Għawdex tagħna ilkoll?

The Gozo Channel

Reggħet bdiet id-diskussjoni dwar il-konnettivita’ ta’ Għawdex.

Bridge jew mina? Ajruplan jew ħelikopter? Ajruplan li jtir mill-baħar (amphibian) jew wieħed li jtir mill-art?

Kull proposta li saret għandha l-merti tagħha. Kull waħda tindirizza xi aspett partikolari tas-sitwazzjoni Għawdxija. Ma ngħidx problema apposta, għax il-qagħda attwali m’hiex problematika għal kulħadd. Uħud iħarsu lejn is-sitwazzjoni preżenti bħala waħda problematika. Oħrajn iħarsu lejn is-soluzzjonijiet proposti bħala l-problemi reali.

Il-mistoqsija li ftit qed jistaqsu hi jekk il-qagħda attwali hiex waħda ta’ benefiċċju għal Għawdex. Jiġifieri l-fatt li Għawdex hi gżira maqtugħa għaliha waħeda hu ta’ ġid jew ta’ ħsara għal Għawdex?  Rajt kumment wieħed biss f’dan is-sens online. Korrispondent Irlandiż li jkun spiss Ghawdex ikkummenta online li l-insularita doppja ta’ Għawdex hi iktar opportunuta (asset) milli problema (liability).

Ovvjament mhux kulħadd jaqbel ma dan. Imma hemm setturi bħat-turiżmu f’Għawdex li huma mibnija prinċipalment fuq din il-karatteristika Għawdxija. Għawdex bħala gżira għandha diversi karatteristiċi li jagħmluha unika bħala destinazzjoni. Bidla li telimina din il-karatteristika tidfen għal kollox l-identita’ unika Għawdxija. Għawdex b’kuntatt dirett bħall-bridge jew mina ma jkun xejn differenti għat-turist mis-Siġġiewi, miz-Żurrieq jew minn Marsaskala.  Dan jista’ jeffettwa sostanzjalment l-industrija tat-turiżmu b’mod partikolari l-lukandi f’Għawdex.

Min-naħa l-oħra l-industrija tal-manifattura għandha bżonn aċċess immedjat għas-swieq tagħha u f’dan is-sens kuntatt dirett bħall-bridge jew mina jista’ jkun soluzzjoni kemm għall-industrija li hemm illum ġewwa Għawdex kif ukoll għal dik li tista’ titħajjar tibbaża ruħa f’Għawdex għada. L-istess jgħidu l-istudenti u dawk li jaħdmu f’Malta.

Il-konsumatur Għawdxi jieħu pjaċir b’aċċess dirett bħall-bridge jew mina għax tinfetħilhom l-għażla b’aċċess dirett u immedjat għall-ħwienet fit-tramuntana ta’ Malta. Imma naħseb li ħafna minn dawk li huma fil-kummerċ f’Għawdex ma jaħsbuwiex l-istess.

Is-soluzzjoni iżda m’hiex waħda li noqgħodu nfajjru l-proposti fl-ajru. Is-soluzzjoni tinstab fil-kalma u l-ħsieb, mhux kwalitajiet komuni ħafna fost dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet f’dan il-pajjiż – kemm dawk tal-lum kif ukoll dawk tal-bierah.

Ikun ahjar li flok mal-Gvern jiffoka fuq proposti individwali jara l-istampa kollha tal-konnettivita ta’ Ghawdex u l-impatti socjali, ambjentali u ekonomici b’mod olistiku. Jeħtieġ li niżnu sew l-affarijiet. Li naraw l-istampa kollha.

Il-Gvern tal-lum bħall-Gvern tal-bieraħ jaqbad il-problema minn sieqha.

Flok ma jkunu indirizzati waħda waħda, s-soluzzjonijiet taħt konsiderazzjoni għandhom ikunu kkunsidrati flimkien u dan fil-kuntest ta’ Pjan Strateġiku li jindirizza l-konnettivita’ tal-gżira Għawdxija u l-impatti soċjali, ekonomiċi u ekoloġiċi ta’ kull waħda mill-proposti. Ma jaghmilx sens  fil-kuntest tal-politika regjonali tal-Unjoni Ewropeja l-Gvern Malti jipprezenta posizzjoni u jinsisti għal fondi addizzjonali minħabba l-insularita’ doppja  u li imbagħad mingħajr konsiderazzjoni tal-impatti (ekonomiċi, soċjali u ekoloġiċi) jagħzel  li jelimina din l-insularita’ doppja b’għaqda fiżika bejn il-gżejjer. Għandu jkun innutat li l-politika tat-Turiżmu għal Għawdex hi bbażata fuq l-insularita doppja tal-gżira Għawdxija u li l-għaqda fiżika proposta tista’ tfisser id-daqqa tal-mewt ghat-turiżmu f’Għawdex.

