Overdevelopment is eating up open space

The problems being caused by the continuous overdevelopment around us is a direct consequence of the local plans approved in 2006. The rationalisation exercise which was approved practically simultaneously, and as a result of which around two million square metres of ODZ land was given up for development made matters considerably worse .

The latest example is the planning application relative to a stretch of land measuring 1273 square metres in Santa Luċija. This land is, until now, an open space within the locality of Santa Luċija.

The late architect Joseph M.Spiteri, who in the late 1950s designed the locality of Santa Luċija from scratch took great care in planning for the needs of a community when he was preparing giving birth to the Santa Luċija locality. As emphasised by his son Dr Stephen C. Spiteri in the publication entitled Joseph M. Spiteri: A Maltese Architect and his work, when designing Santa Luċija, Joe Spiteri ensured that there was plenty of open space and trees. In his ideas Spiteri was undoubtedly influenced by the then prevalent housing design in the United Kingdom: Spiteri placed great emphasis on pedestrianisation and vehicular segregation together with the availability of plenty of open spaces. Environmentalists are still emphasising these points as an essential prerequisite for sustainable living.

The ideas pioneered by Architect Joseph Spiteri in Santa Luċija as a result of which open space around residential areas was considered as an essential contributor to enhancing the quality of life of all were unfortunately discarded over the years in housing design in the Maltese islands. Instead, we were offered intensive development of land aimed at maximising profits along the whole building development chain. Our quality of life was exchanged with healthy bank accounts.

The creation of an environment conducive to the creation of a sustainable living space has unfortunately been abandoned. The objective to be in harmony with our surroundings was abandoned.

Architect Joe Spiteri and his colleagues at the then Public Works Department invested substantial energies in trying to create from scratch a land use planning system during the mid-1960s. With the assistance of advisors sent by the United Nations a forward-looking town and country planning Act was approved by Parliament in the late 60s only for it to be ignored by those who were entrusted with its implementation.

This is the root cause of the present malaise in local land use planning. All efforts made by dedicated professionals over the years were meticulously undermined.

The current proposed project in Santa Luċija subject to planning application PA5152/22 has to be seen within this context. It gobbles up land which the original design for Santa Luċija had earmarked as open space.  The open space is not wasteland but part of the essential lungs which the local community requires to breathe. Without it the community is deprived of an essential element of its community infrastructure.

The Ministry for the Environment is currently advocating the need for open public spaces. This rhetoric has however not been translated into tangible action as the Planning Authority is still encouraging a free-for-all building spree transforming existing open spaces into euro machines.

One of the major lessons of Covid-19 was the mental health impact on many in our urban areas who were constrained indoors. The lack of adequate public open spaces made matters worse during the Covid months.

Our urban areas have been left to develop on their own for quite too long. As a result, they have been guided by business-friendly or market-friendly authorities, producing the mess of an urban jungle we have to face every day. This is a mess resulting from political decisions which have ensured that profits repeatedly have a priority over people and their quality of life.

The Santa Luċija planning application PA5152/22 is the latest example of all this. The creation of a sustainable living space has once more been sacrificed on the altar dedicated to the euro-machine!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 September 2022

The regeneration of Marsa

The public consultation which commenced earlier this week relative to the regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour along the coastal area of Marsa is most welcome. Marsa has been neglected for far too long.

The Planning Authority has been criticised in the past for its piecemeal reviews of the local plans. It is hoped that this exercise will be a holistic one. It is the whole of Marsa which should be addressed and not one tiny corner! The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. This will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through a comprehensive planning exercise.

The proposed strategic vision, as directed by government, is however not a suitable one. Through the Planning Authority, government is proposing that the area subject of the consultation be transformed into a “prime tourism and leisure harbour destination”.

The primary question to be addressed is whether it is desirable for our economy to further increase its dependence on tourism. The answer to this basic question, in my view, is a clear no. It is thus not on to reserve more prime sites for tourism. Tourism has gobbled up too many prime sites. Too many land use planning policies have been compromised in the exclusive interest of the tourism industry.  

Tourism has also proven itself to be a very weak link in the economic chain. It has been brought down to its knees as a result of Covid19. It is still very weak and will take more time to recover. Understandably a significant part of its labour force has migrated to other sectors and is unwilling to return to work in the tourism sector.

Rather than more tourism we definitely need less of it.

Prior to Covid19 we had reached saturation levels in the tourism sector. The post-Covid19 impact period is a unique opportunity for tourism to be re-dimensioned in order to reduce its impacts on the community. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority is insensitive to all this: it plans to give us more of the same.  

The availability of the former power station site and its surroundings is definitely a unique opportunity which should not be squandered on the tourism industry.

The innermost part of the Grand Harbour has always been dedicated to the maritime sector for which this is a unique opportunity to re-organise, modernise and increase its contribution to the national economy while reducing its environmental impacts. Scaling down the ship-repairing facilities and moving them to outside the area earmarked for regeneration could shift this activity to close proximity of residential areas in localities which are close by. This should therefore be avoided.  Even though I doubt very much whether in practice it is that easy to shift these facilities.

The regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour Area can be achieved without tying down the area to development which is tourism-linked. The consultation strategy itself identifies various other options and activities amongst which new business ventures which improve the overall well-being of the community.

The tourism industry itself, over two years ago, had sounded the alarm that the number of tourists arriving in Malta was too high: beyond that which the country can take sustainably. Research published at the same time had identified the first signs of turismofobia, a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. These are the first indications of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. They need to be addressed but are however being ignored.

There is obviously a need for less tourism, not more of it. Access to public investment has to be made available to other sectors.

The public consultation is in its initial stages, and it is still possible for the discussion to develop along different lines. The discussion required is one which addresses Marsa as a whole and which does not focus on just one tiny corner, even though it may be an important corner.

This is a unique opportunity for all stakeholders who can and should get involved to assist in the identification of a sustainable vision for the regeneration of Marsa as a whole: in the interests of all.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 December 2021

Tibdil fil-klima u l-aċċess għax-xemx

Huwa essenzjali li nnaqqsu l-gassijiet serra jekk irridu nindirizzaw b’mod effettiv it-tindil fil-klima. F’Pariġi, fl-2015, kien hemm qbil li kien meħtieġ illi t-temperatura globali ma kelliex tiżdied iktar minn 1.5 gradi Celsius biex ikun possibli li l-bidla fil-klima tkun taħt kontroll.   Tlett xhur ilu, f’Awwissu, l-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tal-Ġnus Magħuda (IPCC) infurmana li ż-żieda fit-temperatura diġa qabżet il-grad Celsius, u li din qed tkompli tiżdied.  

L-impatt ta’ dan jidher fil-maltemp estrem li qed niffaċċjaw kontinwament. Bħall-għargħar fi Sqallija u l- Calabria iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa u fil-Ġermanja u pajjiżi oħra iktar kmieni.  Il-ħerba li qed tiżviluppa hi enormi. Jekk ma nieħdux passi deċiżivi, dak li qed naraw mhu xejn ħdejn dak li ser jiġri.

Huwa kruċjali li l-ekonomija tagħna tkun waħda li ma tkunx dipendenti mill-karbonju, jekk irridu naslu biex nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima.

Il-qalba tal-power station ta’ Delimara minn waħda li taħdem fuq iż-żejt maħmuġ (heavy fuel oil) għal waħda li taħdem fuq il-gass kien pass tajjeb li jħares il-quddiem, pass li aħna bħala partit dejjem appoġġajna. Imma dan mhux biżżejjed. L-użu tal-gass hu fih innifsu pass ta’ transizzjoni.   Li jkollna l-parti l-kbira tal-elettriku (jew kollu!) iġġenerat minn sorsi rinovabbli jkun ħafna aħjar milli nagħmlu użu mill-idroġenu – li qed jissemma bħala l-fuel tal-futur!

Neħtieġu iżda li ntejbu is-sistema nazzjonali tad-distribuzzjoni tal-elettriku biex ikun possibli li z-zoni residenzjali jikkontribwixxu iktar fl-isforz nazzjonali biex niġġeneraw l-enerġija rinovabbli.  Investiment f’sistema ta’ distribuzzjoni iktar effiċjenti hi kruċjali. F’dan għadna lura, għax mhiex prijorità.

Id-dritt tagħna għal aċċess għax-xemx għandu jissaħħaħ. Ma jistax ikun li dan id-dritt jibqa’ dipendenti fuq proċess tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art insensittiv u żvilupp bl-addoċċ. Iż-żieda fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini meta kienu approvati l-pjani lokali tal-2006 wassal għal impatt negattiv f’enerġija rinovabbli li ntilfet. Hu prezz li għadna nħallsu u ser nibqgħu nħallsu għall-futur immedjat. Għax baqa’ ftit biex neħilsu minn dan il-piż.

Li ninvestu iktar fil-ġenerazzjoni tal-enerġija mix-xemx jirrendi. Huwa ukoll sostenibbli meta nħarsu fit-tul. Jelimina ukoll id-dipendenza fuq it-tieni interconnector minn Sqallija li dwaru l-Gvern qiegħed iħejji l-pjanijiet tiegħu. 

Bħalissa l-prezz tal-enerġija fl-Ewropa sploda. Dan wassal biex l-użu tal-enerġija permezz tal-interconnector eżistenti bejn Malta u Sqallija ġie ristrett.

Bħala riżultat tal-qalba tat-trasport bl-art minn karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petol jew dijżil għall-elettriku, id-domanda għall-elettriku ser tiżdied skond kemm jiżdiedu l-karozzi tal-elettriku.  Nistgħu nlaħħqu ma’ din id-domanda mingħajr ma nkunu dipendenti fuq is-swieq enerġetiċi kontinentali?

Jekk jirnexxielna nżidu b’mod sostanzjali l-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli nistgħu bla dubju nindirizzaw parti minn din iż-żieda fid-domanda għall-enerġija. Il-bqija hu possibli li nindirizzawha billi ninkuraġixxu bidla fil-mobilità tagħna.

