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

Local plans, and not regional

grand-harbouraerial

MEPA has embarked on a process which will lead to a revision of the seven existing  Local Plans. Five were approved in 2006. Two of them were approved earlier: the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (1995) and the Grand Harbour Local Plan (2002).

With the exception of the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (which regulates  Birżebbuġa, Marsaxlokk and their surrounding areas) all the Local Plans cover extensive areas. The Structure Plan, approved in 1990 and currently subject to revision, had identified the need for 24 Local Plans addressing urban areas, as well as other unspecified plans for Rural Conservation Areas. Initially when MEPA approved the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan it started along this path but then it opted for plans which are more regional than local in nature.

Local Plans are necessary in order that planning policy is appropriately applied at a local level where one can focus on practical considerations. Though there may be overlaps between Local Plans covering similar areas there will also be variations resulting from the specific nature of the different localities. There will be inevitable similarities between, for example, a Local Plan addressing Valletta and Floriana on one hand and another one addressing the Three Cities due to the fact that both contain vast stretches of fortifications.  However the planning issues arising may also lead to different considerations both in respect of what is to be prohibited as well as in what ought to be encouraged.

Local Plans are not neutral policy instruments. Departing from the common need to ensure a continuous maintenance programme for the fortifications (which programme is currently in hand)  Local Plans may explore different potential uses to which the fortifications in two completely different areas may be put. This would be dependent on the infrastructural services in the area  and on the impacts generated by the potential use  on the surrounding amenities and localities. It would be much easier to ensure that this is done through two separate local plans, one specifically addressing Valletta and Floriana and the other addressing just the Three Cities.

It is not just an issue of fortifications. The large number of vacant properties, currently totalling  over 72,000 cannot be addressed adequately at a regional level. Different policies and different targets have to be identified at a local level as both the causes as well as the extent of the problem vary from one locality to another.

Boundaries of a number of Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs) were substantially revised in 2006 on the understanding that it is better to limit the extent of a UCA to that which is necessary and essential. Consequently it should stand to reason that a smaller UCA is much better to regulate and monitor.

A number of vacant properties lie within UCAs as it costs much more to bring such properties to an adequate state compatible to modern standards of living. This is an area which has already been explored in the last years with various fiscal incentives being offered to encourage rehabilitaton and the reuse of such properties. Much more needs to be done. The revision of the Local Plans is another opportunity to re-examine the way forward in tackling the ever increasing number of vacant properties. The proposed policies must however be focused and local in nature as otherwise they will fail to have any impact at all.

As emphasised by eNGOs  the Local Plans should also be an opportunity to consider the integration of environmental policy and its applicability at a local level. Whilst all environmental policy is of relevance to our localities two particular areas easily spring to mind: air quality and noise pollution.

Both air quality and noise control standards can be undoubtedly upgraded if action is taken at a local level. Traffic generated is a major contributor to both. Heavy traffic through residential areas has to be reduced. If the Local Plans address this issue they will be simultaneously contributing to a better air quality and less acoustic pollution in urban areas.

From declarations made in the past weeks it is obvious that one of the controversial issues to be tackled, (most probably in a plan addressing rural areas) would be agro-tourism.  This is a very sensitive matter . If the point of departure is to seek to establish new development zones on the pretext of tourism than such proposals would be unacceptable. If on the other hand such a Rural Plan addresses the use of existing  agricultural holdings aiming to maximise the use of their existing footprint, provide a different touristic experience as well as  provide alternative or additional employment opportunities to our agricultural communities then there is room for considerable discussion.

The Local Plans to be produced will have an impact on our quality of life for the next ten years. It is hence imperative to not only ensure a high level of participation in the consultation process but that the resulting proposals are given due consideration.

