Il-mina t’Għawdex: ħmar il-lejl

Il-Ministru Ian Borg, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, infurmana li kien qed jaħdem biex iwettaq il-ħolma ta’ diversi Għawdxin billi jmexxi l-quddiem il-proċess tal-mina taħt qiegħ il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex. Wara dibattitu li ilu għaddej is-snin hu ċar li iktar milli jwettaq il-ħolm ikun aħjar jekk Ian Borg jipprepara ruħu għal ħmar il-lejl.

Saru studji ġejoloġiċi imma lanqas il-konklużjonijiet ġenerali dwarhom ma nafu. Għadhom mistura qieshom xi sigriet tal-istat. Tliet snin ilu l-ġejoloġista Peter Gatt kien ġibed l-attenzjoni għall-fatt li l-mina tal-Enemalta bejn il-power station tal-Marsa u Delimara kienet swiet id-doppju ta’ dak ippjanat u dan minħabba kollass tal-blat f’diversi punti matul il-mina nnifisha. Dan kien seħħ bħala riżultat tan-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni ġejoloġika meta ġiet imfassla l-mina. Kieku dan kellu jseħħ waqt li jkun għaddej ix-xogħol fuq il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex hu inevitabbli li jkollna problemi kbar, inkluż possibilment numru ta’ mwiet.

Hu fatt magħruf li fil-Fliegu hemm diversi kisriet ġejoloġiċi (geological faults). Tajjeb li nirrealizzaw li tnejn mill-proposti għall-mina, li saru minn Mott MacDonald, il-konsulenti ta’ Transport Malta, jgħaddu minn dawn il-kisriet.

Li jkunu eżaminati l-kampjuni tal-blat f’laboratorju, anke jekk għal ftit ġimgħat, bla dubju jżid l-għarfien tal-ġejoloġija taż-żona imma dan mhux biżżejjed biex fuqu jittieħdu deċiżjonijiet dwar id-diżinn tal-proġett. Biżżejjed nifhmu li minkejja l-istudji ġejoloġiċi dettaljati fuq numru kbir ta’ snin, ix-xogħol fuq il-mina bejn l-Ingilterra u Franza, iċ-Channel Tunnel, kellu jieqaf u jkun devjat diversi drabi minħabba li t-tħaffir iltaqa’ ma problemi ġejoloġici li ma kien hemm l-ebda indikazzjoni tagħhom fl-istudji dettaljati!

L-istudji serji jieħdu ż-żmien biex isiru: ma jistgħux ikunu mgħaġġla minħabba data determinata minn agenda politika.

Tliet snin ilu, Transport Malta, flimkien mal-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija kkummissjonaw studju ekonomiku, ferm qabel ma biss bdew l-istudji ġejoloġiċi. L-istudju kien intitolat Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options, li kien sar minn E-Cubed Consultants. Dan l-istudju kien argumenta li t-traffiku bejn il-gżejjer kien ipproġettat li fuq perjodu ta’ 15il sena jiżdied minn medja ta’ 3000 moviment kuljum għal 9000 moviment kuljum. Argument li jmur kontra l-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport approvat fl-2015 ukoll.

Il-mina proposta teħtieġ ammont kritiku ta’ movimenti ta’ karozzi li jħallsu biex jgħaddu mill-mina u per konsegwenza minn fuqhom jinġabru l-ispejjes tal-mina kif ukoll il-profitti tal-operaturi. Fi ftit kliem il-mina, biex tirnexxi tiddependi minn moviment kbir ta’ karozzi kuljum. Dan imur kontra l-politika dwar it-trasport tal-lum, li ta’ l-inqas fuq il-karta, timmira għal tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Din hi materja li bla dubju għandha tkun eżaminat mill-istudju fuq l-impatti ambjentali (EIA) dwar il-mina proposta. Dan l-istudju għadu fl-istadji inizzjali tiegħu u dan wara li l-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi ftit ġimgħat ilu approvat dak li għandu jkun indirizzat (terms of reference) minn dan l-istudju. L-EIA hu stadju essenzjali li minnu jeħtieġ li jgħaddi l-proġett.

