Making hay …….. in St George’s Bay

The 23-storey Pender Gardens high-rise is nearly completed, after nearly 10 years of continuous construction activity. The application for the 31-storey Mercury House was approved last month and next Thursday, the Planning Authority Board will consider planning application PA2478/16 submitted by Garnet Investments Limited in respect of a substantial stretch of land along St George’s Bay on the outskirts of Paceville St Julian’s.

The applicant has requested the following: “Demolition of all existing buildings forming part of St. George’s Bay Hotel and ancillary facilities, Dolphin House, Moynihan House and Cresta Quay. Construction of Parking facilities, Hotels and ancillary facilities, Commercial Area, Multi Ownership holiday accommodation, Bungalows, Language school with accommodation. Restoration of the Villa Rosa and upgrading of the facilities including parking facility, kitchen and toilets all below existing site levels within the Villa Rosa Area to address catering facilities/wedding hall.”

The project includes mixed-uses covering a total site area of 48,723 square metres, a building footprint of 18,345 square metres and a total gross floor area of 82,917 square meters.

It is a small part of the area that was tentatively tackled by a draft Masterplan for Paceville which, after being rejected by public opinion was sent back to the drawing board. I consider it highly unethical for the Planning Authority to proceed with considering this application after the clear and resounding verdict of public opinion. As a minimum, the consideration of this application should have been postponed until a new, reasonable and acceptable Masterplan has received the go-ahead. A minimum effort at achieving consensus as to what development is acceptable is essential.

The Planning Authority is unfortunately insensitive to public opinion. It is amply clear that it, and those who appoint most of its Board members, are on the same wavelength as the development lobby, which is hell-bent on making hay while the sun shines. At this point in time, it is the turn of the St George’s Bay area.

The project is obviously recommended for approval in the 43-page report from the Planning Directorate.

The basic point of contention with such large-scale projects is that they are considered in isolation. Most of them would never get off the drawing board (real or virtual) if the consolidated impact of all neighbouring projects (existing or in the pipeline) are taken into account. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to address similar concerns to the EIA public consultation on the db Group ITS site project.

Five large-scale projects are earmarked for St George’s Bay. Each will generate considerable havoc from excavation throughout construction and right through operation in the whole St George’s Bay area. Cumulatively it will be hell. Who cares?

Way back in 2006, when the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive of the EU was about to be implemented in Malta, the Lawrence Gonzi – George Pullicino tandem rushed through the approval of the Local Plans in such a manner as to ensure that the accumulated environmental impact resulting from their implementation was not scrutinised and acted upon. The present state of affairs is the direct result of that irresponsible Gonzi-Pullicino action 12 years ago.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) occasionally tries to patch things up. For example, within the framework of the ITS EIA exercise ERA suggested that the traffic assessment of the ITS and the Villa Rosa projects be consolidated. This has, however, been avoided: a case of too little, too late.

So where do we go from here?

The development lobby is maximising its efforts to make hay while the sun shines. In reality, a consolidated mess is taking shape with massively built-up areas in a relatively restricted space punctured by high rises mimicking phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes spread all over the place. Pender Place has 23 floors. Mercury House will have 31. The ITS phallus will have a 37-floor residential tower. The Villa Rosa/Cresta Quay project will have more modest heights.

Next Thursday, the Planning Authority has the opportunity to scrutinise the proposal for this Villa Rosa-Cresta Quay project. We will see once more the extent to which the concrete lobby still holds the Authority by its balls – obviously where this is applicable.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 February 2018

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Marsa: a planning mess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 January 2017

Il-mozzjoni ta’ Simon ……………. ħela ta’ ħin?

Simon Busuttil 11

 

Hekk naħseb. Il-mozzjoni tal-bieraħ kienet ħin moħli. Għax minħabba l-aritmetika parlamentari, l-mozzjoni tal-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni qatt ma setgħet tilħaq l-iskop tagħha, jiġifieri li ġġiegħel lil Joseph Muscat jaġixxi.