L-informazzjoni bażika dwar dan diġa nafu biha. Qegħda fil-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport li jiġbdilna l-attenzjoni li nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati tagħna huma għal vjaġġi qosra, li jdumu inqas minn kwarta. 

Il-politika tal-Gvern kif imfissra fl-aħħar baġit ser tintroduċi transport pubbliku b’xejn minn Ottubru 2022. Dan jeħtieġ ftit iktar attenzjoni, għax il-prezz li nħallsu għat-trasport tal-linja qatt ma kien l-ostaklu għall-użu tat-trasport pubbliku. Hi l-effiċjenza u l-frekwenza tiegħu li jeħtieġu titjib. Jekk dan ikun indirizzat jista’ jagħmel id-differenza sostanzjali fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku.

Dan hu x’joffri l-futur: nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima permezz tal-politika tat-trasport u l-ippjanar aħjar fil-qasam tal-enerġija. Fuq kollox billi nħarsu id-dritt tagħna għal aċċess għax-xemx. 

In-natura tipprovdilna soluzzjonijiet sostenibbli għall-parti l-kbira ta’ dak li neħtieġu. Jiddependi minnha jekk ngħarfux nagħmlu użu minnhom sewwa!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 31 t’Ottubru 2021

Climate Change and solar rights

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary if we are to address climate change effectively. In Paris, in 2015, it was agreed by all that limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius is essential if we are to address climate change adequately.  Three months ago, in August, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) informed us that this increase was already 1.09 degrees Celsius, and rising.

The impacts of this increase are manifested in the extreme weather which we are currently witnessing, such as the floods all over Sicily and Calabria earlier this week, and in many other countries earlier. The resulting devastation is shocking. It will however get much worse very soon if we do not act decisively.

Having policies encouraging a low-carbon economy is crucial if we are to adequately address climate change.

Obviously solar rights must be entrenched: they should no longer be at the mercy of unbridled development and an insensitive land use planning process. The increase in permissible building heights introduced when the 2006 lot of local plans was approved had a heavy price-tag in renewable energy sacrificed. We are still paying this price and it will be quite some time before we recover from this irresponsible impact.

Switching over electricity generation at Delimara from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to one running on natural gas was a step in the right direction which greens always supported. It is however not enough. Natural gas is a transitional fuel.  Having most or all of our electricity generated from renewable sources would be a much better option, even better than making use of hydrogen, which is being considered as a future fuel. We need however to upgrade the national electricity distribution grid in order that it would be possible for residential areas to contribute much more to the national effort in renewable energy generation. Investing in an efficient distribution system is crucial. Yet it lags behind. It is not part of the priorities in hand.

Investing heavily in the generation of solar energy is more rewarding. It is also sustainable in the long term.  It would also do away with being dependent on a second energy interconnector with the Sicilian mainland, as government is currently planning.

Currently energy prices on mainland Europe are on a steep rise. This has resulted in a policy of restricting the use of the existing energy interconnector between Malta and Sicily.

As a result of the electrification of land transport, the demand for electricity is bound to increase in proportion to the uptake of electric cars. Can we cope with this increase in demand without being at the mercy of the mainland energy markets?

If we go for a substantial increase in the generation of renewable energy, we can definitely address part of the shortfall. The rest can also be addressed by actively encouraging a behavioural change in our mobility patterns.

The relative basic information is contained in the Transport Masterplan which points out that 50 per cent of the trips we make with our private vehicles are for short trips having a very short duration of under fifteen minutes.

Government policy as accounted for in the last budget will introduce free public transport as of October 2022. This needs fine-tuning, as existing fares have never been an obstacle to use public transport. It is the frequency and efficiency of the service which deters use. If this is adequately addressed it could be a gamechanger in increasing the attractiveness of public transport and consequently its increased use.

This is the possible future linking climate change and transport policy through adequate energy planning and the entrenchment of our solar rights.

Nature provides sustainable solutions for most of our needs. It is up to us to use them properly!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 31 October 2021

Birżebbuġa: minn ġot-taġen għal ġon-nar

Id-deċiżjoni tal-Gvern li jagħżel sit għal trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi f’Ħal-Far, viċin ta’ Birżebbuġa juri nuqqas kbir ta’ sensittività fil-konfront tal-komunità ta’ Birżebbuġa. Ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa ilhom is-snin jaqilgħu ġo fihom bl-istorbju madwarhom. Imma ħadd mill-awtoritajiet m’hu qed jagħti każ. Kollha għala biebhom.

Il-parti l-kbira tal-ajruplani jinżlu fl-Ajruport Internazzjonali tal-Gudja minn fuq parti miż-żona residenzjali ta’ Birżebbuġa. Dan iseħħ kuljum. Ir-residenti tant draw b’dan, li uħud ftit li xejn għadhom jagħtu kaz bl-ajruplani storbjużi jittajjru fil-baxx : avolja xorta qed issir ħsara lill-saħħithom kif tispjega repetutament l-Organizzazzjoni Dinjija tas-Saħħa (WHO). Ma’ dan żid l-impatti tat-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles, kuljum, xi drabi lejl u nhar. Xi drabi diffiċli biex tissaporti. Meta wara ġurnata xogħol tfittex il-mistrieħ u ma issibux, tkun ilħaqt il-limitu tal-paċenzja.  