Pjan Strateġiku ta’ din ix-xorta wara li jkun eżaminat skond il-proċeduri stabiliti mid-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar il-Valutazzjoni  Strateġika Ambjentali (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive) għandu imbagħad ikun soġġett għal konsultazzjoni pubblika mhux biss f’Għawdex iżda fuq livell nazzjonali.

Għax anke Għawdex, tagħna lkoll.

Ara ukoll :

Fuq dan il-blog: The right link that remains missing. 12 ta’ Frar 2012

Malta Today: Gozo’s connectivity issues should be tackled holistically. 16 ta’ Ġunju 2013

Land Reclamation and the construction industry

land reclamation 01

The issue of land reclamation should be tackled in a responsible manner.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

In Malta land reclamation was used in the past to create the Freeport Terminal at Kalafrana in the limits of Birżebbuġa.

MEPA has during the recent past engaged consultants to assess the potential of land reclamation in Maltese waters.

A 2005 study was commissioned by MEPA and carried out by  Carl Bro. This study identified six relatively large coastal areas as search areas for potential land reclamation sites. The study had  recommended that these six areas, or a selection of them, be “investigated in further details in parallel with the execution of a pre-feasibility study, before a principal decision is taken on whether land reclamation is considered realistic under Maltese conditions. It is recommended that such investigations and studies be carried out by the Government prior to the involvement of the private sector in possible land reclamation projects.” (page 8 of report).

MEPA took up this proposal and commissioned ADI Associates together with Scott Wilson to carry out a detailed study on two of the identified coastal areas. These studies were finalised in 2007 and 2008 and consist of 4 volumes. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline.

These latter studies conclude with a detailed set of recommendations on more focused studies relative to environmental and economic impacts which would be necessary if land reclamation is to be further considered.

In Chapter 10 of its electoral manifesto the Labour Party is committed to utilise a programme of land reclamation as an important tool in the infrastructural development of the country.  The said electoral programme emphasises the environmental and economic sensitivity of such projects and underlines a  commitment to high standards in environmental, social, economic, land use planning and sustainable development fields.

In Parliament it has been declared that the next step would be for expressions of interest to be submitted by those proposing  projects for  development on reclaimed land. A call should be issued in the near future.

I believe that this is not the way forward.  On the basis of the studies carried out to date and such additional studies as may be required it would have been much better if government presents for public consultation a detailed draft land reclamation strategy.  Such a strategy would then be subjected to public consultation. A dialogue is required, not just with the developers but also with civil society, including most importantly with environmental NGOs.

The draft strategy would undoubtedly indicate the proposed permissible development on the reclaimed land. It would be interesting to note if the said strategy would consider the need for residential development in view of the over 70,000 vacant residential properties  on the islands. On the basis of existing and possibly additional studies the strategy would also seek to ensure that Malta’s coastline is protected much more effectively than Malta’s countryside has been to date.

All views should be carefully considered before such a strategy is finalised.

Once the strategy is finalised its environmental impacts should be carefully scrutinised  as is provided for in the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU. This Directive now has the force of law in Malta. It is only when this assessment has been finalised and the impacts identified are suitably addressed through changes in the draft strategy  itself (if required) that it would be reasonable to invite expressions of interest from interested parties.

Land reclamation is no magic solution to a construction industry which is in urgent need of restructuring. Even if land reclamation is permitted it cannot and will not offer a long term solution to an ailing construction industry which has been capable of contributing to an accumulating stockpile of vacant dwellings which are equivalent to 9 ghost towns, each the size of B’Kara.

The country would be economically and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would  be required  to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

This  would certainly be much more beneficial and sustainable than land reclamation.

published in The Times  on 27 April 2013 under the title: Land Reclamation and Building

Nuclear myth and Malta’s neighbours

 

 

 

published on Saturday March 26, 2011

 

April 26 marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuc­lear disaster, which affected 40 per cent of European territory.

