Claiming back our coast

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The  Paceville Master Plan is rightfully subtitled : Malta’s prime coastal location.  However, it considers the coast as a money-spinner and completely ignores Parliament’s decision earlier this year to codify the importance of the coastal area through its inclusion in legislation regulating the public domain.

The Paceville Master Plan issued for public consultation on 26 September was the first opportunity for the Planning Authority, on behalf of the government – which instructs it on policy initiatives – to flesh out the bones of the declarations made in the public domain legislation, approved by Parliament in May. That it did not do so casts considerable doubt as to whether the unanimous approval by Parliament of the public domain legislation is another political gimmick.

The Paceville Master Plan covers a large tract of land bordering Pembroke to the north, Swieqi to the west, St Julian’s to the South and coastal waters to the east.  The Paceville coastline is extensive: it adds up to anything between three and four kilometres, depending on the manner of measurement.

We have been told that the Paceville coastline will be accessible through a passageway that will be created along the coast. As a matter of fact, most of the Paceville coastline is already dotted with commercial development on land which is either public property or else is subject to servitudes in favour of the state. During last Wednesday’s sitting of Parliament’s Environment and Development Planning Committee, representatives of the Government Property Department presented a drawing indicating all this property along the Paceville coastline. In a number of instances, the drawing submitted indicated passageways of a width varying between four and five metres along the coast which are obviously intended for public access, even though it is not always clear how one would be able to find their points of entry and exit.

Parliament’s approval of amendments to the Civil Code approved in May lays robust legal foundations for the protection of the coast. The government has been entrusted with protect the coast on behalf of future generations, hence it belongs to all of us, in trust, on behalf of those future generations.  The coastal perimeter extends to a minimum of 15 metres from the shoreline. To this, the newly-approved legislation adds the foreshore, which extends as far as the reach of the largest wave – a reach that can be substantial in those parts of the coastline that are exposed to the open sea.

Large sections of the Paceville coastline are developed, but there are still small pockets which are either not developed or else contain development that is not intensive. A proactive Master Plan would have identified this as an opportunity for plotting the way forward in implementing a programme for the protection of the Paceville coast.  Unfortunately, it seems that the consultants to the Planning Authority were not briefed on the matter and as a consequence there is a real danger that this opportunity will be lost.

After the current public consultation is concluded, the Planning Authority will have to examine the comments made and consider the extent to which such comments can and should be taken into consideration in the second draft of the Master Plan.

The Authority should take on board the public domain legislation in respect of the coast and plan for its implementation when it revises the first draft of Paceville Master Plan.  In the short term, this should be done in relation to those areas which are still undeveloped or underdeveloped. I would also expect the Planning Authority to plan for the longer timeframe in respect of those sections of the coastline which are already intensively developed.

This leaves one other basic issue: land reclamation. I feel that, on a policy level, Labour’s land reclamation policy is the marine equivalent of the Nationalist’s widely criticised 2006 rationalisation exercise through which the boundaries of development were irresponsibly extended.  Labour will be extending the limits to development outwards towards the sea whilst the Nationalist-led government extended the said limits towards the countryside.

The proposed Master Plan for Paceville recommends land reclamation off the Dragonara/Portomaso coastline. This is an ill-thought proposal as the area identified for land reclamation will be an extension of possibly the most intensively developed part of the Paceville coast. This proposal should undoubtedly be revisited as commonsense suggests that rather than increasing development in the area, this should, in the long term, be curtailed.

The proposed Paceville Master Plan should be utilised as a planning tool for adequate coastal management. It can, at this point in time, also be the optimum vehicle for translating the public domain legislation into practical policies through which we can start the process of reclaiming the coast for future generations.

This is an opportunity which should not be missed.

published in The Malta Independent : 16 October 2016

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Paceville Master Plan: greed or need?

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Land use planning is essentially public control over the use and development of land, so it necessarily follows that it should not be a speculators’ shopping list implemented by the state.