Dan it-tniġġiż xi kultant jitnaqqas ftit bħala riżultat ta’ titjib fl-iżviluppi teknoloġiċi. Imma huwa ċar li sostanzjalment, Birżebbuġa, ser tibqa’ tgħum fl-istorbju.

Iż-żona residenzjali Tal-Papa f’Birżebbuġa hi l-iktar waħda effettwata mill-istorbju ġġenerat mill-ajruplani u mit-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles. Hi ukoll iż-zona l-iktar viċin tat-trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi.   Apparti ż-żona Tal-Papa li qegħda ġol-limiti tal-iżvilupp hemm ukoll il-komunità residenzjali ċkejkna ta’ Bengħajsa kif ukoll numru żgħir ta’ residenzi rurali: fihom ukoll jgħixu in-nies!  

Iz-zona residenzjali Tal-Papa qegħda 1,500 metru biss il-bogħod mit-trakka proposta. Hemm numru ta’ residenzi rurali, barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp li huma ferm iktar viċin tat-trakka minn hekk.  

L-art li fuqha hemm il-proposta għal trakka tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi illum hi parti miż-żona industrijali ta’  Ħal-Far. Issa jidher li anke l-Malta Industrial Parks ser tibda tilgħab il-logħob elettorali. Mhix xi ħaġa normali li l-Malta Industrial Parks tirrilaxxja art li tifforma parti minn żona industrijali. Għall-ebda raġuni! L-unika żvilupp li jista’ jsir fuq art ta’ din ix-xorta hu żvilupp industrijali. Il-bqija mhux aċċettabbli għax imur kontra dak li jipprovdi l-pjan lokali.  Is-saltna tad-dritt tapplika għall-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art ukoll: għar-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar. Il-Pjani Lokali m’għandhomx jibqgħu jġebbdu fihom. Giebuhom agħar miċ-chewing gum.

L-iżvilupp tat-trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi fuq l-art li ġiet indikata ser iwassal għal tniġġiż sostanzjali mill-ħsejjes ġġenerati li ser ikollhom impatt fuq iż-żona residenzjali f’Birżebbuġa li hi viċin ħafna. Miżuri ta’ mitigazzjoni jistgħu jnaqqsu xi ftit dawn l-impatti, imma dawn l-impatti sostanzjalment ser jibqgħu hemm, idejqu lir-residenti.

Is-sit hu diġa użat għat-tlielaq fi tmiem il-ġimgħa. L-istorbju ġġenerat f’dawn il-ġranet jasal anke sa Ħal-Safi u Ħal-Kirkop, aħseb u ara sa Birżebbuġa. Residenti infurmawni li xi drabi l-attività konnessa mat-tlielaq tal-karozzi ġieli damet sas-sagħtejn ta’ fil-għodu. Lir-residenti, id-dilettanti tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi dejjem ġew għala biebhom minnhom!  Hu ftit diffiċli li wieħed jifhem kif jistgħu jibdlu l-imġiebha tagħhom issa.

It-tniġġiż ikkawżat mill-ħsejjes ser ikollu ukoll impatt fuq iż-żona ta’ importanza ekoloġika li qegħda fil-viċin ħafna. Issa ser ikun possibli li naraw kif dawk li jmexxu l-ERA, l-awtorità li tħares l-ambjent, jitgħawġu ġanċ biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw dak li mhux ġustifikabbli.

Safejn naf jien, f’Malta ma hawn l-ebda sit li jista’ jakkomoda b’mod raġjonevoli t-trakka proposta għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi mingħajr ma tikkawża impatti negattivi fuq in-nies jew fuq l-ambjent jew it-tnejn. Malta żgħira fid-daqs u iktar ma nirrealizzaw dan malajr iktar ċans li tieqaf issir il-ħsara permezz ta’ proġetti li ma hawnx spazju għalihom. In parti dan hu l-prezz li jeħtieg li nħallsu għal nuqqas ta’ ippjanar tul is-snin.

Kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL jappoġġaw dan il-ġenn. It-tnejn li huma jitgħawġu ġanċ biex jappoġġaw dawn il-proposti. Sal-lum ma iddejqux li jissagrifikaw il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa biex jissodisfaw il-lobby tat-tiġrijiet tal-karozzi.  Il-komunità residenzjali ta’ Birżebbuġa ilha taqla’ ġo fiha.  Li l-Gvern ikompli jżid ma dan hu inuman. Birżebbuġa ser tispiċċa minn ġot-taġen għal ġon-nar.

Huwa biss b’membri parlamentari ħodor minn ADPD fil-Parlament li jmiss li nistgħu nibdew nindirizzaw dawn l-abbużi. Il-PLPN ma jinteresshomx mill-kwalità tal-ħajja tan-nies imma biss mill-poter!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 3 t’Ottubru 2021

Birżebbuġa: adding insult to injury

Government’s decision to select a site for a car-racing track at Ħal-Far, on the outskirts of Birżebbuġa, betrays a gross lack of sensitivity towards the welfare of the Birżebbuġa community. Birżebbuġa residents have been at the receiving end of noise pollution for ages. Apparently, no one in authority cares. They are not the least bothered.

