Pjani Lokali tal-lastku

Meta l-Pjani Lokali kienu approvati, kien l-ewwel darba li f’Malta sar attentat biex ikun regolat l-iżvilupp fuq livell lokali bis-serjetà. Il-ħtieġa kienet ilha tinħass is-snin. L-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art b’mod professjonali, f’Malta, beda fl-1989 bil-proċess iwassal għall-ħolqien tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Għall-bidu, kif jispjega b’mod ċar fil-pjan ta’ struttura, kien ippjanat li jkun hemm 24 pjan lokali għall-Malta u Għawdex, imma imbagħad spiċċajna b’sebgħa. Ħames Pjani Lokali kienu approvati fl-2006, bit-tnejn l-oħra jkunu approvati iktar kmieni: dak dwar il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk fl-1995 u dak dwar il-Port il-Kbir fl-2002.

Meta l-pjani lokali kienu mfassla, oriġinalment għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika, kienu meqjusa bħala restrittivi għax ftit kienu jħallu lok għal diskrezzjoni. Sa dakinnhar ħadd ma kien għadu fassal il-politika dwar l-użu tal-art b’mod hekk ċar, b’mod li jnaqqas il-lok għall-abbuż kif ukoll il-poter assolut vestit f’persuna waħda:il-politku. Dakinnhar kien hemm resistenza konsiderevoli li l-affarijiet isiru b’dan il-mod. Dan jispjega għaliex dawn il-pjani lokali damu ħafna ma saru. Hija ukoll ir-raġuni li wasslet għal dak li nirreferu għalih bħala l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li bħala riżultat tiegħu meded kbar ta’ art, madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru, fil-parti l-kbira art agrikola, fl-2006, kienu ddikjarati mill-Parlament bħala li tajbin għall-iżvilupp.

Il-pjani lokali huma essenzjalment dokumenti miktuba li fihom hemm spjegata l-politika lokali dwar l-użu tal-art flimkien ma mapep li jillustraw din il-politika. Tul is-snin dawn il-pjani lokali ġew ikkumplimentati b’dokumenti oħra dwar materji speċifiċi. Kważi kollha b’ċertu ammont ta’ kontroversja marbuta magħhom. Dwar dawn ktibt diversi drabi f’dawn il-paġni.

F’Jannar 2013, wara perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni kif trid il-liġi, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kellha f’idejha dokument ieħor li kien approvat: nirreferu għalih bħala l-politka tal-flessibilità. Huwa intitolat : Partial Review of Subsidiary Plans: General Policy relating to Regeneration/Consolidation initiatives. L-iżviluppaturi (u l-periti tagħhom) flimkien mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jinterpretaw dan id-dokument bħala li jagħtihom mano libera biex jiddeċiedu dwar liema huma dawk il-partijiet tal-Pjani Lokali li għandhom jinjoraw.
Sfortunatament uffiċjali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, spiss wisq, jaġixxu qieshom għandhom xi dritt divin li jiddeċiedu dwar liema huma dawk ir-regoli tal-ippjanar li għandhom japplikaw u liema huma dawk li għandhom jinjoraw.

Kaz speċifiku qam quddiem il-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa dwar żvilupp propost fuq biċċa art kbira fil-Mellieħa. Il-Pjan Lokali tal-Majjistral jipprovdi li ma jistgħux jinbnew lukandi fiż-żona residenzjali fejn hemm din l-art. Imma l-uffiċjali tad-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar, friski daqs ħassa, jirreferu għall-politika dwar il-flessibilità bl-addoċċ u jirrakkomandaw li l-lukanda proposta hi aċċettabbli. .

L-applikazzjoni tal-politika dwar il-flessibilità fl-ippjanar hi limitata mill-kundizzjonijiet fid-dokument imsemmi iktar il-fuq. Il-limitazzjoni prinċipali hi li l-flessibilità ma tistax tmur kontra l-linja ġenerali stabilita fil-Pjani Lokali. Għax il-politika dwar l-ippjanar għandha tkun flessibli imma mhux tkun tal-lastku!

