Il-bankina m’għadhiex tagħna lkoll : saret tagħhom biss

1.50 metres distance

Illum ġie ippubblikat għal konsultazzjoni pubblika dokument dwar il-kriterji li fuqhom jiġu ikkunsidrati permessi għal siġġijiet u mwejjed f’postijiet pubbliċi.

Ħlief għall-one-stop-shop, fis-sustanza ma hemm xejn ġdid fid-dokument għax diġà anke fil-preżent suppost li min għandu permess simili għandu ukoll l-obbligu li jħalli 1.50 metri passaġġ minn fejn jgħaddu n-nies.

Issa kieku jitħallew dan il-metru u nofs il-ħajja tkun iktar faċli għal kulħadd. Imma fil-fatt f’numru ta’ każi ma jitħallewx.

Mur fejn trid f’Malta u Għawdex u għandek issib numru mhux żgħir ta’ każi fejn jekk tipprova tgħaddi mill-ftit spazju li jħallu fuq il-bankina, jħarsulek bl-ikrah. Il-Belt, Tas-Sliema, in-Naxxar u San Pawl il-Baħar issib eżempji kemm trid. Bil-kemm tgħaddi bil-mixi aħseb u ara jekk tkun b’xi siġġu tar-roti inkella b’xi tarbija (fl-idejn jew fil-pram).

Fid-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jingħad li jkunu ikkunsidrati applikazzjonijiet għall-permessi fil-pjazez u bankini bil-kundizzjoni tal-1.50 metri li għandhom jitħallew passaġġ. Imma meta tibda taqra tibda issib numru ta’ eċċezzjonijiet.

Per eżempju, fid-dokument jingħad li f’xi każijiet, jista’ jkun ikkunsrat li l-permess ma jkunx biss biex jitqegħdu imwejjed fuq il-bankina, imma jistgħu jkunu ikkunsidrati l-ispazji tal-parking ukoll!

Id-dokument fih ħafna logħob bil-kliem, bħall-ħafna dokumenti oħra konnessi mal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Id-dokument jgħid li d-drittijiet ta’ terzi [third party rights] għandhom ikunu imħarsa meta jinħargu dawn il-permessi. Din hi daħqa oħra għax nafu kemm fil-prattika jiġu mħarsa dawn id-drittijiet mill-awtoritajiet pubbliċi f’Malta.

L-eżerċizzju biex inħareġ dan id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni sar bil-koordinazzjoni ta’ Kumitat li kien fih parteċipazzjoni wiesa’ : kien hemm bosta minbarra dawk li huma l-iktar viċin in-nies: ma kien hemm ħadd mill-Kunsilli Lokali. Fil-fatt kien hemm rappreżentanti tal-Ministeru tal-Intern, tal-MEPA, ta’ Transport Malta, tad-Diviżjoni tal-Propjetà tal-Gvern u tal-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu, u l-Assoċjazzjoni tar-Restoranti u l-Lukandi (MHRA).

Il-Kunsilli Lokali u r-residenti ma kienux meqjusa ta’ importanza biex jipparteċipaw f’dan l-eżerċiżżju, bħal dak li qallu li l-bankini, t-toroq, il-parking spaces, u pjażez li ser jieħdu (jew ħadu diga) mhux ir-residenti jagħmlu użu minnhom s’issa. Issa s-siġġijiet u l-imwejjed ser jibdew jingħataw prijorità.

Il-permessi ser jibdew jinħarġu mill-MEPA. Ser jinħareġ bis-sistema ta’ one-stop-shop. Jiġifieri applikazzjoni waħda biss li ma tieħux ħafna żmien biex tkun deċiża. Din hi sistema li tiffavorixxi lin-negozji u dejjem taħdem kontra r-residenti. Għax biex permess joħrog malajr ifisser li ftit li xejn ikun hemm ċans li min ikun effettwat bih isir jaf (jew ikun infurmat).

Insomma nistgħu ngħidu li dan m’hu xejn ġdid. Il-bankina issa m’għadiex tagħna lkoll, ser tkun tagħhom biss.

