the development zone (ODZ) between Naxxar and Għargħur is a good reason for objection in principle.

On the grounds of social policy, to continue encouraging the institutional care of the aged by way of residential homes does not hold water. It makes much more sense to help the older members of our society to remain in their homes as an integral part of the community, close to their roots, as long as this is possible. This should be the preferred option, rather than forcing them to abandon their roots and move away to the outskirts of our towns and villages.

The Social Policy Ministry harps on about the integration of the elderly in the community while the authority responsible for land use planning is facilitating their segregation. Obviously, somewhere there is a lack of understanding and coordination.

Locating homes for the elderly on the edges of our towns and villages is, in the long term, unsustainable. In addition to fostering segregation, instead of encouraging inclusion, it creates an environmental deficit by encouraging the displacement of a number of the residents of our town and village centres to what is now considered as ODZ land. As a result, this leads to an increase in the number of vacant residential properties while simultaneously adding to the built footprint of the Maltese islands – as if we do not have more than enough developed land!

The 2011 Census identified Għargħur as having a 28.5 per cent residential property vacancy rate. The rate for Naxxar was 24.5. These official statistics, which include both vacant properties and partially vacant properties, will undoubtedly get much worse.

This leads to another argument against the proposal to provide a home for the elderly in this particular area.  How can we justify taking up ODZ land for further development when even the site selection exercise, carried out as part of the application process, identified alternative sites within the development zone?

It seems that not enough lessons have been learnt as a result of the Żonqor debacle.  Is it not about time that the Planning Authority puts its house in order?

Policy coordination between the Ministries concerned with social policy, sustainable development, the environment and land use planning is obviously the missing link and should be addressed immediately.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 June 2017

Lil hinn mill-ġebla u l-kaċċa

 

Illum l-ambjent sar parti essenzjali mil-lingwaġġ politiku li jużaw il-partiti politiċi ta’ kuljum. Imma jekk dan hux kaz ta’ konvinzjoni jew konvenjenza, hu storja oħra.

L-ippjanar bl-addoċċ tal-użu tal-art tul is-snin flimkien mal-kaċċa irresponsabbli u insostenibbli kienu fuq quddiem fl-agenda ambjentali għal ftit taż-żmien mhux ħażin. Ġa ktibt b’mod estensiv dwar dan. Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent iżda, jfisser ħafna iktar minn hekk, avolja fiċ-ċirkustanzi partikolari ta’ pajjiżna kemm l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kif ukoll il-kaċċa ser jibqgħu fuq nett fl-aġenda ambjentali.

Żewġ oqsma li bla dubju ser ikunu fuq quddiem nett fl-aġenda ambjentali tal-pajjiż fix-xhur u s-snin li ġejjin huma l-kwalitá tal-arja u l-iskart li niġġeneraw.   Materji li ilna nitkellmu dwarhom is-snin bħala oqsma kruċjali li għandhom impatt fuq il-kwalitá tal-ħajja.

Il-kwalitá tal-arja f’pajjiżna hi effettwata prinċipalment mill-emmissjonijiet tal-karozzi. Teħtieġ li tkun indirizzata permezz  ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li tinkoraġixxi forom alternattivi ta’ aċċess sostenibbli bejn l-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna.

Il-metro li qed tiġi proposta ta’ min jikkunsidraha minkejja li s’issa għad ma hemmx dettalji biżżejjed dwar il-proposta nnifisha. Din il-proposta tal-metro, għandu jkun sottolinejat, tista’ tagħmel sens biss jekk tkun marbuta ma azzjoni simultanja li l-ewwel tnaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq b’mod sostanzjali u li sussegwentement tassigura li fit-toroq tagħna jkun hemm biss karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku.

Ma jagħmilx sens li tipproponi l-introduzzjoni ta’ metro u fl-istess ħin tibqa’ għaddej bi programm ta’ bini ta’ flyovers jew twessigħ ta’ toroq għax programm ta’ din ix-xorta filwaqt li jnaqqas il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku b’mod temporanju jżid il-kapaċitá tal-istess toroq li jieħdu iktar traffiku u dan minn innifsu jwassal għal iktar konġestjoni tat-traffiku.

L-użu ikbar tar-rota tradizzjonali kif ukoll tal-pedelecs ukoll jagħti kontribut sostanzjali għal iktar mobilitá u anke għal kwalitá tal-ħajja aħjar. Imma dan jeħtieġ investiment sostanzjali fl-infrastruttura. Dan jinkludi mhux biss toroq aħjar għal dawk li jużaw ir-rota imma ukoll faċilitajiet ta’ showers fil-post tax-xogħol flimkien ma postijiet addattati fejn titqiegħed ir-rota fiż-żoni riżervati għall-parkeġġ.