Numru ta’ deċiżjonijiet li ħadet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ibbażati fuq din l-interpretazzjoni skorretta tal-politika tal-flessibilità kienu kkontestati fit-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni għall-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar u fil-Qrati u kienu mħassra. Fid-dawl ta’ dawn id-deċiżjonijiet, jiena ma nistax nifhem kif l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma tikkoreġix il-posizzjoni tagħha.

Inizzjalment l-applikazzjoni inkorretta tal-politika tal-flessibilità fl-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art setgħet titqies bħala żball. Imma meta dan l-iżball jibqa’ jkun repetut ma jibqax żball iżda jsir abbuż ta’ poter li għandu jkun indirizzat immedjatament.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 3 ta’ Marzu 2019

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The elasticity of the Local Plans

The Local Plans currently in force, when they were approved, were a first serious attempt in these islands to regulate development at a local level. The need had been felt for far too long. Professional land use planning in Malta started in earnest in 1989 with the process leading to the setting up of the Planning Authority.

Originally, as clearly explained in the Structure Plan, it was planned to have 24 local plans for the Maltese Islands, but we ended up with just seven. Five local plans were approved in 2006, with the other two having been approved earlier: the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan in 1995 and the Grand Harbour Local Plan in 2002.

When the local plans were originally drafted for public consultation they were considered as highly restrictive. It was then unheard of to clearly define policy, reducing loopholes and absolute power vested in one person, the politician. There was then considerable resistance to such a course of action. This is the major reason for the long gestation period of these plans. It is also the reason which led to what is known as the rationalisation exercise as a result of which large stretches of land, around two million square metres, mostly agricultural land, was in 2006 declared by Parliament as suitable for development.

Local plans are essentially written statements containing local land use policies and policy maps illustrating the said policies. Over the years the local plans have been buttressed by supplementary guidance with specific policy documents containing a varying degree of controversy, about which I have written extensively in these columns over the years.

In January 2013, after the statutory consultation period, planning policy acquired an additional document, commonly referred to as the flexibility policy. It is entitled: Partial Review of Subsidiary Plans: General Policy relating to Regeneration/Consolidation initiatives. Developers (and their architects) as well as the Planning Authority tend to interpret this policy document as giving them a free hand in determining the extent to which they may depart from provisions of the Local Plans.

Unfortunately, Planning Authority officials tend to assume too often that they have some God-given right to decide which planning policies to apply and which to ignore.

A specific case came before the Planning Authority Board earlier this week relative to a large site in Mellieħa. The North West Local Plan provides that no new hotels can be developed in the residential area of which this site forms part. Yet, invoking the above-quoted flexibility policy officials at the Planning Directorate did not bat an eyelid and recommended that the proposed hotel was acceptable development.

Application of the planning flexibility policy is limited by the conditions set out in the policy, primarily that the general thrust or direction given by specific policies in the Local Plan is not to be superseded. Planning policy may be flexible but it should certainly not be elastic!

A number of decisions taken by the Planning Authority based on such an incorrect interpretation of the flexibility policy have been contested in the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal as well as in Court and were reversed. Faced with such decisions I fail to understand why the Planning Authority does not correct its ways.

Initially the incorrect application of the planning flexibility policy could have been considered as a case of wrongful interpretation of policy. Repetition can only be construed as an abuse of authority and should be dealt with accordingly.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 3 March 2019

L-istupru tas-Saqqajja

Nitkellmu dwar it-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja. Imma jidher li s-Saqqajja għan-niżla!

L-applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp biex żewġt idjar qodma fuq is-Saqqajja r-Rabat ikunu mibdula f’lukanda żgħira (boutique hotel) hu attentat ieħor biex ikun sfrakassat il-wirt storiku tal-pajjiż. Il-fillera sħiħa ta’ djar fuq is-Saqqajja flok ma jitħallew jinqerdu minn dak li wħud isejħulu żvilupp għandhom jingħataw protezzjoni fit-totalità tagħhom. Kif ippropona l-Professur Mario Buhagiar dawn id-djar fuq is- Saqqajja , tal-inqas, jistħoqilhom protezzjoni fi Grade 2, jiġifieri li l-faċċata tagħhom ma tkunx tista’ tintmiss. Possibilment jistħoqilhom iktar minn hekk ukoll: li jkunu mħarsa b’mod komplet fi Grad 1.  

