A stinking amnesty

It smells

 

The planning amnesty which Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri launched last week to regularise development illegalities that cannot be addressed through a proper application of planning policies is a throwback to the Stone Age of land use planning in Malta.

While land use planning in Malta has been and  always will be the most controversial of activities of public bodies, it has to be stated that, since 1992, the Planning Authority (warts and all) has developed into the most transparent government authority. It could be much more transparent but no one in his right senses doubts that, to date, it still surpasses all the other government departments and authorities in issues of transparency.

Applications for the issuance of a development permit are publicised through a site notice and on the Planning Authority website, as well as in the Malta Government Gazette. On the Planning Authority website one can also examine the exact proposal, as all the drawings submitted can be viewed online. On the basis of this available  information, it is possible to submit to the Planning Authority observations about – and objections to – the development proposal , which observations and objections have to be addressed when the final report on the particular application is drawn up recommending approval or refusal of the development proposal.

To date there is one exception, commonly referred to as the DNO  (Development Notification Order) application which is a fast-track application process. Generally, this type of application is non-controversial and involves minor or straightforward applications. However, recently the Planning Authority considered that it was advisable to reduce the number of cases to which the DNO process applies, thereby widening the number of proposals for development which are subject to public consultation.

Legal Notice 285 of 2016, published under the authority of Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri, stands in stark contrast to all this and stinks. Entitled Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations 2016, these regulations establish the procedures to be followed in order to regularise existing development illegalities. We have to thank Dr Schembri for small mercies, as she excluded illegal ODZ developments from the regularisation process. However, she did not consider it appropriate to similarly exclude illegal developments in UCAs (Urban Conservation Areas) or illegalities concerning scheduled or protected properties.

Nor is there a distinction between minor illegalities and major illegalities. Had the proposed regularisation process sought to sanction minor illegalities, matters would have been substantially different and most probably the proposal would have been acceptable. This would be so even though most of the minor illegalities would most probably not require an amnesty. Most can easily be dealt with within the parameters of existing policies and regulations. These cases of minor illegalities are, in fact, the perfect camouflage for the major illegalities.

To ensure that this camouflage works as planned, Legal Notice 285 of 2016 makes short shrift of the transparency process by ensuring that it is not applicable to applications for the regularisation of illegal developments. The legal notice, in its regulation 5, emphasises only one exception, which is those cases where an illegal development was subject to an enforcement order. In such cases where an enforcement order would have been issued “following the submission of a formal complaint by third parties” the said third parties will be informed that an application has been submitted for the regularisation of the illegalities and they will be given the opportunity to be considered “interested parties”.

In all other cases, contrary to the provisions of the Development Planning Act of 2016, no one has the right to be considered an interested party. This can be stated with certainty as being a specific objective in view of the fact the regulation 3 of Legal Notice clearly spells out its objectives, which are: “to lay down procedures by which any person may request the regularisation of an existing irregular development.”

The legal notice makes no provision either for access to information about the proposals submitted or on the timeframe for submissions of observations and/or objections by interested third parties other than by the solitary exception referred to previously.

This is the state of affairs which led four environmental NGOs – Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth (Malta) and Ramblers Association – to submit in Court a judicial protest in which they insisted that the government cannot ignore the transparency provisions of the Development Planning Act 2016 when considering whether to regularise illegal development. These applications have to be publicised and the public has a right to scrutinise them as well as submit comments and objections when they consider these to be appropriate.

There is only one simple question to ask: why this stink?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 4 September 2016

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Political calculation or environmental principle?

calculator

 

Joseph Muscat’s declaration that the Freeport Terminal will not be permitted to expand in Birżebbuġa’s direction due to its impacts on the residential community will inevitably have an effect on the Planning Authority. Viewed in the context of the recent Planning Authority decision not to approve the proposed Ħondoq ir-Rummien development, a pattern seems to be developing.

Given the fact that these two decisions are closely associated with localities that politically support the Labour Party it is still not clear whether this newly discovered sensitivity to restrict development which negatively impacts residential communities is based on political calculation or on environmental principle. This consideration is inevitable, in particular due to the report in this newspaper on 22 June that the Prime Minister had stated, in a discussion with environmental NGO Flimkien għall-Ambjent Aħjar, that he does not care about impact assessments, as residents get used to everything. As far as I am aware, the Office of the Prime Minister never corrected this report.

