L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar : ABZ mill-ambjent

 

Għamlu tajjeb il-Moviment Graffiti u l-Kamp Emergenza Ambjent li ipprotestaw waqt laqgħa tal-Bord tal-istess Awtoritá u wasslu biex il-laqgħa li kienet qed tikkonsidra l-ħruġ ta’ permess għall-pompa oħra tal-petrol titħassar.

Il-permessi għall-pompi tal-petrol ħerġin bħall-pastizzi. Ma għandiex bżonn pompi tal-petrol ġodda. Li għandna bżonn u li jibdew jagħlqu dawk li hawn mhux li jiftħu l-ġodda.

Xi xhur ilu l-Prim Ministru kien iddikjara li l-Gvern jaqbel li jispiċċaw mit-toroq Maltin karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u bid-diesel u li fil-futur il-karozzi kollha jkunu jaħdmu preferibilment bl-elettriku.

Alternattiva Demokratika taqbel ma dan tant li dan kien ġie propost fil-Manifest Elettorali ta’ AD fl-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali : l-unika partit politiku li ħa din il-posizzjoni ċara qabel l-elezzjoni.

Il-politika li biha l-permessi għall-pompi tal-petrol ħerġin bħall-pastizzi hi għodda għall-ispekulazzjoni tal-art u l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar flimkien mal-Gvern u l-Opposizzjoni huma kompliċi f’din l-ispekulazzjoni.

Għalhekk l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar mhiex serja, qed tagħmel il-ħsara lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Ghandna Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li hi ABZ mill-ambjent.

 

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Thank-you Ryan; thank-you, Clayton.

I was present for both public sessions of the Planning Authority Board’s meetings to discuss the planning application for a petrol station at Salini Road Magħtab.

The first meeting, on 7 December, was attended by eight members of the Board. At the meeting on the 11 January, however, an additional five members made an effort and were present. These additional five members voted in favour of the application, but they had not followed the detailed public discussion held on 7 January, as is their duty.

At the first meeting, two of the Board members publicly indicated their intention to vote against the application but, at the second meeting, both changed their mind and decided to vote in favour. However, no public explanation was forthcoming as to what caused them to change sides.

The Planning Authority Board includes two Members of Parliament: Ryan Callus (PN) and Clayton Bartolo (PL). Both of them consider it to be desirable to have more petrol stations and both voted in favour of the Magħtab Petrol Station. Ryan Callus was clearly observed raising his hand very reluctantly to vote in favour of the development application: apparently he wanted those present to note that he was not sure of what he was doing.

More worrying was Clayton Bartolo’s behaviour. He had already publicly indicated his opposition to giving the permission for the petrol station on 7 December. However, last Thursday he switched sides and voted in favour. Obviously, he had every right to vote in whichever way he chooses, but he owes the public an explanation for his change of heart. No such explanation was forthcoming.

Of the 14 members of the Planning Authority Board, 13 are regular members and the additional member is an ad hoc member representing the Local Council of the locality involved – in this case Naxxar. Eight members of the Board were present for both meetings. Five turned up only for the second meeting. The 14th member of the Board, although present for both meetings, left the room as soon as the subject of the petrol station came up for discussion on both occasions! Clearly he did not want to participate in this latest planning farce.

This is the third new petrol station to be approved by the Planning Authority in a short period of time: approval for the Magħtab petrol station came immediately after the approval of those at Marsaskala and Burmarrad in the past weeks.

Do we need so many petrol stations?

Last September, the Prime Minister announced that government would shortly carry out a consultation exercise to determine the cut-off date beyond which all new cars purchased would have to be electric or similar vehicles. This signified one thing: that soon we will start the count-down leading to no more petrol and/or diesel cars on our roads. Bearing this policy declaration by the Prime Minister leads to one inevitable question: what do we need new petrol stations for? Each new petrol station gobbles up approximately 3,000 square metres of land.

A big thank-you to Ryan and Clayton.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 14 January 2018

New Petrol Stations: immediate moratorium needed

For a short period of time, the number of new petrol stations in Malta was on the decline but recently this trend has reversed, undoubtedly as a result of the Planning Authority 2015 Fuel Service Station Policy.

New petrol stations are mushrooming all over the place, and not only is it easier to obtain a development permit to construct a petrol station but you get the added “concession” to ruin up to 3,000 square metres of surrounding land.

Those proposing the development of new petrol stations claim to be doing us a favour. They argue that the increasing number of cars on the road necessitates more and more petrol stations. The number of petrol stations in the Maltese islands currently stands at around 80 and new ones are mushrooming, undoubtedly fuelled by the 3,000 square metres permissible footprint in the 2015 planning policy.

It is submitted that the policy on the development of fuel stations should complement the policy on the phasing out of internal combustion engines and an immediate moratorium on the development of new petrol stations is essential.

During the 2017 General Election campaign, Alternattiva Demokratika proposed the phasing out of vehicles running on internal combustion engines in Malta over a 20-year period. This time-frame was deemed sufficient to develop an infrastructure for electric-driven cars. It was also deemed to be a reasonable time-frame to permit those who possessed vehicles running on internal combustion engines to adjust to a new reality without petrol or diesel.

This position was also taken up by the Labour government in Malta after the June election. However the details have not yet been determined.