 L-applikazzjoni għal żvilupp bin-numru 9516/18 tipproponi li d-djar 14 u 15 fuq Is-Saqqajja Rabat (b’faċċata ukoll fuq Vjal Santu Wistin) jinbidlu f’lukanda fi klassi 3B . Minn eżami tal-pjanti sottomessi jidher ċar li l-proposta tinkludi ż-żieda ta’ żewġ sulari fuq il-binja eżistenti kif ukoll il-mutilazzjoni tal-partijiet interni ta’ dawn iż-żewġt idjar biex ikunu jistgħu jkunu mibdula f’lukanda żgħira.

Bħal bosta oħrajn jiena ukoll ippreżentajt oġġezzjoni għal dan l-aħħar attakk fuq il-wirt tagħna lkoll. Ir-raġunijiet għal dan huma diversi.

L-ikbar raġuni hi li l-iżvilupp propost jistona fil-kuntest li hu propost li jsir.  Ser jeqred darba għal dejjem l-omoġenejità u l-armonija tal-faċċati tal-bini kemm fuq is-Saqqajja kif ukoll fuq Vjal Santu Wistin. Fuq Vjal Santu Wistin  l-iżviluppatur irid iħarbat parti kbira mill-ġnien li jagħti karattru uniku u hu parti integrali mill-binja. Hi l-binja kollha, kif inhi, bil-ġnien kollu  li teħtieġ li tkun protetta.

Il-Pjan Lokali, li jqis liż-żona bħala waħda ta’ konservazzjoni urbana jillimita l-iżvilupp fiż-żona għal żewġ sulari. Il-proposta ta’ żvilupp tinjora din il-limitazzjoni kompletament. Huwa għaldaqstant ovvju li jekk din l-applikazzjoni tibqa’ għaddejja u tkun approvata ser twassal għall-qerda tal-filliera sħiħa tad-djar  fuq is-Saqqajja għax li jgħodd għal wieħed jgħodd għal kulħadd. Imbagħad  tkun ġiet stuprata ż-żona kollha.

Iżjed ‘l-isfel, fit-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja, fejn sa ftit ilu kien hemm it-Tattingers Club u xi propjetajiet oħra, il-ħerba tkompli.  Dan is-sit ukoll għandu mdendla miegħu proposta ta’ żvilupp: lukanda massiċċa ta’ 110 kmamar mifruxa fuq 5600 metru kwadru. Mhumiex l-uniċi applikazzjonijiet fl-inħawi għax hemm oħrajn. Iżda huma l-iktar li jagħtu fil-għajn. 

Jidher li waslet id-daqqa tar-Rabat li jrid jiffaċċja l-forza tal-qerda li tpoġġi l-flus qabel il-wirt komuni tagħna lkoll.

Il-mod kif ġiebet ruħha l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fil-passat ma tantx hu ta’ awgurju tajjeb li din b’xi mod kapaċi tieqaf lill-forzi tal-qerda. Permezz tad-deċiżjonijiet tagħha sal-lum, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bagħatet messaġġ ċar li, fil-fehma tagħha, l-impatt ekonomiku tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni jixirqilha ferm iktar attenzjoni minn kwlaunkwe ħaġa oħra.  B’ġustizzja ngħid li hemm xi żewġ membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li jispikkaw minħabba li b’differenza minn sħabhom jiddefendu regolarment kemm il-wirt storiku kif ukoll dak naturali. Imma dawn qegħdin f’minoranza assoluta, avolja xi kultant ġieli jappoġġawhom uħud mill-bqija.

Imma x’tistenna minn Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li l-membri tiegħu ma jħossuhomx skomdi madwar l-istess mejda ma’ agent tal-propjetà biex jgħaddu ġudizzju dwar liema applikazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp jixirqilhom ikunu approvati u liema le?  

