Another fake consultation

Reading through the Green Paper entitled “Towards Cleaner Vehicles on Our Roads” it is evident that this consultation process is flawed. After being 4 years in the making, instead of proposing solutions it just asks questions which should have been answered by the Green Paper itself as part of the consultation process.

This is symptomatic of a government which has been continuously emitting conflicting signals on transport issues. The Green Paper recognises the obvious when it states that transport combustion emissions increased by 86 per cent over the period 1990-2018. The massive investment in unnecessary road infrastructure has been a major contributor in this respect, a point which is conveniently ignored by the Green Paper.

The proposed shift to cleaner vehicles on our roads is welcome, but on its own it is not sufficient. This measure will definitely reduce combustion emissions. It will however also shift the said emissions from our roads to the sources of the electrical energy used to electrify our roads. Knowing that government is planning to install a second interconnector to the Sicilian mainland for the supply of electricity it is clear that part of the emissions will be shifted 80 kilometres to the north, the rest to Delimara. It is still unclear how this will be reflected in the price we pay for electricity, as information on the matter is conveniently absent from the Green Paper.

The Green Paper rightly discusses the need to upgrade the skills of the technical personnel required in servicing and maintaining electric and hybrid vehicles. It also points towards the need for substantial investments in the infrastructure required particularly for charging points. However, it fails to address a number of points of controversy which require urgent resolution and should have been addressed through this consultation process.

The consumption of petrol and diesel is bound to decrease as a result of the drive towards the electrification of our roads. The rate of decrease of fuel consumption will depend on the manner in which the electrification exercise will proceed throughout the transition period. Why then has no moratorium been announced on the development and construction of new fuel stations? A number of controversial applications for fuel stations are still burdening the land use planning process when it should be crystal clear to all that in view of the electrification process, they will no longer be required. The consultation process is conveniently silent on the matter thereby encouraging unnecessary pressures on the planning process.

Simultaneously it is pertinent to point out that the sale of fuel contributes a substantial income to the exchequer which income will now slowly taper to near zero through the transition period. The Green Paper fails to volunteer information in this respect. How will this substantial income be substituted? Will the electrification process itself provide the substitute financial resources or will other areas of activity be tapped to make good? The amounts involved are substantial. In fact, the budgetary estimates for 2021 indicate a projected income of €154 million from excise duties on petroleum products. What are government plans for the substitution of this income? The Green Paper is once more completely silent on the matter.

The Green Paper refers to Low Emission Zones but it does not have the courage to make specific proposals. It is imperative that the transition period from now until the full electrification of our roads gradually adopts the identification of Low Emission Zones within which internal combustion engine vehicles will have a prohibited access. The Green Paper fails in this respect too.

The Green Paper refers to two studies which have been commissioned by the Cleaner Vehicles Commission on the electrification of our roads. These studies are not however available to inform this public consultation.

Notwithstanding having been announced four years ago, with ample time for preparation, this consultation process is deficient. It fails to address the basics: it fails to inform. It is a fake consultation.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 June 2021

Tonio Fenech u l-froġa tal-2006

Tonio Fenech, ex-Ministru tal-Finanzi, reġa’ tfaċċa, f’attività politika li saret fil-Palazz Verdala biex  jgħidilna kif jaħsibha. Qalilna li bl-ambjent ma tirbaħx elezzjonijiet. Imma huwa bil-permessi (tal-bini), żied jgħid, tirbaħ il-voti!   Bil-qdusija artifiċjali tas-soltu jimplika li l-ħsara ambjentali kienet essenzjali biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet! Għax għal Tonio Fenech kull sagrifiċċju jgħodd sakemm iwassal biex tirbaħ l-elezzjonijiet.

Dan mhu xejn ġdid. Il-problema hi li l-kejl sfortunatament hu biss mil-lum għal għada. S’issa ma konniex kapaċi nħarsu fit-tul, biex inqiesu sewwa l-impatt li d-deċiżjonijiet tal-lum għandhom fuq għada u l-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ warajna. Sfortunatament il-politika f’pajjiż tirraġuna: għada min raħ?

Wara li (flimkien ma oħrajn) Tonio Fenech kien responsabbli mhux biss għall-pjani lokali, imma ukoll għall-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li bih żdiedet sew l-art għall-iżvilupp, issa qed jipprova jimpressjona li qed jindem!   Il-proposta tiegħu li jorbot il-pjani lokali fil-Kostituzzjoni toħloq iktar problemi milli diġa inħolqu!