Unfortunately, the Paceville Master Plan is just such a shopping list as it collates together the requirements of nine mega-projects and presents them as a “master plan”. In fact Sandro Chetcuti, on behalf of the Malta Developers’ Association, reacted to the Master Plan by stating that it “ fails to address the possibility of new projects that could involve existing buildings and concentrated too much on nine particular sites.”   Mr Chetcuti’s Association is also feeling excluded.

And the residents have the same feeling; they have been excluded by a master plan which focuses on the interests of business – in particular  the interests of mega-speculators.

Not so long ago, in May 2012, The Social Affairs Committee of Malta’s Parliament  published a 63-page report on Paceville in which it emphasised the fact that right there, in the midst of this entertainment Mecca, there was also  a residential community. The conflicts between these two interests can at times be substantial and yet the Master Plan ignores these conflicts completely. The only residents in which the Master Plan is interested  are those who will purchase  apartments in the new developments.

The five over-arching objectives of the Master Plan emphasise the creation of a development vision which can be described in one word : “Dubai-ification”. Painted in glossy words as “Clear Brand and Identity” , “Access and Connectivity”,  “Planned and Managed Change”, “Quality Place-Making” and “Private-Public Partnerships”, at the end of the day “Dubai-ification” is what the Paceville Master Plan is all about.

The problems currently faced by Paceville are basically no different from those faced by other parts of Malta. Yet the Master Plan document wastes a substantial number of its 234 pages in order to emphasise the obvious. For example, it emphasises that Paceville is dominated by traffic and on-street parking. However, the consultants drawing up the plan then stopped short of proposing – as a preferred option –  measures that would  radically address the area’s dependence on cars. They did not choose the option to create an environment that is not dominated by the car, thus missing an opportunity to eliminate traffic congestion in Paceville that would have had the additional  benefit of improving local air quality.

While the Master Plan consultants went into great detail about issues that are covered in various national environmental policy documents, they did not consider it necessary to examine in any detail the area’s tourism-carrying capacity. The Master Plan does not examine whether it makes sense to keep on encouraging hotel construction in an area that is already saturated with such development. It takes the issue for granted and opts to propose reserving the Paceville coastline for future hotel redevelopment and expansion. This matter calls for some serious consideration, as tourism cannot continue on a never ending expanding trajectory due to the substantial environmental constraints which we face on a daily basis.

The cherry on the cake is the reference to “potential land reclamation” on the Portomaso site. The Master Plan warns that, though relatively shallow, the site lies very close to a Marine Special Conservation Area, a fact which necessitates a very sensitive approach.

The manner in which the Master Plan is presented tries to camouflage its obvious speculator “shopping list” features. Most of the projects indicated have been in the pipeline for years, and for each and every one of them there is a growing list of concerned residents from the whole of Paceville and neighbouring localities. By trying to present the mega-speculators greed as a national need the proposed Master Plan is doing a disservice to the never ending debate on land use planning in Malta.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 October 2016

Il-bozza l-ħamra għall-Onorevoli Ministru

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Meta Ministru jingħata rigal, f’soċjetà demokratika tixgħel il-bozza ħamra. Jiġifieri l-allarm. Waħedha toħroġ il-mistoqsija: għalfejn l-Onorevoli Ministru ingħata rigal?

Il-Kodiċi tal-Etika tal-Ministri [ara t-Tieni Skeda tal-Abbozz ta’ Liġi dwar Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika – li għadu pendenti quddiem il-Parlament]  fir-regola numru 58 jgħid hekk :

“58. L-ebda Ministru m’għandu jaċċetta rigali jew servizzi li l-entità tagħhom tkun tali li jistgħu jpoġġuh f’obbligazzjoni, kemm jekk din tkun reali kif ukoll jekk tidher li tista’ tkun……………… ”

Huwa għal din ir-raġuni li hawn kjass bħalissa dwar il-flat ta’ Portomaso li qed jagħmel użu minnu il-Ministru Chris Cardona. L-ewwel ġie allegat li l-flat kien misluf lill-Ministru. Il-Ministru wara ħafna ħin qal li l-flat hu mikri għandu. L-Onorevoli ipproduċa ukoll kuntratt li qed jingħad li ġie iffirmat f’Diċembru 2014, għal perjodu ta’ għaxar xhur.