M’għandi l-ebda idea dwar x’deċiżjoni ser ikollna, imma fid-dawl ta’ kif ġiebet ruħha sal-lum l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar xejn ma niskanta jekk tagħti l-approvazzjoni tagħha biex il-qerda tibda tiela’ t-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja. 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 9 ta’ Diċembru 2018

The mutilation of Saqqajja

The planning application to convert two old town-houses at Saqqajja, Rabat into a boutique hotel is another attempt to mutilate our historical heritage. The whole row of town houses at Saqqajja, rather than being placed on the chopping board of so-called development should be protected in their totality. As proposed by Professor Mario Buhagiar, these Saqqajja town houses, as a minimum, deserve a Grade 2 protection, that is to say their elevation must be preserved in its entirety. Their protection should possibly be even more extensive: total protection at Grade 1.

Planning application 9516/18 proposes to change the use of residences at 14 and 15 Is-Saqqajja Rabat (with back elevations onto Vjal Santu Wistin) into a Class 3B hotel. Through an examination of the proposed drawings, it is clear that the proposal includes the addition of two new floors as well as an internal mutilation of the properties to render them usable as a boutique hotel.

I have joined countless others in submitting an objection to this latest assault on our historical heritage. The reasons for objecting are numerous.

The most obvious reason for objecting is that the proposed development is out of tune with its surroundings. It will ruin the homogenous eloquence of both the Saqqajja elevation as well as that of Vjal Santu Wistin on which elevation the developer is proposing to gobble up an extensive part of the existing garden that contributes to a unique setting which needs the maximum protection possible.

The Local Plan, defining the area as an Urban Conservation Area, limits any proposed development in the area to two floors. This limitation is blatantly disregarded by the proposal for this boutique hotel. If this application is not stopped in its tracks, it is inevitable that it will eventually lead to the complete mutilation of the whole row of Saqqajja town-houses, because what’s good for the goose is naturally good for the gander.

Further down the hill, on the site currently occupied by Tattingers Club and a number of adjoining properties, the mutilation exercise continues. This site has another development proposal for a massive 110-room hotel spread over an area of around 5600 square metres. There are other planning applications in the vicinity but the above two are the most conspicuous. It seems that the mutilation brigade has shifted their attention towards Rabat and its surroundings.

The past performance of the Planning Authority is not very reassuring as it does not seem capable of withstanding the pressures of the development lobby. The Planning Authority has, as a result of its past decisions, sent a clear message that it considers the economic activity of the building industry more worthy of its attention and protection than anything else. In all fairness, there are a couple of members on the Planning Authority Board who stand out because they continuously defend the national heritage and the natural environment. But they are unfortunately a very small minority even when, occasionally, they are supported by others.

What else do you expect from a Planning Authority Board whose members are not uncomfortable when they sit with an estate agent in judgement as to which applications for a development permit are approved or refused?

I have no idea what the decision will be, but, based on past performance it is not beyond the Planning Authority Board to give its approval to the massacre brigade marching up Saqqajja Hill.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 December 2018

Ħames ħsibijiet

 

1. Ippjanar għall-użu tal-art

Tnax-il sena ilu meta l-pjani lokali kienu approvati mill-Ministru responsabbli mill-Ippjanar tal-Użu tal-Art, il-Parlament għadda biex ta l-approvazzjoni tiegħu biex meded kbar ta’ art fil-periferiji taz-zoni urbani tagħna jingħataw għall-bini. 12-il sena wara li l-Parlament approva l-ezerċiżżju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni xi residenti għadhom ma ndunawx kif għaddewhom biż-żmien. Xi drabi uħud mill-Membri Parlamentari li dakinnhar ivvutaw favur li art fl-ODZ issir tajba għall-bini, illum għandhom l-ardir li jkunu fuq quddiem jippuppaw sidirhom “f’appoġġ” għar-residenti li f’daqqa waħda jindunaw li d-dar tal-ġirien ser taqa’ u flokha tielgħa blokka appartamenti. Issa daqshekk xemx fuq il-pannelli li għadhom kemm ħallsu u stallaw ftit ilu!

Kważi kuljum nirċievi emails mingħand residenti li jkunu jixtiequ joġġezzjionaw għal żvilupp propost f’diversi lokalitajiet. Jiċċassaw meta ninfurmaw li ż-żmien għall-oġġezzjonijiet għalaq madwar 12-il sena ilu. L-parti l-kbira tar-residenti ma jiftakrux l-ismijiet tal-membri parlamentari li għaddewhom biż-żmien.

