Il-qerda aċċelerata tar-raba’

Aħna ngħixu f’eko-sistema li qed tinqered ftit ftit. Dan hu rikonoxxut minn kulħadd.  

Ħarsu ftit, per eżempju, lejn l-ewwel sentenzi tal-White Paper intitolata Riforma fil-qasam tar-Raba’, White Paper ippubblikata għall-konsultazzjoni mill-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura f’Ottubru li għadda.

Dakinnhar kien intqal li: Il-ħarsien tar-raba’ huwa fundamentali biex niggarantixxu s-sostenibbiltà tal-biedja, il-produzzjoni tal-ikel, u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent rurali. Huwa għalhekk li meta jkun hemm problemi f’dan il-qasam, dawn ma jolqtux biss lill-bdiewa, iżda għandhom impatt qawwi fuq il-provista u s-sigurtà tal-ikel, u l-kwalità tal-ambjent li jista’ jitgawda mis-soċjetà.

L-art agrikola għandha valur: valur imma li mhux biss wieħed ekonomiku. Għandha valur ambjentali u soċjali. Dan hu rikonoxxut anke mill-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura. Għalfejn, mela, nistaqsu, dan il-Ministeru ma jieħux posizzjoni iebsa kullmeta Ministeri oħra jagħtihom l-estru għall-qerda ta’ art agrikola?

B’mod kontinwu, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tirċievi u tipproċessa applikazzjonijiet għal żvilupp li jeqred art li tinħadem jew li kienet tinħadem. Dan isir għar-raġuni sempliċi li l-pjani lokali huma msejsa fuq filosofija tal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art li tonqos milli tħares il-valur intrinsiku tal-biedja.  Tqis li l-biedja hi xi ħaġa ta’ bla siwi u li nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajrha. F’din is-sitwazzjoni l-Ministeru tal-Agrikultura jibqa’ sieket, kontinwament!

Sfortunatament, l-uniku valur li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tifhem u tapprezza hu dak li jiffaċilità l-ħolqien tal-opportunitajiet għal min irid idawwar lira ta’ malajr. Kontinwament, l-Awtorità  tal-Ippjanar hi kompliċi fil-qerda gradwali ta’ kull ma hawn madwarna.

Xogħol mhux meħtieġ fuq l-infrastruttura tat-toroq, tul dawn l-aħħar snin, qered meded kbar ta’ raba’. Is-settur privat ilu għaddej jittrasforma ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’ f’art għar-rikrejazzjoni privata, għal xi barbeque jew għal xi picnic. Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan qed jeqred komunitajiet ta’ bdiewa. L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, minkejja li għandha is-saħħa legali li dan kollu twaqqfu, ma għamlet xejn.   Hu biss dan l-aħħar, wara l-għagħa li rriżulta minn numru ta’ deċiżjonijiet tal-Qorti dwar il-qbiela li l-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura qam minn raqda twila u ma baqax sieket!

Jiġu f’moħħi żewġ applikazzjonijiet għal żvilupp, applikazzjonijiet li għadhom pendenti: waħda f’Ħal-Qormi biex jinbena u jkun operat supermarket fuq art agrikola barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ). L-oħra dwar il-bini ta’ skola f’Ħal-Għaxaq, anke din fuq art agrikola.

Għaddejna minn dawn l-argumenti diversi drabi, b’mod partikolari fid-dibattitu nazzjonali dwar l-eżerċizzju biex tintgħażel l-art għall-Università Amerikana f’Marsaskala xi snin ilu! L-argumenti ta’ dakinnhar għadhom jgħoddu anke illum. Ma nistgħux nibqgħu nissagrifikaw ir-raba’. Għandna ftit wisq raba’ u jeħtieġ li nibżgħu għall-ftit li għandna.

Il-formola tal-applikazzjoni biex tinbena l-iskola f’Ħal-Għaxaq tgħid ċar u tond, bl-iswed fuq l-abjad, li l-użu tal-lum tal-art hu wieħed agrikolu. Dan jgħodd għal kull wieħed mill-35,970 metru kwadru li hu propost li jinbnew. Il-formola tal-applikazzjoni l-oħra dwar is-sit f’Ħal-Qormi, min-naħa l-oħra, tgħid li l-art f’dan il-kaz b’qies ta’ 4708 metru kwadru u li hi pproġettata li tkun żviluppata f’supermarket, bħalissa mhux użata!

Dawn l-applikazzjonijiet tal-ippjanar għadhom fi stadju bikri avolja dwar l-iżvilupp propost f’Ħal-Għaxaq għadu kif ġie ippubblikat studju dwar l-impatti ambjentali (EIA) reċentement.

F’dan l-istadju l-mistoqsija toħroġ waħedha: hemm ħtieġa għall-iżvilupp propost? It-tweġiba, fil-fehma tiegħi, hi ċara: le ma hemmx ħtieġa. M’għandniex bżonn iktar supermarkets. Pjuttost li diġa għandna iżżejjed minnhom!  

Dwar l-iskola proposta f’Ħal-Għaxaq l-istorja hi ftit iktar kumplessa. Imma xorta mhux iġġustifikat li tkun issagrifikata art agrikola. Għandhom ikunu esplorati soluzzjonijiet oħra, avolja naf li ilu żmien mhux ħażin isir (bla suċċess) tiftix għal sit alternattiv.  Is-soluzzjoni tista’ tinstab fl-iżvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ bini mitluq u dilapidat, li minnu għandna bosta, mxerred mal-gżejjer tagħna.

