Overdevelopment is eating up open space

The problems being caused by the continuous overdevelopment around us is a direct consequence of the local plans approved in 2006. The rationalisation exercise which was approved practically simultaneously, and as a result of which around two million square metres of ODZ land was given up for development made matters considerably worse .

The latest example is the planning application relative to a stretch of land measuring 1273 square metres in Santa Luċija. This land is, until now, an open space within the locality of Santa Luċija.

The late architect Joseph M.Spiteri, who in the late 1950s designed the locality of Santa Luċija from scratch took great care in planning for the needs of a community when he was preparing giving birth to the Santa Luċija locality. As emphasised by his son Dr Stephen C. Spiteri in the publication entitled Joseph M. Spiteri: A Maltese Architect and his work, when designing Santa Luċija, Joe Spiteri ensured that there was plenty of open space and trees. In his ideas Spiteri was undoubtedly influenced by the then prevalent housing design in the United Kingdom: Spiteri placed great emphasis on pedestrianisation and vehicular segregation together with the availability of plenty of open spaces. Environmentalists are still emphasising these points as an essential prerequisite for sustainable living.

The ideas pioneered by Architect Joseph Spiteri in Santa Luċija as a result of which open space around residential areas was considered as an essential contributor to enhancing the quality of life of all were unfortunately discarded over the years in housing design in the Maltese islands. Instead, we were offered intensive development of land aimed at maximising profits along the whole building development chain. Our quality of life was exchanged with healthy bank accounts.

The creation of an environment conducive to the creation of a sustainable living space has unfortunately been abandoned. The objective to be in harmony with our surroundings was abandoned.

Architect Joe Spiteri and his colleagues at the then Public Works Department invested substantial energies in trying to create from scratch a land use planning system during the mid-1960s. With the assistance of advisors sent by the United Nations a forward-looking town and country planning Act was approved by Parliament in the late 60s only for it to be ignored by those who were entrusted with its implementation.

This is the root cause of the present malaise in local land use planning. All efforts made by dedicated professionals over the years were meticulously undermined.

The current proposed project in Santa Luċija subject to planning application PA5152/22 has to be seen within this context. It gobbles up land which the original design for Santa Luċija had earmarked as open space.  The open space is not wasteland but part of the essential lungs which the local community requires to breathe. Without it the community is deprived of an essential element of its community infrastructure.

The Ministry for the Environment is currently advocating the need for open public spaces. This rhetoric has however not been translated into tangible action as the Planning Authority is still encouraging a free-for-all building spree transforming existing open spaces into euro machines.

One of the major lessons of Covid-19 was the mental health impact on many in our urban areas who were constrained indoors. The lack of adequate public open spaces made matters worse during the Covid months.

Our urban areas have been left to develop on their own for quite too long. As a result, they have been guided by business-friendly or market-friendly authorities, producing the mess of an urban jungle we have to face every day. This is a mess resulting from political decisions which have ensured that profits repeatedly have a priority over people and their quality of life.

The Santa Luċija planning application PA5152/22 is the latest example of all this. The creation of a sustainable living space has once more been sacrificed on the altar dedicated to the euro-machine!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 September 2022

Business friendly: il-flus qabel in-nies!

Art pubblika qed tittieħed minn stabilimenti tal-ikel u x-xorb biex tkun estiża l-attività kummerċjali tagħhom fit-triq u dan bil-konsegwenza ta’ diversi problemi għar-residenti u l-komunitajiet tagħna madwar Malta.

L-aħħar każ fl-aħbarijiet hu dak ta’ Triq il-Kbira San Ġiljan li seħħ wara li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ħarġet permess biex f’żona li sal-lum kienet riżervata għall-parkeġġ jibdew jitqegħdu l-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet. Sid l-istabbiliment aġixxa hekk kif irċieva l-permess tal-ippjanar mingħajr ma qagħad jistenna għal deċiżjoni mingħand l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet dwar jekk jistax ikun aċċettabbli li art pubblika tintuża bil-mod propost.

Il-qarrejja probabbilment jiftakru li xi żmien ilu l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet kienet irrifjutat applikazzjoni simili fix-Xatt il-Gżira. F’dak il-każ partikolari appell ta’ lukanda minn deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet biex flok spazji għall-parkeġġ tal-karozzi fi triq ewlenija jitqiegħed platform u fuqu imwejjed u siġġiet kien irrifjutat. It-talba biex jitqegħdu l-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet kienet irrifjutata minħabba li kienu ser jonqsu żewġ spazji għal parkeġġ kif ukoll minħabba tħassib dwar sigurtà tan-nies.

Minkejja din id-deċiżjoni li ttieħdet iżjed minn sena ilu mit-Tribunal Amministrattiv jidher li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għadha marbuta mal-interessi tan-negożji.