F’dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat kelli każijiet fil-Mellieħa, il-Mosta, Marsaxlokk, Wied il-Għajn u H’Attard. U għad hemm ħafna iktar.

2. Il-bdil fil-klima u l-karozzi tal-elettriku

Studju ippubblikat nhar il-Ġimgħa fil-Journal Nature Communications jiġbed l-attenzjoni li jekk wieħed iqabbel l-emmissjonijiet attwali ta’ diversi pajjiżi ma’ dak li wegħdu f’Pariġi sentejn ilu fil-laqgħa dwar it-tibdil fil-klima, għadna ħafna lura biex jintlaħqu l-miri stabiliti.

Il-wegħdiet faċli biex isiru imma sfortunatament mhux faċli biex jinżammu.

It-trasport hu illum il-kontribut ewlieni ta’ Malta għat-tibdil fil-klima. Madwar sena ilu l-Prim Ministru Muscat kien qal li mhux ‘il-bogħod li jieqfu l-karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-disil mit-toroq tagħna biex flokhom nibdew nużaw karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Għadna nistennew lill-Gvern iħabbar il-pjan tiegħu.

3. 17 Black

L-aħbar mil-Latvja dwar l-ismijiet assoċjati mal-kumpanija 17 Black u ċ-ċaqlieq ta’ flus maħmuġin madwar id-dinja ikomplu jagħtu l-kulur lill-istorja li ma tispiċċa qatt dwar il-ħasil tal-flus. Tajjeb li niftakru f’dik iż-żjara uffiċjali f’Baku f’Diċembru 2014 meta l-ebda uffiċjal taċ-ċivil jew ġurnalista ma kien preżenti. Dakinnhar staqsejna għalfejn? Possibilment it-tweġiba illum qegħda tiċċassa lejna.

4. L-istrateġija ta’ Bedingfield

Nhar il-ġimgħa kienet l-aħħar ġurnata għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-Kottonera li jidher li qegħda f’idejn Glenn Bedingfield. Qed jipproponu t-twaqqif ta’ fondazzjoni biex timplimenta l-istrateġija. Donnu li Glenn ftit jimpurtah mill-kunsilli lokali jew mill-kunsill tar-reġjun li s-sens komun jgħidlek li għandhom ikunu huma nkarigati bl-implementazzjoni. Forsi Glenn għadu ma ndunax li hemm “konsultazzjoni pubblika” oħra għaddejja, din id-darba dwar il-gvern lokali u għadha għaddejja sa l-aħħar ta’ Novembru. X’għala biebu!

5. L-appell dwar id-dB

L-appell kontra l-permess ta’ żvilupp li nħareġ lid-dB għat-tħarbit tas-sit tal-ITS f’ Pembroke jibda nhar it-Tlieta. It-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni għall-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar (il-Bord tal-appell) irid jibda biex jiddeċiedu dwar it-talba li għandu quddiemu minn dawk li qed jopponu l-permess biex ix-xogħol li diġa beda jieqaf immedjatament u jibqa’ hekk wieqaf sa meta jinqata’ l-appell. Wara it-Tribunal jibda jikkonsidra sottomissjonijiet fuq kull waħda mit-18-il raġuni li hemm biex il-permess jitħassar: ibda mill-kunflitt ta’ interess tal-aġent tal-propjetà membru tal-bord li japprova l-permessi tal-bini kif ukoll bir-regoli kollha li nkisru meta kien approvat dan il-permess ta’ żvilupp.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 18 ta’ Novembru 2018

 

Five random thoughts

1. Land Use Planning

Twelve years ago, when the local plans were approved by the then Minister responsible for land use planning, Parliament proceeded to approve the inclusion of substantial stretches of land on the periphery of most of our urban areas within the limits of permissible development. Twelve years after the approval of the rationalisation exercise by Parliament, some residents are still not aware of the manner in which they have been compromised. At times they are taken advantage of by Members of Parliament who had supported the extension of the development boundaries but now feel duty bound to “support” residents who suddenly realise that their neighbour’s house is being pulled down and in its stead a block of flats will arise, blocking out the sun off their PVCs which they have just paid for!