Neħtieġu fuq kollox politika koerenti dwar il-ħarsien tar-raba’. Flok ma jorqod, u kultant jistenbaħ, il-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura għandu jkun fuq quddiem nett f’din il-ħidma. Jista’ jibda billi jassigura li l-proġetti pubbliċi u l-politika tal-Gvern jagħrfu l-valur intrinsiku tal-biedja. Minn hemm irridu nibdew għax jekk is-settur pubbliku ma jkunx ta’ eżempju xejn mhu ser jinbidel: nibqgħu għan-niżla!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 8 ta’ Jannar 2023

The accelerated destruction of agricultural land

We live in an eco-system which is being slowly destroyed. This is recognised by one and all.

Consider, for example the introductory sentences in the White Paper entitled Acquisition and ownership of agricultural land published for public consultation by the Ministry for Agriculture last October. We were then told that: Controlling the acquisition and ownership of land is fundamental to guaranteeing the sustainability of agriculture and food production, as well as the protection of the rural environment. For this reason, whenever there are issues in this area, these not only affect farmers but also have a strong impact on the supply and security of food and the quality of the environment that can be enjoyed by society.

Agricultural land has value. Its value is not just economic. It has an environmental and social value. This is recognised as a fact even by the Ministry for Agriculture. Why then, may we ask, does the Ministry not take a robust stand whenever other Ministries embark on a spree of accelerated destruction of agriculture land?

On a continuous basis the Planning Authority receives and processes applications for development which seek to obliterate agricultural land. This is done for the simple reason that the local plans are buttressed by a land use planning philosophy which fails to protect the intrinsic value of agriculture. It is deemed to be expendable. The Ministry for Agriculture, in this situation, is conspicuously silent, continuously!

Unfortunately, the only value which the Planning Authority understands and appreciates is that which facilitates “making hay while the sun shines”. It has been continuously an accomplice in the gradual destruction of all that surrounds us.

Unnecessary road infrastructure has gobbled up considerable swathes of agricultural land over the past years. The private sector has been transforming considerable agricultural tracts into barbeque or picnic areas squeezing out the farming community in the process. The Planning Authority has the legal remit to stop this but it has continuously failed to act. Until the recent public outcry in response to a number of Court decisions relative to agricultural leases, the Ministry for Agriculture has been silent on this matter too!

Two specific planning development applications (currently still pending) come to mind: one in Qormi to construct and operate a supermarket on agricultural land Outside the Development Zone (ODZ). The other relative to the construction of a school on agricultural land at Għaxaq.

We have been through the relative arguments many a time, in particular when debating the site selection exercise for the American University at Marsaskala some years back! The arguments made then are still valid today. We cannot keep sacrificing agricultural land. We have too little of it and we have to take care of the little we have.

The application form for the Għaxaq school declares black on white that the current use of the site is agricultural: each and every one of the 35,970 square metres of the site. The application form for the Qormi site, on the other hand states that the site measuring 4708 square metres which it is proposed to develop into a supermarket is currently “un-used”.

These planning applications are still in their early stages, even though an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) has been produced for the proposed Għaxaq development.

At this point we need to query: do we need the development proposed? The answer, in my opinion is a clear no. We definitely do not need more supermarkets. There are already too many of them.

As to the proposed school at Għaxaq the issue is much more complex. It does not however justify sacrificing more agricultural land. Other solutions should be explored, even though a search for an alternative has been going on unsuccessfully for quite some time. The solution lies in the redevelopment of existing dilapidated buildings of which we have quite a number.

We do however need policy coherence in respect of the protection of agricultural land. The Ministry of Agriculture should be at the forefront in such an exercise. It could definitely start by ensuring that public projects as well as policies factor in agriculture’s intrinsic value. This is the required starting point. The public sector sets the benchmark. If it fails to turn the page, matters will definitely change from bad to worse!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 January 2023

Il-ħiliet ħodor li neħtieġu

Il-ħiliet il-ħodor ma jiġux waħedhom. Għandna ħtieġa kbira tagħhom biex insibu tarf tat-trasizzjoni ekoloġika. Jeħtieġilna li b’mod urġenti nirrisolvu l-kunflitt tal-bniedem man-natura. Neħtieġu li nibdew nirrimedjaw il-ħsara ambjentali akkumulata li l-bniedem ikkawża fuq id-dinja.

Biex nimxu f’din it-triq hemm ħtieġa ta’ bidliet sostanzjali fl-imġieba tagħna. Din mhiex għażla li nistgħu naqblu magħha inkella le. Hi ħtieġa li llum jew għada irridu niffaċċjaw.

L-istrateġija dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli, li preżentement hi soġġetta għal konsultazzjoni pubblika,  titkellem, fost oħrajn, dwar l-oġġettiv ta’ edukazzjoni ta’ kwalità li tkun kapaċi tirrispondi għall-ħtiġijiet tas-suq tax-xogħol. Dan tagħmlu hi u tiddiskuti l-oġġettiv strateġiku numru 4.  L-istrateġija tinfurmana li dawn il-ħtiġijiet tas-suq tax-xogħol jinkludu l-ħiliet ħodor.

Ma għandi l-ebda diffikulta dwar oġġettiv bħal dan li jipprova joħloq kredenzjali ħodor għall-ekonomija. Imma, naħseb li jkun għaqli li flok nimmiraw ħafna il-fuq nidentifikaw mod prattiku kif nassiguraw li l-parti l-kbira tal-popolazzjoni tikseb il-ħiliet bażiċi ħodor. Fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli mhux ser nilħquh mill-uffiċini, billi noħloqu pjani dettaljati minn wara l-iskrivanija. Nilħquh bl-imġieba tagħna, ġod-djar tagħna, fejn ngħixu l-ħajja normali tagħna. Din hi l-isfida tagħna. Hi sfida li tmur lil hinn mill-ekonomija.