Sicilians (but not the Maltese) were then advised on precautions to be observed in order to avoid the effects of airborne radioactive contamination on agricultural produce. In the UK, until very recently, a number of farms were still under observation after having been contaminated through airborne radioactive caesium in 1986. Wild boar hunted in Germany’s forests cannot be consumed. Its food-chain is still contaminated with radioactive caesium, which was dispersed all over Europe as a result of the Chernobyl disaster.

The Fukushima disaster has occurred in efficient and safety-conscious Japan.

Nature has taken over, confirming its supremacy over the risk society; confirming that even the smallest risk is unacceptable in nuclear projects as this exposes nations, ecosystems, economies and whole regions to large-scale disasters.

The myth that nuclear technology is safe has been shattered once more at Fukushima.

In addition to the disasters at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986), there were also a number of near misses such as that on June 4, 2008 in Krško on the Slovenia/Croatia border. In Krško, leaking coolant water was minutes away from causing a meltdown of the nuclear installation. The leakages of coolant water from nuclear plants in the Tricastin region in France in July 2008 are also of particular significance.

Malta is faced with plans by Italy, Libya, Tunisia and others to generate nuclear energy.

Libya has agreed with France to be provided with a nuclear plant along its coast to carry out seawater desalination. Fortunately, this agreement has so far not materialised. One shudders just thinking on the possibilities which access to nuclear technology in the civil war on Libyan soil could lead to.

The Berlusconi government, ignoring the result of a 1987 Italian referendum, has embarked on a nuclear programme that could lead to the construction and operation of a number of nuclear installations on Italian soil. One of these will be sited in Sicily.

The locality of Palma di Montechiaro has been mentioned as the preferred site although an area near Ragusa is also under consideration. Both Palma di Montechiaro and Ragusa are situated along Sicily’s southern coast and are too close to Malta for comfort. A serious accident there could have an immediate effect on Malta. Moreover, this is the area which was most affected by a 1693 earthquake that caused considerable damage in both Ragusa and Malta.

This contrasts with the declaration last week by Abdelkater Zitouni, leader of Tunisie Verte, the Tunisian Green party, who has called on Tunisia’s transitional government to abandon the 2020 project of a nuclear plant in Tunisia.

What is the Maltese government doing on the matter?

There is no information in the public domain except an article published in Il Sole 24 Ore on July 26, 2008 authored by Federico Rendina and entitled Il Governo Rilancia Sull’Atomo. In a kite-flying exercise during an official visit to Rome by a Maltese delegation, Mr Rendina speculated on the possibilities of placing nuclear reactors for Italy’s use on territories just outside Italian jurisdiction. Malta, Montenegro and Albania were mentioned in this respect. It was unfortunate that the Maltese government only spoke up after being prodded by the Greens in Malta. It had then stated that no discussions on the matter had taken place with the Italian government.

On behalf of the Greens in Malta, since 2008 I have repeatedly insisted on the need to make use of the provisions of the Espoo Convention, which deals with consultation procedures to be followed between countries in Europe whenever issues of transboundary impacts arise. On March 3, 2010 Parliament in Malta approved a resolution to ratify this convention.

The Espoo Convention, the EU Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment and the EU Strategic Environment Assessment Directive establish the right of the Maltese public to be consulted by Italy in the procedures leading to the construction of a nuclear power station, both on the Italian mainland as well as in Sicily. This is definitely not enough.

Various countries are reconsidering their position on nuclear energy as a result of the Fukushima disaster. Italy’s government has started to feel the pressure ahead of a June anti-nuclear referendum championed by Antonio di Pietro and earlier this week temporarily suspended its nuclear programme.

Italy is a region which is seismically active. The devastation caused by the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila is still imprinted in our memories. The 1908 earthquake at Messina/Reggio Calabria was much worse, the worst ever in Europe. It produced an estimated 13-metre tsunami wave in the central Mediterranean. In Messina alone, over 120,000 lost their lives.