The Freeport Terminal debate clearly indicates that Birżebbuġa residents are determined to deliver a different message: they have had enough. During the last seven years there has been an ongoing tug-of-war between Birżebbuġa Local Council, MEPA and the Freeport Terminal Management. This has led to a number of improvements, the most important of which was the setting up of a tripartite Environmental Monitoring Committee that has served to build some bridges and to explore solutions to existing problems caused by the operation of the Freeport Terminal.

There was a time, around two years ago, when pressure was put on Birżebbuġa Local Council to drop its objections to specific operations. I distinctly remember representatives from the oil-rig repair industry  trying to convince the Council of the “benefits” that an oil-rig industry based at the Freeport Terminal could generate.

When these representatives realised that no one was convinced, an amendment to the environmental permit was forced through the then MEPA Board. To their credit, only three of the then board members understood the real issues and voted against the proposal: the two MPs (Joe Sammut and Ryan Callus) and the environmental NGO representative Alex Vella of the Ramblers Association.

The amended environmental permit would have permitted minor repairs to ships and oil-rigs berthed at the Freeport Terminal. However, after the MEPA Board meeting all hell broke loose, leading Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to disassociate himself from its decision and publicly align himself with the minority on the board opposing the changes. He then stated that he was in agreement with “his representative”, Labour MP Joe Sammut.

While the Freeport Terminal, faced with the reaction of residents, eventually relinquished the newly-acquired permit, the internal debate within the Labour Party continued, leading to the recent statement by Joseph Muscat that he is not in agreement with an expansion of the Freeport Terminal operations that would have a negative impact on the Birżebbuġa community.

Irrespective of whether it is a matter of principle or a political calculation which has led the Prime Minister to make such a statement, I submit that this is still a significant turning point that has been achieved as a direct result of Birżebbuġa Local Council’s persistent lobbying. It contrasts with the position taken by the Leader of the Opposition, who looks forward to an increase in the operations of the Freeport Terminal, without batting an eyelid over the resulting, continuously increasing, impact on the residential community.

The Prime Minister’s statement, while being a positive first step, is certainly not enough. It needs to be translated into policy as an integral part of the revised Local Plans currently under consideration. It is also important that the Prime Minister’s newly identified sensitivities are exported to other areas in Malta and Gozo. It is essential that, in a small country such as ours, third party rights opposing “development” are reinforced.

The issue at stake is far larger than Birżebbbuġa or the Freeport Terminal. It is a tug-of-war between those supporting “development” at all costs and our residential communities. The government must, through planning policy, be supportive of all our residential communities without exception.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 31st July 2016

Il-Freeport : tagħlima kbira

BBugia. two Mayors

Jekk Simon Busuttil  inħasad, jiena xejn ma kont sorpriż bid-dikjarazzjoni tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat li huwa ma jaqbilx li l-Port Ħieles jibqa’ jespandi fid-direzzjoni ta’ Birżebbuġa. Dan għaliex osservajt id-deċiżjoni tinbena biċċa biċċa. Kultant b’sogru kbir għal dawk involuti.

Forsi l-iktar mument kritiku kien meta l-Bord tal-MEPA kien iddiskuta emenda għall-permess ambjentali tal-Port Ħieles u dan il-Bord kien ivvota fil-maġġoranza kbir tiegħu favur din l-emenda. Ħlief tlieta: iż-żewġ membri Parlamentari (Joe Sammut u Ryan Callus) u r-rappreżentant tal-NGOs ambjentali Alex Vella tar-Ramblers Association.

L-emenda kienet biex ikun permess fil-Port Ħieles xogħol żgħir ta’ tiswija ta’ vapuri u oilrigs! Il-Kunsill ta’ Birżebbuġa dakinnhar kien għamel lobbying qawwi kontra l-emenda, imma din xorta kienet approvata mill-Bord tal-MEPA.

Imma wara l-laqgħa tal-Bord tal-MEPA qamu l-irwiefen kollha. Ir-residenti semmgħu leħinhom b’mod mill-iktar ċar u irnexxielhom joħolqu diskussjoni mqanqla anke fil-Partit Laburista tant li wasslu lil Joseph Muscat biex b’mod ċar jgħid fil-pubbliku illi hu ma kienx jaqbel mad-deċiżjoni li kien ħa l-Bord tal-MEPA. Kien iddikjara publikament li kien jaqbel mal-vot kontra (fil-Bord tal-MEPA) tal-Membru Parlamentari Laburista Joe Sammut, inċidentalment li jirrappreżenta lid-Distrett li minnu jifforma parti Birżebbuġa fil-Parlament. Eventwalment minħabba r-reażżjoni pubblika l-Port Ħieles ma baqax jinsisti għall-permess li kien kiseb għal xogħol ta’ tiswijiet minuri fuq vapuri u oilrigs.