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi Joseph Muscat jaġixxi biss meta jkun politikament dahru mal-ħajt. Dejjem hekk għamel.

It-terminu responsabbiltà politika ma jeżistix fil-vokabolarju ta’ Joseph Muscat .

Fil-fatt ir-rapport tal-inkjesta li wassal għat-tkeċċija ta’ Manwel Mallia kien għamel dan il-kumment:

“In konnessjoni ma dan il-każ issemma l-konċett tar-responsabbilta’ Ministerjali …………………………………… Wieħed jinnota li dan il-konċett ta’ sikwit jiġi invokat mill-politiċi li jkunu fl-Opposizzjoni, iżda dawn malajr jinsewh appena  huma jkunu fil-Gvern.”

(paġna 11 tar-rapport tal-inkjesta dwar ix-xufier ta’ Manwel Mallia)

Bil-mozzjoni ta’ sfiduċja ma tistax tasal, ġaladarba l-matematika parlamentari hi dik li hi.

Tista’ tasal biss billi tkompli tissensibilizza l-opinjoni pubblika. Huwa riżultat ta’ dan biss li kellna diversi esponenti Laburisti li tkellmu favur ir-riżenja ta’ Konrad Mizzi [Alfred Sant, Evarist Bartolo, Godfrey Farrugia]. Huwa ukoll minħabba f’hekk li kien hemm diskussjoni imqanqla fil-grupp parlamentari laburista li għalkemm ma wasslitx għar-riżenja tat avviż ċar li hemm grupp li jinkludi numru ta’ Ministri anzjani li lesti li jitkellmu. S’issa illimitaw ruħhom għad-dibattitu intern.

Li kien hemm pożittiv fid-diskussjoni tal-bieraħ fil-Parlament hu li ħadd ma kellu l-kuraġġ li jiddefendi lil Konrad   …………. l-anqas Joseph Muscat. Għax il-messaġġ qiegħed jasal.

Lobbying: influencing decision-taking

 

what to do

Lobbying risks corruption. Establishing clear standards of acceptable behaviour in public life ought to include the regulation of lobbying, yet the Standards in Public Life Bill currently pending on the Parliament’s agenda ignores this important matter completely.

Potentially, lobbying is not a dirty matter. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. It is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to legislators and administrators by those who have an interest in informing them of the impacts of the decisions under consideration.  It is perfectly legitimate that individuals, acting on their own behalf or else acting on behalf of third parties, should seek to ensure that decision-takers are well informed before taking the required decisions. Obviously, lobbying should not be the process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives of corporations to take their place.

I am not aware of the reason why the Parliamentary Select Committee, led by Hon Speaker Anġlu Farrugia, failed to identify lobbying as a matter which requires regulation within the framework of the Standards in Public Life Bill. Perusal of the final report dated 24 March 2014, as well as the minutes of the Select Committee, does not reveal any indication that the matter was ever even mentioned in the Select Committee’s deliberations. In fact in my opinion, perusal of Parliament’s Motion 77, which contains the Select Committee’s terms of reference, indirectly includes lobbying as one of the matters which had to be examined.

Lobbying requires a considerable dose of transparency. It needs to be unchained from the shackles of secrecy. In other jurisdictions this is done through actively disclosing lobbying activities, thereby placing them under the spotlight of public opinion. The public has a right to know who is seeking to influence the decision-taking process and this helps ensure that lobbying is not used as a tool to secretly derail or deflect political decisions.

Other jurisdictions require that lobbying activities are documented and that the official being lobbied is always accompanied. Subsequently a list of lobbying meetings and the resulting documentation is released or made available. Such disclosure is normal in various democracies.

Lobbying can be regulated in two ways: by regulating the lobbyist activities and by regulating the potential recipient of lobbying.