I receive emails almost daily from residents wishing to object to proposals for development in various localities. They are speechless when I inform them that the time for objections elapsed some 12 years ago! Most residents do not remember the names of the Members of Parliament who shafted them in 2006.

I have in the past weeks dealt with cases in Mellieħa, Mosta, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala and Attard and many more are pending.

2. Climate Change and electrification

A study published last Friday in the Journal Nature Communications points out that if one compares q country’s actual emissions with the pledges made at the Paris Climate Change meeting two years ago, we are still very far from achieving the objectives set.
Unfortunately, pledges are easy to make and difficult to keep.

Transport is currently Malta’s major contribution to climate change. Over one year ago, Premier Muscat had stated that petrol and diesel-powered cars should be driven off our roads and substituted by electric cars. We are still waiting for government to announce its detailed plans.

3. 17 Black

The revelation from Latvia of the names associated with 17 Black and the movement of dirty money around the globe adds more spice to the never-ending saga of money laundering. It may be pertinent to point out to that official visit at Baku in December 2014 at which no civil servant or journalist was present. Then we asked why. Possibly now we have the answer.

4. Bedingfield and his strategy

Last Friday was the closing date on the ongoing public consultation on Cottonera piloted by Glenn Bedingfield. It is being proposed to set up a foundation to eventually implement this strategy. Apparently Glenn has no qualms in shafting the local councils and the regional council in the area which logically should be the ones entrusted with implementation. Maybe Glenn has not yet realised that another “public consultation” on local government is currently in hand up till 30 November. Who cares?

5. The dB appeal

The appeal against the development permit issued for the dB mega-mess at Pembroke will commence next Tuesday. High on the list on considerations to be addressed by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (the appeals board) will be the request by those opposing this development to stop works immediately, pending the outcome of the appeal. Then the Tribunal will commence considering submissions on the eighteen reasons which justify the invalidation of the development permit – ranging from the obvious conflict of interest of the estate agent dishing out development permits to a blatant disregard of planning policy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 November 2018

Marsa: a planning mess

turkish-cemetry-marsa-malta2

The Chamber of Architects has taken the Planning Authority to task on the piecemeal local plan reviews that it has been churning out, one at a time. The latest tirade was with reference to a partial review of The Grand Harbour Local Plan (originally published in 2002) specifically with respect to a Marsa Park Site.

We have just concluded a public discussion on a Masterplan for Paceville, which was shredded by public opinion and sent back to the drawing board.

Earlier, we had the Planning Authority itself contesting whether Local Councils, NGOs and the Environment and Resources Authority  had a right to contest the decision to permit high-rises in Townsquare Sliema and in Imrieħel.

To make matters worse, instead of consolidating the environmental regulatory functions of the state, this government has opted to deliberately fragment them, thereby ensuring their reduced effectiveness by design.  In a small country such as Malta, it pays to have one consolidated authority  directed by environment professionals through whom land use planning responsibilities should be accountable.

Land use planning needs to be more focused but holistic in nature. The Chamber of Architects aptly makes the point that focusing the efforts of the partial review of the Grand Harbour Local Plan specifically on “a Marsa Business Park” without considering this within the context  of a much needed regeneration of Marsa would be a futile exercise. The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity and this will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through comprehensive planning “which ought to include community needs, road transport re-alignment, environment improvement and flooding mitigation measures”.

These are the basic issues which should be addressed by a local plan review concerning Marsa. Tackling major infrastructural and social problems facing the Marsa community should take precedence over any proposal for the redevelopment of the Marsa Park site. It is the whole of Marsa that should be addressed and not just one tiny corner.

The partial local plan review is ignoring the local community, just like its cousin the Paceville Masterplan did some months ago. Many years ago we learned that “planning is for people”. This seems to be no longer the case as, according to the Planning Authority, planning is apparently for business hubs, high-rises and, obviously, for developers. They seem to be very well connected, thereby ensuring that they occupy the first items of this government’s land use planning agenda.