Wara dan l-inċident jidher li kompla id-dibattitu fil-Partit Laburista li wassal għad-deċiżjoni li n-nies f’Birżebbuġa jixirqilhom li jkunu mħarsa mill-impatti tal-Port Ħieles ħafna iktar milli kienu sal-lum.

Jiena naħseb li dan huwa punt importanti ħafna u l-mertu għalih huwa prinċipalment tal-Kunsilliera Laburisti fil-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa: fuq quddiem nett is-Sindku tal-lum, Kevin Barun, imma ukoll Joseph Farrugia ir-Ricky li bħala l-ewwel Sindku ta’ Birżebbuġa ħejja t-triq illi wasslet għal din id-deċiżjoni.

Imma issa huwa importanti li din ma tkunx biss rebħa ta’ Birżebbuġa. L-effetti tagħha jeħtieg li jinfirxu billi minnha l-Partit Laburista jieħu tagħlima kbira: il-konsiderazzjoni tal-impatti fuq in-nies ta’ kull proġett ta’ żvilupp (hi x’inhi n-natura tiegħu) hija fundamentali daqs, jekk mhux iktar, mill-konsiderazzjonijiet ekonomiċi.

Ikun tajjeb li naraw jekk u kif din it-tagħlima ser tkun applikata tul ix-xhur li ġejjin. Taqbida bejn is-saħħa tan-nies u s-saħħa tal-flus.

ippubblikat ukoll fuq iNews : l-Erbgħa 27 ta’ Lulju 2016

Abolish spring hunting

time is running out2

Spring hunting has been a contentious issue for many years in the Maltese Islands. Throughout the years both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party have sought to deal with spring hunting through backroom deals with organisations representing the hunting community. Time and again promises to uphold hunters’ privileges have been made by both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party.

Only one political party in Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party, expressed itself clearly and unequivocally against spring hunting. The others boot-licked their way through imaginary exceptions and ineffective enforcement measures.

The current state of affairs is the direct result of government policies which have repeatedly ignored Malta’s obligations. Unfortunately even the Environment Directorate General of the European Union has proven itself to be ineffective in enforcing the provisions of the Birds’ Directive in Malta. Hence the only practical solution to tackle spring hunting is for the Maltese electorate to decide the matter itself as is provided for in the Referenda Act.

The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting is composed of Ramblers Association of Malta, Nature Trust (Malta), Movement of Organic Agriculture in Malta (MOAM), Moviment Graffiti , International Animal Rescue Malta, Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation,Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), Din l-Art Ħelwa,Coalition for Animal Rights, Birdlife Malta and Alternattiva Demokratika. It was formed some eight months ago for one specific purpose: the abolition of spring hunting at the earliest possible date.

Last week, the Coalition submitted a petition to the Electoral Commission calling for an abrogative referendum to end spring hunting on the Maltese islands. The signatures to the petition had to exceed 10% of the registered voters in the latest electoral register, that is 33,418 signatures were required as a minimum.

44,376 persons signed the referendum petition making it the first ever submitted petition requesting an abrogative referendum in the Maltese islands since the Referenda Act was amended in 1996 to introduce the right to call an abrogative referendum.  Those who signed the petition have considered it their duty to respond to the Coalition’s invitation because they care. They care about the birds and they care about Malta. They deserve everybody’s appreciation as their commitment is sending one clear message: that voters can decide on spring hunting and in so doing they will clear the mess created by the parliamentary political parties.

This is an historic moment, very important for the protection of biodiversity but also of paramount significance in the development of democracy in the Maltese islands. It was not easy to achieve and cannot be underestimated.

There are various reasons which have motivated voters to sign the petition calling for a referendum to abolish spring hunting.

Spring is breeding time for birds which fly over the Maltese islands on their way back to mainland Europe. Signatories to the referendum petition believe that birds should be able to fly safely over Malta on the way to their breeding grounds.