L-għaqda ambjentali Nature Trust, flimkien ma numru ta’ skejjel, fuq dan qegħda fit-triq it-tajba, ferm qabel ma tfasslu strateġiji. Iċ-ċavetta qegħda fl-aċċess għall-imħuħ. Tul is-snin l-implimentazzjoni tal-proġett eko-skola min-Nature Trust wassal numru sostanzjali ta’ tfal u żgħażagħ f’kuntatt ma’ rejaltajiet ambjentali li niffaċċjaw ta’ kuljum.

Tul is-snin kelli diversi opportunitajiet fejn iltqajt ma’ parteċipanti fl-eko-skola kif ukoll mal-għalliema tagħhom. L-għarfien ambjentali li kisbu kien wieħed impressjonanti. Applikaw l-għarfien li kisbu għad-dinja ċkejkna tagħhom, l-iskola. Uħud minnhom irnexxielhom ukoll iwasslu dak li tgħallmu sad-dar u influwenzaw kemm lill-ħuthom kif ukoll lill-ġenituri tagħhom biex huma wkoll jaġixxu b’mod li ma jkunux ta’ ħsara ambjentali.

Dan hu pass kbir il-quddiem. Imma mhux biżżejjed.  

L-eko-skejjel jeħtieġ li jinfettaw lill-komunitajiet lokali tagħna biex huma ukoll jimxu fuq l-istess passi. Dan jista’ jwassal għat-tibdil meħtieġ fl-imġieba tagħna lkoll. Dan hu proċess twil. Bil-mod il-mod nistgħu nibnu komunitajiet sostenibbli. Dan nagħmluh billi nassiguraw ruħna li kull eko-skola tgħin lill-ġenerazzjonijiet differenti fil-komunitajiet lokali  tagħna biex huma jagħrfu u jakkwistaw il-ħiliet il-ħodor. Ħiliet li lkoll kemm aħna neħtieġu biex inkunu nistgħu ngħixu f’armonija  fl-ambjenti rispettivi tagħna. Ħilijiet li dawk li ġew qabilna kellhom, imma li tul is-snin intilfu minħabba dak li kultant jissejjaħ “progress” li biddel il-mod kif ngħixu!

Jeħtieġ li nqiesu l-kisba u l-għarfien ta’ ħiliet ħodor bħala ħiliet soċjali essenzjali. Dan ftit nagħtu kaz tiegħu minkejja l-biżibilju konsultazzjonijiet pubbliċi li jsiru mid-diversi awtoritajiet pubbliċi tul is-snin. Dan ifisser ukoll li flimkien mal-istrateġija “nazzjonali” dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli neħtieġu ukoll strateġija fuq livell lokali biex din tkun implimentata fl-għeruq tas-soċjetà, fil-komunitajiet lokali tagħna.

Tul is-snin sar ħafna xogħol, imma dan, ħafna drabi, sar bla koordinazzjoni ta’ xejn. Il-koordinazzjoni meħtieġa, meta issir sewwa, jirnexxielha tagħti riżultati tajbin billi tifrex il-ħiliet ħodor fil-komunitajiet lokali tagħna. Dan hu mod prattiku kif il-proċess ta’ twettieq tal-istrateġija għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli jitmexxa minn min hu effettwat mill-ħsara ambjentali akkumulata li irridu niffaċċjaw ta’ kuljum.

Huwa biss billi niddemokratizzaw il-bidla meħtieġa fl-imġieba fuq livell lokali li nistgħu nibdew il-mixja lejn żvilupp sostenibbli bis-serjetà. Il-Kunsilli Lokali, jekk iridu, għandhom rwol ċentrali f’dan kollu. Hi opportunità unika ta’ kif jistgħu jagħtu sura lill-ħajja ta’ madwarna.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 1 ta’ Jannar 2023

The green skills which we require

Green skills do not grow on trees. Yet we need them in abundance in order to be able to navigate the ecological transition. We need to urgently come to terms with nature. It is required that we start the healing process, slowly repairing the accumulated environmental damage which humankind has to date inflicted on Mother Earth.

In order to walk along this path substantial behavioural change is essential. This is not an option. It is a basic requirement which all of us must address, sooner rather than later.

The Sustainable Development Strategy, currently subject to public consultation, advocates the achievement of high-quality education responsive to labour market needs when discussing its strategic objective number 4. These labour market needs, we are informed, include green skills.

I have no issue with such an objective which seeks to align the markets to green pathways. I would however point out that before aiming for the stars it would be appropriate if we seek practical ways of ensuring that basic green skills are acquired by as large a section of the population as possible. At the end of the day sustainable development will not be achieved if adequately planned in our offices: it requires proper implementation in our homes, in our routine behaviour. This is our challenge. A challenge which goes far beyond the economy.

The environmental NGO Nature Trust in conjunction with a number of schools, is, in this respect, on the right track, before the drafting of written strategies. Access to our thinking faculties is fundamental. Over the years the implementation by Nature Trust of the eco-school project has brought a substantial number of children and youngsters in touch with the eco-realities which we have to face day-in day-out.

Over the years I have had various opportunities of meeting with eco-school participants together with their teachers. The eco-knowledge which they have acquired is impressive. They have applied this knowledge in their micro-world, their school. Some of the eco-school participants have also exported this knowledge to their homes nudging their siblings and their parents into acting in an eco-friendly manner.

