Greening: what really matters

A public consultation is currently under way relative to green roofs and green walls. A 42-page document entitled Green Paper on Greening Buildings in Malta: Initiatives for Green Walls and Roofs for Residential, Commercial, and Industrial Buildings was published, explaining the objectives to be attained. The encouragement of green roofs and green walls aims to contribute towards reaching the zero-carbon objective in 2050. 

I have no issue with greening walls and roofs where this is appropriate. However, notwithstanding all the good intentions, there is a risk that the predominant green produced is more plastic! Maybe they could, instead, start by respecting our existing green walls made up of the substantial number of trees being continuously uprooted by the Ministry for Transport!

My issue is with the artificiality of “environment policy” in Malta which concentrates and over-inflates on minor issues and then turns a blind eye to the issues that really matter.

Among the most pressing issues is that of the urgent need of greening transport policy: that is the need to ensure that mobility issues in the Maltese islands are addressed in a sustainable manner.

Two specific policy issues currently in hand need complete reversal.

The current massive investment of resources in roadbuilding is a blatant misuse of public funds as they place car-usage as the primary objective to be facilitated. It is pertinent to point, once more, towards the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which in crystal-clear language explains what’s wrong with transport policy in the Maltese islands.

The following extract is self-explanatory: “Improve integrated and long-term strategic planning and design: This objective has been defined since historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (page 88 of National Transport Master Plan 2025)

Greening transport policy in Malta essentially means addressing and reducing car ownership in order to substantially reduce private vehicles from our roads. In a small country such as ours, sustainable mobility cannot be achieved through private vehicles but through alternative transport. Everywhere is within reach. In fact, the Transport Master Plan emphasises that 50 per cent of the trips we make with private cars are for distances taking less than 15 minutes, meaning that such trips are local or regional in nature.

We need more public transport initiatives and less private cars on our roads instead of further extensions to the public road network through massive road infrastructural projects.

The proposed Gozo tunnel is likewise another unnecessary project. It is a tunnel which facilitates the use of private cars. The feasibility of the said project is tied to a substantial increase in car movements between the islands as it is the payment of fees levied on cars making the trip that pays for the tunnel project. The documentation projects an increase from 3000 to 9000 daily movements of vehicles, a threefold increase. Green walls and green roofs do not cancel out such irresponsible action.

Greening roofs and walls do not involve rocket science. There is no issue with the implementation of a policy encouraging green roofs and green walls although it would be quite useful if plastic use in such walls and roofs is reduced! But transport policy is contentious as it involves unpopular but essential decisions. Restraining the use of private vehicles is, of paramount importance. Coupled with more public transport improvements it will reduce cars on the roads, improve the quality of our air and reduce household expenses. Avoiding this decision will only make matters worse.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 February 2021

Il-karozzi iddominaw ħajjitna

Hi sfortuna li tul is-snin ħallejna ħajjitna tkun iddominata mill-karozzi.

Għaddejna minn kontroversja wara l-oħra dwar l-infrastruttura tat-toroq. Sfortunatament jidher li minn dan kollu l-awtoritajiet għadhom ma tgħallmu xejn.  L-aħħar każ hu dwar il-proposta għal fly-over ġdida għall-Imrieħel: fly-over oħra li mhiex meħtiega.

Il-proposta tal-Imrieħel għadha qed tkun imfassla. Ma hemmx wisq dettalji li huma magħrufa, s’issa, ħlief li probabbilment ser ikun hemm impatt sostanzjali fuq madwar 20 tomna ta’ raba’ saqwi. Minn dak li hu magħruf s’issa  Infrastruttura Malta bdiet tiltaqa’ mal-bdiewa dwar dak li eventwalment ser ikun propost.

Mhux meħtieġ li nkunu nafu d-dettalji ta’ dak li hu ppjanat, kif qed jgħid il-Ministru għat-Transport Ian Borg, biex nikkritikaw il-programm tal-Gvern dwar l-infrastruttura tat-toroq għax dan hu oġġezzjonabbli fil-prinċipju.  

M’għandiex bżonn iktar toroq. Imma għandna bżonn inqas karozzi fit-toroq li għandna.  Tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq jwassal għal tnaqqis fil-konġestjoni tat-traffiku u titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja, inkluż iktar sigurtà fit-toroq tagħna għal kulħadd.