Għaldaqstant, kien irresponsabbli l-Ministru tat-Trasport, meta, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, ħabbar li fi żmien sitt xhur kienet ħierġa sejħa internazzjonali għall-offerti għall-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex. Dan ifisser li dawn l-istudji huma irrelevanti? Fl-opinjoni tiegħi il-Ministru  qiegħed jagħti  dan il-messaġġ ċar u tond.

Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ governanza ħażina għax jimmina l-isforzi tal-awtoritajiet fil-qadi ta’ dmirijiethom. B’dan il-ħsieb jiena ktibt lill-Ombudsman u tlabtu jinvestiga dan in-nuqqas ta’ governanza tajba. Il-Gvern għandu jkollu l-paċenzja li jistenna sakemm ikunu konklużi l-istudji ambjentali qabel ma jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 16 ta’ Diċembru 2018

Gozo tunnel nightmares

Minister Ian Borg informed us, earlier this week, that he seeks to turn into reality a Gozitan “long-held dream” by starting the process for a Malta-Gozo tunnel below the seabed. After debating the matter for years, it is clear that rather more than dreams, Ian Borg should prepare himself for a nightmare.

Geological studies have now been carried out and the results therof are being treated as some state secret. Three years ago, geologist Peter Gatt had drawn attention to the fact that the Enemalta tunnel between the Marsa power station and Delimara had a cost overrun of 100 per cent as a result of rock collapse along several points of the tunnel. This had occurred due to inadequate geological information fed into the design process. If the same were to happen during the Malta-Gozo tunnel works, a series of disasters, including possibly loss of life, would be inevitable.

It is a known fact that the Gozo channel is full of geological faults. It is pertinent to note that two of the tunnel options put forward by Transport Malta advisors Mott MacDonald pass through an active fault in the Gozo channel.

Taking borehole samples and examining them in a laboratory over a few weeks certainly increases our knowledge of the geology of the area but it is nowhere near the sufficient knowledge on the basis of which one can conclude the design parameters of the project. Suffice it to point out that notwithstanding the detailed geological studies spanning over many years and underpinning planning for the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent and Coquelles near Calais, the drilling of the tunnel had to be deviated at certain points because of unpredicted geological formations.

Serious studies take years to conclude: they cannot be rushed to meet a deadline set by a political agenda.

Feasibility studies have been carried out some time ago, long before the geological studies were even taken in hand. Three years ago, the Gozo Business Chamber in conjunction with Transport Malta commissioned a study entitled Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options. In the study, which was carried out by E-Cubed Consultants, it was argued that the average annual daily traffic (AADT) between the islands is projected to increase from 3000 to 9000 vehicle movements over a 15-year period.

This feasibility study makes assumptions which run counter to the National Transport Master Plan objective of reducing cars from our roads.

Basically, the proposed tunnel requires a critical mass of vehicular movements which would be subject to the payment of a toll and hence contribute to the recovery of the capital outlay, maintenance costs and profits. This runs counter to current Maltese Transport policy, which (at least on paper) aims to reduce the use of private cars from our roads.

This is an issue which would undoubtedly be examined by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the proposed Tunnel which study is currently in its initial stages after the Environment and Resources Authority recently approved the terms of reference of such a study. The EIA is an essential stage of the assessment of the project.

It was therefore irresponsible for the Minister of Transport, earlier this week, to announce that within six months an international call for tenders would be issued relative to the Malta-Gozo undersea Tunnel. Does this mean that the government considers the EIA irrelevant? This, in my opinion is the clear message being conveyed.