This is a gigantic step forward. It is however not enough.

Our eco-schools need to infect our local communities into following similar paths, consequently leading to the required behavioural change. This is a slow and laborious process. Slowly we can build sustainable communities by ensuring that our eco-schools serve as catalysts, mentoring the different generations in our localities into acquiring the green skills which we all require in order to be able to live in harmony with our surroundings. Skills similar to those which our forefathers had, but which have been discarded as a result of the so-called progress which we have been subject to throughout the years!

We need to consider the development of green skills as essential social skills, a matter which is not considered in any depth by the multitude of public consultations carried out over the years by the different authorities. This signifies that in parallel to the “national” sustainable development strategy we urgently require a local strategy for sustainable development to be implemented at the roots of our society, in our local communities.

A lot of uncoordinated efforts have been taken in hand over the years. Coordinating the work done as well as that currently in hand could, if done properly yield significant results in disseminating green skills amongst our local communities. This is the practical manner in which the sustainable development strategy process can be owned by those impacted by the accumulated environmental damage which we have to face day-in day-out.

Only by democratising the behavioural change required at a local level can we start moving along the path of sustainable development. Local Councils have a pivotal role in this whole process. It is their’ s for the taking. It is a unique opportunity through which they can realistically shape their surroundings.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 January 2023

L-inkompetenza, ħsara biss tagħmel

L-impjant f’Ħal-Far għall-ipproċessar tal-fdalijiet tat-tonn kellu l-potenzjal li jagħti kontribut sostanzjali għall-iżvilupp tal-ekonomija ċirkulari f’Malta. Bħal ħafna affarijiet oħra l-inkompetenza qerditu.

Fuq il-karta kien proġett tal-ogħla kwalità. Fil-prattika, s’issa, qed jiżviluppa f’diżastru ieħor.  Biċċiet ta’ informazzjoni li qed tasal għandi qed tindika li probabbilment ser jirriżulta li x-xeħħa fil-fondi allokati biex ikun ikkummissjonat l-apparat istallat fl-impjant, hi l-kawża ewlenija tad-diżastru li qed jiżviluppa.

Bħala riżultat ta’ dan kollu irnexxielhom jittrasformaw pass pożittiv f’esperjenza negattiva għal kulħadd. L-impatt ta’ dan kollu ser jibqa’ magħna għal żmien mhux żgħir għax riżultat ta’ dak li ġara qed tissaħħaħ l-isfiduċja fl-awtoritajiet li għal darb’oħra ġie ippruvat li mhumiex kapaċi li jwasslu proġett tajjeb biex jagħti r-riżultat mixtieq.

Għal darb’oħra l-inkonvenjent hu fuq Birżebbuġa, kif ilu jiġri s-snin riżultat ta’ attività industrijali oħra fiż-żona. L-assalt fuq Birżebbuġa tul is-snin ħalla impatt fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti.  Fuq quddiem nett f’dan ir-rigward hemm it-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles, li hu ta’ inkonvenjent 24 siegħa kull jum. Huwa biss dan l-aħħar li dan l-inkonvenjent beda jiġi indirizzat.

Qiesu dan mhux biżżejjed, fiż-żona industrijali ta’ Ħal-Far, f’data mhux il-bogħod ser ikollna ukoll trakka tal-karozzi li ser tkun iffinanzjata mill-fondi li nġabru mill-bejgħ tal-passaporti! Iktar impatt fuq ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa!

L-aktar attakk riċenti fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja f’Birżebbuġa qed isir mill-attività ta’ Aquaculture Resources Ltd f’dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat. Dan riżultat tal-irwejjaħ ta’ ħut u drenaġġ ifur fiż-żoni residenzjali.  It-tmexxija tal-kumpanija Aquaculture Resources Ltd kontinwament irrifjutat li terfa’ r-responsabbiltà għall-irwejjaħ tal-ħut u d-drenaġġ ifur għax, qalet, li qed tieħu l-passi kollha meħtieġa fl-impjant tagħha f’Ħal-Far.  

Il-binja li fiha illum hemm l-impjant għall-iproċessar ta’ prodotti tat-tonn kien approvat permezz ta’ applikazzjoni li ma tieħux ħin u dan riżultat ta’ emendi għar-regolamenti tal-ippjanar magħrufa bħala proċeduri tad-DNO (Development Notification Order). Fil-prattika dan elimina l-konsultazzjoni pubblika fil-kaz ta’ xogħolijiet ta’ kostruzzjoni f’żoni industrijali. Riżultat ta’ hekk ħadd ma kien jaf li nhar is-16 ta’ Marzu 2021, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ħarġet il-permess ta’ żvilupp bir-referenza DN01359/20 għall-binja tal-impjant fuq il-Plot 36B fiż-żona Industrijali ta’ Ħal-Far. Il-permess ħareġ f’isem Dr Charlon Gouder, CEO ta’ Aquaculture Resources Limited.

Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika bdiet biss f’Ġunju 2022, ftit wara l-elezzjoni ġenerali. Dan seħħ permezz ta’ dokumentazzjoni dwar il-proċess li jwassal għal permess ambjentali magħruf bħala applikazzjioni IPPC. L-ittri IPPC jfissru Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control u l-proċess hu regolat b’direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja li ġġib dan l-isem u li ilha parti mill-liġi Maltija sa minn meta Malta issieħbet fl-Unjoni fl-2004.

Id-Direttiva IPPC hi intenzjonata biex ikun assigurat li l-impatti ambjentali ta’ numru ta’ proċessi industrijali jkunu indirizzati b’mod integrat. L-impjant tal-prodotti tat-tonn hu soġġett għal din id-Direttiva.