Faced with government silence, I think the matter should be taken up by Maltese environmental NGOs in partnership with their Italian counterparts. Public opinion needs to be sensitised on the dangers that lie ahead as Fukushima is a warning we cannot afford to ignore. 

other posts on Nuclear Issues on this blog

The right link that remains missing

The proposal by Franco Mercieca (Minding Our Gap, The Sunday Times, January 23) and Parliamentary Secretary Chris Said (Light At The End Of The Tunnel, The Times, January 31) to permanently link Malta and Gozo need to be considered in a strategic context.

Various proposals have been discussed throughout the years addressing Gozo’s double insularity. While the difficulties encountered by Gozitans to cross the channel are to be addressed it has to be underlined that if a permanent link is introduced it may have various other effects in addition to addressing mobility between the islands.

None of the proposals has assessed whether Gozo’s isolation is a positive feature, which, once lost, will never be regained.

Once Gozo is permanently linked with the mainland it will be an integral part of it, for better or worse. In particular, one would have to consider whether a permanent link would impact negatively the contribution of tourism towards the Gozitan economy.

Certainly, with an easier access, Gozitan consumers could tap the retail outlets of northern Malta. With Dr Said being responsible for consumer protection this could be an added bonus.

Whether the proposal is a bridge or a tunnel, a land based or an amphibious airplane. all come at a cost and leave considerable impacts. Costs are not just economic but social and environmental too.

A tunnel excavated below the seabed will undoubtedly eliminate visual intrusion into the Comino and Ċirkewwa landscape but it will certainly cause another rubble mountain resulting from excavating through at least six kilometres of rock under the seabed as well as additional kilometres to create the tunnel’s points of access on land. This rubble mountain could be anything between 1.5 and two million cubic metres of excavated rock depending on the actual design of the tunnel and its selected route.

The experience of various Nordic countries has been mentioned. At the time of writing a similar project has just been approved by the Danish Parliament to link the Danish island of Lolland to Fehmarn, a German island. Both islands are already linked through bridges to their respective countries. When finalised, this project would reduce the duration of a rail journey between Hamburg and Copenhagen by 33 per cent, from 4.5 hours to three hours. The tunnel will be 18 kilometres long. Works are projected to commence in 2014 and will take about six years to conclude. Costs are estimated to be in the region of 32 billion kroner, that is €4.2 billion. The projected tunnel across the Fehmarn strait will not be of the excavated type but prefabricated sections will be laid on the seabed.

The costs of these types of projects are indicative as there are a lot of variables involved. The Channel Tunnel between England and France, for example, overshot its final estimates based on actual designs by over 80 per cent.

Geologist Peter Gatt, commenting on The Times (February 3), pointed out that the Gozo Channel’s geology is riddled with faults. In addition, he pointed out there are areas of the seabed around Comino where clay abounds. This, it was pointed out, compounds the issue of expenses relative to civil engineering solutions, which have to be based on a thorough examination of the geology of the Gozo Channel.

There are a large number of caves in the areas. In addition, as pointed out by marine biologists, the Gozo Channel contains various marine protected areas.

On the basis of the above, it would seem the cost of the projected tunnel would be substantially higher than the €150 million guesstimate of Dr Said. The Fehmarn strait projected tunnel costings point towards an estimate of between €1 billion and €1.5 billion for the Gozo Channel tunnel, that is between six and 10 times the Said guesstimate. This estimate could become more precise when all the constraints, foremost being those of a geological and environmental nature, have been identified.

The government is unfortunately approaching the issue of identifying the suitable missing link between Malta and Gozo in a very amateurish and populist manner. It has so far failed to produce a strategy addressing the interlinking of transport between Gozo and the north of Malta. When such a strategy has been produced it should be subjected to a strategic assessment as laid down by the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the European Union. The social, environmental and economic impacts of the various options on both Malta as a whole and Gozo as a region would thus have been identified and analysed.

The necessary decision can then be taken in the interest of the whole community.

It has to be clear to all that if we are to arrive at a solution in identifying the suitable missing link the populist approach utilised so far should be discarded.

Published in The Times of Malta, February 12, 2011

Overdevelopment of the Tigné peninsula

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by Carmel Cacopardo

published on April 10, 2010

The publication of the State of the Environment Report (SoER) for 2008 is an opportunity to take stock of the manner in which environmental responsibilities are being shouldered or neglected. One point the SoER fails to inform about is the link between overdevelopment and a negative social and environmental impact on the community.

Tigné peninsula in Sliema is a suitable example.