During the spring hunting season, when nature is at its best, people do not feel at ease in the Maltese countryside as they consider themselves to be under the constant threat of hunters, few in number but convinced just the same that they have a free hand. Access to the countryside during spring is further hampered by public footpaths which are closed to the public so as to facilitate the free access of hunters. The aggressiveness of some hunters has given all their colleagues a bad name.

Spring is a very special time of year when the Maltese countryside invites all to appreciate its abundance of life and colour. Those who have signed the petition feel that they are being impeded from enjoying nature’s gifts. Furthermore, hunting in spring definitely has a negative impact on birds which breed or can breed in the Maltese islands.

A large number of the signatories of the petition believe that the deals (both secret and the not so secret) that the hunting lobby has signed with successive governments to gain more privileges is not how a modern democracy should function. They believe that governments should work in the common interest. This has not been the case so far and the only solution is the utilisation of the referendum as a decision tool. It is only the referendum which will settle matters once and for all.

These birds flying through our airspace in spring do not belong to us. Other countries dedicate a lot of time and resources to ensure that these birds are adequately protected, only to be blasted when they fly through Malta.

We now await the Electoral Commission to verify the petition signatures and hand over the process to the Constitutional Court. This will enable all of the Maltese voters to finally have their voice heard on spring hunting so it can be stopped on these islands once and for all.

 

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday April 5, 2014

MEPA: from bad to worse

mistra-monster

Government acting through MEPA is playing to the interests of property developers and speculators. This was stated by a group of environmental NGOs who decided to act together in voicing their concern. The eNGOs are Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Birdlife Malta, Friends of the Earth Malta, Moviment Graffiti, Greenhouse Malta, Malta Organic Agricutural Movement, Nature Trust Malta and Ramblers’ Association.

There is nothing new in stating that government is in cahoots with property developers and speculatiors. The new element is that it is much more obvious that it ever was. MEPA in fact is functioning worse than it ever did in its 21 year history.

And we have seen nothing yet. It will get worse .

The recent approval of the redevelopment of the Mistra Village site is a case in point.  In addition to its being a blot on the landscape the approved project consisting of 774 residential units [yes its seven hundred and seventy four] as well as 1,800 square metres of retail area [including a supermarket] spread in 6 rectangual blocks of various heights up to and including 13 floors.  The traffic load on an area already bursting at the seams will be enormous.

In fact, Transport Malta  had initially objected to the project as it was considered that the situation would inevitably develop from bad to worse.

Transport Malta has however had second thoughts and withdrew its objections.  FAA is on record as commenting that “In dropping its objection, Transport Malta insults local residents by claiming that the traffic situation is already so bad that adding heavy construction vehicles and another 1,500 cars to the area will not make a difference.”

This signifies that Transport Malta will now go back to its archives and reconsider the development of the TEN-T road network in the area. All the options have already been discussed and all of them will create even more probelms.  One proposal signifies cutting through the Miżieb aquifer. Other proposals pose serious threats to Manikata, the agricultural community in L-Imbordin as well as being a threat to the Simar Nature Reserve.

This is what MEPA’s decisions are leading to.  It will get worse soon.

Having nine NGOs voicing their concern together on the above and more is a good step. Their protest in Valletta’s streets on the 30th November 2013 deserves everyone’s support.

I will be there.

Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa? Le grazzi !

turtle dove

Tnax-il għaqda ambjentali flimkien ma Alternattiva Demokratika ġimgħat ilu waqqfu l-Koalizzjoni għall-Abolizzjoni tal-Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa.  Dan hu kunsens wiesa’ u uniku : l-ewwel darba li f’Malta daqstant organizzazzjonijiet li japprezzaw l-ambjent ingħaqdu flimkien biex imexxu l-quddiem proposta waħda.

Dawn l-organizzazzjonijiet huma : Ramblers Association of Malta,  Nature Trust-Malta,  Moviment Graffiti,  Malta Organic  Agriculture Movement,  International Animal Rescue Malta, Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation, Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Coalition for Animal Rights, BirdLife Malta u Alternattiva Demokratika.

Il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa m’hemmx lokha. L-għasafar li fir-rebbiegħa jpassu minn fuq Malta jiġu maqtula fl-iżjed mument li huma vulnerabbli, meta jkunu qed iħejju biex ibejtu biex ikollhom il-friegħ. Hu l-iżjed żmien li jeħtieġu protezzjoni. Din il-protezzjoni għandha tingħata billi l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa tieqaf, darba għal dejjem.