Riżultat ta’ hekk hu meħtieġ il-presentazzjoni ta’ dokumentazzjoni dettaljata teknika li permezz tagħha jkun ċar dwar kif ser issir il-ħidma industrijali, dwar l-impatti ambjentali riżultanti kif ukoll dwar kif inhu ippjanat li dawn ikunu indirizzati.

Din id-dokumentazzjoni ġiet ippreżentata u wara li kienet eżaminata mill-ERA ħareġ il-permess għall-impjant biex jipproċessa l-fdalijiet tat-tonn.

Il-problemi bdew kif beda jopera l-impjant hekk kif beda l-proċess biex l-apparat istallat ikun ikkummissjonat. Jiena infurmat li d-ditta li mingħandha inxtara l-apparat ma ntalbitx biex tieħu ħsieb ukoll li dan ikun ikkummissjonat. Mid-dehra dawk li ġew inkarigati ma tantx kellhom esperjenza f’dan ix-xogħol, kif jidher, wara kollox mir-riżultati miksuba.  

Forsi l-ERA tiftaħ investigazzjoni biex ikun stabilit mhux biss x’ġara imma ukoll min kien responsabbli. Għax hu essenzjali li jkun assigurat li kull min kien involut, inkluż l-ERA, jitgħallem minn din l-esperjenza. Din hi froġa li nħolqot mis-settur privat minkejja li kien qed jaħdem taħt is-superviżjoni tal-ERA! Anke proġett tajjeb irnexxielhom b’inkompetenza kbira jeqirduh!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 18 ta’ Diċembru 2022

The art of messing up

The processing plant for Tuna By-Products at Ħal-Far had the potential to be a significant project contributing to the development of the circular economy in Malta. Like many other things it has been messed up.

On paper it was a first-class project. In practice, so far, it is developing into another disaster. Titbits of information which have come my way indicate that eventually it will most probably result that cost-cutting relative to commissioning of the equipment installed in the processing plant is the primary cause of the developing mess.

The end result of this mess-up is that of transforming a potential positive into an absolute negative. The effects of this will be felt for quite some time as it has reinforced the existing mistrust of the authorities who have proven once more that they are incapable of guiding a beneficial project to fruition!

Birżebbuġa is once more shouldering all the resulting inconvenience as it has been doing for many years relative to other industrial operations in the area.  The assault on Birżebbuġa over the years has negatively impacted the quality of life of its residents. The Freeport Terminal tops the list with its round-the-clock inconvenience. It is only relatively recently that this inconvenience has started being addressed.

To add insult to injury the Ħal-Far Industrial Estate will shortly also host a racetrack, the funds for which have already been allocated through the monies collected from the sale of golden passports!  

The latest affront on Birżebbuġa has been the operations of Aquaculture Resources Ltd which commenced earlier this year, and specifically the result of fishy effluent ending up in residential areas in Birżebbuġa.  The management of Aquaculture Resources Ltd has refused to take responsibility for the unbearable fish odours and sewage leaks that have affected the area, stating that the  company has taken measures to contain smells within the tuna by-product processing  plant. 

The building envelope of the tuna byproduct processing plant was approved through a fast-track procedure made possible some years back through amendments to the Development Notification Order. This, in practice, eliminated public consultation for construction works in industrial estates.  As a result, no-one was aware that on 16 March 2021 the Planning Authority issued a development permit bearing reference DN 01359/20 for the Construction of a Tuna Rending Factory on Plot 36B of Ħal-Far Industrial Estate. The permit was issued to Dr Charlon Gouder, the CEO of Aquaculture Resources Limited.

The public consultation only commenced in June 2022, after the general elections, through the publication of the documentation for the environmental permitting process known as the IPPC application. IPPC referring to the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control as regulated by the EU Directive bearing that name and forming part of Maltese law since EU accession in 2004.

The IPPC Directive seeks to ensure that there is one integrated process addressing the environmental impacts resulting from a number of industrial processes. The tuna byproduct processing plant is subject to this regulatory process.

The IPPC regulatory process requires the presentation of detailed technical documentation relative to the proposed industrial process, the resulting environmental impacts and the manner in which it is proposed to address these same impacts.

This documentation was compiled and after being examined by ERA an operating permit for the Tuna byproduct processing plant was issued.

The problems started with the commencement of operations which were initiated in order to carry out the commissioning of the supplied equipment. I am informed that the suppliers of the equipment were not entrusted to carry out the commissioning. Apparently, those entrusted with the commissioning did not have sufficient experience: the results achieved so far are indicative enough of this fact.

Someday maybe ERA will commission an investigation into what went wrong and who was responsible for the resulting mess.  This is essential in order to ensure that lessons are learnt by all those involved. This is a mess created by the private sector subject to supervision by ERA! They have managed to mess up a good project.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 18 December 2022

Jgħadduna biż-żmien

L-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) għadha kif ippubblikat abbozz ta’ Strateġija Nazzjonali dwar l-Ambjent għal konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dan l-abbozz ippubblikatu bl-Ingliż biss. Qiesu t-tmexxija tal-ERA ma tafx bil-Malti.

Minn awtorità pubblika nistennew ferm aħjar minn hekk. Kemm ser iddumu tinsulentawna? L-iskuża li l-Malti mhux addattat għal dokument tekniku mhiex waħda aċċettabbli. In-nuqqas ta’ dokument bil-Malti hi opportunutà mitlufa biex l-ERA tikkomunika iktar man-nies.