Two of the mega-projects in Tigné, namely the Midi and Fort Cambridge projects, have government fingerprints. The social and environmental impacts on the Sliema community more than outweigh the economic benefits derived. Yet, they have been given the go-ahead. While these two mega-projects were approved by Mepa, a third (Townsquare) is being processed. Other projects of various sizes and impacts have been approved or are in the pipeline both in Tigné and in other parts of Sliema.

Focusing on the macro-scale, three main issues need to be addressed: vacant dwellings, traffic generation and the quality of air.

In my opinion, given the large number of vacant dwellings, further large-scale development is not required. About 54,000 vacant dwellings were identified during the 2005 census and this number has been on the increase ever since.

Newly-constructed dwellings may or will be occupied but they are still the cause of a disintegration of the existing urban fabric in various localities as a result of an internal migration away from existing settlements.

Some areas are being depopulated, awaiting their turn to be demolished and redeveloped after someone makes a quick buck. The few remaining tenants are then squeezed out by “developers”. Some years back, an old lady at The Strand, Sliema, was faced with buildings being demolished all around (and above) her home in order to persuade her to move out.

This is resulting not just in urban decay but also in the forfeiture of an accumulated social capital.

This is not surprising in a society that only appreciates financial capital. Unfortunately, public authorities are on the same wavelength.

The 710 vehicles on the road per 1,000 population (2008 figures) is substantial. In a small country, rather than being a sign of affluence, this vehicle per capita ratio is the clearest indicator of the failure of public policy to address issues of sustainable mobility over the years. Past governments have been ineffective in this respect. The large number of dwellings being constructed at Tigné peninsula begs the question as to where the substantial additional traffic generated is to be accommodated. I am referring to both the traffic directed at the new residences and that directed towards the new commercial outlets. Roads in Malta are already bursting at the seams.

When Mepa is approving more intensive development through the construction of high-rise buildings, it is not giving sufficient weight to these impacts. In particular, it is ignoring the cumulative effects of so large a number of developments in so restricted a space.

A Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) of the local plans and planning policies would have pinpointed these shortcomings had it been carried out. Yet, the government tried to wriggle out of its responsibilities by clinging to a loophole, which exempted it from applying the SEA to policies on land-use planning. This has been done by a government that boasts about the central importance of the environment in its electoral platform. Yet, when push comes to shove, it wriggles out of its commitments.

Quality of air data is only made available relative to 2006 and 2007 in the SoER indicators.

Limiting my comments to the 2007 data relative to the Msida station, the available SoER indicators clearly show that PM10 measurements exceeded the EU limits on 24 per cent of the days measured and were very close to the permissible limit of 50μg/m3 with respect to the rest.

PM10 measures particulate matter, having a diameter not exceeding 10 microns. The primary source of such particulate matter, as is also emphasised by the SoER indicators, is fuel combustion from traffic and power generation. It is therefore clear that heavy traffic increases the incidence of PM10 with the consequent risks of a greater incidence of respiratory diseases. Studies carried out in Fgura and Żejtun in the 1990s point in this direction too.

These are the risks posed by an increase in traffic in an area such as Sliema, which is already heavily congested.

The issue of development has so far been considered within the framework of the rights of the owners of the property to be developed. It is about time that the rights of the community are factored in as, to date, they are not being given sufficient weight. In particular, the cumulative impacts of development are being ignored. This is applicable not just to Sliema but to all Maltese territory.

The net result is a quality of life which could be much better.

Il-Parlament jistenbaħ

 

 

Il-Parlament il-bieraħ fil-għaxija iddiskuta riżoluzzjoni biex il-Gvern jirratifika l-konvenzjoni ta’ Espoo, konvenzjoni li tirregola l-mod kif pajjiżi ġirien jieħdu ħsieb li jikkonsultaw lil xulxin fuq dak li jissejħu “transboundary impacts” ta’ proġetti.

Għalkemm ir-ratifika kienet obbligu legali, dan kien wieħed kosmetiku minħabba li l-leġislazzjoni ilha li daħlet fis-seħħ anke’ f’Malta u dan permezz ta’ żewġ Direttivi tal-Unjoni Ewropea (dik dwar l-EIA – Environmental Impact Assessment  u u dik dwar l-SEA – Strategic Environment Assessment).