It-toroq tagħna mballati bil-karozzi. Għal din ir-raġuni l-Gvern qabbad esperti bex jistudjaw il-problema. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, bl-għajnuna ta’ fondi għall-iżvilupp reġjonali tal-Unjoni Ewropea tfassal Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport (Masterplan) minn konsulenti barranin. Il-Kabinett approva dan il-pjan fl-2016, imma kontinwament qiegħed jonqos milli jassigura li dan ikun implimentat.

Waħda mill-osservazzjonijiet bażiċi ta’ dan il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport hi li nofs il-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn 15-il minuta, jiġifieri huma vjaġġi għal distanzi qosra. Bla ebda dubju hemm bosta mezzi sostenibbli li jservu għal mobilità alternattiva: il-karozzi privati bla ebda dubju nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajrhom għal dawn id-distanzi qosra, fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport iwissina dwar in-nuqqas f’Malta tal-ippjanar għat-trasport: ippjanar li jħares sal-ponta ta’ mnieħru għax ma jħarisx fit-tul.  Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan  ftit li xejn jeżistu miri ċari, hemm nuqqas  ta’ direzzjoni strateġika kif ukoll nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu ndirizzati materji diffiċli bħat-tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq. Il-Maltin huma konservattivi wisq, jgħid il-pjan (There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change) u dan f’kuntrast mal-ħtieġa għal azzjoni fil-komunità biex tkun indirizzata l-problema tat-traffiku, kemm kif inhi illum kif ukoll kif għad tista’ tiżviluppa.  Dan, ikompli jgħid il-pjan tat-trasport approvat mill-Kabinett, iwassal biex is-sewwieq Malti jippretendi li kulħadd għandu jaddatta l-mod kif jivvjaġġa biex hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza tiegħu! (This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.)

Il-politika dwar it-trasport ma jistax ikun li tibqa’ ippjanat biċċa biċċa, mil-lum għal għada. Jeħtieġ ippjanjar olistiku. Dan hu l-iskop li sar dan il-Masterplan: biex ikollna pjan olistiku u nibdew inħarsu fit-tul. Biex pjan bħal dan ikun implimentat, imma, hemm bżonn deċiżjonijiet iebsin li għandhom iwasslu għal tnaqqis fin-numru esaġerat ta’ karozzi privati li hawn fit-toroq tagħna.  

Il-problema reali li qed iżżomm l-implimentazzjoni ta’ dan il-pjan hi li l-Gvern m’għandux il-kuraġġ li jieħu dawn id-deċiżjonijiet. Ma jridx jirfes kallijiet!  

Irridu nifhmu darba għal dejjem li ċ-ċokon ta’ pajjiżna jagħmilha possibli li permezz ta’ transport pubbliku organizzat sewwa nilħqu kull rokna tal-pajjiż f’ħin qasir.

It-trasport pubbliku f’Malta għamel progress kbir f’dawn l-aħħar snin, imma dan mhux biżżejjed. Għax it-trasport pubbliku ma jistax jikkompeti ma’ Gvern li kontinwament  jinkoraġixxi l-użu tal-karozza privata b’toroq ġodda u flyovers li flok jirrestrinġu iż-żieda tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna jagħmluh iktar faċli.

Għal żmien twil, Gvern wara l-ieħor kien skjav tal-karozza. Il-politika tat-trasport kienet u għada politika favur il-karozzi li jikkundizzjonawlna ħajjitna. Hu dan li għandu jinbidel.

Jeħtieġ li l-politika tat-trasport tpoġġi lin-nies l-ewwel, qabel il-karozzi.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 27 ta’ Diċembru 2020

King of the Road

It is indeed unfortunate that over the years we have allowed the car to control our lives.

We have gone through too many controversies related to road infrastructure. Unfortunately the authorities have not learnt anything in the process. The latest case being the proposed Imrieħel bypass improvements through the construction of yet another unnecessary fly-over.

The proposed bypass improvements apparently are still on the drawing board. No details on the proposals are available except that most probably there will be a considerable impact on irrigated agricultural land, measuring around 20 tumoli, that is approximately 22,500 square metres. From what is known, recently, Infrastructure Malta has sounded farmers which may be impacted by the proposals.

Contrary to what has been stated by Minister for Transport Ian Borg, criticism of government’s road infrastructure programme does not require details as it is objectionable on a point of principle. We do not require more roads, but rather less cars on the roads. Such a reduction of cars from our roads would reduce traffic congestion as well as have a marked improvement in everyone’s quality of life, inclusive of an increased safety for all.