Iżda lil hinn mil-lingwa, l-istrateġija ambjentali li qed tkun proposta hi waħda ġenerika. Fiha tmien għanijiet li hu propost li jintlaħqu sal-2050. Il-lista tal-għanijiet li l-ERA trid tindirizza mhiex il-problema, għax il-problema hija li dawn l-għanijiet huma affarijiet li ilna niddiskutu żmien: ġew ippubblikati biżibilju rapporti, strateġiji u regoli jew policies li jkunu saru b’intenzjonijiet tajba tul is-snin!  Il-problemi jinqalgħu dejjem meta nfittxu li nimplimentaw il-miżuri meħtieġa biex jitwettqu dawn l-għanijiet. F’dak il-mument jinqagħu elf skuża, għax fir-realtà ma hemmx il-volontà politika li jittieħdu passi bis-serjetà.

Dan hu bil-bosta differenti milli jipprova jgħid ic-Chairman tal-ERA fid-daħla bl-Ingliż li kiteb għad-dokument konsultattiv! Din hi storja li għaddejna minnha diversi drabi!

Il-ħsara ambjentali li saret tul is-snin mhiex xi ħaġa li ser tkun irranġata mil-lum għall-għada.  Ħadd m’għandu jistenna riżultati malajr fil-mixja biex insewwu l-ħsara ambjentali li tħalliet takkumula tul is-snin.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent jinvolvi li jinbidlu deċiżjonijiet politiċi diversi li ittieħdu tul is-snin li kienu parti mill-kawża ta’ ħsara konsiderevoli. Ifisser ukoll li nibdlu attitudnijiet, drawwiet u l-mod kif inġibu ruħna.

Fid-daħla għad-dokument konsultattiv iċ-Chairman tal-ERA Chairman, Victor Axiak, jistqarr li jista’ jkun hemm ħtieġa ta’ sagrifiċċji żgħar fl-immedjat biex niksbu benefiċċji ambjentali fit-tul li jitgawdew minn ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Din hi dikjarazzjoni li prattikament kulħadd jaqbel magħha. Imma dikjarazzjoni bħal din teħtieġ ukoll li tkun segwita minn lista ta’ miżuri meħtieġa biex tittieħed azzjoni dwarhom,  lista li tvarja minn miżuri li jistgħu jittieħdu immedjatament għal oħrajn li jħarsu iktar fit-tul.

Ma baqax iktar żmien biex noqgħodu niffilosifizzaw dwar l-ambjent.  Il-problemi nafu x’inhuma u  nafu ukoll min fejn ġejjin u min hu l-kawża tagħhom! Tħejjew kwantità ta’ rapporti, strateġiji, pjani t’azzjoni u x’naf jien tul is-snin. Kull Ministru ġdid ipprova jagħti l-impressjoni li hu jew hi sabet is-soluzzjoni b’nisġa ta’ kliem sabiħ li jipprova jimpressjona. Sfortunatament ir-rapporti tekniċi li saru kif ukoll dak li qalu in-nies waqt konsultazzjonijiet pubbliċi, bosta drabi ġie injorat.  Anzi xi drabi l-gvernijiet saħansitra aġixxew bil-maqlub ta’ dak propost jew maqbul!

L-istrateġija proposta illum, per eżempju,  tiffilosofizza dwar il-ħtieġa li innaqqsu id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi u tinsisti li għandhom jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna.  Jekk wieħed imur lura u jerġa’ jaqra ftit l-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport, li kienet iffinalizzat sitt snin ilu, jsib eżattament l-istess argumenti. Imma minflok ma ħa l-passi meħtieġa, l-Gvern – kemm direttament kif ukoll permezz tal-agenziji u l-awtoritajiet tiegħu – għamel bil-maqlub!

Kull studju li sar, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra minn xtutna, repetutament ikkonkluda li żvilupp massiċċ tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq twassal biex awtomatikament jiżdiedu l-karozzi fit-toroq. Kif mistenni, anke f’Malta, hekk ġara. Il-konġestjoni u l-problemi tat-traffiku żdiedu mhux naqsu riżultat tal-proġetti diversi tat-toroq. Dan seħħ għax kuntrarju tal-pariri li kellu, l-Gvern ma indirizzax il-kawza tal-problemi, imma indirizza l-effett.  Il-problema mhiex il-wisa’ jew it-tul tat-toroq, imma n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq. Is-sitwazzjoni illum – f’ħafna każi  – hi agħar milli kienet qabel ma saru dawn il-proġetti.  

Minnbarra dan, daqslikieku mhux biżżejjed, l-awtoritajiet għamlu is-snin jinkoraġixxu l-iżvilupp ta’ petrol stations kbar, qieshom supermarkets. Dawn ħarbtu ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’. Biex issa jiġu jgħidulna kemm iridu jipproteġu l-agrikultura!

Kif nistgħu ntejbu l-kwalità tal-arja jekk nibqgħu nżidu l-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna?  Uħud forsi jargumentaw li s-soluzzjoni qegħda wara l-bieb bl-introduzzjoni tal-karozzi tal-elettriku inkella bl-użu tal-idroġenu jew xi fuel ieħor alternattiv. Dan ikun biss soluzzjoni parzjali għax fl-aħħar mill-aħħar irridu naraw kif ikun ġġenerat l-elettriku meħtieġ inkella kif ikun prodott l-idroġenu jew fuel alternattiv.