It is the worst form of bad governance as it undermines the efforts of the established authorities in carrying out their responsibilities. With this in mind, I have written to the Ombudsman and asked him to investigate this breach of good governance. Government should have the patience of awaiting the outcome of the EIA before taking any further decisions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 December 2018

Kafè Al Fresco ……… is-sogru huwa tiegħek

Ħwienet tal-kafè jew restoranti al fresco f’numru ta’ lokalitajiet ħadulna l-bankina. F’xi każi anke l-ispazju għall-parkeġġ tal-karozzi ħadu, għax dawn jimpurthom biss minn ħaġa waħda: li jdawru lira. Ovvjament dawn jippretendu li aħna nimxu f’nofs it-triq għax fuq il-bankina ftit iħallulna spazju minn fejn ngħaddu. Iħalluhom, qiesu ma ġara xejn. Lanqas tista’ titkellem, għax il-bankina għamluha tagħhom.

L-awtoritajiet jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu għax dawn jinteresshom biss li jkunu jidhru “business friendly”: ċjoe viċin in-nies tal-flus, ħa jdawru lira. Il-bqija, min jafhom?

Is-sindki tal-Gżira u Tas-Sliema, Conrad Borg Manchè u Dominic Chircop, matul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat għamlu sewwa li emfasizzaw li l-mod kif tal-kafè u r-restoranti al fresco qed joperaw fil-lokalitajiet tagħhom mhux aċċettabbli, għax ma jagħtux kas tan-nies.

L-inċidenti, kif tafu, jiġru. Biżżejjed incident wieħed ta’ karozza misjuqa ħażin li tista’ tispiċċa toqtol jew tweġġa’ serjament numru ta’ persuni f’xi wieħed minn dawn il-ħwienet tal-kafè jew ir-restoranti. Imbagħad forsi jkun hemm min jagħti kas.

Ftit ġimgħat ilu, f’Lulju, żgħażugħ Olandiz ta’ 25 sena li kien qiegħed jippassiġa San Giljan max-xatt intlaqat minn Subaru Impreza li kienet misjuqa b’veloċitá esaġerata minn żgħażugħ ta’ 20 sena li kien rappurtat li qabeż kull limitu raġjonevoli ta’ alkoħol. L-Olandiż miet l-isptar. Oħrajn weġġgħu. U dan apparti bosta ħsara oħra.

Kien pass tajjeb tal-Awtoritá tal-Artijiet li rrifjutat applikazzjoni tas-sidien tal-Lukanda Waterfront max-Xatt tal-Gżira biex dawn ikunu jistgħu jieħdu numru ta’ spazji għal parkeġġ biex ikollhom ħanut tal-kafè jew restorant fuq il-bankina quddiem il-lukanda. Meta sidien il-lukanda ikkontestaw id-deċiżjoni tal-Awtoritá tal-Artijiet, fl-aħħar sabu lil min jagħti kas. Il-Maġistrat Charmaine Galea li ppresjediet l-appell emfasizzat li r-regoli dwar l-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet fl-apert jipprojibixxu li dawn jitqegħdu biswit toroq arterjali, viċin traffiku li jkun għaddej b’veloċitá. Il-Maġistrat Galea emfasizzat li n-nies għandha dritt li tkun imħarsa mit-traffiku, mill-istorbju kif ukoll mid-dħaħen iġġenerati mill-karozzi.

Il-Maġistrat Charmaine Galea għandha raġun. Hemm ħtieġa urgenti li l-loġika tagħha tinfetta l-proċess deċiżjonali tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għax hu ċar li prattikament il-ħwienet tal-kafè u r-restoranti kollha fuq il-bankina fix-Xatt tal-Gżira u tas-Sliema mhumiex skont ir-regoli. Dan jgħodd ukoll għal inħawi oħra.