Hu ukoll tajjeb li l-Parlament stenbaħ dwar in-nukleari fi Sqallija! Fid-diskussjoni issemma diversi drabi kif din ir-ratifika tista’ tagħti lil Malta drittijiet fil-konfront ta’ pajjiżi bħall-Italja li jiżviluppaw impjanti nuklejari!

Aħna ta’ Alternattiva ilna li tkellimna dwar dan żmien. Meglio tard ………. che mai .

Ara ukoll f’dan il-blog :

September 21,  2009 :   Nuclear Power in Sicily – The Greens in Malta comment.

August 10, 2008 :  Solar Energy comes free and safe.

July 30, 2008 : Politika tan-ngħam.

July 28, 2008 : Impjant Nuklejari f’Malta ?

July 26, 2008 : Nuclear Neighbours Betrayed.

July 24, 2008 : Incident nukleari iehor fi Franza.

July 20, 2008 : Accident iehor f’impjant nuklejari gewwa Franza.

July 10, 2008 : Accident Nukleari fi Franza .

June 25, 2008 : Is-sandwich nukleari jkompli jikber.

June 15, 2008 : A Nuclear Sandwich in the Mediterranean.

June 9, 2008 : F’Krško evitat incident nukleari.

May 25, 2008 : Sandwich bejn il-Libya u l-Italja

Waste update : back to the drawing board

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by Carmel Cacopardo

published on Saturday February 28, 2009

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The Solid Waste Management Strategy update published recently, identifies a zero waste scenario as a long-term aim. It refers to a number of studies commissioned and proceeds to a selective use of conclusions from the said studies, which are still under wraps.

A Situation Audit of the strategy was carried out in 2005. Yet, the only conclusion that has found its way into the proposed update is a statement on the practical non-existence of the interministerial committee set up to coordinate the strategy’s implementation across government. The full Situation Audit should see the light of day. The public has the right to be informed as to the manner in which targets were attained and the reasons as to why others were missed.

The update is incomplete; it postpones updating the strategy on hazardous waste, promising instead a Topic Paper in the future. The management of hazardous waste includes the implementation of the WEEE Directive (Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment), which is way behind schedule.

Producers and their representatives in terms of the WEEE Directive assume full responsibility for the waste generated by their products. Yet, the government, through the simultaneous application of the eco-contribution and the WEEE Directive, has placed them in a situation where they have to pay twice for the handling of electric and electronic waste: The payment of an eco-contribution and shouldering producer responsibility in terms of EU legislation. The result is that while, on paper, the WEEE Directive in Malta has been transposed, in practice its implementation is being obstructed. It is an area of responsibility that EU legislation assigns specifically to the private sector, yet the government is reluctant to lose a substantial chunk of eco-contribution revenues and is consequently applying the brakes.

The regulation of scrap yards does not feature in the update. They are required in order to recycle scrap metal. However, they should operate within a regulatory framework, in particular in conformity to the WEEE and the ELV (End of Life Vehicle) Directives. Recently, it was reported that, during testimony submitted in a planning appeal, concerning the enforcement order relative to the Ta’ Brolli scrap yard in Birzebbuga, it was revealed that part of its business originates from the custom of government departments and corporations!

Some scrap yards process scrap from disused refrigerators! Processing? They just crush them, as a result releasing refrigeration gases to air. These gases are CFCs (chloroflorocarbons), contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer. In a regulated environment in terms of the WEEE Directive, processing disused refrigerators for waste would include the careful collection of the CFCs as a first step. Instead, some Maltese scrap yards are contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer in contrast to the provisions of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which Malta has bound itself to observe and implement.

The proposal for an updated strategy encourages a policy favouring waste incineration. It proposes that the use of bio-digestion to convert waste to energy is complemented by a policy favouring incineration. Specifically, it proposes a waste to energy incinerator to be sited at Delimara next to the power station. This could also mean that on waste recovery sites (currently in operation or projected) the two technologies could co-exist.

Incineration is undoubtedly a waste management tool. In my opinion, it should however, only be used as the last option.

Relying on incineration to produce electricity would, on the plus side, reduce required landfill space and the fuel bill. It would still, however, contribute to the production of greenhouse gases and, hence, cannot be described as a source of clean energy. On the minus side, it negates the need to reduce waste generation and produces other possibly toxic emissions, which would vary dependent on the composition of the RDF (refuse derived fuel).

