Marsaskala: the yacht marina strings

The publication by Transport Malta, last week, of a pre-qualification questionnaire relative to the “award of a concession contract for the design, build, finance, operate, maintain and transfer of a marina” at Marsaskala requires further explanation. What has been going on behind the scenes? Specifically, on whose initiative has the ball been set rolling? Is this part of the ongoing development spree, intended to bolster existing or planned development elsewhere in Marsaskala?

At some point the truth will come out. It would be hence much better if Transport Malta, and whosoever may be pulling the strings, to put all the cards on the table now.

The proposed Marsaskala yacht marina is tainted, even at this stage, with the general local plan defects: a lack of adequate environmental assessment. The assessment of the cumulative impacts of the various local plan proposals has never been carried out. These impacts add up and seen together they should have been cause for concern, even at the drawing board stage. Unfortunately, nothing was done at that stage to mitigate the anticipated cumulative impacts of the local plan proposals.

Those of us who have been subjecting land use planning to a continuous scrutiny, have, since way back in 2006, emphasised that the local plans were then not subjected to the emerging Strategic Environment Assessment procedures. In fact, the local plans, those still pending approval, after having been retained in draft form for some time, were rushed through all the approval stages during the summer months of 2006 specifically to avoid being subjected to the provisions of the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU which entered into force during August of 2006 or thereabouts!

The specific impacts of the proposed yacht marina will undoubtedly be eventually analysed by an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which will be triggered if a planning application for the yacht marina is eventually submitted.  Legislation in force provides ample room for involvement of all, when this commences, starting off from the basic EIA terms of reference right up to the consideration of the detailed studies, and more. We have been through that many times in respect of various development proposals.

However, the cumulative impacts on the Marsaskala community, both residential and commercial, will not be carried out as that was avoided at the outset when the local plan for Marsaskala (part of the Local Plan for the South) was approved. This is the basic underlying worry expressed in not so many words by all those who have stood up to object to the sudden unexplained intrusion of Transport Malta into Marsaskala affairs. Kudos to John Baptist Camilleri, Marsaskala local councillor, for prodding the Marsaskala Local Council to stand up and be counted. The Marsaskala local council ought to have been consulted even in terms of the Local Council Act which makes it incumbent on central government and its agencies to consult with local councils whenever any initiative having local impacts is being considered.

Transport Malta is acting as an agent of central government. Government, led by the Labour Party, has conveniently distanced itself from the political responsibilities which result from the local plans , coupled with the rationalisation exercise, which have been shouldered by its predecessor in government, the Nationalist Party.  It has been very convenient for Labour to politically lump all the local plan fallout on the PN. However, sixteen years down the line, it is pretty evident that the Labour Party, in government for over eight years, has been very reluctant to handle the long overdue revision of the local plans and factoring in considerations resulting from a study of the cumulative impacts abovementioned. This is not only applicable to the local plan relative to Marsaskala, but to all local plans! It has obviously been too hot to handle.

Minister Aaron Farrugia, politically responsible for both land use planning and the environment, has been reported in the media, in the past few days, as stating that the local plan revision will start immediately after the general election, expected shortly. He has stated that the process will take around three years.  His predecessor as Minister responsible for land use planning, Ian Borg, had made some statements in the distant past about this, indicating the then parameters for a revision of the local plans. But nothing has materialised yet except his extreme reluctance to act!

I would, at this stage, remind the Hon Minister of the proposals from the Maltese Greens on the need to reverse the rationalisation exercise as well as on the urgent need to implement a moratorium on large scale development throughout the islands. These proposals have been part of our electoral manifesto repeatedly since 2006. Over-development and the building industry have to be brought under control the soonest.

It is not just about Marsaskala and its proposed yacht marina.  It is time to take stock of the ruin inflicted on these islands by a mismanaged land use planning process, by an irresponsible rationalisation exercise and by local plans which do not consider cumulative environmental impacts.

The proposed yacht marina at Marsaskala is just the latest example of this mismanagement.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 August 2021

Land use planning : beyond rhetoric

Freeport 2015


There is a common thread running through a number of local land-use planning controversies: they are tending to either ignore or give secondary importance to environmental, social and/or cultural issues, focusing instead on economic considerations.

On this page I have discussed the impact of the Freeport Terminal on  Birżebbuġa a number of times. The basic problem with the Freeport is that its impact on the Birżebbuġa community were ignored for a very long time. In fact, an attempt to include a Social Impact Assessment as an integral part of the EIA which was carried out some years ago was given the cold shoulder by MEPA. The end result was that the decision-taking process was not adequately informed of the impact of the terminal extension, both those already apparent and those which were yet to come. In particular, no assessment was made of the disintegration of the sports infrastructure in the area that has  slowly been eaten up – primarily by the Freeport.

Most of this could have been avoided through an active engagement with the local community over the years at the various stages of the project’s planning and implementation. This is why plans for the Freeport’s expansion, as indicated by the Freeport Corporation’s CEO  earlier this week in an interview with The Business Observer, should be explained  immediately. Even at this early stage it must be ascertained that the situation for  Birżebbuġa residents will not deteriorate any further.