Ikun floku li niftakru li d-dokument bil-politika tal-ippjanar dwar it-tqegħid ta’ imwejjed u siġġijiet fi spazji pubbliċi kien imfassal minn kumitat inter-MinisterjalI li speċifikament kien eskluda l-parteċipazzjoni ta’ rappreżentanti tal-lokalitajiet tagħna. L-interessi tal-lokalitajiet, kemm dawk tar-residenti kif ukoll dawk tal-Kunsilli Lokali kienu kompletament injorati. Iktar minn hekk, meta l-materja kienet ikkunsidrata mill-Kabinett, mid-dehra l-Ministru tal-Kunsilli Lokali Owen Bonnici kien rieqed għax kieku bla ebda dubju kien jiġbed l-attenzjoni ta’ sħabu li l-Liġi dwar il-Kunsilli Lokali, fl-artiklu 33 tistabilixxi li hi funzjoni ta’ kull Kunsilli Lokali li “ jagħti pariri lil u, li jkun ikkonsultat minn kull awtorità li tieħu xi deċiżjonijiet li direttament jew indirettament jolqtu l-Kunsilli u lir-residenti li jkunu responsabbli għalihom.”

F’kull parti tal-pajjiż, il-Kunsilli Lokali huma rrabjati dwar kif dawn ir-regoli speċifiċi tal-ippjanar ġew imfassla, approvati u implimentati b’mod li jpoġġu n-negożju u l-flus qabel in-nies.

F’dan il-każ speċifiku ta’ San Ġiljan l-ispażju pubbliku li hu propost li jittieħed hu presentment utilizzat għall-parkeġġ.

Ipprova imxi fuq il-bankina fix-xatt bejn il-Gżira u tas-Sliema u ibqa’ għaddej max-Xatt ta’ Tigne. Tkun mixja diffiċli minħabba li n-negozji għamlu l-bankina tagħhom (bil-barka tal-awtoritajiet) u dak li hu tal-pubbliku ikkapparrawh: mhux biss il-bankina imma ukoll kważi kull spazju għall-parkeġġ.

Li tipprova timxi fuq il-ftit spazju li ħallew hi diffiċli ħafna għal kulħadd imma l-iktar għar-residenti li joqgħodu fl-appartamenti fis-sulari ta’ fuq dawn in-negozji. Jiffaċċjaw kull xorta ta’ diffikulta mill-ħruġ tal-iskart, li bilkemm ħallewlhom fejn dan jitpoġġa kif ukoll anke diffikulta biex idaħħlu fi djarhom għamara ta’ kull xorta. Dan hu r-riżultat tal-politika tal-Gvern tal-lum li tpoġġi l-interessi tan-negożju qabel l-interessi tan-nies: politika business-friendly. Infrastruttura sigura u aċċessibli għan-nies hi kontinwament mogħtija l-ġenb kemm mill-Gvern kif ukoll mill-awtoritajiet pubbliċi.

Jiena dejjem kont tal-fehma li l-Ippjanar għall-użu tal-art hu għan-nies. Sfortunatment dan ġie ttrasformat f’magna li tiffaċilita l-qliegħ tal-flus.

Għamel sew Albert Buttigieg, is-Sindku ta’ San Ġiljan, li sabbat saqajh u rreżista l-aħħar attentat tan-negozju biex bl-għajnuna tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jibqa’ jħarbat il-ħajja tan-nies. Kien ukoll f’waqtu l-intervent tal-President tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali Mario Fava waqt il-konferenza stampa li fiha dan l-abbuż inġieb għall-attenzjoni tal-istampa fejn saret enfasi ukoll li dawn ir-regoli li jippermettu dawn l-abbużi jitwarrbu illum qabel għada.

Ilna ngħidu li wasal iż-żmien li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar teħtieġ li tiġi f’sensiha.

Kull żvilupp konness mal-ispazji pubbliċi fil-lokalitajiet tagħna għandu jsir biss kemm-il darba jkun hemm il-kunsens tal-Kunsilli Lokali tagħna. L-art pubblika għandha isservi l-ħtiġijiet tan-nies qabel dawk tan-negozji.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Diċembru 2019

Public Land: private profits

The taking up of public land by catering establishments to extend their commercial activity beyond the limits of their property has been creating problems for residential communities all over the island.

The latest case, in Main Street St Julian’s, has developed after the Planning Authority issued a planning permit for the placing of chairs and tables in an area so far reserved for parking. The owner of the catering outlet acted on the approved planning permit without waiting for a decision from the Lands Authority as to whether it is permissible to use public land in the manner proposed.

Readers may remember that, some time back, the Lands Authority refused a similar application on The Strand in Gzira. In that specific case, a hotel had – on appeal from a Lands Authority decision – been refused permission to place chairs and tables on a platform to be constructed in lieu of parking spaces along a main road. The request for placing tables and chairs had been rejected as it was then proposed to take up two parking spaces and, in addition, due to safety concerns.