Our roads are currently bursting at the seams. Government has commissioned studies to study the matter. As a result, a Transport Masterplan has been produced by foreign consultants paid through EU Regional Development Funds. Cabinet has approved this Masterplan in 2016, yet it has repeatedly failed to ensure its implementation.

One of the basic observations in the said Transport Masterplan is that 50 per cent of the trips we make with private cars are for distances taking less than 15 minutes, meaning that such trips are local in nature. We can easily be served with more sustainable options to address this basic observation: use of private cars is certainly not one of them.  

The Transport Masterplan admonishes us as follows: “………… it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.”

Transport policy needs to be looked at holistically and not in a piecemeal fashion. That is the purpose of the Masterplan: to take a holistic view and lay out a long-term roadmap. Obviously to implement such a roadmap tough decision-taking is involved which would reduce and restrict can ownership. The real problem of Transport Policy implementation is that government does not have the balls to take such tough decisions.

The point to be addressed is that the relative smallness of our country makes practically every corner of the islands within easy reach even through public transport if this is organised properly.

Public Transport in Malta has made gigantic steps forward, but these are not sufficient. Public transport cannot compete with a government which is continuously encouraging the use of private transport and making it continuously easier through massive funds made available for unnecessary flyovers and underpasses!

Government is continuously mishandling transport policy. It is about time that it is placed back on track.

It has been government policy for more than the past twenty-five years that the car rules over our roads. We should change that. We need to reclaim ownership of our roads (and streets) placing more emphasis on the needs of the pedestrian who should be the real king of the road.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 December 2020

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi materja li għandha tkun f’idejn il-Prim Ministru minħabba li tmiss ma’ kull qasam tal-politika. Hu interessanti li għal darba oħra r-responsabbiltà politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli reġgħet ġiet lura Kastilja, f’ħoġor il-Ministru Karmenu Abela, li nħatar Ministru fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. Sal-lum dan rari seħħ ħlief għall-perjodu qasir li fih Mario Demarco kien Segretarju Parlamentari għat-Turiżmu u l-Ambjent.

Robert Abela mhuwiex l-ewwel Prim Ministru li emfasizza l-ħtieġa li jingħata iktar importanza lill-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Ħadd minnhom, imma, ma rnexxielu!

It-terminu “żvilupp sostenibbli” huwa l-iktar wieħed mit-termini fid-dizzjunarju politiku li huma użati ħazin. Il-lingwaġġ politiku użat kważi qatt ma jasal biex ifisser u jispjega li l-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi politika li tħares fit-tul: li kontinwament, huma u jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet, tagħti każ il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.

Il-gvernijiet ma jagħtux importanza biżżejjed lill-iżvilupp sostenibbli għax din m’hiex biss dwar illum imma hi ukoll dwar għada. Hi dwar kif il-ħidma tal-lum teħtieġ li issir b’mod li ma jkunx ippreġudikat għada u l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Għada min rah? L-interess ta’ bosta minnhom iwassal sa ħames snin, jiġifieri sal-elezzjoni ġenerali li jmiss.

Dan hu punt li saħqet dwaru Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norveġiża u soċjalista demokratika li kienet Prim Ministru ta’ pajjiżha. Fir-rapport li hi ħejjiet għall-Ġnus Magħquda snin ilu dwar l-ambjent u l-iżvilupp, intitolat Our Common Future, emfasizzat li “Naġixxu b’dan il-mod għax nafu li mhu ser jiġri xejn: il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri ma jivvutawx; m’għandhomx poter politiku jew finanzjarju; ma jistgħux jeħduha kontra d-deċiżjonijiet tagħna.”

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli mhix biss dwar l-ambjent: hi dwar kif inħarsu b’mod integrat lejn il-politika ambjentali, ekonomika, soċjali u kulturali. Tfisser li l-ħidma tagħna jeħtieġ li tħares fit-tul u li simultanjament trid tkun kompatibbli man-natura, l-ekonomija, l-iżvilupp uman u l-kultura tagħna.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu dwar kif nistgħu f’kull ħin inkunu f’armonija ma’ dak li aħna mdawrin bih. Il-ħin kollu, u mhux biss meta jaqbel. Tirrikjedi s-sinkronizzazzjoni tal-politika kulturali, soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomika. Għax il-ħarsien tad-dinjità umana, l-apprezzament tal-wirt kulturali u l-ħarsien ambjentali huma essenzjali daqs l-iżvilupp ekonomiku.