Marsa has been forgotten over the years. With the closure of the Marsa power station now is the appropriate time to consider the various accumulated impacts on the Marsa community in order that an integrated approach to addressing them is identified. Planning is for people. That means that the Marsa community should be actively involved when these plans are being formulated, including at the drawing board stage. Land use planners should stimulate the Marsa community to speak up and involve itself in drawing up a blue print for its future.

The regeneration of Marsa is an urgent matter which should not be left unattended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 January 2017

Political calculation or environmental principle?

calculator

 

Joseph Muscat’s declaration that the Freeport Terminal will not be permitted to expand in Birżebbuġa’s direction due to its impacts on the residential community will inevitably have an effect on the Planning Authority. Viewed in the context of the recent Planning Authority decision not to approve the proposed Ħondoq ir-Rummien development, a pattern seems to be developing.

Given the fact that these two decisions are closely associated with localities that politically support the Labour Party it is still not clear whether this newly discovered sensitivity to restrict development which negatively impacts residential communities is based on political calculation or on environmental principle. This consideration is inevitable, in particular due to the report in this newspaper on 22 June that the Prime Minister had stated, in a discussion with environmental NGO Flimkien għall-Ambjent Aħjar, that he does not care about impact assessments, as residents get used to everything. As far as I am aware, the Office of the Prime Minister never corrected this report.

The Freeport Terminal debate clearly indicates that Birżebbuġa residents are determined to deliver a different message: they have had enough. During the last seven years there has been an ongoing tug-of-war between Birżebbuġa Local Council, MEPA and the Freeport Terminal Management. This has led to a number of improvements, the most important of which was the setting up of a tripartite Environmental Monitoring Committee that has served to build some bridges and to explore solutions to existing problems caused by the operation of the Freeport Terminal.

There was a time, around two years ago, when pressure was put on Birżebbuġa Local Council to drop its objections to specific operations. I distinctly remember representatives from the oil-rig repair industry  trying to convince the Council of the “benefits” that an oil-rig industry based at the Freeport Terminal could generate.

When these representatives realised that no one was convinced, an amendment to the environmental permit was forced through the then MEPA Board. To their credit, only three of the then board members understood the real issues and voted against the proposal: the two MPs (Joe Sammut and Ryan Callus) and the environmental NGO representative Alex Vella of the Ramblers Association.

The amended environmental permit would have permitted minor repairs to ships and oil-rigs berthed at the Freeport Terminal. However, after the MEPA Board meeting all hell broke loose, leading Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to disassociate himself from its decision and publicly align himself with the minority on the board opposing the changes. He then stated that he was in agreement with “his representative”, Labour MP Joe Sammut.

While the Freeport Terminal, faced with the reaction of residents, eventually relinquished the newly-acquired permit, the internal debate within the Labour Party continued, leading to the recent statement by Joseph Muscat that he is not in agreement with an expansion of the Freeport Terminal operations that would have a negative impact on the Birżebbuġa community.

Irrespective of whether it is a matter of principle or a political calculation which has led the Prime Minister to make such a statement, I submit that this is still a significant turning point that has been achieved as a direct result of Birżebbuġa Local Council’s persistent lobbying. It contrasts with the position taken by the Leader of the Opposition, who looks forward to an increase in the operations of the Freeport Terminal, without batting an eyelid over the resulting, continuously increasing, impact on the residential community.

The Prime Minister’s statement, while being a positive first step, is certainly not enough. It needs to be translated into policy as an integral part of the revised Local Plans currently under consideration. It is also important that the Prime Minister’s newly identified sensitivities are exported to other areas in Malta and Gozo. It is essential that, in a small country such as ours, third party rights opposing “development” are reinforced.

The issue at stake is far larger than Birżebbbuġa or the Freeport Terminal. It is a tug-of-war between those supporting “development” at all costs and our residential communities. The government must, through planning policy, be supportive of all our residential communities without exception.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 31st July 2016

Moratorium : fl-interess tagħna lkoll

moratorium

Huwa meħtieġ li jkun hawn moratorium fuq l-iżvilupp ta’ proġetti kbar. Li dan isir, illum qabel għada, hu fl-interess tagħna lkoll.

Meta fl-2006 ġew approvati bl-għaġġla l-pjani lokali ittieħdet deċiżjoni ħażina li għadna nbatu l-konsegwenzi tagħha sal-lum.