Il-mezzi differenti ta’ trasport pubbliku għandhom ikunu imħeġġa biex jagħmlu użu minn sorsi nodfa ta’ enerġija. Dan jista’ jsir billi, pereżempju l-karozzi tal-linja eżistenti jkunu konvertiti biex jaħdmu bil-metan.

L-iskart li niġġeneraw huwa wġiegħ ta’ ras ambjentali kbira li fl-aħħar qed jingħata iktar attenzjoni. Presentement qed ikun indirizzat l-iskart organiku ġġenerat mill-qasam domestiku. Jekk dan l-iskop jintlaħaq dan jista’ jagħti riżultati tajbin għax l-iskart organiku jammonta għal madwar nofs l-iskart li niġġeneraw mid-djar tagħna. Imma hemm ħtieġa urġenti ukoll li l-awtoritajiet tat-turiżmu jiffukaw ftit attenzjoni fuq l-iskart organiku li jiġġeneraw ir-restoranti u faċilitajiet simili għax dan il-qasam kien traskurat għal ftit taż-żmien mhux ħażin.

Il-qasam tal-iskart jista’ jiġġenera ħafna impiegi ambjentali (green jobs) f’industrija tar-riċiklaġġ li għad tista’ tikber għax għandha potenzjal kbir. Din hi problema li kibret magħna tul is-snin minħabba traskuraġni: nistgħu bi ftit attenzjoni nittrasformawha f’opportunitá li mhux biss tissarraf fi kwalitá tal-ħajja aħjar imma ukoll f’ġid ekonomiku.

ippubblikat fl-Illum  – 28 ta’ Mejju 2017

Green and clean :  beyond land use planning and hunting

It is obvious to everyone that the environment is nowadays an integral part of the political lexicon of all the political parties in Malta. Whether this is out of conviction or out of convenience is,  however, another story altogether. Irrespective of the objective, it is still however positive to observe this development.

Reckless land use planning over the years, as well as irresponsible and unsustainable hunting, have been at the forefront of the environmental agenda for quite some time and I have already written extensively on these topics. Caring for the environment signifies much more than this, even though both land use planning and hunting will, of necessity remain at the top of Malta’s environmental agenda.

However, competing for attention and resources, the quality of the air we breath – as well as the waste we generate – are two specific areas which will undoubtedly be on the environmental action agenda in the months and years ahead. These are areas which the environmental lobby has been emphasising for years on end as being crucial in determining a better quality of life for all.

Air quality has to be tackled head on through the formulation of a transport strategy that seeks to encourage alternative forms of sustainable access between our towns and villages. This will most probably be a combination of various means and actions.

The proposed metro is an option worth considering, even though details are currently not available. The metro will only be feasible if it is linked with focused action on reducing the number of cars from the road and ensuring that all remaining cars on the road, after a reasonable transition, are electric cars. It is useless promoting a metro and simultaneously retaining a substantial programme of road-widening and/or construction of flyovers. Improving the road network will only ease traffic congestion temporarily but it will simultaneously increase the capacity for more traffic leading in turn to more traffic congestion.

Encouraging the use of bicycles and pedelecs will contribute substantially to improved mobility and a better quality of life, including ever-improving air quality. Substantial investment in the bicycle infrastructure  is however required. This must include the provision of more bicycle friendly roads and shower facilities at places of work as an essential pre-requisite, together with more bicycle parking areas.

Different forms of public transport using clean energy should also be encouraged – for example, converting existing public buses to the use of methane as their primary fuel.

Waste management is another environmental headache, and which has, of late, been receiving more attention. An effort is currently under way to address the organic fraction of the household waste generated. If properly managed this could lead to substantial results as organic waste accounts for around 50 per cent of all the household waste generated. The tourism authorities must, however, seek to focus on the organic waste generated by bars and restaurants as MTA has neglected this matter for far to long.

Proper waste management can result in the generation of green jobs in the recycling industry – which is still in its infancy but holds a lot of potential.  It is an opportunity to transform a problem caused by neglect over the years  into an opportunity which will be both green and clean.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 28 May 2017

Ghost towns in the Maltese Islands

The last Census, carried out in 2011 – with results published in late 2014 – revealed that in the Maltese islands only 68.2 per cent of residential property is regularly occupied. The rest is either vacant (18.4 per cent) or else used seasonally or for some secondary use (13.3 per cent).