Fil-qafas globali, kif ukoll Ewropew, il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli tfisser ukoll l-implimentazzjoni tal-miri dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli approvati mill-Ġnus Magħquda: 17-il mira imfissra f’169 oġġettiv. Din hi l-Aġenda Globali 2030 li dwarha l-Unjoni Ewropea ħadmet ħafna biex tkun maqbula mill-komunità internazzjonali. Filwaqt li l-Aġenda 2030 hi importanti kollha kemm hi, partijiet minnha għandhom importanza ikbar għalina f’Malta.

Ħu, per eżempju, l-immaniġjar tal-ilma. Hu essenzjali li nifhmu li huwa meħtieġ li r-riżorsa tal-ilma nieħdu ħsiebha sewwa u li l-użu li nagħmlu minnha jkun wieħed sostenibbli. Sfortunatament, sal-lum, l-immaniġjar tal-ilma f’Malta huwa kkaratterizzat minn doża mhux żgħira ta’ inkompetenza. Hemm aċċess kważi bla kontroll għall-ilma tal-pjan filwaqt li kwantità kbira ta’ ilma tax-xita jintrema l-baħar: kemm direttament permezz tal-mini li tħaffru għal dan l-iskop kif ukoll permezz tas-sistema tad-drenaġġ. Ir-regoli dwar il-ġbir u l-ħażna tal-ilma tax-xita applikati mill-awtoritajiet għal bini u żvilupp ġdid ħafna drabi mhumiex osservati. L-awtoritajiet ftit li xejn jagħtu kas.

Il-politika dwar it-transport hi qasam ieħor fejn l-ippjanar li ma jħarisx fit-tul jeħtieġ li jkun sostitwit billi tkun applikata l-politika ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli. Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport, li jibqa’ fis-seħħ sal-2025, jiġbdilna l-attenzjoni tagħna li nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn kwarta. Dan jindika li inizjattivi biex ikun imrażżan it-traffiku fuq livell lokali u reġjonali jista’ jindirizza b’mod effettiv il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna bil-vantaġġ doppju ta’ titjib fil-kwalità tal-arja fejn din hi l-iktar meħtieġa.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport jgħidilna li f’dan il-qasam, tul is-snin, ftit li xejn ħarisna fit-tul. Dan wassal, jgħidilna l-pjan, għal nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni strateġika u bħala riżultat ta’ dan żviluppajna l-inkapaċità li jkunu indirizzati materji diffiċli bħalma hi dik li tikkonċerna t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati. Min-naħa l-waħda għandna dan il-ħsieb sostenibbli dwar l-ippjanar tat-trasport, imma imbagħad min-naħa l-oħra l-Gvern ġie jaqa’ u jqum u għaddej bi programm ta’ nfieq sostanzjali fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq bl-iskop li tiżdied il-kapaċità tagħhom u bil-konsegwenza li d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi tibqa’ tiżdied.

Dan kollu żejt fil-bażwa għax ġie ippruvat tul is-snin, bi studji li saru f’diversi pajjiżi, illi l-iżvilupp tas-sistema tat-toroq ma tnaqqasx il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, imma isservi biss biex il-problema tkun posposta inkella tiċċaqlaq minn żona għall-oħra.

L-affarijiet huma agħar fil-qasam tal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art. Gvernijiet suċċessivi wrew li ma kienux kapaċi jrażżnu l-iżvilupp esaġerat. B’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali t-tmexxija politika tiddeskrivi lilha nnifisha bħal ħbieb tan-negozji (business friendly) inkella, kif smajna din il-ġimgħa ħbieb tas-suq (market friendly) u dan biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw in-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni adegwata. Qalulna li l-industrija tal-bini tant ħolqot impjiegi li qed tikkontribwixxi b’mod effettiv għal titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja.

Imma, kif bla dubju nafu lkoll, l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni kienet fuq quddiem nett tkattar il-ħsara lill-pajjiż permezz ta’ żvilupp esaġerat bil-pretensjoni li l-ħsara ambjentali ikkawżata minnhom nagħmlu tajjeb għaliha aħna, l-bqija. Sfortunatament, ġew mgħejjuna minn gvernijiet suċċessivi li kontinwament fittxew kif jagħmluhielhom iktar faċli biex igawdu l-frott ta’ ħidmiethom. L-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art kif ipprattikat f’pajjiżna mhux sostenibbli u iktar ma jkun imrażżan malajr, ikun aħjar għal kulħadd.