The activities of the lobbyist can be regulated either through a compulsory registration of lobbyists or else through a regular disclosure of the names of those carrying out lobbying activities.

On the other hand, the potential recipient of lobbying ought to be regulated through a disclosure of all information related to lobbying, including minutes of meetings as well as any memoranda exchanged or submitted for the consideration of the decision-taker.

Full transparency is undoubtedly the best tool which – together with guidelines on the permissible receipt of gifts as well as whistle-blowing – will reduce the risk of lobbying being transformed into an instrument of corruption.

This is not all. Malta also requires rules that regulate the lobbying that is carried out through revolving-door recruitment. At times, this is the easiest way in which special interest groups recruit former Ministers, as well as the former high ranking civil servants regulating them, immediately on concluding their term of office. In this manner, they seek to tap contacts and quasi-direct access to or knowledge of information of extreme sensitivity. It also happens in reverse, when the public sector recruits lobbyists directly into the civil service without first having allowed sufficient time for cooling off so that former lobbyists thus recruited risk being Trojan horses in the public sector areas which previously regulated them.

If we are really serious about tackling corruption at its roots, it would be better if the need to regulate lobbying is urgently considered. Together with legislation on the financing of political parties just approved by Parliament (even if this is defective, as I have explained elsewhere), the regulation of lobbying would create a better tool-kit in the fight against corruption.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 26 July 2015

It-tkeċċija ta’ Manwel Mallia minn Ministru

Manwel Mallia 11

 

M’hiex xi ħaġa li tiġri spiss f’Malta li l-Prim Ministru jkeċċi wieħed mill-Ministri tiegħu.  L-anqas ma hi xi  ħaġa li għadna nieħdu ġost biha. Imma la ġrat irrid ngħid li Joseph Muscat għamel sewwa. Dam jaħsibha dsatax-il ġurnata. Il-kritika li nista’ nagħmillu hi dwar id-demwien, mill-bqija fil-fehma tiegħi mexa sewwa.

Imissu għamel  l-istess Lawrence Gonzi ma Tonio Fenech u ma Austin Gatt. Imma ma kellux il-kuraġġ. Forsi Joseph Muscat għamel il-kuraġġ bil-posizzjoni li ħadet il-media u l-opinjoni pubblika li instemgħet sewwa.

Avolja hi deċiżjoni li damet tinħema, id-deċiżjoni dwar it-tkeċċija ta’ Manwel Mallia minn Ministru taf tkun bidu ġdid għall-politika f’Malta.

Fir-rapport tagħhom it-tlett imħallfin irtirati jemfasizzaw il-ħtieġa li tintrefa r-responsabbilta’ politika u jikkummentaw kif ġej :

“In konnessjoni ma dan il-każ issemma l-konċett tar-responsabbilta’ Ministerjali għall-operat ta’ persuni li Ministru jkun għażel  u ħatar biex jaqdu funzjonijiet pubbliċi. Wieħed jinnota li dan il-konċett ta’ sikwit jiġi invokat mill-politiċi li jkunu fl-Opposizzjoni, iżda dawn malajr jinsewh appena  huma jkunu fil-Gvern.