Notwithstanding this decision, taken more than 12 months ago by the Administrative Tribunal, it seems that the Planning Authority is still chained to business interests.

It is pertinent to point out that the planning policy document on outside catering areas in public spaces was drafted by an inter-Ministerial committee which specifically excluded representatives from out local communities. The interests of our local communities – residents as well as local councils – were completely ignored. Moreover, it is most probable that, when the matter was being considered by Cabinet, the Minister for Local Councils, Owen Bonnici, was fast asleep as otherwise he would undoubtedly have drawn to the attention of his colleagues that article 33 of the Local Councils Act deems it a function of local councils “to advise and, where applicable, be consulted by, any authority empowered to take any decisions directly or indirectly affecting the Council and the residents it is responsible for”.

All over the country, Local Councils are up in arms against the manner in which this specific planning policy was drafted, approved and is being implemented because instead of being people-friendly it is simply business-friendly.

It this specific case at St Julian’s the issue is with parking spaces. Try walking along the pavement in The Strand from Gżira to Sliema and then onto Tignè seafront. It would be a very difficult walk because business has taken over and transformed a public asset into a private asset. Navigating through the small amount of unoccupied space left available is a nightmare for pedestrians and it is even worse for residents living in residential units above ground floors that are occupied by catering establishments.

This is the result of a policy that puts business interests before the interests of residents: accessible and safe infrastructure for people do not feature in the policies of either the Government or the public authorities.

I have always been of the opinion that Planning is for People. Unfortunately it has been transformed into an easy money-making machine.

Albert Buttigieg, the Mayor of St Julian’s, was quite right in putting his foot down. It was likewise appropriate for Mario Fava, the President of the Local Councils Association, to participate in the press conference which drew attention of the press to this abusive action and to the need to scrap the offending policy forthwith.

It is about time that the Planning Authority is brought to its senses. Public open spaces in our localities should not be touched without the consent of local authorities: public land is for public use not for private profits.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 December 2019

Kaxxa tal-ittri

Uħud mill-awtoritajiet li jikkonċernaw l-industrija tal-bini draw jiffunzjonaw qieshom kaxxa tal-ittri, letter-box: jirċievu ittri u dokumenti mingħajr (ġeneralment) ma jieħdu passi dwarhom. Tant huma passivi li rrendew lilhom infushom ineffettivi.

Disa’ xhur ilu, propju minħabba dan il-fatt, il-Gvern ippubblika dokument konsultattiv bl-intenzjoni speċifka li jikkonsolida f’awtorità waħda r-Regolatur dwar il-bini u l-kostruzzjoni, l-entitajiet regolatorji eżistenti u ċioè l-l-BICC (Kumitat Konsultattiv dwar l-Industrija tal-Bini), l-BRO (l-Uffiċċju dwar ir-Regolamentazzjoni tal-Bini), the BRB (l-Bord li Jirregola l-Bini) u l-Bord tal-Bennejja. Proposta li bla dubju ilha tinħass li hi neċessarja!

Il-frammentazzjoni kurrenti tal-funzjonijiet regolatorji fuq l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni wasslet biex dawn saru ineffettivi. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-ilmenti kontinwi tar-residenti dwar kif l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni qed tħarbtilhom ħajjithom ġew ġeneralment injorati. Bosta drabi huma l-awtoritajiet infushom li ma jagħtux kaz tal-ilmenti li huma rifless ta’ ambjent urban ikkontaminat u li qiegħed jirriżulta mill-iżvilupp intensiv fiz-zoni residenzjali.

Il-kollass ta’ tlett binjiet, tnejn minnhom din il-ġimgħa stess, in konnessjoni ma skavar fuq siti ta’ kostruzzjoni bla dubju jnissel tħassib kbir. Imma ħadd ma għandu jkun sorpriż li ġraw. Fortunatament din id-darba ma miet ħadd!

Mhux l-ewwel darba li ġraw dawn l-inċidenti: drabi oħra mietu ukoll in-nies! Li dawn l-inċidenti ma jiġrux iktar spiss hu riżultat ta’ professjonisti dedikati li jagħmlu ħilithom biex jegħlbu l-problemi li jiffaċċjaw kontinwament. Ċertament li f’dan ma għandhom l-ebda mertu l-awtoritajiet li huma passivi għall-aħħar.

Is-sospensjoni temporanja da parti tal-Gvern ta’ kull xogħol ta’ twaqqiegħ ta’ bini jew skavar, apparti milli hi applikazzjoni abbużiva tal-liġi hi ukoll riżultat ta’ reazzjoni ta’ paniku li tipprova fatt wieħed bażiku: l-awtoritajiet regolatorji tal-industrija tal-bini m’għandhomx ir-riżorsi biex iwettqu r-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom u li minnhom ilhom is-snin li abdikaw.