In-nuqqas tal-politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli tinħass prattikament fl-oqsma kollha. Jeħtieġ li llum qabel għada nħarsu fit-tul f’kull deċiżjoni li tittieħed. Kien pass tajjeb, pass ‘l-quddiem li r-responsabbilta politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli marret lura f’Kastilja, fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. Imma dan għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass. Il-bidu, segwit minn hafna iktar passi.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Jannar 2020

The politics of sustainable development

The politics of sustainable development is a matter for the Prime Minister’s direct consideration as it is wide-ranging and concerns all areas of policy.

It is quite interesting that once more sustainable development has taken up residence at Castille, being the responsibility of Minister Carmelo Abela, who has been appointed as a Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister. This was very rarely the case to date except in the short period during which Mario de Marco was Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism and the Environment.

Robert Abela is not the first Prime Minister who has emphasised the need to give much more importance to sustainable development. To date, however, none of them has delivered.

Sustainable development is one of the most abused and mis-used terms in the political lexicon. Political discourse continuously fails to project the politics of sustainable development as having a long-term view and continuously factoring future generations in the decision-taking process.

Governments do not give sufficient importance to sustainable development as this is not just about today. It is rather about how today’s activity should not prejudice tomorrow and future generations. This is not sufficiently on the radar of today’s politicians. Their interest, generally, does not span more than five years: that is until the next general election.

This is a point underlined by former Norwegian social democrat Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in her seminal UN Report Our Common Future who emphasised that “We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.

The politics of sustainable development is not just a matter of environmental concern: it involves a holistic consideration of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It signifies that our actions must have a long-term view and be simultaneously compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and our culture.

Sustainable development is about living in harmony with all that surrounds us, at all times, not just when it suits us. It requires the synchronisation of cultural, social, environmental and economic policy. Shielding human dignity, appreciating our culture and environmental protection are as essential as economic development.

Within a global and EU framework the politics of sustainable development also involves following and implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals and the associated 169 targets. This is the global 2030 Agenda to which the European Union contributed substantially. While the whole 2030 Agenda is important, some aspects of it are relatively more important on a local level.

Consider water management, for example. It is imperative that we realise that we need to manage our water resources in a sustainable manner. To date gross incompetence has characterised water management in Malta. Access to the water table is still substantially a free for all, while storm water is mostly dumped into the sea, either directly or through the public sewer system. Rules for rainwater harvesting within the framework of land use planning are more honoured in the breach, without the authorities taking the minimum of enforcement action.

Transport policy is another area where short-term planning needs to give way to the politics of sustainable development. The National Transport Master Plan which runs until 2025 draws our attention that 50 per cent of private car journeys involve trips that are shorter than 15 minutes. This indicates that taking initiatives to reduce vehicular traffic at a local and regional level would be of considerable help in addressing road congestion and improving air quality where it matters most.

The National Transport Master Plan emphasises that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has, to date, generally been short-term in nature. This “has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.” On the one hand we have this “written” sustainable approach to transport policy, yet on the other hand government has embarked on an unsustainable spending spree of infrastructural development to increase the capacity of our roads, as a result ensuring that car-dependency continues unabated.

Addressing traffic congestion through expanding the road network only results in shifting the problem: either physically to another area, or else moving it in time.

The cherry on the cake is land use planning. Successive governments have been unable to restrain overdevelopment.

Sanctimoniously they describe themselves as being business friendly or market friendly to try and justify their lack of adequate action. The building industry, we are repeatedly told, creates so much jobs that it “contributes to the quality of life”.

As we are all well aware the construction industry has been a major force in ruining this country through over-development and through expecting us to foot their environmental bills. Unfortunately, they have been aided by successive governments who continuously seek ways to make it easier for the industry to plunder their way through. Land use planning is clearly unsustainable and the sooner it is restrained the better for all.