Il-kuntratt, li jidher li sar bil-għaġġla, fih xi dettalji nieqsa imma fih ukoll kundizzjonijiet speċjali li jwasslu għal konklużjoni li hemm xi ħaġa li qed tinħeba. Il-kera li mistennija titħallas, skond dan il-kuntratt li ġie ippubblikat il-bieraħ fil-għaxija mid-Dipartiment tal-Informazzjoni, m’għandiex titħallas minn qabel, l-anqas xahar b’lura imma sa mhux iktar tard minn ħamest ijiem minn tmiem il-kuntratt.

Il-kuntratt ippubblikat għaldaqstant flok ma jagħlaq il-każ iktar jiftħu beraħ. Għax issa, iktar ċar minn qatt qabel trid tiġi imwieġba l-mistoqsija: għalfejn l-Onorevoli Ministru qed jingħata dan it-trattament preferenzjali?

Hemm min ser iweġibni u jgħidli li sid il-flat għandu dritt li jagħmel li jrid bi ħwejġu. Naqbel perfettament.

Id-diffikultà, f’soċjetà demokratika, hi li l-Onorevoli Ministru m’għandux l-istess dritt: ma jistax jaċċetta rigali jew trattament preferenzjali. Għax ikun qed jagħti messaġġ li għandu obbligazzjoni, inkella li bir-rigal jew bit-trattament preferenzjali qed titħallas lura obbligazzjoni. F’soċjeta demokratika, dawn l-messaġġi m’humiex aċċettabbli.

Għalhekk kien ġie ikkritikat bl-aħrax Tonio Fenech meta aċċetta passaġġ bla ħlas fuq jet privat biex mar jara logħba futbol ta’ l-Arsenal ġo Madrid. Lawrence Gonzi dakinnhar ukoll ma kienx kredibbli għax ma ħax passi.

Imma donnu li xejn m’hu xejn! Joseph Muscat miexi fuq l-istess passi etiċi ta’ Lawrence Gonzi: għan-niżla.

Xejn m’hu xejn, Joe

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L-istejjer fuq il-media l-bieraħ ma naqsux. Kemm fuq il-media stampata kif ukoll fuq dik elettronika.

Iż-Żonqor donnu li jrid jibqa’ fl-aħbarijiet, din id-darba minħabba sejba ta’ droga.

L-istorja fuq l-Independent dwar is-Segretarju Parlamentari Ian Borg  hi inkwetanti ħafna, għax tallega li kien hemm abbuż minn persuna vulnerabbli. Hu allegat li persuna marida mentalment ġiet immanipulata biex hi tbiegħ art fil-limiti ta’ Ħad-Dingli. Ian Borg qed jiċħad dak allegat u qed jilmenta li l-istorja hi ġlieda interna f’familja li ma kellux jiddaħħal fiha. Jekk dak li qed jgħid Ian Borg hu korrett, seta qagħad ftit iktar attent Ian Borg biex jevita li jidħol bejn il-basla u qoxritha.

Imma l-istorja tal-ġimgħa naħseb li hi dik dwar il-Ministru Chris Cardona fuq il-blog ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia: Economy Minister in the dog-house (actually, the Stable). Partijiet mill-artiklu qieshom script għal film. Il-mistoqsija bażika tibqa’ hemm: jekk il-Ministru Chris Cardona irċeviex riġal ta’ użu b’xejn ta’ flat lussuż f’Portomaso mingħand persuna fin-negozju – anzi, persuna li l-familja tagħha hi involuta fil-power station tal-gass f’Delimara.

Il-ħajja privata ta’ Chris Cardona ma tinteressanix. Dik tinteressa biss liz-zekzika.

Imma hu fl-interess pubbliku li jkun magħruf jekk Ministru rċeviex dawn it-tip ta’ rigali u jekk dan ifissirx li qed jikkomprometti l-uffiċċju politiku li jokkupa.

Imma donnu li xejn m’hu xejn. Kollox jgħaddi. Mhux hekk Joe?