Il-pjani lokali u strumenti oħra li bihom nippjanaw l-użu tal-art neċessarjament ikunu ta’ wieħed minn żewġ tipi. Jistgħu jkunu ċari u preċiżi, bil-konsegwenza li għax rigidi jkun jeħtieġilhom tibdil regolari biex jirriflettu realtajiet u żviluppi ġodda.  Inkella jkunu ġeneriċi u jkun jiddependi mill-interpretazzjoni tagħhom u l-integrità ta’ min iħaddem il-proċess kollu.

Kull possibilità hi dipendenti fuq l-integrità u l-viżjoni ta’ dawk involuti fil-fażijiet differenti li jwasslu sad-deċiżjonijiet.  Ma hemmx spjegazzjoni oħra: qegħdin f’nofs din il-froġa minħabba li Tonio Fenech u sħabu kienu bla viżjoni.  Inżid ngħid li b’mod konxju inkarigaw bil-proċess deċiżjonali numru ta’ persuni li ma kellhomx idea tal-impatt fit-tul ta’ dak li kienu qed jagħmlu. Kien jinteresshom biss mill-impatti immedjati: il-voti u l-elezzjonijiet kienu l-miri ewlenin tagħhom. Ġew jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ġid komuni.

F’dan kollu nifhem li l-integrità tfisser li tkun onest, b’subgħajk dritt, ta’ prinċipju. Kwalitajiet li huma nieqsa mill-pjani lokali.

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art huwa aspett importanti minn dak meħtieġ għall-ħarsien ambjentali: dan mhux konċernat biss mir-realtajiet tal-lum.  Jagħti sura lill-futur u jfassal il-qafas li fih jiżviluppaw il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. F’dan il-kuntest Il-korruzzjoni tal-ambjent biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet billi jitqassmu l-permessi tal-iżvilupp bħall-pastizzi hi l-agħar azzjoni possibli, nieqsa minn kwalunkwe ħjiel ta’ integrità.  Dan hu l-kontribut sinifikanti tat-tim tal-2006 fil-politika Maltija lill-kwalità tal-ħajja tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti u futuri.  Għaddew ħmistax-il sena minn meta Tonio Fenech u ta’ madwaru fl-2006 ħolqu din il-froġa ambjentali. L-impatti illum tad-deċiżjonijiet ta’ ħmistax-il sena ilu huma enormi. Sfortunatament ma hemm ħadd fil-Parlament illum li għandu l-kuraġġ li jibda it-tiswija u t-tindifa bis-serjetà tal-ħsara li ilha takkumula għal 15-il sena.

U issa? Sakemm jibqgħu jiġu eletti l-istess tip ta’ nies fil-Parlament ma hu ser jiġri xejn. Għad għandna bosta  li jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ħsara ambjentali, sakemm din tasal wara l-bieb tagħhom.  Huwa biss meta lkoll nirrealizzaw li l-vantaġġi immedjati għall-ftit ifissru tbatija fit-tul għal kulħadd li nkunu nistgħu nagħmlu l-ewwel passi fit-triq tal-fejqan.

Irridu nkunu kapaċi nifhmu kif dak li nagħmlu illum għandu effett fuq is-7 ġenerazzjonijiet li jiġu warajna. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh billi nqisu sewwa d-deċiżjonijiet u l-imġieba kollha tagħna. Ma jista’ jkun hemm l-ebda eċċezzjoni.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Tonio Fenech’s class of 2006

Tonio Fenech, former Finance Minister, has been resurrected onto a political platform to share his views in a recent political activity held at Verdala Palace.

The environment, he said, does not win elections. Development permits, on the other hand, win votes, Tonio Fenech emphasised! Tonio Fenech, sanctimoniously as ever, implies that it was essential to systematically ruin the environment, in order to win elections! Sort of, winning elections is an objective in respect of which no sacrifice is to be spared, in his opinion!

We have been there more than once before. Realistically speaking, the problem, in my view is entrenched short-termism and this is applicable not just to environmental politics but rather to a whole spectrum of issues of varying importance. We need to take the long-term view in our decision-making process at all levels and in all matters.

