Fast food, slow death

Planning application with reference number PA 11067/17 for the development of a new McDonalds outlet on the outskirts of Żabbar is one of the latest attempts to nibble at our ODZ land. As readers are aware, the letters “ODZ” stand for Outside the Development Zone, meaning that the land in question should ideally not be developed at all.

However, the site selected for the possible development of the McDonalds fast food chain outlet lies in an area that has been slowly developed over the years. When the Local Plans were finalised 12 years ago, the site at Salvu Pulis Street in Żabbar and the surrounding development were defined as an ODZ (rural) settlement: meaning that it was an existing residential development outside the development zone that was to be contained and not allowed to spread any further.

Beyond the technical jargon, ODZ land should remain outside the development zone. The Local Plans have been supplemented by a myriad of additional policies and guidelines which unfortunately, but clearly intentionally, create so many policy contrasts and conflicts that it would not be amiss to conclude that practically anything can be justified on the basis of existing policy.

Having a McDonalds outlet in the chosen site at Żabbar is not compatible with the residential nature of the area, but I would not be surprised at all if another planning somersault of Olympic proportions leads to the approval of this application. The problem with most of the decision-takers at the Planning Authority is that they have little, if any, planning or environmental sense. This insensitivity is contributing to the slow and painful death of our countryside as well as that of our small settlements.

Just go slowly through the list of cases which have made it to the front pages of our newspapers and you will get a good idea of what has slowly but surely led to the current state of affairs. The basic problem is the men and women selected to be the decision-makers. The present ones are not much different from the previous ones: (although with some exceptions) generally they are useless. Some of them occasionally try to be reasonable.

Very rarely, a reasonable decision threatens the current order of things and looks likely to slip out: as the recent case on the Magħtab fuel station. The decision-taking rules are designed to trigger an automatic self-defence mechanism against those who dare overstep their brief: the definite decision is postponed to the next sitting. It is then possible to call in the reserves to vote and the habitual absentees turn up, thereby ensuring a full house at the next Board meeting. There is also sufficient time to convince those who may have “misunderstood” matters and dared speak their mind. It is then possible to ensure that the majority falls in line.

This has created an institutional double hurdle against the environment and its protection. It is specifically designed to be so by the author of the 2016 Development Planning Act, clearly intended to introduce an institutional check on those who dare sing from a different hymn sheet from the one available. It is the slow death of our countryside and our environmental heritage – not just at Ħaż-Żabbar, but all over the islands.

Some of those who grumble and fill the comments sections of our newspapers with their views need to consider whether they have contributed to all this by repeatedly electing those who have designed this mess.

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 February 2018


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

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

Is-sit tal-ITS f’Pembroke : l-art pubblika, profitti tal-privat

L-iżvilupp tas-sit preżentement okkupat mill-Istitut tal-Istudji Turistiċi f’Pembroke reġa’ fl-aħbarijiet. Is-settur pubbliku jipprovdi l-art filwaqt li l-Grupp dB jimpala l-euro, bil-miljuni.

Matul din il-ġimgħa l-media tkellmet dwar il-miljuni li qed jiġi miftieħem li jitħallsu għall-bejgħ eventwali ta’ sulari sħaħ fit-torrijiet tal-Grupp dB. Dawn m’humiex flejjes li ser jitħallsu għal xiri ta’ propjetà fuq il-pjanta, għax s’issa la hemm permessi u l-anqas għad m’hemm l-ebda pjanta ffinalizzata. L-awtoritajiet tal-ippjanar għadhom fl-istadji inizzjali fl-eżami tagħhom tal-proġett propost: l-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) għadha kif bdiet il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni statutorja dwar l-Istudju tal-Impatt Ambjentali (EIA) li għandu għaddej sat-12 ta’ Frar. Minkejja li l-ERA għad tista’ tirrakkomanda tibdil, żgħir jew kbir, fil-proġett wara li tkun ikkunsidrat bir-reqqa l-EIA, qiesu li l-iżviluppaturi huma ċerti li mhu ser ikun hemm l-ebda konsiderazzjoni ta’ ippjanar jew ambjent li ser ixxekkel dak li bosta jqiesu li hu proġett żejjed u mhux meħtieġ.

Id-dokumenti ppreżentati għall-iskrutinju pubbliku huma sostanzjali u voluminużi. Imma possibilment fihom in-nieqes u għaldaqstant diġa ktibt lill-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi biex tirrimedja u tippubblika dak li ġie identifikat bħala nieqes s’issa.

Dokument ta’ interess li insibuh fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA huwa l-Project Description Statement (PDS) li tħejja minn ditta (partnership) ta’ periti li ftit kienet magħrufa s’issa. Din id-ditta iġġib l-isem ta’ Landmark Architects u jirriżulta li titmexxa mill-ekx-Ministru tat-Trasport il-Perit Jesmond Mugliett.