M’għandiex ammont suffiċjenti ta’ enerġija rinovabbli iġġenerata lokalment għax l-għorrief li ħadu id-deċiżjonijiet ftaħru fil-passat kemm kien irnexxielhom jinnegozjaw deroga tajba biex il-mira nazzjonali ta’ ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli ma tkunx 20% imma 10% tal-elettriku ikkunsmat. Ħtija ta’ hekk, illum m’għandniex ammont suffiċjenti ta’ enerġija rinovabbli.  Meta għandna l-ħtieġa ta’ enerġija elettrika bi prezz raġjonevoli  għandna nuqqas f’dan il-qasam li għalih qed inħallsu bizzalza.

Id-dipendenza li għandna bħala pajjiż fuq il-karozzi privati hi riżultat ta’ traskuraġni politika tat-trasport pubbliku tul is-snin. Li t-trasport pubbliku jkun b’xejn minn dan ix-xahar kienet deċiżjoni prematura. L-ewwel pass messu kien li tkun indirizzata l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tas-servizz. Il-prezz qatt ma kien problema.

Hu meħtieġ li l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tas-servizz ikunu indirizzati b’urġenza. Meta dan isir jagħmel ġid ambjentali ferm iktar mill-argumenti tekniċi kollha dwar kemm hemm ħtieġa li nħarsu l-ambjent. Trasport pubbliku effiċjenti flimkien ma investiment f’modi alternattivi ta’ transport hu ta’ benefiċċju ambjentali enormi.

Din hi uġiegħ ta’ ras kbira. Pariri ċari kien hemm. Iżda meta kien possibli li l-problema tkun indirizzata, l-Gvern, direttament kif ukoll permezz tal-awtoritajiet u aġenziji diversi tiegħu, ġie jaqa’ u jqum minn dan u għamel bil-maqlub!

Argumenti simili jistgħu jsiru dwar numru kbir ta’ materji ta’ importanza ambjentali: mill-ilma sal-pestiċidi, mill-użu tal-art sal-bijodiversità, mill-isforzi favur ekonomija ċirkulari għal taxxi ambjentali iddiżinjati sewwa.

Il-mod kif il-politika dwar it-trasport tħalliet għan-niżla hu biss eżempju wieħed żgħir minn fost bosta li jwassal għall-konklużjoni inevitabbli li ma teżistix rieda politika biex il-ħsara ambjentali tkun indirizzata bis-serjetà.

Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika tal-ERA sfortunatament hi fażi oħra fi proċess li permezz tiegħu qed jippruvaw jgħadduna biż-żmien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Hadd 23 t’Ottubru 202https://www.illum.com.mt/opinjoni/politika/66843/carmel_cacopardo__jgadduna_bimien?fbclid=IwAR1CqEPhkXnPODQTe040-dkJEpxDoX2Z2ZxgMLB6K3UofHZ4qjdFXa8WY2Y#.Y1kATbZBzIV2

aqra ukoll dokument sottomessmill-ADPD lill-ERA hawn

Greenwashing by ERA

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has published a draft National Strategy for the Environment for public consultation. The proposed strategy is not specific but generic in nature. It lists eight strategic goals which it proposes to address till 2050.

There is no problem with the listed goals. We have, in fact been there before with a multitude of strategies and well-meaning policies. The problems arise when seeking to implement the specific measures required to achieve the said goals. When push comes to shove 1001 difficulties arise as it becomes clear that there exists no political will to act decisively. This is quite contrary to the impression conveyed in the forward penned to the strategy by the ERA Chairman!

ERA seeks a long-term vision since it is well known that the reversal of environmental damage takes time. One should not expect immediate results in the quest to reverse the accumulated damage to the environment.

Protecting the environment involves reversing political decisions which have been the cause of considerable environmental damage. It involves changing attitudes and behaviour.

In the forward to the document released for public consultation ERA Chairman Victor Axiak states that: “Short-term sacrifices may need to be made for long-term benefits to be reaped by future generations.” It is a statement that anyone in his right senses would agree with. Such a statement should however have been followed by a list of measures which require action, ranging from short term to long-term ones.

The time for philosophising on the environment is long overdue. We all know what the problems are. We also know who and what has caused them. A countless number of reports, strategies, masterplans, and action plans have been produced over the years. Unfortunately, they have been repeatedly ignored. At times governments have acted in a manner which is directly in opposition to what has been proposed or even agreed to!

The currently proposed environment strategy, for example, philosophises on reducing our car dependence and advises on the need to reduce cars from our roads. Leafing through the National Transport Master Plan finalised six years ago one finds the same admonition. Instead of taking definite steps, government, directly as well as through its agencies and authorities followed a path leading in the opposite direction.

All studies carried out in Malta and abroad have repeatedly concluded that large scale road infrastructural improvement leads to more cars on the road. As was expected this is what is happening in Malta at the time being. Traffic congestion has worsened, as instead of addressing the cause of the problem the authorities addressed the effects. They sought to widen roads and introduce new ones instead of addressing the exponential increase of cars on the roads. The traffic situation is worse than ever notwithstanding the monies spent or rather wasted in these projects.

In addition, the authorities have spent years encouraging the construction of large fuel stations, comparable to supermarkets in size, gobbling up quite an amount of good agricultural land in the process. Now, they are telling us how important it is to protect agricultural land!

How can we improve the quality of our air if we keep increasing cars on our roads? Some would say that a solution is round the corner with the electrification of vehicles or with the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel. This would only partly solve the problem. One must consider the source of electricity utilised or how the hydrogen (or other fuel) is produced.

We do not have enough renewable energy generated from local sources as the ignoramuses leading the country were (in the past) overjoyed at their successful EU negotiations to reduce the national target for the generation of renewable energy from 20 to 10 per cent of the electrical energy consumed. Now, when we desperately need more electricity which is reasonably priced, we are faced with a substantial deficit which is costing the national exchequer considerable expense.