Having been responsible, together with others, for the approval not just of the Local Plans but also for the rationalisation (land use planning) exercise as a result of which extensive land was given up for development, it seems that Tonio Fenech is in atonement mode. However, his proposal of resolving the matter by enshrining Local Plans in the Constitution would create worse problems than those already inflicted upon Maltese society!

Local plans, and other land use planning instruments, necessarily need be one of two types. They could be either very clear and precise, in which case they would require periodic revision to reflect developments and new realities. Alternatively, local plans could be generic in which case much would depend on their interpretation and the integrity of those handling the process.

In each option much is dependent on the integrity and vision of those handling all the different stages of the decision-making process. There are no two ways about it: we are in the present mess due to the lack of vision of Tonio Fenech and his colleagues. I would also add that they consciously entrusted the decision-making process to various persons who had no idea of the long-term impact of what they embarked upon. They had their sights focused on short-term gains: winning votes and elections being among their primary objectives. Consciously they set aside the common good.

In my book integrity means the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, being morally upright. Qualities which are definitely missing in the local plans.

Land use planning is an important aspect of environmental stewardship, and it does not deal exclusively with present day realities. It also shapes the future and determines the parameters within which future generations can act. In this respect using a corrupted environment to consciously win elections through dishing out development permits is in my view the worst possible political declaration, devoid of any integrity. This is the significant contribution of the class of 2006 in Maltese politics to the quality of life of present and future generations. It has been fifteen years since Tonio Fenech and his class of 2006 created this environmental mess. The impacts today are enormous. It is unfortunate that no one in parliament has the courage to initiate the process to reverse this 15-year damage.

Where do we go from here? Realistically speaking we cannot go anywhere if the same type keeps making it to Parliament. We have had more than enough of those who ignore environmental blasphemy until it arrives at their doorstep or their street! The moment we realise that short-term gains for the few signify long-term pains for all, we may start registering some progress. We need to realise that the way forward is to be good ancestors to at least the next seven generations: ensuring that we take the long-term view in all our decisions. There is no room for any exception.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 June 2021

It-taħwid fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Qatt ħsibt ftit dwar kif inhu possibli li r-regolatur tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art f’Malta jinsab fl-istat ta’ taħwid li qiegħed? Ħarsu ftit lejn il-proċeduri kriminali li għaddejjin bħalissa dwar il-ħasil tal-flus. Wieħed mill-akkużati hu Matthew Pace li sa ftit ilu kien membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Spettur tal-Pulizija li kien qed jixhed fil-każ iddeskrivieh bħala professjonist tal-ħasil tal-flus:  a professional money launderer.

Ftit jiftakru li f’Ġunju 2018 kellna aħbar li l-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) kienet immultat lil  Matthew Pace is-somma ta’ €38,750 minħabba li ma segwiex il-liġijiet kontra l-ħasil tal-flus meta kien qed jieħu ħsieb l-investimenti tal-klijent tiegħu Keith Schembri. Dan kien fatt magħruf. Mid-dehra l-Gvern kien kuntent bih, għax ma għamel xejn dwaru. Qiesu ma ġara xejn.

Ikun interessanti nkunu nafu jekk il-konsulent legali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, ċertu Dr Robert Abela, ġibitx l-attenzjoni tal-Awtorità dwar il-ħtieġa li taġixxi dwar dan. Jekk le, forsi l-istess Dr Robert Abela bħala l-konsulent legali ta’ Joseph Muscat ġibidlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan? Ma smajna xejn dwar dan kollu.  ilkoll kompromessi. Governanza tajba? U mhux hekk tgħid.

Matthew Pace għamel snin membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kien biss wara l-każ ċar ta’ kunflitt ta’interess tiegħu  fil-każ tal-applikazzjoni ta’żvilupp mill-Grupp dB f’Pembroke li kien sfurzat jirreżenja u dan wara pressjoni pubblika minn ambjentalisti. Ngħid li kien “sfurzat” għax wara li l-Qorti annullat il-permess mogħti lill-Grupp dB fuq il-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Matthew Pace hu kien għall-ewwel irrifjuta li jwarrab. Kien ippruvat li huwa ħa sehem fil-laqgħat li wasslu għal deċiżjoni dwar il-permess tad-dB f’Pembroke, u ivvota favur din l-applikazzjoni.  Fl-istess ħin kellu interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetà li kienet qed tbiegħ  partijiet minn dan l-iżvilupp sa minn qabel mal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, bil-vot tiegħu stess favur, approva din l-applikazzjoni! Dik governanza tajba. Dik imġieba korretta!