Fil-paġna 5 ta’ dan id-dokument, il-Perit Mugliett jikteb hekk “Nhar it-2 ta’ Frar 2017, il-Gvern u s-soċjetà dB San Gorg Property Limited iffirmaw il-kuntratt għat-trasferiment tal-art li dwarha ħarġet sejħa pubblika għall-proposti. Kemm il-Gvern ta’ Malta kif ukoll is-soċjetà dB San Gorg Property Limited jaqblu li l-evalwazzjoni tal-proġett ta’ żvilupp m’għandhiex iddum iktar mill-perjodu minimu stabilit mill-leġislazzjoni tal-ippjanar. (On the 2nd of February 2017, the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited signed the contract for the granting of the RFP site. Both the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Ltd. agree that evaluation of the project development should not extend beyond the minimum time frames established by Planning Law.) Fil-fehma tiegħi dan ifisser li l-Gvern diġa rabat idejn l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar dwar kif din għandha topera f’dan il-kaz.

L-iżviluppatur donnu mhux inkwetat li l-Masterplan imfassal għal Paceville ġie skartat u beda l-proċess biex dan jitfassal mill-ġdid u dan wara l-konsultazzjoni pubblika mqanqla li kellna lejn tmiem l-2016. L-awtur tal-PDS fil-fatt jinfurmana li “L-Gvern ta’ Malta u s-soċjetà dB San Gorg Property Limited komplew bin-negozjati, u eventwalment qablu li ma kienx fl-interess tal-proġett, tal-industrija Maltija tat-Turiżmu u tal-ekonomija Maltija li joqgħdu jistennew li jkun konkluż dan il-Masterplan.” (The Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited continued with negotiations, eventually coming to an agreement that it was not in the interest of the project, the Maltese Tourism Industry and the Maltese economy to wait for the conclusion of this masterplan.)

Dan, fil-fehma tiegħi jimmina l-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika. Għax liema huma r-regoli u policies tal-ippjanar li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ser isegwi fuq is-sit illum okkupat mill-Istitut tal-Istudji Turistiċi? Il-proposta diġa tidher ċar li tmur kontra dak li jipprovdi l-pjan lokali tal-2006 li hu applikabbli. Allura fuq liema kriterji ser tkun ivvalutata l-proposta ta’ żvilupp?

Xi żmien ilu konna infurmati li l-ebda żvilupp fl-inħawi m’hu ser jitħalla jibda sakemm ikun konkluż Masterplan ġdid għal Paceville. Dakinnhar kien emfasizzat li l-proposti dwar is-sit tal-ITS f’Pembroke seta jkun evalwat biss wara l-approvazzjoni tal-Masterplan ġdid għal Paceville.

Din hi wegħda li kienet skartata kompletament!

Kien ukoll ġie mwiegħed li l-Masterplan il-ġdid ma kienx ser ikun imniġġes minn kunflitti ta’ interess. Tgħid din il-wegħda ser tkun injorata ukoll?


ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd : 21 ta’ Jannar 2018

Pembroke ITS site : public land – private profits


The redevelopment of the site currently occupied by the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS) in Pembroke is again in the news: the public sector is providing the land while the dB Group will rake in the profits – amounting to millions of euro.

During the week various media outlets focused on the millions being forked out for the eventual purchase of entire floors in the dB Group towers. These are not the price for purchase of property still on plan, because no permits have yet been issued, nor have the plans as yet been finalised. The examination of the proposed development by the planning authorities is still in its initial stages: the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has just kicked off the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) statutory consultation period, which is scheduled to run until 12 February. Notwithstanding the fact that the ERA may recommend changes to the planned project as a result of its consideration of the EIA, it seems that the developers are sure that there will be no planning or environmental issues which can put the breaks to what most people consider an ill-advised project.

The documents presented for public scrutiny are voluminous, but possibly incomplete, and I have already written to ERA to complete the missing information gaps, at least those identified to date.

A basic document of interest, available on the ERA website, is the Project Description Statement (PDS) – the work of an as yet unknown partnership of architects going by the name of “Landmark Architects”. It transpires that this partnership is headed by former Transport Minister Jesmond Mugliett, who writes on page 5 of the PDS : “On the 2nd of February 2017, the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited signed the contract for the granting of the RFP site. Both the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Ltd. agree that evaluation of the project development should not extend beyond the minimum time frames established by Planning Law.” To my mind this signifies that the government has already tied the Planning Authority’s hands as to how it should operate in this case.

The developer is not (apparently) worried that the Paceville Master Plan was sent back to the drawing board after the agitated public consultation late in 2016. The author of the PDS, in fact, informs us that “The Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited continued with negotiations, eventually coming to an agreement that it was not in the interest of the project, the Maltese Tourism Industry and the Maltese economy to wait for the conclusion of this masterplan.”