Sa nofs l-2006 il-proċess tal-konsiderazzjoni tal-pjani lokali kien miexi bil-mod tant li tnejn biss (minn 7) kienu għadhom ġew approvati. Imma indunaw li kienet ser tidħol fis-seħħ direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea imsejħa Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive. Din id-direttiva tesiġi li qabel ma jkun approvat pjan jew programm li jħejji l-qafas ta’ żvilupp għall-futur għandu jkun studjat l-impatt kumulattiv ta’ dak propost.

Studju tal-impatt kumulattiv tal-pjani lokali ma sarx. Li kieku dan l-istudju sar il-pjani lokali kienu jkunu ezaminati dettaljatment. Ir-regolamenti dwar is-suġġett fil-fatt jgħidu li l-iskop hu  li “jipprovdi għal livell għoli ta’ ħarsien tal-ambjent, u li jikkontribwixxi għall-integrazzjoni ta’ konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali fil-preparazzjoni u l-adozzjoni ta’ pjanijiet u programmi bil-għan li jiġi promoss l-iżvilupp sostenibbli, billi jiġi żgurat li, skont dawn ir-regolamenti, titwettaq stima ambjentali strateġika dwar ċertu pjanijiet u programmi li x’aktarx ikollhom effetti sinifikanti fuq l-ambjent.” [ara Regolamenti dwar Stima Ambjentali Strateġika. 549.61] L-iskedi ta’ dawn ir-regolamenti jispjegaw dettaljatament dwar il-kriterji u l-impatti li għandhom ikunu ikkunsidrati.

Biex dan l-istudju ma jsirx il-Gvern u l-MEPA għaġġlu biex fis-sajf tal-2006 jkunu approvati l-pjani lokali li kien baqa’ flimkien mal-eserċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li żied maż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru fiż-żona tal-iżvilupp. B’din l-approvazzjoni ta’ malajr il-Gvern u l-MEPA fl-2006 għamlu għażla ċara li għalihom l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tiġi qabel il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Għalhekk hemm bżonn il-moratorium, il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll tkun tista’ terġa’ tingħata prijorità.

Il-Gvern iċċaqlaq ……….. għax sab l-iebes

Zonqor protest.200615.05jpg

 

Il-mod kif il-Gvern ħa id-deċiżjoni dwar l-Università Amerikana juri biċ-ċar li m’għandux idea tal-obbligi ambjentali tiegħu. Għax kieku kellu l-iċken idea kien jimxi b’mod differenti. Il-konsultazzjoni neċessarja kien jagħmilha qabel ma jiddeċiedi u mhux wara li għaffiġha.

Id-deċiżjoni oriġinali kienet ħażina. Bid-deċiżjoni reveduta li tħabbret il-bieraħ l-Gvern ġabar ftit ġieħu.

Ir-reviżjoni saret biss u esklussivament minħabba li s-soċjetà ċivili fetħet ħalqha.

M’huwiex possibli li tikkonkludi minn każ wieħed jekk dan ifissirx li l-Gvern immexxi minn Joseph Muscat huwiex ser jibda jagħti każ ta’ x’jaħseb il-lobby ambjentali. Dan inkunu nistgħu nikkonkluduh wara li jkollna xi żewġ każijiet oħra.

Irridu naraw per eżempju dwar kemm il-Gvern ser jagħti każ tal-proposti tal-lobby ambjentali dwar il-liġijiet preżentement pendenti quddiem il-Parlament. Irridu ukoll naraw xi proposti ser isiru meta fix-xhur li ġejjin ikunu ippubblikati l-abbozzi ta’ pjani lokali.

Jiena naħseb li l-Gvern kontinwament ser jipprova jevita l-obbligi ambjentali tiegħu. Jekk isib resistenza jaġġusta l-posizzjoni tiegħu skond ir-resistenza li jsib.

Għalhekk hu importanti li s-soċjetà ċivili tibqa’ viġilanti għax ser niffaċċjaw battalja wara l-oħra. Min jaqta’ nifsu l-ewwel jitlef.

Ippubblikat fuq l-Illum il-Ħadd 23 t’Awwissu 2015