Most aircraft approach landing at Gudja International Airport over part of the Birżebbuġa residential area. This happens throughout most of any normal day. Birżebbuġa residents are so used to it that at times they barely notice the noise from aeroplanes at low altitude blasting above: nothwithstanding, this is damaging to their health as attested to repeatedly by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Added to this, Birżebbuġa residents have to bear the impacts of the Freeport Terminal, likewise a round the clock operation! At times the noise pollution from the Freeport Terminal in areas of Birżebbuġa is unbearable. After a day’s work you seek some resting time and you are obstructed from doing so by the excessive noise around you.

These noise sources may be slightly mitigated through the application of technological improvements. It is however clear for Biżebbuġa residents that these impacts are substantially here to stay.

The Tal-Papa residential area in Birżebbuġa is already the zone most impacted by aircraft and Freeport Terminal noise pollution. It is also the zone closest to the planned car-racing track.  Beyond the residential development within the limits of development there is also the Bengħajsa hamlet as well as a number of rural units, some of which are still used for residential purposes.

The Tal-Papa residential area is as close as 1,500 metres to the proposed racing track. A number of rural residences, outside the development zone are even closer than this to the projected racetrack. 

The land on which the racing track proposal may be developed forms part of the Ħal-Far Industrial Estate. It seems that now, even Malta Industrial Parks is playing electoral games.  It is not normal for Malta Industrial Parks to release land forming part of an industrial estate for any purpose whatsoever! The only permissible development on such land is related to industrial development. Anything beyond that is unacceptable as it goes against the parameters determined by the Local Plan. The rule of law is applicable to planning rules and regulations too. Local Plans should not be further transformed into chewing gum, having unlimited elasticity!

The development of the car-racing track on the indicated land will generate substantial noise pollution which will impact a residential area in Birżebbuġa which is not so far away. Mitigation measures may reduce slightly the impacts but it will keep annoying the residents just the same!

The site is already in use on weekends: the resulting acoustic pollution is being picked up as far away as Kirkop and Safi, let alone in Birżebbuga itself. At times, residents inform me that this goes on well into the night, even as late as 2am. Car-racing enthusiasts never had the minimum of respect towards the residential community! It is difficult to imagine how they could change their behaviour at this point in time.

The acoustic pollution generated will also have an impact on an area of ecological importance close by. We will now be able to see how far the ERA bigwigs twist their spine to enable them to justify the unjustifiable.

As far as I am aware no site in Malta can reasonably accommodate this racing track without being the cause of extreme nuisance to residents, damaging to the environment or both. Malta is small in size. The sooner this basic fact sinks in, the better. It should be realised that there is no room for projects such as this car-racing track!  In part this is the price we have to pay for a lack of planning over the years.

Both the PN and the PL are supporting this madness. Both of them are willing to accommodate the racing track lobby. They have so far considered the Birżebbuġa residential community as unavoidable collateral damage in their drive to satisfy the racing track lobby. The Birżebbuġa residential community has already been at the receiving end of all sorts of acoustic pollution. Adding to this is grossly inhumane. It adds insult to accumulated injury.

Only Green MPs in the next parliament can apply the brakes to this madness. PLPN is not interested in the welfare of residents: they are only interested in raw power.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 October 2021

Inħarsu l-ODZ

Kważi kulħadd, illum il-ġurnata jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru “outside the development zone”, jiġifieri barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp. Ir-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar diġa jħarsu l-ODZ. Hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar flimkien mal-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u ir-Riżorsi li għandhom din ir-responsabbilta.

Kull meta jsiru proposti biex jiżdied il-ħarsien tal-ODZ, ifisser biss li l-miżuri attwali ta’ ħarsien  mhux qed jitwettqu sewwa. Fil-prattika jfisser ukoll li l-awtoritajiet maħtura mhux qed jagħmlu xogħolhom u li l-kontrolli fis-seħħ mhux jiffunzjonaw!  

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art hu minnu nnifsu kontroversjali għax jinvolvi għażliet, ħafna drabi għażliet diffiċli.  Anke deċiżjonijiet żgħar, ukoll iħallu lil uħud diżappuntati: aħseb u ara deċiżjonijiet maġġuri li jkollhom impatti konsiderevoli fuq bosta.  Li tiddetermina n-natura tal-iżvilupp permissibli u l-limiti tiegħu hu mill-iktar kontroversjali. Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna huma u jkunu ifformulati l-pjani lokali ħmistax-il sena ilu, u iktar waqt l-implimentazzjoni tagħhom.

Il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkunu wieħed minn żewġ tipi: jistgħu jkunu ċari ħafna u rigidi b’mod li jispeċifikaw eżatt x’għandu jsir bla ebda eċċezzjoni. F’dan il-kaz ikun jeħtieg li dawn ikunu aġġornati regolarment biex jirriflettu l-aspettattivi raġjonevoli tal-komunità.  Minflok, il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkun flessibli, b’mod li jipprovdu soluzzjonijiet differenti għal cirkustanzi differenti. F’dan il-kaz il-proċess ta’ interpretazzjoni hu wieħed kruċjali: jeħtieġ li jkun wieħed konsistenti.