Does this not undermine the whole consultation process? What planning rules and/or policies will the Planning Authority follow at the former ITS site? On what criteria will the development proposal be evaluated – it already clearly goes beyond what is permitted in the applicable 2006 local plan.

Some time ago, we were informed that no new developments in the area would be given the go-ahead until such time as a new draft Paceville Master Plan was launched. It was then emphasised that the proposals for the Pembroke ITS site can only be properly assessed when the Paceville Master Plan is in place.

This pledge has been blatantly ignored by the development proposal.

It was also pledged that the new proposed Master Plan will not be tainted by conflicts of interest as was the original one. Will this pledge also be ignored?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 January 2018

Ħmar il-lejl: l-ippjanar għall-kosta u r-riżorsi marittimi

Nhar it-Tnejn il-Parlament beda d-diskussjoni dwar l-implimentazzjoni tal-leġislazzjoni tad-dimanju pubbliku u b’mod partikolari dwar rapport li ħejjiet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fuq is-siti nominati. Ir-rapport jirreferi għal 24 sit nominati prinċipalment mill-għaqdiet ambjentali: 16-il sit kienu nominati minn Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), seba’ siti minn Friends of the Earth u sit wieħed mill-Ministru għall-Ambjent Josè Herrera.

Id-diskussjoni għadha fl-istadji inizzjali u s’issa kienet limitata għal spjegazzjoni tal-liġi li l-Parlament approva lejn nofs l-2016.

Moħbi mill-attenzjoni pubblika hemm il-ħtieġa urġenti li tkun implimentata d-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Ispazju Marittimu. Din id-Direttiva kellha tkun addottata sa tmiem l-2014. Permezz tal-Avviż Legali 341 tal-2016 Malta nnominat lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bħala l-awtorità kompetenti li ser tieħu ħsieb dak li għandu x’jaqsam mal-ippjanar tal-ispazju marittimu fil-gżejjer Maltin.

Wara li staqsejt inġibdet l-atttenzjoni tiegħi li l-Pjan dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu għal Malta diġà jifforma parti mill-Pjan Strateġiku dwar l-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development – SPED). Ngħid il-verità ma kontx irrealizzajt dan. Ħsibt li kien hemm xi paġni f’dak id-dokument li kienu qabżuli u allura mort infittex mill-ġdid u sibt sezzjoni intitolata Coastal Zone and Marine Area u taħtha tlett oġġettivi għall ħarsien tal-kosta. Dawn l-oġġettivi jistgħu, u nittama li jkunu, sviluppati fi strateġija dettaljata dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu Malti.

Waqt li Malta jidher li llimitat ruħha għal tlett oġġettivi xotti, pajjiżi oħra għamlu ħidma kbira biex jippreparaw il-pjani tagħhom dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu. L-Irlanda, per eżempju, ippubblikat dokument ta’ 88 paġna intitolat Harnessing our Ocean Wealth. An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland. Min-naħa l-oħra, ir-Renju Unit ippubblika dokument ta’ 55 paġna intitolat UK Marine Policy Statement.

Dawn iż-żewġ dokumenti jidħlu fid-dettall dwar l-Ippjanar għall-Ispazju Marittimu meħtieġ fl-Irlanda u r-Renju Unit. Bla dubju dawn id-dokumenti jeħtieġ li jkunu supplimentati bi pjani ħafna iktar dettaljati. Id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja fil-fatt tistabilixxi s-sena 2021 bħala d-data sa meta għandhom ikunu ffinalizzati l-Pjani għall-Ispazju Marittimu.

Malta hi gżira mdawra bil-baħar Mediterran. Fatt li għandu jkun rifless f’politika marittima serja u aġġornata. Sfortunatament dan mhux il-kaz għax jidher li għalina f’Malta it-tlett oġġettivi dwar il-kosta fil-Pjan Strateġiku dwar l-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (SPED) huma biżżejjed.

Id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Ispazju Marittimu bla dubju hi intenzjonata biex iċċaqlaqna ħalli nimlew it-toqob fil-politika tagħna. L-ekonomija l-blu, jiġifieri l-ħidma ekonomika li tiddependi fuq l-użu tar-riżorsi marittimi, teħtieġ attenzjoni ħafna iktar dettaljata.

Il-Gvernijiet Maltin, wieħed wara l-ieħor, għamlu ħerba fuq l-art u ħsara bla qies fiż-żoni naturali. F’xi kazi l-ħsara li saret ftit tista’ tiġi rimedjata. L-ilma tal-pjan hu l-eżempju ewlieni.

L-ippjanar b’attenzjoni tal-Ispazju Marittimu jista’ jkun ta’ għajnuna biex din l-imġieba żbaljata tal-Gvernijiet ma tkunx esportata lil hinn mill-kosta ħalli wara li ħarbatna l-art ma nħarbtux il-baħar ukoll.