If we focus on the regional data, the situation is much clearer. The rate of occupied residential property varies – from 79.5 per cent in the Western Region (between Dingli, Siġġiewi and Balzan) to 46.4 per cent in the Gozo and Comino Region. Table 1 gives the full data. Property that is completely vacant varies from a rate of 16 per cent in the Northern Region (between Naxxar and Mellieħa) to 23.9 per cent in Gozo and Comino as shown it Table 2. Finally, property which is used seasonally or for some secondary use varies from an insignificant three per cent in the Southern Harbour Region (Valletta to Xgħajra, up to Paola and Luqa] to a staggering 29.7 per cent in Gozo, with the Northern Region (between Naxxar and Mellieħa) with a 25.9 per cent rate being a close second as shown in Table 3. This data has been extracted from the 2011 Census Final Report pages 221 and 222.

This amounts to more ten times the size of residential Birkirkara, meaning that the vacant or underutilised properties in Malta and Gozo at this time are equivalent to 10 ghost towns – each of which is equivalent to Birkirkara, the largest locality in the Maltese Islands. This represents a substantial waste of public funds. As a minimum it means that funds spent on the development of the infrastructure (roads, electricity, water, drainage and telecommunications) for these 10 ghost towns went down the drain and could have been mostly avoided.

While all this built-up residential property is vacant or under-utilised, the building industry keeps building more – thereby adding to the glut. They call this progress and a significant contribution to the economy. Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party and the environment lobby in Malta has been vociferous about this over-development of the Maltese Islands. This state of affairs has been worsening, with neither the Labour Party nor the Nationalist Party giving a fig about the consequences.

Instead of addressing the issue, the PN government increased the size of the development zone through the addition of the so-called “rationalisation” exercise. On the other hand, the Labour Party has, during the past four years, encouraged more development.

Last March I had the opportunity to represent a number of Mosta residents in opposing the scheming of a large tract of land at Tad-Durumblat, Mosta. This concerned 38,600 square metres of land which formed part of the rationalisation exercise piloted in 2006 by a PN-led government. Mosta has a sizable vacant and under-utilised residential area consisting of 19.4 per cent of the housing stock as in November 2011. The Executive Council of the Planning Authority accepted my arguments and rejected the relative planning control application, thereby saving – at least temporarily – this large tract of land from the greedy forces of development.

Faced with this situation, AD considers that the number of vacant properties in any locality should be an important criterion in determining whether development applications for larger areas are approved or not. This should also apply to the large tracts of land forming part of the rationalisation exercise, in respect of which the determination of the applicable scheme should not be decided if the number of vacant properties is substantial.

It is about time that this situation is addressed and for this purpose, AD’s election manifesto is making this specific proposal: in those localities where the number of vacant properties is substantial, large-scale residential projects will not be permitted.

This would be a good first step in addressing Malta’s ghost towns, ensuring that their enlargement is restrained and thereby applying a significant brake to over-development in the Maltese Islands.

 published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 14 May 2017

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 29,107 75.9
Northern Harbour 46,181 72.9
South Eastern 22,279 71.6
Western 19,584 79.5
Northern 23,989 58.1
Gozo and Comino 11,630 46.4

Table 1: Occupied property by Region 

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 1,113   3
Northern Harbour 6,650 10.5
South Eastern 3,294 10.6
Western 6,33  2.6
Northern 10,692 25.9
Gozo and Comino 7,444 29.7

Table 2: Property used seasonally or for secondary use by Region

 

Region No. per cent
Southern Harbour 8,126 21.2
Northern Harbour 10,556 16.7
South Eastern 5,552 17.8
Western 4,420 17.9
Northern 6,582 16.0
Gozo and Comino 5,996 23.9

 Table 3: Vacant Property by Region

Sens komun: fil-Mosta u f’Marsaxlokk

 

 

Matul dawn l-aħħar ġranet, Alternattiva Demokratika kienet qed tikkampanja kontra żvilupp massiċċ li ġie propost kemm fil-Mosta kif ukoll f’Marsaxlokk.  Din hi kampanja li ilha li bdiet ħdax-il sena, u tibqa’ għaddejja,  kontra t-tkabbir taż-żona żviluppabbli proposta minn George Pullicino, dakinnhar Ministru responsabbli għall-ambjent u l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Nhar il-Ġimgħa, f’Marsaxlokk, kien ta’ sodisfazzjoni li s-Sindku Horace Gauci, elett f’isem il-Partit Laburista, ingħaqad magħna ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika waqt konferenza stampa b’appoġġ għar-residenti Tal-Marnisi Marsaxlokk.