We are faced with a national problem of car addiction as a result of the political neglect of public transport over the years. Having it free of charge as of this month was premature as the first step should have been to address its efficiency and reliability.   Price was never an issue.

This lack of efficiency and reliability of public transport is essential to address with urgency as, once addressed, it will do more for environmental protection that all the philosophising on the environment over the years! An efficient public transport together with a substantial investment in alternative modes of transport would be quite beneficial for the environment.

This is one of the major problems we currently face. Clear advice was available, yet when it was possible to address the problem, government through its various authorities and agencies deliberately made it worse.

Similar arguments can be made about a multitude of other areas of environmental importance ranging from water to pesticides, from land use to biodiversity, from efforts to set up a circular economy to adequate environmental taxes which are appropriately designed.

The way transport policy has developed in a downhill direction is just one small example of many on the basis of which it is inevitable to conclude that there is no political will to address environmental issues seriously. The ERA public consultation is unfortunately another phase of an on-going greenwashing exercise.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 23 October 2022

see also detailed submissions by ADPD to ERA here

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

The Metro consultation: taking us for a ride

In 2008 Professor Mir Ali from the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published a paper entitled “Urban Design Strategy Report on Tall Buildings in Malta.”

Professor Ali comments on the lack of mass transport facilities in Malta and links the functionality of tall buildings with the availability of mass transport facilities. He emphasises that: “Once there is a BRT or MRT system, integration of tall buildings with transportation can result in high efficiency, consolidation of services and a better urban life.” BRT signifies Bus Rapid Transit System. MRT signifies Mass Rapid Transport.

The need for a mass transport network has been felt for a long time. Greens in Malta have been emphasising that it is one of various solutions to address transport issues in the Maltese islands.

Government’s announcement last weekend on a three-route metro is just a first step. Greens definitely agree with the objective though not with the specifics proposed. As ARUP emphasised, government’s massive expenditure on long-term road building will not solve anything. Most of it is money down the drain.

Government’s announcement has only presented a sketch of a solution. The proposal needs to be much more detailed than that. While the identification of the routes as well as the location of the stations is definitely important information, we need more analytical information to digest.

ARUP identified potential routes and stations on the basis of studies. It is said that studies were also carried out on various options, as a result of which ARUP discarded the Bus Rapid Transit, the surface tram, the elevated light metro and combinations. We need to be able to digest these studies to understand why ARUP have discarded alternative solutions. All studies carried out by ARUP should be available for examination in the Metro public consultation. If this is not possible what is the purpose of a public consultation?

The proposal for a Metro should not be an excuse for developing open spaces as has already been pointed out with reference to the proposed B’Kara and Pembroke Metro stations. We already have too few open spaces.

Proposals have to be analysed within the wider context of transport policy in Malta.  Specifically private car use must be substantially reduced for any mass transport proposal to be economically feasible! This must be clear even at this stage. It is inevitable, but government is conveniently being silent on the matter! Has ARUP advised on the matter in its feasibility studies? We have a right to know.

It is the intention to utilise the stations to attract metro users from the surrounding areas. Some, living nearby, will come on foot. Others living or working slightly further away may come by private car, by bus or by bike.  Most potential metro stations do not have parking areas around them. This signifies that it is essential that more emphasis is laid on the interaction between the proposed Metro and local and regional transport.

The metro’s functioning has to be seen within the existing urban context. This is very relevant to the debate but unfortunately the detailed advice which government has received in this respect has not been divulged. Just one tit-bit of information has inadvertently emerged. When asked as to why the Metro will not make it to Gozo, it was stated that there is not sufficient population on the sister island. This begs the question: how come then that a tunnel is planned below the sea to link the two islands?

The announcement further informed us that most of the Metro will be underground with only a small stretch being above ground for topographical reasons.  Depending on the size of the tunnels between the metro stations this could generate a substantial amount of inert waste. An estimated excavation volume of 4.9 million cubic metres, presumably measured in situ, is indicated. Once excavated this would amount to around 8.6 million cubic metres after taking account of the increase in volume after excavation. This is a substantial amount of inert waste which, as already hinted, can only be utilised in land reclamation projects. For comparative purposes 8.6 million cubic metres of inert waste is close to the amount that was used in the whole Freeport project at Kalafrana for land reclamation purposes!

I am not aware of any land reclamation currently required in the national interest. We cannot be forced into land reclamation as the only solution to dispose of the inert waste generated by the Metro project.

Excavation of an underground Metro does not only generate excessive inert waste. It also endangers our historical heritage: in particular when excavating below, around or close to national monuments in Valletta, Mosta, Balluta and elsewhere. Excavation is also proposed next to ecologically sensitive sites.

This is definitely not on.

Proposed solutions above ground have to be examined in detail too and discussed as part of the public consultation. A hybrid metro-tram system mostly above ground, and/or a Bus Rapid Transit system, are other possibilities which should make it on the table of any serious public consultation. They do not generate inert waste, can be implemented in a shorter time frame from that proposed by ARUP and cost a fraction of the proposed outlay. In addition, substantially less environmental impacts are involved. Any selected solutions should respect our historical and ecological heritage.

Through constructive criticism we can explore alternative solutions which are being deliberately shut out with a stage-managed consultation. We need more than PR stunts: logos and flashy video clips are not the information we need for a mature public consultation. Government must put all its cards on the table. The ARUP studies must be subject to public scrutiny. Otherwise, the public consultation is taking us for a ride.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 October 2021