Snin ilu kien pass għaqli li kienet indirizzata l-kwalità tal-ilma baħar bl-introduzzjoni tal-impjanti għat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ. Għad baqa’ xi jsir biex l-ilma msoffi, flok jintrema, jibda jintuża. Kontinwament għadna niffaċċjaw it-tniġġiż mill-gaġeġ tal-ħut li għandna fl-ibħra u li qed ikollhom impatti kemm fuq iż-żoni residenzjali kif ukoll fuq il-faċilitajiet turistiċi. Imbagħad hemm ukoll is-sajd, it-tibdil fil-klima, l-bijodiversita, is-sigurtà marittima, il-fdalijiet arkeologiċi fil-baħar kif ukoll il-ħmar il-lejl li nassoċjaw mar-riklamazzjoni tal-baħar. Pjan għall-Ispazji marittimi fil-gżejjer Maltin irid jindirizza dawn l-oqsma u bosta oħra b’mod integrat.

Il-gżejjer Maltin fihom 316 kilometru kwadrat. L-ibħra Maltin sa 25 mil nawtiku mill-kosta fihom medda ferm ikbar b’kejl ta’ 11,480 kilometru kwadrat filwaqt li l-blata kontinentali taħt il-ġurisdizzjoni Maltija fiha 75,779 kilometru kwadrat.
Din hi l-isfida li għandna quddiemna biex inħarsu l-ibħra tagħna.

ippubblikat fuq Illum – 24 ta’ Diċembru 2017 

Planning nightmares: the coastline and marine resources


Last Monday, Parliament commenced a discussion on the implementation of the Public Domain legislation, in respect of which the Planning Authority has submitted a report entitled “Sites Nominated to be declared as Public Domain”. This report refers to 24 sites, nominated primarily by eNGOs: 16 sites were nominated by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), seven by Friends of the Earth and one by Minister for the Environment Josè Herrera.

The discussion is still in its initial stages and so far it has been limited to an explanation of the legislation enacted by Parliament in mid-2016.

Currently under the radar is the urgent need to implement the EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning, which had to be adopted by end of 2014. Malta has, in fact, adopted it and through Legal Notice 341 of 2016 it identified the Planning Authority as the competent authority which will deal with issues of maritime spatial planning in the Maltese Islands.

After submitting a query, it was pointed out to me that the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) shall constitute Malta’s Maritime Spatial Plan – something I had not realised. Thinking that I had missed something, I checked the SPED and found a text entitled Coastal Zone and Marine Area under which are listed three coastal objectives. These are clearly objectives that can (and hopefully will) be developed into a detailed Maritime Spatial Plan.

While Malta has apparently limited itself to three brief objectives, other countries have gone into considerable detail to prepare their Maritime Spatial Plans. Ireland, for example, has published an 88-page document entitled Harnessing our Ocean Wealth – an Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland and the United Kingdom has published a 55-page document entitled UK Marine Policy Statement.

Both documents go into some detail as to the Maritime Spatial Planning required in Ireland and the United Kingdom and they will undoubtedly have to be supplemented with more detailed plans. The EU Directive determines the year 2021 as the deadline for the establishment of Maritime Spatial Plans.

The fact that Malta is an island should be reflected in more importance being given to maritime policy. Unfortunately, this is clearly not the case as it seems that we have to manage with three coastal objectives in our Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED).

The EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning is intended to nudge us to fill the gaps in our policies and plans. The blue economy, which is the economic activity dependent on the utilisation of marine resources, requires much careful planning.

Successive Maltese governments have ruined land-based resources and natural habitats. At times this has been done almost beyond repair. The water table is one such glaring example.

Careful maritime spatial planning could be of assistance in not exporting this erroneous behaviour beyond the coastline so that the environmental damage inflicted on the land is not repeated at sea.

Some years ago, addressing the quality of seawater by ensuring that urban wastewater dumped into the sea was adequately treated was a positive step. More still needs to be done to use the treated water. We repeatedly face issues of contamination arising out of fish-farms that has a negative impact on our residential and tourist facilities. What about fishing, energy, climate change, biodiversity, maritime safety, marine archaeological remains and land reclamation nightmares? A Maritime Spatial Plan for the Maltese Islands has to address all these issues and many more, in an holistic manner.

The Maltese Islands have a land area of 316 square kilometres. On the other hand, the area around the Maltese islands up to 25 nautical miles from the shoreline measures 11,480 square kilometres, while the area of the Continental Shelf under Malta’s jurisdiction in terms of the Continental Shelf Act measures approximately 75,779 square kilometres.

This is the physical extend of the challenge we face to protect our sea.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 24th December 2017 

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

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