Id-deċiżjoni tal-Maġistrat Galea tagħti piz lill-argumenti tas-sindki tal-Gżira u tas-Sliema li ilhom żmien jinsistu li l-ħwienet tal-kafè u r-restoranti al fresco biswit ir-rotot ewlenin tat-traffiku jeħtieġu iktar ħsieb qabel ma jingħataw il-permess biex joperaw. Jeħtieġ titjib fl-infrastruttura biex it-traffiku jkollu jnaqqas il-veloċitá kif ukoll biex in-nies ikunu protetti minn inċidenti kkawżati minn karozzi misjuqa bl-addoċċ, mill-istorbju kif ukoll mid-dħaħen tal-petrol u d-dijsil. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar ma wriet l-ebda sens ta’ responsabbilta meta injorat lin-nies u qieset biss il-qies li dawk li jridu jdawru lira, irrispettivament mill-konsegwenzi.

Fuq il-bankini ftit qed jitħalla spazju biex jgħaddu n-nies u ma hemm l-ebda protezzjoni la mit-traffiku perikoluż u l-anqas mid-dħaħen. Għall-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, sfortunatament, dan kollu ma jfisser xejn.

It-tħassib tal-Kunsilli Lokali dwar il-ħwienet tal-kafè u r-restoranti al fresco hu għal kollox injorat mill-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għax ma jidhriliex li huma affarijiet li għandha tikkunsidra qabel ma tieħu d-deċiżjonijiet tagħha.

Qabel ma tippjana passiġġata max-xatt ftakar li hemmhekk hu riżervat għal min irid idawwar lira! Mill-bqija, is-sogru hu kollu tiegħek.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Settembru 2018

 

 

Al fresco dining ……… at your risk

Al fresco dining has taken over pavements in a number of localities and parking spaces too have not been spared either, as the catering business does not care about anything except its bottom line. Apparently, we are expected to walk in the middle of the road.

The authorities do not give a fig, as their brief is apparently to be business-friendly. People friendly? Their dictionary has no reference to the term: never heard of that!

In the last few weeks, the mayors of Gżira and Sliema – Conrad Borg Manchè and Dominic Chircop – have rightfully emphasised that the manner in which al-fresco coffee shops and restaurants in their localities are operating is largely unacceptable. It just takes one car accident to kill a number of diners: then maybe the authorities will take note.

Accidents do happen: a few weeks ago, in July, a 25-year old Dutchman, who was walking along the St Julian’s promenade was hit by an over-speeding Subaru Impreza, driven by a 20-year-old who was reported as being well over the drink-drive limit. The Dutchman died in hospital. Others were injured; street furniture was damaged.

The Lands Authority has taken the right step in refusing an application submitted by the owners of the Waterfront Hotel on The Strand Gżira, to encroach on a number of parking spaces in order to provide an al-fresco extension to the Hotel on the pavement. When the hotel’s owners contested the Lands Authority’s decision,  they were, at last, faced with some common-sense.

Magistrate Charmaine Galea, chairing the Appeals Tribunal, emphasised that the outdoor catering policy prohibited any platforms adjacent to arterial roads or in close proximity to fast-moving traffic. She rightly emphasised the fact that restaurant patrons had to be safeguarded from traffic, noise and air pollution.

She is obviously right and we desperately need her logic to “infect” the Planning Authority decision-making structures because it is clear that practically none of the al-fresco dining areas on the pavement along The Strand in Gżira and Sliema (and many other areas) are in accordance with the policy.

Magistrate Galea’s decision gives considerable weight to the points raised by the mayors of Gżira and Sliema who have been insisting all along that al-fresco dining alongside main traffic routes needs to be given considerably more thought before being given the go-ahead. The infrastructure needs upgrading in order that traffic calming measures are introduced and restaurant patrons are adequately protected – not only from traffic accidents but from noise and exhaust fumes as well. The Planning Authority has not acted responsibly when it has issued a considerable number of permits which ignore patrons but then takes great care of the bottom-line of the catering establishments.

The permits issued as a result of the so-called “one stop shop” planning policy may be business friendly, but it is certainly not people-friendly. Serious concerns related to pedestrian access through the labyrinthine footpaths left on the pavements, adequate protection from over-speeding traffic and the impact on health impacts from eating metres away from exhaust fumes are continuously ignored by the Planning Authority.