This article was published in The Times of Malta, Saturday August 10, 2013

Daphne Caruana Galizia u l-iskandlu ta’ Marsaxlokk

L-istorja interessanti li ħarġet biha Daphne Caruana Galizia permezz ta’ numru ta’ blogposts fuq il-blog tagħha timmerita ftit osservazzjonijiet għax fiha numru ta’ żbalji. Ma nafx min ħa l-iżball, jekk hux l-awtriċi inkella min ta’ l-istorja.

Id-dokument f’forma ta’ kuntratt ippubblikat fuq il-blog ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia kmieni nhar it-12 ta’ Settembru juri li  Yana u Anne aħwa Mintoff biegħu lill-kumpanija taċ-Ċaqnu, Ginwi Co Ltd, art f’Marsaxlokk b’faċċata fuq Triq iż-Żejtun  u bil-kejl ta’ 5159.59 metri kwadri.

Din l-art, skond Daphne inbiegħet wara li s-sid oriġinali applika għal permess liema permess ġie rifjutat minħabba li l-art “kienet barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp”.

Issa jiena fittixt fil-pjan lokali tal-area (Il-Pjan għall-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk) u sibt li meta dan ġie approvat fl-1995 l-art in kwistjoni kienet diġa tajba għall-iżvilupp. Mort iktar lura sa meta l-Parlament approva l-Pjan Regolatur Temporanju fl-1989 u sibt li anke dakinnhar din l-art kienet inkluża fiż-żona ta’ żvilupp!

Meta rajt dan ma stajtx nifhem kif meta is-sid oriġinali tal-art ippreżenta applikazzjoni fuq l-art din l-applikazzjoni ġiet rifjutata. Il-blog ta’ Daphne jgħidilna u jfissrilna li l-applikazzjoni PA4509/96 ġiet rifjutata u li r-raġuni li ngħatat kienet li l-art ma kienitx tajba għall-iżvilupp.

Meta tmur fuq is-sit tal-MEPA u tara l-applikazzjoni PA4509/96 issib li l-qies tal-art li fuqha is-sid oriġinali (Anthony Cassar Desain) applika kien ta’ 8,200 metru kwadru (tmient elef u mitejn metru kwadru).  L-applikazzjoni tal-1996 fil-fatt hi deskritta hekk fuq is-sit tal-MEPA:   “Proposal for residential development over an area of 0.82h to include two storey semi-detached units with vast tracts of open space, new roads and community facilities.

Dan ifisser li l-art tal-applikazzjoni tal-1996 kienet ferm ikbar mill-art li inbiegħet lill-aħwa Mintoff u li parti minnha kienet tajba għall-iżvilupp u parti oħra x’aktarx li kienet barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Tibqa’ parti oħra interessanti mill-istorja.

L-art li l-aħwa Mintoff ser idaħħlu €3,610,529 minn fuqha Daphne Caruana Galizia qaltilna li tagħha ħallsu Lm4,000 (jiġifieri  €9318). Din diffiċli biex titwemmen għax żmien il-bħaħan ilu li spiċċa. Iktar u iktar meta d-deċiżjoni li l-art tkun tajba għall-bini ilha żmien twil li ittieħdet.

Mhux qed ngħid li hu tajjeb li ittieħdet id-deċiżjoni illi din l-art tkun tista’ tinbena, imma għall-korrettezza għandu jingħad li d-deċiżjoni dwarha ittieħdet fl-aħħar tas-snin tmenin. Issa x’ġara dakinnhar u għax daħlet fl-iskema ma nafx.

Il-mistoqsija  dwar dan l-hekk imsejjaħ “skandlu” għaldaqstant hi dwar iċ-ċifri li qed jissemmew u jekk dawn humiex korretti.  In partikolari jekk hux veru li s-sid oriġinali kienx daqshekk baħnan li art tajba għall-bini tal-kejl ta’ 5159.59 metri kwadri  irmieha b’Lm4,000 (€9318).

Min jaf, forsi dan kollu hu faċċata li warajha hemm moħbija affarijiet oħra.