La l-Gvern tal-lum u l-anqas il-Gvern tal-bieraħ ma jaqblu ma dan u allura l-unika mod kif miżura ta’ din ix-xorta isseħħ hu billi l-poplu jieħu d-deċiżjoni f’idejh permezz ta’ referendum. Referendum ta’ din ix-xorta jissejjaħ mill-poplu kemm-il darba jkun hemm 10% tal-votanti li isimhom jidher fir-reġistru elettorali (madwar 34,000) li jaqblu li dan isir.

Il-ġbir tal-firem beda u s-issa diġá qabeż l-10,000 firma. Meta n-numru ta’ firem jaqbeż l-34,000 dawn jiġu ppreżentati lill-Kummissjoni Elettorali biex jibda l-proċess ta’ referendum abrogattiv, jiġifieri referendum li jħassar ir-regolamenti li jippermettu l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Dan għandu jwassal biex nissejħu ħalli nivvutaw dwar jekk naqblux jew le li dawn ir- regolamenti li jippermettu l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa jispiċċaw darba għal dejjem.

Jekk fil-votazzjoni li ssir il-maġġoranza taqbel li dawn ir-regolamenti jitħassru, hekk isir. Dak il-ħin stess mingħajr il-ħtieġa li jintervjeni l-Parlament. Għax il-poplu jkun iddeċieda.

Ma dan, hemm min jaqbel u ovvjament hemm ukoll min ma jaqbilx. Għalhekk hemm bżonn li niddeċiedu billi nivvutaw.

Jekk inti li qed taqra dan l-artiklu taqbel ma dan ħu ħsieb li tiffirma l-petizzjoni biex jissejjaħ dan ir-referendum. Tista’ tikkuntattja lil waħda mill-għaqdiet li jissemmew hawn fuq inkella billi tikteb lill-Koalizzjoni għall-Abolizzjoni tal-Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa fuq cashmalta2013@gmail.com.

 

Ippubblikat fuq iNews It-Tlieta 8 t’Ottubru 2013

Spring Hunting Referendum (2) collecting the signatures

flamingo

Not less than 34,000 signatures need to be collected.

The organisations forming part of the Coalition to Abolish Spring Hunting are currently organising their teams to commence the collection of the signatures.

Some have already commenced.

Your help would be appreciated.

Contact Alternattiva Demokratika, Birdlife Malta, Coalition for Animal Rights, Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Gaia Foundation, Moviment Graffiti, Greenhouse Malta, Nature Trust (Malta) and the Ramblers Association of Malta. Your help will make a difference.

Spring Hunting Referendum (1) signing the petition

hunting in Malta 02

The signature collection is in hand, organised by the organisations forming part of the Coalition, that is to say Alternattiva Demokratika, Birdlife Malta, Coalition for Animal Rights, Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Gaia Foundation, Moviment Graffiti, Greenhouse Malta, Nature Trust (Malta) and the Ramblers Association of Malta.

If you have any difficulty in contacting any one of these organisations contact the Coalition on cashmalta2013@gmail.com and you will be put in touch with the appropriate persons.

The abrogative referendum made simple : (4) When can I sign?

hunting in Malta 04

(4)   When can I sign?

Collection of signatures for calling the referendum has not yet begun.

So far it is only a call for the formation of the Coalition to Abolish Spring Hunting that has been made.  To date two eNGOs, namely Ramblers and Friends of the Earth, have decided to join the Coalition. As soon as other eNGOs take their decisions the process of signature collection will be set in motion.

From my contacts it is clear that eNGOs are taking the matter seriously and will be taking decisions shortly.

An announcement will be made as to when the collection of signatures will commence.  But one thing is certain, the abrogative referendum to abolish spring hunting is on.

Coalition against Spring Hunting : the first steps

hunting 02.2013

Where do I sign to ensure that a referendum in favour of abolishing spring hunting is held?

Collection of signatures has not yet started. It will only start when the coalition is in place.

AD has invited all pro-nature organisations to launch a broad Coalition to Abolish Spring Hunting. Various NGOs got in touch.

Ramblers and Friends of the Earth have already declared publicly that they support the initiative . Other organisations have signified their intention to join but they have yet to formalise their decision through their Committee.

On behalf of AD I have held various meetings with other eNGOs  which are still considering whether to participate in the Coalition. It is perfectly reasonable to await these eNGOs in order that they can decide, in full autonomy. Obviously at some point a decision will be taken to move forward with the eNGOs who are on board.

Then, the next steps will be announced.