Santiago and maritime affairs

Aerial View_Grand Harbour

Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea” was unlucky. It took him 85 days to catch his big fish. But when he did, being on his own out at sea without any help, he had to tow it back to port, only to discover then that the sharks had reduced his catch to a mere skeleton.  It is the same with maritime policy. We need to coordinate with our Mediterranean neighbours to have meaningful and lasting results. On our own we can achieve very little.

A national integrated maritime strategy is an essential policy tool. Yet, as was pointed out by Parliamentary Secretary Edward Zammit Lewis, it is still unavailable. On May 19, European Maritime Day,  it was emphasised by Zammit Lewis that such a strategy would identify Malta’s maritime policy priorities required to support the Blue Economy.

The economic opportunities presented by the sea which surrounds Malta are substantial. We do however have to make use of such opportunities carefully, knowing that various impacts may result. Through the sea surrounding us we are subject to impacts as a result of the actions of others. Similarly Malta’s maritime activities necessarily will impact other countries, for better or for worse.

The excellent quality of seawater around the Maltese islands resulting from Malta’s recent adherence to the Urban Wastewater Directive of the EU is one positive contribution to a better Mediterranean Sea even though the sewage treatment system is badly designed as it ignores the resource value of the discharged treated water.

Through Arvid Pardo in the 1960s Malta made a lasting contribution to global maritime thought by emphasising that the seabed forms part of the common heritage of mankind.

The sea and its resources have always had a central importance in Malta’s development. Tourism, fisheries and water management easily come to mind. Maritime trade and services as well as the sustainable utilisation of resources on the seabed are also essential for this island state.

Whilst a national maritime strategy will inevitably seek the further utilisation of the coastline and its contiguous areas it is hoped that environmental responsibilities will be adequately addressed in the proposals considered.

A national integrated maritime policy, though essential, cannot however be effective if it  does not take into consideration the activities of our neighbours: both their maritime  as well as their coastal activities.

This is an issue which is given considerable importance within the European Union which seeks to assist member states in coordinating their maritime policies for the specific reason that the impacts of such policies are by their very nature transboundary.  In fact one of the EU Commissioners, Maria Damanaki,  is tasked with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  Her work is underpinned by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which seeks to protect the sea in order that it could be utilised sustainably thereby contributing to attaining the objectives of EU2020, the ten year growth strategy of the European Union.

Within its maritime competencies the EU has also developed effective instruments of transboundary cooperation foremost amongst which are the Baltic Strategy and the Danube Strategy.  These macro-strategies of the European Union, as their name implies, focus on the Baltic Sea and the river Danube respectively. They bring together the European regions bordering the Baltic Sea and the Danube to cooperate in various policy areas such that the resulting coordination addresses challenges which no single country can address on its own.

Such strategies also serve as an instrument of cooperation with non-EU countries. Through the Baltic Strategy it is cooperation with Russia, Iceland and Norway whilst through the Danube Strategy eight EU member states cooperate with six European non-EU member states.  The EU has also more recently launched an Atlantic Ocean Strategy.

A national maritime strategy will  seek to identify those areas which can absorb strategic investments in order to develop the blue economy.  An important point worth emphasising is that a sustainable development of the blue economy will ensure that no negative impacts are borne by our communities residing along and adjacent to the coastal areas. Unfortunately not enough attention has been paid to this aspect in the past. Such negative impacts can be avoided not only through careful planning but also through proper consultation with both civil society as well as directly with residents.

Impacts which have to be avoided include air and sea pollution. In addition potential noise and light pollution need careful attention in particular if the operating times of the newly identified activities span into the silent hours.

Malta’s Maritime strategy needs a double focus: a national and a regional one.  Both are essential elements neither of which can be ignored. It is in Malta’s interest to take part in initiatives addressing transboundary impacts and simultaneously to integrate these initiatives within a national maritime policy strategy. Otherwise we will face Santiago’s fate. The result of our good work will be taken up by the sharks!