Various other countries have decided on, or are considering, eliminating internal combustion engine driven vehicles from their roads, including Norway (by 2025), the Netherlands (by 2025), Germany (by 2030), France (by 2040), the United Kingdom (by 2040), India (by 2040) and China (by 2040). Others will soon inevitably follow.

In addition, car manufacturers are considering shifting to a manufacturing mode that will only produce hybrid or fully electric cars. Volvo will proceed on such a path by 2019 and no doubt others will follow fast on Volvo’s heels.

Within this context, does it make any sense to continue issuing development permits for more petrol stations?

We need an in-depth examination of transport related policies. It is clear to everyone  that our roads are bursting at the seams and that the further development of our road infrastructure is opening up our roads to more cars, as a consequence adding to our pollution problems and simultaneously making our accessibility worse.

An overhaul of Malta’s transport policies should seek to promote sustainable transport policies thereby reducing the number of cars on our roads.

Yesterday, I addressed a press conference on the site of the proposed extension to the road network at Attard. This project, when implemented, will take up valuable irrigated agricultural land. This is one more instance which will increase the number of cars on our roads, gobble up agricultural land and ruin the life of full time farmers.

Transport policy on these islands seems to be multi-directional, sending mixed signals in all directions. Some coherence is required. Establishing a moratorium on the construction of new petrol stations and establishing a date by which internal combustion engine driven vehicles are phased out from our roads would be a good first step. This should then be followed by ending the crazy spree of the development of new roads.

It is a process which will lead us to reclaim our roads for our own use, but then it will take some time.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 December 2017

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor

 laudato_si_    Cry of the Earth

 

This is the title of Leonardo Boff’s seminal work on the inextricable link between social justice and environmental degradation, originally published in 1995.  Earlier, during the 1972 UN Human Environment Conference in Stockholm, it was also the rallying cry of India’s Prime Minister  Indira Gandhi who, on behalf of the developing world, forcefully insisted that poverty was inextricably linked with environmental degradation.  In Stockholm Mrs Gandhi had emphasised that “the environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty  –  how can we speak to those who live in villages and slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean, when their own lives are contaminated at the source?”

This is also the underlying theme of the encyclical Laudato Sì published by Pope Francis last June. It is not just a seasonal Latin American flavour at Vatican City.  The earth’s tears are continuously manifested in different ways depending on the manner in which she is maltreated .

Environmental degradation has a considerable impact on the quality of life of  us all except, that is, for the quality of life of  the select few who pocket the profits by appropriating for themselves advantages (economic or otherwise) and lumping the negative impacts on the rest.

Environmental degradation is an instrument of social injustice. Consequently, enhancing the protection of the environment is also essential to restore social justice.

The water table is subject to continuous daylight robbery: over the years it has been depleted by both authorised and unauthorised water extraction.  What is left is contaminated as a result of the impact of fertilisers as well as surface water runoff from the animal husbandry industry. Theft and acute mismanagement  are the tools used in the creation of this injustice.

The Malta Freeport has been quite successful over the years in contributing to economic growth and job creation. The price for this has, however, been paid by Birżebbuġa residents – primarily through being subjected to continuous noise pollution on a 24/7 basis. Various residential units in the area closest to the Freeport Terminal are vacant and have been so for a considerable time. A noise report commissioned as a result of the conditions of the Terminal’s environmental permit will be concluded shortly. Hopefully, the implementation of its conclusions will start the reversal of the Freeport’s negative impacts on its neighbours.

The Freeport, together with various fuel storage outlets, the Delimara Power Station (including the floating gas storage facility which will soon be a permanent feature) as well as fish-farms have together definitely converted Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. As a result of various incidents during 2015, spills in Marsaxlokk Bay signify that Pretty Bay risks losing its title permanently.   Fortunately, Birżebbuġa residents have been spared additional impact originating from minor ship and oil-rig repairs after they reacted vociferously to a decision by the MEPA Board to permit such work at the Freeport Terminal.

Public Transport has made minor improvements but nowhere near what is required. It is essential that Malta’s congested roads are mopped up of the excessive number of cars. Improving the road infrastructure will just make it easier for more cars to roam about in our roads, thereby increasing the scale of the problem.  The major consequences are a reduced ease of access and the deterioration air quality.

We will soon be in a position to assess the impact of two other major projects: a business hub at the Malta International Airport as well as a car-racing track with various ancillary facilities. The former will take up land at the airport carpark but will have considerable impact on the surrounding villages. The car-racing track may take up as much as 110 hectares of land outside the development zone and have a considerable impact on both nature and local residents in the areas close to where it will be developed.

The list of environmental impacts that we have to endure is endless.

I could also have included the impact of the Malta Drydocks and the consequent squeezing out of residents from the Three Cities as a result of its operations, primarily as a result of sandblasting, in the 1970s and 1980s. I could also have added the impact of the waste recycling plant at Marsaskala and the refusal of the authorities to finance studies on the impact of its operations on the health of residents, or else the impact of the operation of petrol stations close to and within various residential areas.

The size of the Maltese islands is limited. A number of the abovementioned  activities/developments  are essential, but others are not. However, it stands to reason that we should not bear the brunt of non-essential activities or developments. This should lead us to plan more carefully so that  the impacts of the activities that are essential are adequately addressed.

As evidenced by the above list, unfortunately over the years those taking decisions betrayed their responsibilities towards the common good, seeking, instead the interests of the select few thereby compounding social injustices.

This is Malta’s contribution to the accumulated tears of Mother Earth.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 January 2016