Sustainable development is conspicuous by its absence in practically all areas of policy. The politics of sustainable development still needs to be ingrained in the day-to-day policy-making structures. Assigning political responsibility for sustainable development to a Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister could be a good first step forward. However, there is still a long way to go.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 January 2020

Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex: lil hinn mill-ponta ta’ mneħirna

Il-mina taħt il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex ser tkun mina għall-karozzi u mhux mina għan-nies. Biex din tagħmel sens ekonomiku ser ikollha tiddependi minn żieda fit-traffiku bejn il-gżejjer u għaldaqstant tikkontradixxi l-ispirtu tal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport sas-sena 2025.

Tajjeb li niftakru li l-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport imfassal fl-2016 mill-Gvern Laburista jenfasizza li l-linja politika dwar it-transport u l-ippjanar tiegħu f’Malta baqgħet qatt ma ħares fit-tul. Dan ikkaġuna “nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni strateġika u n-nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu ndirizzati materji diffiċli, bħar-restrizzjonijiet dwar karozzi privati.”

Minflok ma jippresenta politika maħsuba biex tindirizza t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati mit-toroq tagħna, l-Gvern u l-aġenziji tiegħu baqgħu għaddejin b’ħidma li tkompli ssaħħaħ id-dipendenza mill-karozzi privati. Dan qed isir permezz ta’ investiment eċċessiv fl-infrastruttura tat-trasport lokali. Dan l-investiment qed isir bil-għan li jżid iżjed karozzi minn kemm filfatt jesgħu t-toroq tal-pajjiż, u dan biex jissodisfa lin-negozjanti tal-karozzi. Importanti ukoll li nirrealizzaw li ladarba l-emmissjonijiet mit-trasport jirrappreżentaw l-ikbar kontribut tagħna għaż-żieda tal-karbonju fl-arja, dawn qegħdin ixekklu l-politika dwar it-tibdil fil-klima li kull Gvern sensibbli jenħtieg isegwi. Dan minkejja li l-Gvern jiftaħar li kien minn tal-ewwel li segwa u beda jimplimenta l-konklużjonijiet tas-summit ta’ Pariġi dwar il-klima.

Fil-konferenza stampa il-Ministri Ian Borg u Justyne Caruana saħqu li l-investituri li ser jinvestu fil-mina għandhom jimmiraw lejn mina li tkun kapaċi tiffaċilita l-moviment ta’ 9,000 karozza kuljum bejn il-gżejjer. Dan ifisser illi jiġi ġġenerat livell ta’ traffiku li jlaħħaq it-tripplu ta’ dak li għandna illum, b’mod konsistenti mal-projezzjonijiet tal-istudju li għamlet id-ditta E-cubed rigward il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-proġett. Dan l-istudju kien ġie kkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Kamra Għawdxija tal-Kummerċ.

Il-ħlas li jkun meħtieġ li jsir għall-użu tal-mina, jiġifieri t-toll, jiddetermina kif jinġabru lura l-ispejjes biex tiġi żviluppata l-mina u biex din tibqa’ topera tul is-snin. Dan kollu jiddependi minn kemm il-mina tintuża mill-karozzi. L-esiġenza li mill-mina jgħaddi l-ikbar traffiku possibli hija l-bażi li ssejjes l-esistenza tal-mina, għax mingħajr dan it-traffiku ma jinġabrux il-flejjes li għandhom jagħmlu tajjeb għall-ispejjes u l-profitti ta’ min ser jidħol għal dan “l-investiment”. Imma dan min-naħa l-oħra jmur kontra objettiv bażiku tal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport li bi kliem ċar jispjega li t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq hu essenzjali jekk tassew irridu nħarsu lil hinn mill-ponta ta’ mneħirna.

L-ammont ta’ ħlas li ser jinġabar mill-utenti tal-mina ser jiddependi mill-ispiża meħtieġa biex din tiġi żviluppata u mill-ħtieġijiet tal-operat tagħha. Ir-rapporti tal-konferenza stampa li saret iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ma taw l-ebda indikazzjoni dwar l-istima ta’ din l-ispiża. F’dan l-istadju dan jinftiehem għax għadu ma ġie iffinalizzat l-ebda diżinn. Hemm ukoll raġuni partikolari oħra. L-informazzjoni dwar il-ġejoloġija tal-Fliegu inġabret biss dan l-aħħar u mhemm l-ebda dubju li ser ikun meħtieġ iżjed iżjed tagħrif speċifiku rigward iż-żoni problematiċi. L-istudji mistennija li jkollhom impatt kemm fuq id-disinn finali u kemm fuq l-ispiża li tirriżulta u allura fuq il-ħlas li jkun meħtieg li jintalab mill-utenti tal-mina.