The regulation of these emissions is normally established through a permit issued by Mepa in terms of the EU Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control. The acceptability or otherwise of an incineration facility even as a tool of the last resort would in my view result from two points: The quality of emissions control imposed by Mepa through the conditions established in the IPPC permit, and the enforceability of these conditions.

If the manner in which the Marsa incinerator has operated in the past months is a reliable indicator on the workings of Mepa and Wasteserv, this is sufficient on its own to discard the incinerator option even as a tool of last resort.

These are just a few of the points indicating reasons as to why the proposed waste strategy update needs to go back to the drawing board. Together with the fact that a Strategic Environmental Assessment has not to date been carried out, this is clear evidence of its poor quality. Such a document cannot lead to a fruitful public discussion.

Transport Reform : Assessing the impacts

published August 2, 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

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 The overhaul of public transport is long overdue. It is required because the current set-up is not capable of fulfilling its objectives, namely facilitating our mobility efficiently and at the least expense. Expenses are not just monetary but include social and environmental impacts, which result from the various transport modes available for our use.

It is clear that the 292,000 cars on the road, rather than a sign of affluence, are the clearest available indicator on the lack of availability of an adequate public transport system. One of the first results an efficient public transport will deliver is a reduction of cars on the road, followed by an improvement in air quality, a reduction of traffic-related respiratory diseases and reduced time to move from one point to another during rush hours.

Through the minister responsible for transport, the government has submitted for public discussion a set of ideas that should lead to a public transport reform plan. This consists in a radical overhaul of what goes by the name of “public transport” in Malta. It is proposed to integrate the various forms of transport, land and sea, national and regional, thereby ensuring that a wider area of Malta and Gozo is within easier reach. The government document lists nine reasons that have led to the present mess. It outlines 15 points on the basis of which a detailed plan for the reform of public transport in Malta is to be drawn up. Studies are still being carried out: On a newly-proposed network, on the type of vehicles to be used and a financial analysis of the proposals. It is planned that these would be available between August and October.

No mention has yet been made of cycling as a possible means of transport especially in the short distances involved between adjacent towns and villages. A reduction of cars on the roads through an increased patronage of public transport would increase road safety and make cycling a realistic means of transport. A healthier population could be a welcome result.

A gradual reform could have been initiated much earlier, nibbling away the resistance to change nurtured by the accumulated vested interests of those who, rather than offering a service to the community, prefer to focus on the status quo. The present mess is the result of state intervention at its worst: Subsidising the sector and permitting a free-for-all at the same time. The reform of the public transport sector has to put an end to all this.

The government’s proposed reform plan puts forward a number of valid suggestions. When all the studies have been concluded, it is assumed that the finalised reform plan will be subjected to an assessment to determine its environmental, social and economic impacts both when fully operational as well as during the transition period. The matter could be considered through a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) in terms of EU directive 2001/42 entitled On The Assessment Of The Effects Of Certain Plans And Programmes On The Environment. This EU directive ensures that, when plans and programmes whose implementation have a significant effect on the environment are proposed, these are subject to an environmental assessment. The proposed transport reform will, when fully implemented, result in positive environmental impacts. But it also needs to be ensured that any negative social impacts which may result are mitigated.

The SEA Directive, transposed into Maltese legislation in 2005, has one important objective. It aims to ensure that prior to the public consultation on a proposed “plan or programme” political decision-making is made more accountable for decisions that effect the environment. It requires the assessment of plans and programmes and through making the said assessment available for public scrutiny it creates the basis for better decision-making and the integration of environmental considerations in the process.

There should not be any difficulty in carrying out such an assessment. It is necessary in order that the information available for the public consultation exercise is complete. It is pretty obvious that a reformed public transport system in Malta would bring along substantial environmental benefits.

A proper public consultation however includes an analysis of the environmental and social impacts of the reform proposals made. All issues need to be quantified and be clear for the public to be able to digest. The Maltese public needs to be informed in detail not only as to what is being planned but also on all the impacts thereof throughout the implementation period.

Transport policy in Malta stands to gain a lot through the implementation of the SEA Directive. The exercise of political power through the formulation of plans and programmes for reform needs to be kept in check through informed public opinion. The tools are available. We only ignore them at our peril.