Din hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Sfortunatament il-membri l-oħra tal-Bord huma ukoll effettwati minħabba l-assoċjazzjoni tagħhom miegħu.  Iridu jgħaddu snin kbar qabel mar-regulatur jirkupra minn dan.

Imma hemm iktar minn hekk.

Ambjentalisti skoprew, kważi b’kumbinazzjoni, li c-Chairman attwali tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar  (EPRT) li jisma’ appelli dwar każijiet ta’ ippjanar tal-użu tal-art u oħrajn dwar l-ambjent huwa ukoll impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.  Presentement qiegħed b’leave bla ħlas mill-impjieg normali tiegħu mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bid-dritt li jmur lura għall-impieg normali tiegħu hekk kif tintemm il-ħatra tiegħu bħala Chairperson tat-Tribunal.  

Kif jista’ impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jikkunsidra appelli minn deċiżjonijiet li jieħu min jimpjegah? Dan imma hu dak li jagħmel kuljum ic-Chairman tal-EPRT.  L-anqas jekk jipprova ma qatt jista’ jkun imparzjali. Imma meta inġibditlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan ma qabilx li s-sitwazzjoni partikolari tiegħu titfa dell fuq l-imparzjalità tiegħu meta jiddeċiedi dwar kazijiet tal-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art. Fl-aħħar ser tkun il-Qorti li jkollha tiddeċiedi u l-ħsara li tkun saret sadanittant ser tkun waħda kbira.

It-taħwid, kif qed taraw, hu kbir. B’dawn in-nuqqasijiet etiċi ħadd m’għandu jiskanta li l-proċess dwar l-użu ta’ l-art tilef kull kredibilità.  

A mess by design

Did you ever wonder why it is possible for the land use planning regulator in Malta to be in such a mess? Just take a look at the criminal proceedings currently under way on money laundering. A former Planning Authority Board member, Matthew Pace, is one of the accused. A police inspector, explaining the investigation results has described him as a professional money launderer.

Few may remember that, way back in June 2018, an item in the news had announced that the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) had fined Matthew Pace the sum of €38,750 for breaching a number of anti-money laundering laws when dealing with investments held by a client of his named Keith Schembri. It was public knowledge and government was apparently happy as it did not act about it.

It would be interesting to know if the then legal advisor of the Planning Authority, a certain Dr Robert Abela, had flagged the issue and drawn the attention of the Authority on the need to take action. If not, could the legal advisor to Joseph Muscat, the same Dr Robert Abela, have drawn attention of his then boss to the matter? We have heard nothing about it. As we are by now aware, they are all compromised. Good governance my foot!

Mr Matthew Pace spent years as a member of the Planning Authority Board and it was only after his blatant case of conflict of interest in the dB Pembroke case that he was forced to resign as a result of public pressures by environmentalists. I say he was “forced to resign” as, when the Court annulled the dB Pembroke permit on the basis of Matthew Pace’s conflict of interest, he initially refused to make way. It was proven that he sat in judgement and participated in the decision on the dB Pembroke permit, voting in favour of its approval. Simultaneously he had an interest in an estate agency which was already “selling” units forming part of the dB Pembroke development even before the development permit was approved by the Planning Board with Matthew Pace’s vote in favour! Governance at its best!

This is the Planning Authority. Unfortunately, the other members of the Board are impacted by association. It will be many years before this regulator recovers.

There is more.

Environmentalists have discovered, almost by accident, that the current Chairman of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) while sitting in judgement on appeal cases concerning planning and environmental issues is still an employee of the Planning Authority. He is currently on leave without pay having the right to return to his employment with the Planning Authority when his current term as Chairman of the EPRT expires.

How can an employee of the Planning Authority sit in judgement on the decisions of his employer? Yet this is what the Chairman of the EPRT does every day. He cannot by any stretch of the imagination be impartial even if he tries his very best. Yet whenever he was challenged, he has refused to accept that his specific circumstances render him unsuitable to Chair the EPRT in all cases concerning the Planning Authority. This matter will eventually have to be decided by the Courts with possible considerable consequences.

The mess gets worse every day.