No one in his right mind would deny that, over the years, the Freeport has made a significant contribution to Malta’s economic growth. Few, however, realise that the price paid for this economic success has been the erosion of the quality of life of the Birżebbuġa community. This is certainly unacceptable but it will only get worse, once the gas storage tanker for the Delimara Power Station is parked within Marsaxlokk Bay in the coming months, very close to the Freeport terminal.

The same story is repeating itself in other areas. Consider, for example, the 38-floor tower proposed at Townsquare and the 40-floor tower proposed for the Fort Cambridge project, both on the Tignè Peninsula in Sliema. The Townsquare assessment process is reaching its conclusion, whilst the one in respect of Fort Cambridge is still in its initial stages. Yet both are linked to the same fundamental flaw: the lack of consideration of the cumulative impact of the development of the Tignè Peninsula – which includes the MIDI development as well as the individual small scale projects in the area.

The adoption of plans and policies which have made it possible for the authorities to consider the development of the Tignè Peninsula were not subject to a Strategic Impact Assessment and, as a result, the cumulative impact of implementing these plans and policies were not identified and assessed. The end result is that the proposed towers are justifiably considered as another disruptive and unwelcome intrusion by the Tignè and Qui-Si-Sana communities.

The developers and their advisors focus exclusively on the impacts which are generated by their proposals, with the authorities generally avoiding the consideration of the big picture at the earliest possible stage.

Preliminary indications from the proposed Gozo Tunnel and the Sadeen “educational” setup at Marsaskala/Cottonera are already pointing in the same direction. In both cases, the alternatives that were generally brushed aside are the very options that need to be examined in detail in order to ensure that the challenges that will be faced in 2016 and beyond have not been prejudiced by myopic considerations in 2015.

Planning failures have serious consequences on those of our local communities that have to bear the brunt of the decisions taken for a long period of time. These can be avoided if the authorities refocus their efforts and realise that the economy is a tool which has to be a servant, and certainly not a master.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 20 December 2015

Id-dokument tal-MEPA dwar il-bini għoli: bla ma sar SEA

tall buildings

Id-dokument li ippubblikat il-MEPA riċentment dwar il-kostruzzjoni ta’ bini għoli kellu jkun soġġett għal stima ambjentali strategika, dak li normalment nirreferu għalih bħala Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA). Dan huwa studju, li l-Unjoni Ewropeja tobbliga li jsir dwar il-pjanijiet (plans) li jifformula Gvern u dan biex ikunu identifikati b’mod ġenerali l-impatti ambjentali u b’hekk dawn l-impatti ikunu jistgħu jkunu indirizzati minn qabel ma jinqalgħu.

Id-dokument tal-MEPA dwar il-bini għoli jidentifika l-lokalitajiet u l-parametri permissibli għall-iżvilupp ta’ bini għoli (bini ta’ iktar minn għaxar sulari) kif ukoll ta’ bini ta’ għoli medju (bini sa għoli ta’ għaxar sulari).

In-nuqqas tal-istima ambjentali strategika (SEA) joħloq dubju dwar il-validita’ tad-dokument ippubblikat mill-MEPA. Fi ftit kliem jeħtieġ li ssir din l-istima ambjentali strateġika (jiġifieri stima ambjentali dwar strateġija) u jekk jirriżulta li jkun meħtieġ għandu jkun hemm it-tibdil.

Din il-gwida dwar il-bini għoli (u bini ta’ għoli medju) li ġiet ippubblikata mill-MEPA hi immirata b’mod partikolari lejn ir-riġenerazzjoni ta’ siti b’bini dilapidat jew propjeta’ li mhiex użata biżżejjed jew b’mod adegwat u dan meta din il-propjeta qegħda barra miż-żoni storiċi, barra miż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana (UCAs) kif ukoll barra miż-żoni għal-prijorita’ residenzjali.

Sfortunatament iż-żoni identifikati huma kbar wisq. Dan hu fatt li huwa rikonoxxut mid-dokument tal-MEPA innifsu meta dan jgħid illi ser ikunu meħtieġa studji addizzjonali għall-applikazzjonijiet li eventwalment jidħlu.

Filwaqt li l-gwida tal-MEPA tidentifika l-istudji li ser ikunu meħtiega biex jiġu eżaminati l-applikazzjonijiet għall-izvilupp ta’ bini għoli jew ta’ għoli medju, l-parti l-kbira minn dawn l-istudji, inkluż kemm studji ambjentali kif ukoll il-kriterji stretti li huma meħtieġa kontra l-ħolqien ta’ dellijiet (shadowing) fuq il-propjeta’ residenzjali kellhom ikunu applikati qabel ma ittieħdu d-deċizjonijiiet dwar il-gwida tal-MEPA. Bħala riżultat in-numru ta’ lokalitajiet identifikati bħala ż-żoni magħżula kienu jkunu ferm inqas.

Id-dokument tal-MEPA kellu jkun iktar restrittiv u dan billi jillimita l-iżvilupp ta’ bini għoli jew ta’ għoli medju ghal dawk iż-żoni li jeħtieġu riġenerazzjoni. Dan kien ikun ta’ incentiv għall-industrija tal-bini biex din tassorbi u tiżviluppa mill-ġdid bini li għamel żmienu kif ukoll bini ta’ kwalita’ inferjuri li hu sitwat barra miż-Żoni ta’ Konservazzjoni Urbana (UCAs).