Dwar kull waħda mit-tlett binjiet li waqgħu matul dawn il-ġimgħat hu fatt magħruf li r-residenti kienu ilhom jilmentaw żmien: l-ebda awtorità ma eżaminat l-ilmenti tagħhom u aġixxiet fuqhom, la direttament u l-anqas billi rreferiethom b’mod urgenti f’fora oħra addattati.

Il-Gvern issa hu ppreokkupat. Kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku din il-preokkupazzjoni wrieha iktar kmieni billi pprovda r-riżorsi lill-Uffiċċju għar-Regolamentazzjoni tal-Bini (BRO) mhux biss biex ikun jista’ jaqdi l-inkarigu tiegħu, imma ukoll billi jassigura li l-awtoritajiet kollha jieħdu interess u jinvestigaw l-ilmenti li jirċievu mingħajr dewmien.

Disa’ xhur ilu, il-konsultazzjoni pubblika li saret kellha l-iskop li jkun assigurat li “l-inċidenti” tal-ġimgħat li għaddew ikunu evitati kemm jista’ jkun billi jkunu kkonsolidati u msaħħa l-istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa li għandna illum.

Dawn huma l-inċidenti li nafu bihom. Kemm kien ikollna iktar inċidenti li kieku dawn ma ġewx evitati b’intervent f’waqtu minn numru ta’ professjonisti ddedikati?

Ir-regolamenti ta’ emerġenza li l-Gvern ħabbar li ser jippubblika fil-ġranet li ġejjin jistgħu joffru rimedju għal żmien qasir. Li neħtieġu huma soluzzjonijiet fit-tul: riżorsi adegwati ffukati fuq il-ħtieġa li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tkun issorveljata b’mod kontinwu. Din hi l-unika triq li biha nistgħu naslu ħalli dawk li ma għandhom l-ebda rispett lejn il-komunità residenzjali fiz-zoni urbani tagħna jinġiebu f’sensihom.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 16 ta’ Ġunju 2019

Letter-box authorities

A number of authorities involved with the construction industry have become accustomed to functioning as a letter-box: receiving letters and documents without (generally) taking any action. They are too passive to the extent that they have rendered themselves ineffective.

Nine months ago, in recognition of this basic fact, the government published a consultation document with the specific intent of consolidating into one authority – a Building and Construction Regulator – the existing regulatory entities, namely the BICC (Building Industry Consultative Council), the BRO (Building Regulation Office), the BRB (Building Regulation Board) and the Masons Board. This proposal is certainly overdue!

The current fragmentation of the regulatory functions over the building industry have led to their being ineffective. The end result is that the continuous complaints of residents regarding the damaging intrusion of the building industry in their daily lives are generally ignored. Often it is the authorities themselves that turn a blind eye towards these complaints – which are a reflection of a contaminated urban environment that is proliferating as a result of the intensive developments carried out in residential areas.

The collapse of three buildings, two of which in the first half of this very week, linked with excavation activity on building sites, is a cause of great concern. No-one should be surprised that these accidents actually did happen. We are indeed very lucky that no lives were lost this time!

It is not the first time that this type of accident has happened: on other occasions they even resulted in deaths. The fact that these accidents do not occur more frequently is due to the dedicated professionals in the building industry who do their best to work properly – at times and against all odds. It is certainly not the result of the authorities who, more often than not, are as passive as can be.

The temporary suspension by the government of all demolition and excavation work, is – apart from being an abusive application of the law – the result of a panic reaction and proves one basic fact: the building industry regulatory authorities do not have the resources to carry out their responsibilities, from which they have abdicated over the years.

In respect of each of the three buildings that have collapsed in recent weeks, it is common knowledge that the residents had been complaining for quite some time and no authority took up their complaints to have them acted upon, either directly or by being  urgently referred to more competent fora.

The government is now preoccupied. It would have been much better had this preoccupation was manifested previously – not only by ensuring adequate resourcing of the Building Regulation Office (BRO) to enable it to carry out its duties and responsibilities, but also by ensuring that all the authorities take an interest in, and investigate without delay, the complaints received.

Nine months ago, a public consultation was launched specifically to ensure that the “accidents” of the past weeks are avoided as much as possible through a consolidation of the existing weak institutions.

These are the accidents we know of. How many more accidents would have occurred, had they not been prevented as a result of the timely intervention of dedicated professionals?

The emergency regulations to be published by government in the coming days can temporarily patch up the current mess. What is required is a long-term vision: sufficient resources focused on the continuous and adequate monitoring of the construction industry. This is the only way to ensure that those who have no respect for the residential community in our urban areas are brought to their senses.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 16 June 2019