With these ethical failures it is no wonder that the credibility of the land use planning process has gone to the dogs.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 March 2021

Dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx

Id-dritt li jkollna aċċess għax-xemx reġa’ għal darba oħra qed jissemma b’insistenza. Dawk fostna li huma konxji li l-użu tax-xemx għall-ħtiġijiet tagħna jagħmel kemm sens ambjentali kif ukoll sens ekonomiku qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Sfortunatament huma ostakolati mill-politika dwar l-użu tal-art li hi interessata biss biex taqdi lir-rebgħa li, jippruvaw jgħidulna li hi żvilupp.

Li nagħmlu użu mill-enerġija li tiġġenera x-xemx jiddependi minn dak li jkun hemm jostakola l-wasla tar-raġġi tax-xemx meta jkollna ħtieġa tagħhom! Meta l-parti l-kbira tal-pjani lokali kienu approvati fis-sajf tal-2006, kien żdied bil-kbir l-għoli tal-bini permissibli f’diversi lokalitajiet. F’xi każi l-ammont ta’ sulari li jistgħu jinbnew żdiedu minn 2 għal 5, inkluż penthouse. Is-sitwazzjoni hi agħar fejn jista’ jkun hemm garaxxijiet li jkunu parzjalment taħt il-livell tal-triq (semi-basement). Din il-bidla f’dak li jista’ jinbena effettwat ħafna żoni fejn kien hemm bini b’żewġ sulari.

L-impatt ta’ din il-bidla fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini qiegħed jiżdied biż-żmien għax issa qed isir żvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ bosta propjetajiet li ilhom ftit ta’ żmien li nbnew. Dan qed joħloq ħafna dellijiet fuq bosta djar residenzjali fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan il-pannelli fotovoltajċi u l-istallazzjonijiet li jsaħħnu l-ilma bix-xemx (solar water heaters) stallati fuq il-bjut ta’ bosta residenzi issa qegħdin fid-dell għall-ħin twil u ġew ma jiswew xejn. Dawn huma investimenti li għamlu ħafna familji Maltin li ġew issagrifikati fuq l-altar tar-rebgħa tal-hekk imsejjaħ żvilupp. Sussidji użati bħala għajnuna biex niġġeneraw l-enerġija mix-xemx, inkluż dawk li oriġinaw minn fondi Ewropej, f’numru mhux żgħir ta’ każi spiċċaw moħlija.

Dan kollu hu riżultat ta’ politika dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art bla viżjoni fit-tul. Politika li falliet biex tqis u tindirizza impatti ovvji. B’mod speċifiku hi riżultat li teżamina l-proposta dwar l-għoli permissibli tal-bini fid-dawl tal-proċeduri stabiliti mid-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Din hi direttiva li tfittex li teżamina politika (policy), pjani u programmi biex ikun stabilit u eżaminat l-impatt ambjentali tagħhom.

Dawk minnha li huma familjari ma kif taħdem u ħadmet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jafu li l-Pjani Lokali ġew approvati bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Dan sar l-għaliex iktar dewmien kien ikun ifisser illi dawn il-pjani kienu jkun soġġetti għal eżami dwar l-impatti ambjentali tagħhom skond kif tipprovdi d-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Inevitabilment kien jirriżulta minn dan l-eżami li ż-żieda fil-għoli tal-bini li seta jingħata l-permess kien ser ikollu impatt negattiv fuq il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku mix-xemx, kif fil-fatt qed jiġri llum! Dan l-impatt kien ikollu jkun indirizzat u l-għoli tal-bini kien ikollu jonqos.

Kellna parti mill-Gvern taħdem favur il-ħtieġa li nagħmlu użu mix-xemx biex niġġeneraw enerġija nadifa. Imma kellna parti oħra mill-Gvern li kienet ostaġġ tal-lobby tal-iżviluppaturi li riedu iktar spazju fejn jistgħu jiżviluppaw. Il-bqija nafu x’ġara. Dak l-ispazju issa qed jiġi żviluppat u bħala riżultat spiċċajna bil-pannelli fid-dell fuq il-bjut!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, fil-Parlament, Miriam Dalli, Ministru għall-Enerġija, l-Intrapriża u l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli fi tweġiba għal mistoqsija parlamentari ta’ Ryan Callus kelliemi tal-Opposizzjoni dwar l-Enerġija qalet li l-Gvern għaddej b’konsultazzjonijiet interni dwar dan kollu.