Nistennew u naraw!

The Wied il-Buni Buffer Zone

When the current parliamentary session was inaugurated in May 2008 the then President of the Republic read the government’s programme listing those of its political pledges it felt safe to announce.

The President had informed Parliament that: “The government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.”

He further emphasised that “Sustainable development has three main dimensions: economic, social and environmental. Our challenge is to ensure continuous economic development, promoted by education, social development, with particular attention to environmental protection. When we evaluate our activities in view of these three interrelated dimensions, we would be placing every person at the heart of the government’s actions”.

Now consider this policy direction and apply it to the Freeport at Birżebbuġa.

Had the Freeport been designed today it would have a much smaller footprint. When the Freeport was designed in the 1980s such large-scale projects were not subject to any land use planning control. Nor were any environmental criteria relative to the impacts on the Birżebbuġa community given any weight. (Some would justifiably argue that not much has changed since.)

When, in the early 1990s, the then Planning Authority was faced with a Freeport already in operation (even though it was still in its initial stages) it sought to contain its spread through the policies which it approved.

One important policy contained in the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan creates a buffer zone between the Freeport and Birżebbuġa. In fact, Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan policy MB 28 states: “Any use allocated to the area of land at Wied il-Buni should act as a buffer to shield the leisure activity along the seafront from the industry of the Freeport and, in any case, must not cause inconvenience to nearby residents due to noise, fumes, vibrations and/or hours of work. The preferred use is public open space.”

Policy could not be any clearer, yet, notwithstanding this, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority board last month approved an extension to the Freeport Terminal using part of this buffer zone. As a result, the Freeport’s increased activity in the future is possible but the welfare of the community was thrown overboard by a Mepa board which felt it could ignore the regulator’s own policies. They did not only ignore the above local plan policy but, in addition, they also ignored the social and environmental impacts of the terminal extension focusing only on perceived economic benefits. In so doing, they also threw overboard the government’s declarations in favour of sustainable development and future generations.

In an explanatory note immediately after the above-quoted policy, the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan further explains as follows: “The site referred to (the buffer zone) is immediately adjacent to Freeport Terminal between Triq San Patrizju and the shore.

“The site is currently used partly as a sailing club and the rest as a dump-yard. It is close to houses along Triq San Patrizju and, if not carefully controlled, its eventual use could have a detrimental impact on local residents.

“It also presents an opportunity to assist in reducing the effects of the industrial activity of the Freeport.”

This was approved and published by the then Planning Authority in May 1995.

An increased environmental sensitivity of the community since 1995 should have led Mepa to observe its own rules. In fact, the first decision taken relative to the Freeport Terminal extension was to refuse it. This the Mepa board did on February 26, 2009. However, after it was requested to reconsider this refusal, the Mepa board overturned its original decision on January 21, 2010. There were no changes to the project between the two dates.

There was only one occurrence which could be of relevance: the elections of the Maltese members of the European Parliament in June 2009. Whether this had any bearing on the decision of the individual Mepa board members is difficult to say, as none gave any indication. It is, however, a fact that some Mepa board members had second thoughts and changed the manner in which they voted. Being independent, they are obviously entitled to change their mind. One wonders, however, why none considered it ethical to give a reasonable explanation. Those who will have to bear the brunt of their decision are entitled to such an explanation.

The decision is now being contested in the Planning Appeals Board by the local NGO, Birżebbuġa Environmental Action Group.

Until such time as a definite decision is taken, it may be opportune to ponder as to why it is possible that this country can have clear and specific policies but then cannot identify competent boards capable of ensuring that they are applied as originally intended.

published in The Times today,July 24, 2010

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On this blog you can also see the following posts on the same subject :

17th July 2010 : Wara l-Bieb.

12th June 2010 : Past Mistakes ……. Present Day Decisions.

1st February 2010 : Malta Freeport : Impacts on Residents should be dealt with effectively.