F’kull kaz, dan kollu hu dipendenti fuq li jkollok persuni ta’ integrità li jamministraw l-affarijiet. Tul is-snin id-dibattitu pubbliku żviluppa b’mod li kien hemm qbil li l-politiku għandu joqgħod lura milli jinvolvi ruħu fil-proċess tal-ippjanar. Sfortunatament ma sarx hekk għax il-politiku għażel persuni oħrajn biex jaġixxu f’ismu, imma kontinwament jassigura ruħu li jibqa’ jikkontrolla hu, bir-remote control! 

Dawk li jiffurmaw parti mill-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet kienu “persuni ta’ fiduċja” lesti biex jagħmlu li jgħidulhom u dan sfortunatament xejjen l-iskop kollu tar-riformi li saru tul is-snin.  Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna. Fost dawn “il-persuni ta’ integrità” li appuntaw fuq il-bordijiet insibu agent tal-propjetà, jirreklama żvilupp li għadu ma sarx u li kien għad irid japprova hu. Dan weħel multa sostanzjali dwar ħasil ta’ flus u bħalissa għaddej bi proċeduri kriminali dwar iktar akkużi ta’ ħasil ta’ flus!

Din hi l-vera problema tal-ippjanar fl-użu tal-art f’Malta u tal-ħarsien tal-ODZ: l-għażla ta’ dawk li ser jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet! Qabel ma din tissolva ser jibqa’ jsir it-tħarbit.

Tul it-tlett snin li għamilt naħdem fl-uffiċċju tal-verifika tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kelli l-opportunità li nifhem dan ferm iktar u dan billi eżaminajt numru mhux żgħir ta’ kazijiet.

Il-lobbying favur jew kontra deċiżjoni speċifika tal-ippjanar hi parti integrali mill-proċess kollu.  Dan jista’ jagħmel il-ġid jekk ikun dokumentat kif imiss u jkun ikkunsidrat bis-serjetà. Imma jekk l-argumenti jsiru bil-ħabi u bis-segretezza jew bit-tfesfis fil-widnejn, jista’ jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet ħżiena u anke għall-korruzzjoni.

Tul is-snin kellna numru ta’ professjonisti tal-ippjanar li ġew imwarrba għax kienu kompetenti iżżejjed!  Ma ġewx imwarrba għal raġunijiet politiċi. Li dawn ġew imwarrba kellu effett doppju:  intilfu professjonisti validi imma bihom ingħatat twissija lill-bqija. Xejn ma hemm allura għax niskantaw li l-bqija jimxu mal-kurrent: għax hekk jaqbel!

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu ċar li ma hemm l-ebda futur għal ippjanar raġjonevoli dwar l-użu tal-art sakemm il-politiku jibqa’ jiġbed l-ispag: fid-deher jew fil-moħbi.  Ir-rwol tal-politika u tal-politiku hu li jistabilixxi direzzjoni politika u li jara li jkunu allokati r-riżorsi meħtieġa. L-implimentazzjoni, iżda, għandha titħalla f’idejn min hu mħarreġ biex jagħmel dan ix-xogħol. Dan sfortunatament  bħalissa jidher li hu holm!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 19 ta’ Settembru 2021

Protecting the ODZ

Most of us are aware that the letters ODZ stand for the term “outside the development zone”. Planning rules and regulations already protect the ODZ. The protection of the ODZ is the responsibility of both the Planning Authority as well as the Environment and Resources Authority.

Whenever proposals are made to further protect the ODZ, this signifies just one thing: that current measures are not functioning as expected. In practice it also signifies that the appointed authorities are not carrying out their responsibilities adequately. Specifically, the underlying problem is that checks and balances in land use planning and environmental protection are malfunctioning.

Land use planning is by its very nature controversial as it involves choices as to how best to proceed. Even normal day-to-day decisions tend to disappoint some, let alone major decisions having considerable impacts! Determining the nature of the permissible development and its limits is the most controversial of all. We have seen all this unfolding when the local plans were formulated fifteen years ago, and more in the manner in which they have and are being implemented.

Local plans can be one of two types: they can be very rigid, determining exactly what can or cannot be done without any exception. In such a case they would require frequent revision to keep up-to-date with reasonable expectations of the community.  Alternatively, they may be flexible, catering for different situations. The problem in such a case is their interpretation, which has to be carried out in a consistent manner.

In all cases, however, it boils down to having persons of integrity administering the process. Over the years the local public debate has developed in a manner that it was considered adequate to keep the politician out of the planning process as much as possible. In reality this was not done as the politicians at the end of the day selected others to do their bidding, subject to remote controlling. Those forming part of land use planning decision-taking have generally been “persons of trust”, ready to do the politician’s bidding, which unfortunately brings us back to square one.