Tant ilna niddiskutu dan kollu li mhux nifhem x’għandha f’moħħha l-Onorevoli Ministru. Fil-fatt ftit hemm possibilitajiet x’jiġu kkunsidrati.

L-iktar possibilità ovvja hi li fejn hu possibli jitreġġa’ lura l-għoli permissibli tal-bini għal dak li kien fl-2006. Dan imma, hu diffiċli biex isir, u kieku kellu jsir immedjatament tasal talba għal kumpens ta’ miljuni ta’ euro.

Hu possibli li jkunu introdotti drittijiet dwar l-aċċess għax-xemx f’bini ġdid. Dan għandu jsir immedjatament. Hu possiblili li jkunu emendati r-regoli tal-ippjanar b’mod li jkun assigurat illi fil-bini ġdid, b’mod partikolari fil-bini ta’ flats, ikun possibli li minn fuq il-bjut tagħhom tkun ġġenerata l-enerġija mix-xemx. Dan għandu jkun biżżejjed u jagħmel tajjeb għall-konsum tal-elettriku fil-blokk tal-flats kollu. Dan ikun ifisser li l-arja ma tinżammx mill-iżviluppatur iżda tkun parti mill-blokk f’idejn is-sidien tal-flats biex fuqha jistallaw pannelli foto-voltajiċi. Dan jassigura li kull blokk ġdid ta’ flats ikun carbon neutral, jiġifieri jiġġenera elettriku mix-xemx daqs kemm ikun ikkunsmat. Il-pannelli b’hekk jieħdu post il-penthouse.

B’hekk nistgħu nibdew bil-mod insewwu l-ħsara li saret.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Frar 2021

Solar rights and planning wrongs

Solar rights are once more in the public debate. The number of those aware that utilising solar energy for our needs makes both environmental and economic sense is on the increase. Unfortunately, they are being obstructed by land use planning policy which is only interested in serving greed, camouflaged as development.

The utilisation of the sun’s energy is dependent on what gets in the way of the sun’s rays when we need them!  When most of the Local Plans were approved way back in summer of 2006, the permissible heights of building development in a multitude of areas were substantially increased. At times this increase was from 2 to 5 floors, including a penthouse level. It is worse where semi-basement garages are permissible. This change was in particular applied in respect of large areas with a previous predominance of two floored terraced houses. 

The impact of this change in the permissible height limitation is increasing in severity with time as the redevelopment of old properties is being gradually taken in hand. This is resulting in the shadowing of an ever-increasing number of residential units in a number of residential areas. As a result, solar water heaters and photo voltaic panels installed on a number of roofs in the past years, are now in the shade for a considerable amount of time and consequently are practically useless. Investments made by a number of our families have been sacrificed on the altar of development greed. Subsidies (including those originating from EU funds) which were utilised to assist the tapping of solar energy in a substantial number of cases have thus been thrown down the drain.

This is the result of myopic land use planning which failed to consider obvious impacts. Specifically, it is the result of the failure to subject the proposed height relaxation planning policies to the EU Strategic Environment Assessment Directive. The Strategic Environment Assessment Directive seeks to examine policies, plans and programmes in order to ensure that their environmental aspects are effectively considered.

Those of us familiar with the workings of the Planning Authority are aware that most of the Local Plans were rushed through to approval during the summer of 2006. This was done as any further delay would have made them subject to Strategic Environment Assessment procedures which would have inevitably highlighted the impact of height relaxation on the generation of solar energy. As a result, the conflict with the need to have solar energy generated would have been highlighted and most probably addressed.

While one section of government was encouraging one and all on the need to tap the sun’s rays to generate clean and renewable energy, another section, hostage to the development lobby was obstructing this and pushing forward their need for more space to develop! The rest is history. That space is currently being developed today, in the process obstructing the further generation of renewable energy on our rooftops.

In Parliament, earlier this week Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development Miriam Dalli in reply to a Parliamentary Question from Ryan Callus, spokesperson for Energy on behalf of the Opposition, stated that government was holding internal discussions on the matter.

The matter has been discussed many times to date so I cannot decipher exactly what Minister Miriam Dalli has in mind. There are in fact very few possible options which can be considered.