Hi kampanja biex is-sens komun favur l-ambjent jipprevali fuq id-deċiżjoni li kien ħa l-Parlament fl-2006 meta l-Gvern immexxi mill-PN mexxa ‘l-quddiem proposta biex żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp, ma jibqgħux iktar ODZ u minn dakinnhar jibdew jiffurmaw parti miż-żona ta’ żvilupp. Dan sar mingħajr ma ġew eżaminati l-impatti ta’ deċiżjoni bħal din, lejliet li kellha tidħol fis-seħħ id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar il-kejl tal-impatti strateġiċi ambjentali. Li ma sarx dan l-kejl, ifisser li l-impatti kumulattivi tal-iżvilupp li kien qed ikun propost kienu kompletament injorati.

Nhar it-Tnejn 20 ta’ Marzu l-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar ħa żewġ deċiżjonijiet kontrastanti dwar żewġ meded kbar ta’ art. Dwar l-ewwel waħda, art agrikola fil-Mosta tal-qies ta’ 38500 metru kwadru l-proposta bi pjan ta’ żvilupp kienet rifjutata filwaqt li dwar it-tieni waħda ukoll primarjament agrikola u b’qies ta’ 17,530 metru kwadru, l-propost pjan ta’ żvilupp kien approvat.

Fiż-żewġ każi ma sar l-ebda eżami tal-impatti soċjali, ekonomiċi u ambjentali u dan billi l-professjonisti tal-ippjanar li taw il-parir lill-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar kienu tal-fehma li d-deċiżjoni tal-2006 tal-Parlament kienet kemm ċara kif ukoll finali. Sfortunatament ma dehrilhomx meħtieġ li jeżaminhaw dan minn lenti kritika.

Fl-2006, il-Parlament kien iddeċieda li dawn iż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art ma kellhomx iktar ikunu meqjusa bħala barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ). Il-grupp parlamentari tal-PN kien ivvota favur din il-proposta, u dan jispjega l-għaliex dak li taparsi kkonverta favur l-ambjent, Simon Busuttil, għadu ma fetaħx ħalqu dwar dan kollu.  Imma l-Partit Laburista, dakinnhar fl-Opposizzjoni ma kienx qabel u kien ivvota kontra li din l-art tkun tista’ tingħata għall-iżvilupp. Għalhekk Joseph Muscat bħalissa qiegħed f’posizzjoni imbarazzanti.

Il-Partit Laburista għadu tal-istess fehma, jew bidel il-ħsieb? Għax issa waslet is-siegħa tal-prova. X’ser jagħmel? Għax anke jekk ikun meqjus li d-deċiżjoni tal-Parlament tal-2006 titfa’ ċerti obbligi fuq il-Gvern u fuq l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, xorta hu possibli li l-impatt tal-iżvilupp massiv li ġie propost ikun imtaffi.

Id-deċiżjoni tal-20 ta’ Marzu tal-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li biha l-applikazzjoni dwar l-art fil-Mosta kienet rifjutat hu l-mod kif għandhom isiru l-affarijiet. Hi deċiżjoni li s-Segretarju Parlamentari Deborah Schembri għandha żżomm quddiem għajnejha meta l-każ ta’ Marsaxlokk jiġi quddiema biex tikkunsidra jekk tagħtix l-approvazzjoni tagħha. Jiena naħseb li s-Segretarju Parlamentari Schembri għandha tibgħat il-każ ta’ Marsaxlokk lura quddiem l- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar biex ikun ikkunsidrat mill-ġdid.

Żvilupp massiv ta’ din ix-xorta m’għandux ikun possibli meta hawn tant propjetajiet residenzjali vojta. Anke f’Marsaxlokk stess l-aħħar ċensiment, dak tal-2011, juri li 18.7% tar-residenzi huma battala filwaqt li 5.9% tagħhom jintużaw biss kultant. Nistgħu nibqgħu nibnu bil-goff meta għandna din il-kwantitá ta’ propjetá vojta?

Għandna bżonn ftit sens komun fl-ippjanar ta’ l-użu ta’ l-art. Sens komun li jagħti piz u konsiderazzjoni tal-impatti fuq il-komunitá kollha qabel ma jittieħdu deċiżjoniiet bħal dawn.

Fiż-żewġ każi, l-Mosta u Marsaxlokk, qed nitkellmu dwar raba’ li kienet tinħadem u li issa intelqet minħabba l-pressjoni kkawżata mill-iżvilupp. Dan hu process li jeħtieġ li nwaqqfuh minnufih. Illum qabel għada.

 

ippubblikat f’ Illum –  2 t’April 2017