Rari ħafna li proġetti bħal dawn isegwu l-istima tal-ispejjes. Pereżempju, rigward il-każ tal-mina bejn il-power station tal-Marsa u dik ta’ Delimara nafu li l-ispiża finali kienet viċin id-doppju tal-istima iniżjali u dan minħabba in-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni ġeoloġika. Minħabba dan sfrondaw partijiet mill-mina waqt li kien għaddej ix-xogħol u kellhom isiru ħafna iżjed xogħolijiet, fosthom ċerti bidliet f’partijiet mir-rotta tal-mina nifsha!

Min-naħa l-oħra l-ispiża fuq iċ-Channel Tunnel bejn Folkestone f’Kent u Coquelles ħdejn Calais qabżet l-istima b’madwar 80 fil-mija u dan minkejja li kienu saru studji ġeoloġiċi dettaljati.

Fl-aħħar l-ispiża reali ser tkun bejn is-600 miljun u biljun euro, u din ser tiddependi mid-disinn finali u mid-diffikultajiet ġeoloġiċi li ser jaffaċċja t-tħaffir tal-mina taħt il-Fliegu.

Dejjem jekk isir, dan il-proġett ser iħalli impatti ambjentali sinifikanti, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex, fosthom li qerda tal-villaġġ trogloditiku fl-Għerien, fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa.

Hemm soluzzjonijiet oħra li jistgħu jindirizzaw b’mod adegwat il-mobilità bejn il-gżejjer Maltin. Irridu nkunu kapaċi naħsbu b’mod kreattiv sabiex insibu soluzzjoni għall-problema reali tal-mobilità tan-nies, iżjed minn dik tal-karozzi. Dan jista’ jseħħ biss jekk nieħdu inizjattivi li bihom naslu ninfatmu mid-dipendenza tagħna mill-karozzi. Dment li ma naslux sa dan il-punt m’aħniex ser inkunu nistgħu nsibu soluzzjoni sostenibbli.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Jannar 2020

 

Gozo tunnel depends on maximising car movements

The Gozo-Malta undersea tunnel is a tunnel for cars, not for people. It is, in fact, the antithesis of the underlying theme of the National Transport Master Plan for 2025.

It is pertinent to remember that the Transport Master Plan, drawn up in 2016 by the present government, emphasises that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has, to date, generally been short-term in nature. This “has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.”

Instead of presenting a rigorous policy addressing private vehicle restraint, the government and its agencies are continuously seeking to reinforce car-dependency through the encouragement of excessive investments in the local transport infrastructure. This investment aims at increasing the capacity of our roads and consequently dances to the tune of the car lobby. Also, knowing that emissions originating from transport are currently the major contributor to carbon emissions in Malta, encouraging car-dependency is directly opposite to the climate change policy which any sensible government should follow at this point in time.

The Gozo-Malta undersea tunnel is no exception. This week’s press conference by Ministers Ian Borg and Justyne Caruana emphasised the fact that the brief for would-be investors is a tunnel that should have a capacity of 9,000 vehicle movements on a daily basis. This is three times the current movement of vehicles between the islands and is in line with the projections of the 2015 E-cubed study commissioned by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber dealing with an economic cost benefit analysis of the available strategic options.

The toll to be charged – and, consequently, the tunnel’s economic performance – is dependent on generating the maximum traffic possible. Maximising traffic underpins the very existence of the tunnel. This runs counter to the basic objective of the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which – in crystal clear language – spells out the reduction of cars from our roads as the long-term objective of Malta’s National Transport Policy.

The toll which will eventually have to be paid is also dependent on the costs to be incurred in the development and the operation of the tunnel. Reports on this week’s press conference do not indicate any estimated cost which is, at this stage,  understandable in view of the fact that the design of the tunnel is not yet cast in stone. There is, however, a specific reason for this: geological information of relevance has been compiled very recently and it will undoubtedly require additional studies focusing on problem areas, which studies will have a significant bearing on both the actual design as well as the eventual cost and consequently the toll expected.

This type of projects very rarely follow estimated costs; the tunnel linking the Marsa and Delimara powers stations in Malta, for example, overshot its projected costs by around 100 per cent due to the absence of adequate geological information. As a result, parts of the tunnel caved its construction, necessitating a substantial amount of additional work, including redirecting parts of it.