We have seen the process function unashamedly in this manner over the years. Among the “persons of integrity” appointed as decision-takers one finds an estate agent, advertising the developments which he was yet to approve. He was subject to an administrative fine for money-laundering and is currently undergoing criminal proceedings on more charges of money laundering!

This is the real problem in land use planning and the protection of the ODZ: selecting the decision-taker! Until this is solved, we have to witness much more damage.

During the three years when I worked as part of the land use planning audit office, I had the opportunity to understand the matter by examining in depth a number of specific cases.

Lobbying in favour or against a specific planning decision is an integral part of the land use planning process. It can be healthy if it is well documented and tackled above board. It may however lead to bad decisions and eventually corruption if done secretly or in an underhand manner.

Over the years I have seen a number of very competent professional planners being side-lined as they were too competent! The political persuasion of the planner in such cases was irrelevant. Their side-lining had a double effect: in addition to losing the competent planner this served as a warning shot to the rest. Consequently, it is no surprise that most of the rank-and-file planners choose the path of least resistance: it is to their personal benefit!

There is no future for reasonable land use planning if the politician keeps fiddling around. The role of politics is about setting the political direction and allocating the required resources. Its implementation should be left to those who are trained to carry out the job. Unfortunately, so far, that has proven to be too much to expect!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 September 2021

PLPN : parrini tar-rgħiba

Il-pjani lokali huma 7. Il-Pjan Lokali dwar il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk kien approvat fl-1995, madwar sentejn wara li twaqqfet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kellhom jgħaddu 7 snin oħra biex ġie approvat pjan lokali ieħor, din id-darba dak għall-Port il-Kbir.  Il-bqija kienu approvati f’daqqa bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Fl-2006 ukoll kien ippubblikat u approvat mill-Parlament dokument ieħor dwar ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, intitolat “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries”.

Kull wieħed minn dawn it-tmien dokumenti huwa wild il-PN fil-Gvern. Il-konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali fihom huma nieqsa bil-kbira.

B’mod partikulari, d-dokument li ċaqlaq il-linja tal-żvilupp  ġie approvat mill-Parlament b’għaġġla kbira u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu barra  miż-żona ta’ żvilupp (ODZ) f’daqqa waħda saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp.

Mill-Opposiżżjoni l-Partit Laburista fil-Parlament ivvota kontra dan iċ-ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, imma, wara, meta tela’ fil-Gvern ġie jaqa’ u jqum minn dan kollu. Dan minħabba li l-opposizzjoni għall-proposti kienet waħda partiġjana mhux minħabba xi viżjoni alternattiva.

Il-pjani lokali jeħtieġu reviżjoni immedjata. Id-dokument li jistabilixxi kif kellha tiċċaqlaq il-linja tal-iżvilupp għandu jitħassar u safejn hu possibli dik l-art kollha (ż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru) terġa’ issir art ODZ – barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.  

Fost it-tibdil meħtieġ hemm tnaqqis ġenerali fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini, liema għoli, f’ħafna każi qed itellef lill-komunità residenzjali mid-dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx. Dan qed inaqqas u jostakola l-potenzjal tagħna bħala pajjiż fil-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli. Dan kollu kien injorat mill-pjani lokali.

Hemm bosta materji oħra fl-erba’ rkejjen tal-pajjiż li jeħtieġu li jkunu eżaminati mill-ġdid. Kif spjegajt f’artiklu preċedenti l-pjani lokali ma jagħtux każ tal-impatti kumulattivi tal-iżvilupp li huma stess jipproponu. Din hi materja bażika li teħtieġ attenzjoni kbira għax għandha impatt sostanzjali fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Sfortunatament il-pjani lokali ftit li xejn jagħtu każ tal-kwalità tal-ħajja. Jiffokaw fuq is-sodisfazzjon tar-rgħiba.

Għandu jkun hemm kumpens jekk art li illum tista’ tkun żviluppata terġa’ lura fl-ODZ bħala art mhiex tajba għall-iżvilupp?

Xi ġimgħat ilu l-Ministru  Aaron Farrugia responsabbli għall-Ippjanar u l-Ambjent kien qal li kellu l-parir favur id-dritt ta’ kumpens. Konvenjentement l-Onorevoli Ministru injora l-fatt li l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta kif ukoll il-Qorti Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem diġa kellhom kaz bħal dan fejn kien hemm talba għal kumpens. Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali irrifjutat it-talba u l-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma ikkunsidratx t-talba f’deċiżjoni fis- 27 September 2011 li fiha iddiskutiet il-parametri legali applikabbli.

Il-kaz huwa dwar il-kumpanija Maltija Trimeg Limited u jikkonċerna 10,891 metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu fil-limiti tal-iżvilupp fl-1989 kif stabilit mill-iskemi temporanji tal-iżvilupp ta’ dakinnhar. Imma fl-1996 din l-art ġiet skedata għal skop ta’ konservazzjoni f’kuntest tal-protezzjoni tal-widien. Fil-Qrati Maltin il-kumpanija Maltija kienet qalet illi li kieku ħarġu l-permessi ta’ żvilupp l-art kien ikollha valur ta’  €11-il miljun. B’daqqa ta’ pinna imma, dan naqas għal  €230,000. Trimeg Limited kienet xtrat din l-art  €140,000.Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta ma aċċettatx dawn l-argumenti. Il-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma bidlet xejn minn dak li qalet il-Qorti Maltija.