The most obvious option is to revise as much as possible the height relaxation carried out in 2006. This will be very difficult to carry out, and, if done, it will be immediately followed-up by a request for compensation running into many millions of euro.

Alternatively, one can seek to introduce solar rights on new buildings without further delay. It is possible that planning policy is amended to ensure that all new properties, in particular blocks of flats, should generate sufficient electricity to cater for the number of units in the new block, thus ensuring carbon neutrality. Such a measure would essentially require that the roof is owned together with the individual units in order that owners of the said units may install photo voltaic panels. Consequently, it would signify that the space which till now has been utilised for the development of penthouses would henceforth be reserved for the generation of renewable energy.

In so doing a history of planning wrongs would commence the long and difficult road of correction.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 February 2021

Tourism planning needs tuning in to reality

A ten-year tourism strategy entitled Recover, Rethink, Revitalise has been published for consultation. It is a strategy which advocates an improvement in quality but does not seek to address the oversupply of bed-stock.

During summer of 2019, Tony Zahra, President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) had sounded the alarm: he was reported as saying that the number of tourists visiting Malta was too high. He emphasised that it was substantially exceeding the limits of what the country can take sustainably. Tony Zahra was obviously emphasising the interest of the lobby group which he heads: the hotel industry.

The proposed tourism strategy advocates a return to the pre-Covid19 tourism levels, albeit recognising that this will be difficult to achieve as well as accepting that it will take quite some time to be achieved, if at all. Searching through the tourism strategy document for the terms agri-tourism and eco-tourism yields a zero-return indicating that the document is more of a post-Covid hotel industry roadmap than a tourism strategy.

The strategy indicates that the best scenario forecasts until 2030 suggest an increase from the 2019 2.75 million tourists to between 3 and 3.2 million tourists which would generate an average 21 million overnight stays annually. The strategy goes on to state that on the basis of existing and in the pipeline licenced bed-stock this equates to an unprofitable 57.5 per cent occupancy rate. The unlicenced bed stock further dilutes occupancy rates closer to 50 per cent, we are informed by the strategy document.

This does not point towards a potential recovery but more that the tourism industry, is, in this critical period shackled by the land development free-for-all advocated by land use planning policies over the past years. Specifically, this has been done through the continuous tinkering with the height limitation adjustment policy for hotels as well as the haphazard application of flexibility in day-to-day land use planning.

This in no way translates into a quality improvement!

The decadent land use planning process has infected tourism planning too. No wonder that the former Chief Executive of the Planning Authority is now the CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority. It is poetic justice that he should be responsible for cleaning the mess to which he substantially contributed to!

Where do we go from here?

The authors of the tourism strategy are aware that there are other possible solutions but they shoot them down. These last months were an opportunity to re-examine the fundamental role of tourism within the overall socio-economic context of the Maltese islands. The Covid19 pandemic has resulted in a reduced movement of people, a less hectic lifestyle, reduced emissions and the reduction of other negative elements for which tourism is usually singled out as a major contributor. 

Contrary to what the proposed tourism strategy opines, it is not simplistic to seriously consider the need to reset the industry. A lower level of tourism activity would prove beneficial to the destination by making it less busy and less crowded to the benefit of both the local resident population and visitor satisfaction. Obviously, it would reduce the tourism contribution to the national economy, but it would also reduce the substantial costs which planners tend to ignore or else to shift onto other sectors! Costs are not just measured in financial terms but also in terms of environmental and social impacts.  

Some months ago, I had written about turistofobia, a term coined by Catalan anthropologist Manoel Delgado, indicating a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. The social discontent associated with the pressures linked to tourism growth cannot be ignored any further.

Among the issues contributing to this developing tourist phobia are social discomfort, environmental degradation (including both generation of waste and excessive construction activity), traffic congestion, noise, the loss of cultural identity and socio-cultural clashes.

The post-Covid19 recovery is a unique opportunity for tourism planners to take note of and tune in to reality.  Unfortunately, the proposed strategy sidesteps the real issues.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 31 January 2021

Incinerating trust, fairness and common sense

A public consultation is currently under way until the 21 October relative to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which examines Wasteserve’s proposal:  the development of a Waste to Energy Facility, to operate in conjunction with other management operations within the so-called Magħtab Environmental Complex.