21st March 2009 : The Freeport : Will MEPA backtrack ?

26th February 2009 : Kisba Importanti wara suġġeriment ta’ AD – MEPA accepts AD proposal.

5th March 2008 : Birżebbuġa u l-Port Ħieles

Wara l-Bieb

F’pajjiż żgħir fid-daqs bħal tagħna kull żvilupp li jsir ikollu effett fuq xi ħaġa oħra.

Il-bieraħ f’Birżebbuġa indirizzajt konferenza tal-aħbarijiet dwar l-estensjoni tal-Port Ħieles u kif din teffettwa lir-residenti. Il-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa u l-NGO ambjentali tal-lokal il-Birżebbuġa Environmental Action Group f’isem ir-residenti qed jopponu l-estensjoni tal-Port Ħieles minħabba li din teffettwa ħażin lir-residenti.

Hemm limitu għal dak li hu ġustifikabbli li nissaportu. B’dan l-iskop il-Pjan Lokali għall-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk approvat fl-1995 stabilixxa dan il-limitu billi identifika l-area ta’ Wied il-Buni bħala żona li l-Port Ħieles ma kellux jaqbiżha. Hi fil-fatt definita bħala buffer zone.

Il-permess għall-estensjoni tal-Port Ħieles li l-MEPA approvat reċentement dan tinjorah.

Hawn diversi li jitkellmu b’passjoni mingħajr ma jkunu jafu l-fatti. Huwa faċli li tgħid li huwa neċessarju li l-Port Ħieles jespandi fl-interess tat-tkabbir tal-ġid ekonomiku imma min jgħid hekk ikun qed iħares biss lejn parti żgħira ħafna mill-istorja. Għax hemm bżonn ukoll li nħarsu lejn affajiet oħra : kif din l-estensjoni teffettwa l-ħajja tan-nies, u kif din teqred ukoll facilitajiet sportivi tal-baħar (sailing club) li jgawdu mhux biss ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa imma ukoll residenti min-nofsinnhar tal-pajjiż li għalihom Birżebbuġa huwa post ta’ villeġġatura.       

Hemm ukoll l-impatti ambjentali li akkumulaw tul is-snin mill-attivita’ industrijali fil-Port ta’ Marsaxlokk. Dawn huma sostanzjali. Jagħmel sens ħafna illi qabel ma biss nikkunsidraw estenzjoni tal-Port Ħieles nifhmu iktar l-impatti ambjentali akkumulati li per eżempju qerdu l-ħajja fil-bajja u nassiguraw li dawn ikunu indirizzati.

Il-Kunsill ta’ Birżebbuġa, il-Birżebbuġa Environmental Action Group u l-Port Ħieles ilhom ix-xhur jiltaqgħu mal-MEPA biex flimkien insibu l-aħjar mod kif dawn l-impatti li akkumulaw tul is-snin ikunu indirizzati u possibilment jonqsu għall-ġid ta’ kulħadd.

Dan hu l-mod kif l-affarijiet isiru bis-serjeta’. Għalhekk nitkellmu dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Għax l-iżvilupp biex jagħmel sens ma jridx inissel biss titjib ekonomiku, iżda dan irid jagħmlu mingħajr ħsara : la ħsara ambjentali u l-anqas ħsara soċjali.  

Il-ħsara ħadd ma jridha wara biebu.

________________

Ara ukoll fuq dan il-blog :

12 ta’ Gunju 2010 : Past Mistakes ……. Present Day Decisions.

1 ta’ Frar 2010 : Malta Freeport : Impacts on Residents should be dealt with effectively.

21 ta’ Marzu 2009 : The Freeport : Will MEPA backtrack ?

26 ta’ Frar 2009 : Kisba Importanti wara suġġeriment ta’ AD – MEPA accepts AD proposal.

5 ta’ Marzu 2008 : Birżebbuġa u l-Port Ħieles.