Originally published in The Times of Malta, Saturday June 8, 2013

The Wied il-Buni Buffer Zone

When the current parliamentary session was inaugurated in May 2008 the then President of the Republic read the government’s programme listing those of its political pledges it felt safe to announce.

The President had informed Parliament that: “The government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.”

He further emphasised that “Sustainable development has three main dimensions: economic, social and environmental. Our challenge is to ensure continuous economic development, promoted by education, social development, with particular attention to environmental protection. When we evaluate our activities in view of these three interrelated dimensions, we would be placing every person at the heart of the government’s actions”.

Now consider this policy direction and apply it to the Freeport at Birżebbuġa.

Had the Freeport been designed today it would have a much smaller footprint. When the Freeport was designed in the 1980s such large-scale projects were not subject to any land use planning control. Nor were any environmental criteria relative to the impacts on the Birżebbuġa community given any weight. (Some would justifiably argue that not much has changed since.)

When, in the early 1990s, the then Planning Authority was faced with a Freeport already in operation (even though it was still in its initial stages) it sought to contain its spread through the policies which it approved.

One important policy contained in the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan creates a buffer zone between the Freeport and Birżebbuġa. In fact, Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan policy MB 28 states: “Any use allocated to the area of land at Wied il-Buni should act as a buffer to shield the leisure activity along the seafront from the industry of the Freeport and, in any case, must not cause inconvenience to nearby residents due to noise, fumes, vibrations and/or hours of work. The preferred use is public open space.”

Policy could not be any clearer, yet, notwithstanding this, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority board last month approved an extension to the Freeport Terminal using part of this buffer zone. As a result, the Freeport’s increased activity in the future is possible but the welfare of the community was thrown overboard by a Mepa board which felt it could ignore the regulator’s own policies. They did not only ignore the above local plan policy but, in addition, they also ignored the social and environmental impacts of the terminal extension focusing only on perceived economic benefits. In so doing, they also threw overboard the government’s declarations in favour of sustainable development and future generations.

In an explanatory note immediately after the above-quoted policy, the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan further explains as follows: “The site referred to (the buffer zone) is immediately adjacent to Freeport Terminal between Triq San Patrizju and the shore.

“The site is currently used partly as a sailing club and the rest as a dump-yard. It is close to houses along Triq San Patrizju and, if not carefully controlled, its eventual use could have a detrimental impact on local residents.

“It also presents an opportunity to assist in reducing the effects of the industrial activity of the Freeport.”

This was approved and published by the then Planning Authority in May 1995.

An increased environmental sensitivity of the community since 1995 should have led Mepa to observe its own rules. In fact, the first decision taken relative to the Freeport Terminal extension was to refuse it. This the Mepa board did on February 26, 2009. However, after it was requested to reconsider this refusal, the Mepa board overturned its original decision on January 21, 2010. There were no changes to the project between the two dates.

There was only one occurrence which could be of relevance: the elections of the Maltese members of the European Parliament in June 2009. Whether this had any bearing on the decision of the individual Mepa board members is difficult to say, as none gave any indication. It is, however, a fact that some Mepa board members had second thoughts and changed the manner in which they voted. Being independent, they are obviously entitled to change their mind. One wonders, however, why none considered it ethical to give a reasonable explanation. Those who will have to bear the brunt of their decision are entitled to such an explanation.

The decision is now being contested in the Planning Appeals Board by the local NGO, Birżebbuġa Environmental Action Group.

Until such time as a definite decision is taken, it may be opportune to ponder as to why it is possible that this country can have clear and specific policies but then cannot identify competent boards capable of ensuring that they are applied as originally intended.

published in The Times today,July 24, 2010

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On this blog you can also see the following posts on the same subject :

17th July 2010 : Wara l-Bieb.

12th June 2010 : Past Mistakes ……. Present Day Decisions.

1st February 2010 : Malta Freeport : Impacts on Residents should be dealt with effectively.

21st March 2009 : The Freeport : Will MEPA backtrack ?

26th February 2009 : Kisba Importanti wara suġġeriment ta’ AD – MEPA accepts AD proposal.

5th March 2008 : Birżebbuġa u l-Port Ħieles