Intqal li l-kultura tar-risenja, sfortunatament ftit li xejn qabdet għeruq f’pajjiżna. Wieħed isaqsi jekk waħda mir-raġunijiet għal dan toħrogx mill-fatt li ċerti għażliet u nomini – minn xufier ta’ Ministru sal-għola karigi fil-pajjiż – mhux dejjem isiru skond il-mertu, ħila u kwalitajiet intrinsiċi ta’ dak li jkun, iżda inveċe sikwit isiru fuq il-bażi ta’ kulur politiku, nepotiżmu, ħbiberija u konsiderazzjonijiet oħra mhux xierqa bħal dawn. Meta jiġri hekk, huwa ferm faċli, li persuni hekk magħżula, li ma jkollomx il-kwalitajiet kollha neċessarji biex jaqdu d-dmirijiet tagħhom, jiżolqu fin-niexef. Ta’ spiss żelqiet bħal dawn ma jinkixfux, u kollox jibqa’ għaddej daqs li kieku ma sar xejn, iżda s’intendi bi ħsara lill-pajjiż u l-governanza tiegħu. Jekk inveċe n-nuqqas li jkun isir magħruf, il-Ministru li jkun għażel u innomina l-persuna li ikkommettiet in-nuqqas, x’aktarx ma jkunx raġel biżżejjed biex jgħid pubblikament mea culpa u għall-bżonn jixħet ir-riżenja tiegħu talli jkun għażel persuna li ma kelliex il-kwalitajiet neċessarji biex taqdi d-dmirijiet li jkun assenjalha. Minflok dan il-Ministru malajr ixandar mal-erba t’irjieħ li hu ma kien jaf b’xejn dwar dak li ġara u jekk si tratta ta’ rejat kriminali, minnufih jagħmel rapport lill-Pulizija biex dawn jinvestigaw u jieħdu l-passi skond il-liġi. B’hekk isalva ġildu.” (paġna 11 tar-rapport tal-inkjesta)

Ir-responsabbilta’ politika m’hiex hemm għall-prietki. Hi x-xiber li bih għandu jkejjel il-Prim Ministru. Bid-deċiżjoni dwar Manwel Mallia jidher li fi ħsiebu jibda jagħmel użu minn dan il-kejl. Jagħmlu tajjeb il-Ministri u s-Segretarji Parlamentari li għadhom hemm li jieħdu l-każ ta’ Manwel Mallia bħala twissija.

Id-deċiżjoni dwar Manwel Mallia damet 20 ġurnata biex issir. Nittama li jekk ikun hemm każ ieħor ma jdumx daqshekk. Għax suppost li issa bdejna nitgħallmu.

 

ippubblikat fuq iNews it-Tlieta 16 ta’ Diċembru 2014

Id-demokrazija tal-Labour …………… bit-telefon ta’ Joseph

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Id-deċiżjoni tal-Gvern li jneħħi l-obbligu mill-liġi taċ-ċittadinanza illi jkunu ippubblikati l-ismijiet tal-persuni kollha li jingħataw iċ-ċittadinanza għamlet ħsara kbira lill-pajjiż.

Il-ħsara saret mid-deċiżjoni innifisha u min-nuqqas tal-Gvern li jkun sensittiv għall-opinjoni pubblika f’Malta stess. Ħsara li ġiet riflessa fil-kummenti fil-media internazzjonali.

Il-kritika li saret fil-pubbliku minn diversi kien obbligu. Kien nuqqas tal-Gvern li injora din il-kritika għax dehrlu li kellu s-saħħa li jirrombla minn fuq kulħadd.

Issa l-Gvern iċċaqlaq. Louis Grech Deputat Prim Ministru qal li ċempillu l-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat u qallu bil-posizzjoni l-ġdida.

Possibli li l-Partit Laburista jaċċetta dan il-mod kif jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet? Dan hu l-mod kif jiddeċiedi il-Labour? Jiddeċiedi Joseph u jikkomunika d-deċiżjoni  tiegħu bit-telefon. Possibli li dan hu l-livell ta’ diskussjoni politika fil-Partit Laburista?

Sal-lum jiena kont qed inqis li l-liġi taċ-ċittadinanza hu kaz ta’ġudizzju politiku (tal-Labour) żbaljat. Imma issa jidher li hu ħafna agħar minn hekk. Donnu li fil-Labour Party ta’ Malta wieħed jiddeċiedi u l-oħrajn ibaxxu rashom wara li jirċievu telefonata.

Il-ħsara li saret hi kbira. Hu ċar kif il-Labour jiddeċiedi: bit-telfon. Imma agħar minn hekk ġiet imtappna r-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta. Din hi ħsara kbira li l-effetti tagħha għad irridu inħossuhom.