The inputs from local councils on the subject of al-fresco dining is repeatedly ignored, as the Planning Authority is not bothered. It obviously considers the above issues as being trivial in nature.

Walking along The Strand?

Forget it: the promenade is reserved for business!

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1 September 2018

Local plans, and not regional

grand-harbouraerial

MEPA has embarked on a process which will lead to a revision of the seven existing  Local Plans. Five were approved in 2006. Two of them were approved earlier: the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (1995) and the Grand Harbour Local Plan (2002).

With the exception of the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (which regulates  Birżebbuġa, Marsaxlokk and their surrounding areas) all the Local Plans cover extensive areas. The Structure Plan, approved in 1990 and currently subject to revision, had identified the need for 24 Local Plans addressing urban areas, as well as other unspecified plans for Rural Conservation Areas. Initially when MEPA approved the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan it started along this path but then it opted for plans which are more regional than local in nature.

Local Plans are necessary in order that planning policy is appropriately applied at a local level where one can focus on practical considerations. Though there may be overlaps between Local Plans covering similar areas there will also be variations resulting from the specific nature of the different localities. There will be inevitable similarities between, for example, a Local Plan addressing Valletta and Floriana on one hand and another one addressing the Three Cities due to the fact that both contain vast stretches of fortifications.  However the planning issues arising may also lead to different considerations both in respect of what is to be prohibited as well as in what ought to be encouraged.

Local Plans are not neutral policy instruments. Departing from the common need to ensure a continuous maintenance programme for the fortifications (which programme is currently in hand)  Local Plans may explore different potential uses to which the fortifications in two completely different areas may be put. This would be dependent on the infrastructural services in the area  and on the impacts generated by the potential use  on the surrounding amenities and localities. It would be much easier to ensure that this is done through two separate local plans, one specifically addressing Valletta and Floriana and the other addressing just the Three Cities.

It is not just an issue of fortifications. The large number of vacant properties, currently totalling  over 72,000 cannot be addressed adequately at a regional level. Different policies and different targets have to be identified at a local level as both the causes as well as the extent of the problem vary from one locality to another.

Boundaries of a number of Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs) were substantially revised in 2006 on the understanding that it is better to limit the extent of a UCA to that which is necessary and essential. Consequently it should stand to reason that a smaller UCA is much better to regulate and monitor.

A number of vacant properties lie within UCAs as it costs much more to bring such properties to an adequate state compatible to modern standards of living. This is an area which has already been explored in the last years with various fiscal incentives being offered to encourage rehabilitaton and the reuse of such properties. Much more needs to be done. The revision of the Local Plans is another opportunity to re-examine the way forward in tackling the ever increasing number of vacant properties. The proposed policies must however be focused and local in nature as otherwise they will fail to have any impact at all.

As emphasised by eNGOs  the Local Plans should also be an opportunity to consider the integration of environmental policy and its applicability at a local level. Whilst all environmental policy is of relevance to our localities two particular areas easily spring to mind: air quality and noise pollution.

Both air quality and noise control standards can be undoubtedly upgraded if action is taken at a local level. Traffic generated is a major contributor to both. Heavy traffic through residential areas has to be reduced. If the Local Plans address this issue they will be simultaneously contributing to a better air quality and less acoustic pollution in urban areas.

From declarations made in the past weeks it is obvious that one of the controversial issues to be tackled, (most probably in a plan addressing rural areas) would be agro-tourism.  This is a very sensitive matter . If the point of departure is to seek to establish new development zones on the pretext of tourism than such proposals would be unacceptable. If on the other hand such a Rural Plan addresses the use of existing  agricultural holdings aiming to maximise the use of their existing footprint, provide a different touristic experience as well as  provide alternative or additional employment opportunities to our agricultural communities then there is room for considerable discussion.

The Local Plans to be produced will have an impact on our quality of life for the next ten years. It is hence imperative to not only ensure a high level of participation in the consultation process but that the resulting proposals are given due consideration.

This article was published in The Times of Malta, Saturday August 10, 2013