It is a duty of Wasteserve defined in terms of the EU environmental acquis applicable within Maltese territory to examine the environmental impacts of its proposal within the framework of agreed terms of reference approved by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). The detailed reports together with the supporting technical information are then subject to public consultation.

The EIA in respect of the Magħtab incinerator is commissioned by Wasteserve, however it serves to inform the whole decision-taking process. Contrary to the disclaimer by the EIA’s coordinator in the first few pages, the reports forming the EIA are not “for the exclusive use of Wasteserve Malta Limited”. I fail to understand how ERA has accepted to include this disclaimer when it is clear, even from a cursory look at the Environment Impact Assessment Regulations that the EIA is an important document which informs the environmental and land use planning decision-taking process. It is in particular used to inform the public and on its basis a public hearing is organised to take feedback from all interested parties.

The EIA is certainly a public document in respect of which its coordinator has to shoulder responsibility as to its accuracy and reasonableness. Having a disclaimer as that indicated above is certainly not acceptable. ERA should pull up its socks and ensure the deletion of the said disclaimer forthwith.

A cursory look at the Magħtab incinerator EIA, including the technical studies attached reveals the names of a number of experts who have given their input in the formulation of the studies required which studies are then distilled in an appropriate assessment report.

One of these experts is a certain professor Alan Deidun who concurrently with participating in this specific EIA is also a member of the ERA Board, the environmental regulator. He sits on the ERA Board after being nominated by the environmental NGOs as established by legislation.

Professor Alan Deidun is conveniently with one foot on each side of the fence: forming part of the regulatory structure and simultaneously advising the developer, in this case Wasteserve Malta Limited, a government entity. In my book this is the type of conflict of interest which instils a deep sense of distrust of the regulatory authorities. Alan Deidun is running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.

Can we ever trust “regulators” who, whenever they feel like it, offer their services to those they “regulate”?

Interestingly, one of the documents available for public scrutiny contains a declaration by twenty-one expert contributors to the EIA, each of whom declares that s/he has no conflict of interest: the conflict however being narrowly defined in terms of an interest in the development itself.  The EIA Regulations do not limit “conflict of interest” to an interest in the development but speak of “no conflict of interests”. No wonder even Professor Alan  Deidun signed this declaration!

Regulation 17 of the EIA Regulations of 2017 lays down that those carrying out the EIA must be “professional, independent and impartial”. How can the regulator be “professional, independent and impartial” when he starts advising those s/he regulates?

It is about time that the environmental NGOs recall Professor Alan Deidun from his role as a member of the ERA Board representing them, as such behaviour is unacceptable in this day and age.

It may be pertinent to point out that very recently, a development permit, in respect of the development of Manoel Island, was withdrawn by the Environment and Planning Tribunal due to the fact that one of the contributors to the EIA had a conflict of interest.

It is about time that regulators understand that their acceptance to sit on decision-taking structures puts limits on their permissible professional activities. Until such time that this basic point is acted upon our authorities cannot be fully trusted. Their behaviour is incinerating trust, fairness and common sense.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 October 2020

Qed tinħema oxxenità oħra fi Triq Wied l-Infern Iż-Żebbuġ Għawdex: applikazzjoni PA6868/20

Għadu kif kitibli żagħżugħ Għawdxi li ġibditli l-attenzjoni għal applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp, friska, friska (PA6868/20), fil-Wied taż-Żebbuġ Għawdex, fi trieqtek lejn Marsalforn. It-triq jisimha Triq Wied l-Infern u tagħti għal Triq il-Qbajjar Marsalforn.

Ir-ritratt juri l-inħawi kif jidher fuq Google.

Quddiem xi kmamar ta’ kostruzzjoni qadima (ħnejjiet, xorok, kilep, travi tal-injam …….) il-pjanti juru li hemm indikazzjoni ta’ oqbra feniċi u punici ukoll.

Mela din l-applikazzjoni ODZ fil-Wied mhux biss ser tagħmel il-ħsara f’wieħed mill-widien li għadu mhux daqstant mittiefes imma hemm ċans ukoll tagħmel ħsara lill-wirt arkeoloġiku.

Iż-żmien għall-oġġezzjonijiet jibda nhar il-21 t’Ottubru u jagħlaq nhar l-20 ta’ Novembru.

Min jixtieq l-għajnuna biex joggezzjona jibgħatli messaġġ fuq carmel.cacopardo@alternattiva.org.mt.