Dan hu kaz wieħed biss. Il-ħsieb ġenerali iżda hu li apprezzament tal-ħarsien ambjentali qed jaqbad art fost in-nies illum li huma iktar sensittivi minn qatt qabel dwar dan.  Ħadd m’għandu jistenna kumpens għat-tibdil li jkun meħtieġ.

Din hi ġlieda kontinwa mar-rgħiba u l-ispekulazzjoni. Nafu li fil-passat, u għal żmien twil, ir-rgħiba kienet minn fuq. Ir-rgħiba fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kellha żewġ parrini: il-PN u l-PL. Fl-Opposizzjoni jopponu u fil-Gvern jirrumblaw minn fuq kulħadd.  

Kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL ma jistgħux jindirizzaw din il-mandra fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art għax huma parti mill-problema: il-PLPN ħolquha, kabbruha u iddefendewha. Il-PN beda l-froġa u il-Labour sostniha.

Hu meħtieġ li nibdew paġna ġdida.  Il-linja tal-iżvilupp trid titraġġa lura u l-pjani lokali jeħtieġu tibdil mill-qiegħ. Aħna l-Ħodor biss nistgħu nagħmluh dan, għax aħna m’aħna fil-but ta’ ħadd. L-oħrajn, bil-provi wrew tul is-snin li bejn ir-rgħiba u l-kwalità tal-ħajja dejjem isostnu r-rgħiba!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Settembru 2021

PLPN have continuously sponsored greed

The local plans are 7 in number.  The Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan was approved in 1995, just two years after the setting up of the Planning Authority. It took another 7 years to approve the next one, the Grand Harbour Local Plan. The rest were approved in one go, in a hurry in the summer of 2006. In 2006 a document entitled “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries” was also published and approved by Parliament.

All eight documents above-mentioned have the PN fingerprints on them. They are certainly not green fingerprints.

The Rationalisation document in particular which was rushed through Parliamentary approval during July 2006 transformed 2 million square metres of land outside the development zone into land which could be considered for development. It shifted the development zone boundaries.

Labour, in Opposition when the rationalisation document was submitted for Parliament’s consideration, voted against its adoption only to embrace it as if it were its own once it was elected into government. Labour’s opposition was not on principle due to some alternative vision. It was pure partisan politics.

The local plans should be revisited the earliest. The rationalisation document should be scrapped and the land it refers to returned to ODZ status wherever this is possible.

Among the revisions considered essential to the local plans is a general reduction in permissible building heights which are interfering with the solar rights of our residential community. This is hampering our potential as a country to generate more renewable energy. This was ignored by the local plans!

There are various other issues spread all over the islands which require revisiting and careful analysis. As explained in a previous article the local plans fail to take into consideration the cumulative impacts of the development which they propose. This is one of the basic matters which should be considered in depth as it has a substantial impact on our quality of life.

Unfortunately, quality of life was considered irrelevant on the local plan drawing board. Only servicing greed was deemed essential.

Would any compensation be due if land currently suitable for development is relegated to ODZ status? Some weeks ago, Planning and Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia emphasised that the advice he received was in favour of compensation. Conveniently the Hon Minister failed to point out that the Constitutional Court in Malta and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has already dealt with a Maltese similar case requesting compensation. The Constitutional Court shot down the case and the Strasbourg Court considered it as being inadmissible on 27 September 2011 in a decision which discusses at some length the applicable legal parameters.

The case involved the Maltese Company Trimeg Limited and concerned 10,891 square metres of land which was within the limits of development as defined by the Temporary Provisions Schemes of 1989 but was then, in 1996, scheduled for conservation purposes as part of a valley protection zone.  The Maltese Company had previously claimed in the Maltese Courts that the land would have a value of €11 million if development permits were issued but was reduced in value to €230,000 at the stroke of a pen. The land was originally purchased by Trimeg Limited for €140,000.

The Constitutional Court in Malta had not accepted the arguments brought forward and the Strasbourg Court did not change anything from that judgement.

This is obviously just one case. The general train of thought however is that it is not a legitimate expectation to expect that the law does not change in the future. Environmental protection is hopefully on the increase as today’s men and women are nowadays more sensitive on the matter.

It is obviously a continuous tug-of-war with greed and speculation. The dreadful news of the past is that greed has for quite a stretch of time had the upper hand. Greed in land use planning has been alternatively sponsored by the PN and the PL. They oppose it when in opposition but adopt it once in government.

Neither the PN nor the PL can offer solutions to the current land use planning mess as both of them are part of the problem: PLPN created it, encouraged it and defended it. PN created the mess, PL sustained it.

It is time to start a new page. Scrap the rationalisation exercise and radically reform the local plans. Only we, the Greens, can do it, as we are in nobody’s pocket. The others have proven, time and again that they support greed at the expense of our quality of life.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 September 2021