On the other hand, expenditure on the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles near Calais exceeded the projected estimates by around 80 per cent, notwithstanding the availability of detailed geological studies.

At the end of the day, the actual costs of the tunnel will be anything between 600 million and one billion euros, depending on the actual design as well as the geological issues encountered below the Gozo Channel.

If the tunnel materialises, it will result in significant environmental damage in both Malta and Gozo, including the obliteration of the troglodytic village at l-Għerien in the limits of Mellieħa.

There are other solutions which can adequately address the mobility between Malta and Gozo. It does however require thinking outside the box and focusing on the real issue: people mobility. This would require a bold initiative of addressing head-on car-dependency in both Malta and Gozo. Until we take the decision to start shedding our car- dependency, however, no solution can be achieved.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 January 2020

Beyond the trees

Trees are in the news, mostly for the wrong reasons. Some of them are being chopped, others are being uprooted and transplanted from areas impacted by road infrastructure projects to elsewhere, generally close by.

At this stage of these projects’ development, their impact on trees along our roads are the most visible outcome. There are various other outcomes that will only become clear in due course.

The symbolic value of trees is powerful. They are the most obvious choice for environmental activists when these need a medium to convey clearly understood messages about what is happening to our environment.

While their symbolic value is spearheading the criticism directed at the road development programme, trees have also inherent value as part of an eco-system that is continuously under siege.

The road development projects currently under way symbolise what is wrong with our planners – they work against nature, continuously failing to factor eco-sensitivity into their plans.

The issue at hand is clearly traffic congestion and the current exercise regarding infrastructure is trying to address this to facilitate mobility. However, in addressing traffic congestion, the main problem is that the authorities are approaching the issue in the wrong manner.

Their approach is based in the short-term and, consequently, the problem is never solved. It is merely postponed to some later date to be picked up again years down the line by future generations. This has been shown to be the case time and again everywhere, and clearly crops up in all major studies on transport planning and management.

Ian Borg, the Minister of Transport, is not the cause of traffic congestion. He has inherited it from his predecessors who failed to act properly on their watch.

Unfortunately, he is following in their footsteps. Borg too will pass the buck to his successor – more roads, more traffic, more bottlenecks, more traffic congestion.

Borg is ignoring the advice that is clearly spelt out in the Transport Master Plan 2015, which clearly identifies car use and ownership as the perennially unaddressed issue.

It would be pertinent to point out the following extract from section 2.2.1 of the Transport Master Plan, saying that: “historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking.”

The section goes on to say: “This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal action to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.”

The real issue is that our society is car dependent. This is reflected not only in all we do but also in the manner we go about doing it.

Unfortunately, governments are only interested in short-term solutions as they will generally not be around for much longer than that. So, they do not bother with implementing a long-term vision.

We need to change tack and focus our energy on the long-term solutions. It this case, it means that we can only solve traffic congestion by shifting from a focus on road capacity to one addressing car dependency. This signifies that we no longer merely act on the effects but that, instead, we start focusing on the real cause of our problem: changing our behaviour by reducing our car dependency.

I agree that this is easier said than done. But it is also fair and realistic to state that further procrastination will only add to our problems. The present state of affairs is precisely the direct consequence of a failure to act over a number of years, spurred by a policy and planning failure that has consistently opted for the short-term stop-gap solutions instead of the long-term ones.

 

Published in The Times of Malta: 9 August 2019 

Going on a diet

The health problems we face by being overweight are not resolved by changing our wardrobe or loosening our belt but by going on a reasonable diet. And it is the same with our roads.

Addressing traffic congestion will not be resolved by road-widening or large road infrastructure projects but by addressing the root cause of such congestion: the number of cars that are using of our roads.

The opposition to the Central Link project is not about trees. Trees, symbolic of environmental vitality, are an important detail in the project that Infrastructure Malta is undoubtedly only too willing to concede through promises of substantially increasing their availability, even though the plans of the project have, at various times, indicated otherwise. This is apparent from the current bombardment of TV adverts by Infrastructure Malta. The opposition to the project is rather about the short-sighted transport policy that ignores the causes of traffic congestion and deals exclusively with the effects thereof. Avoiding the root cause of traffic congestion will only result in temporary relief.

The Environment Impact Assessment on the Central Link project considers six different scenarios: Scenario 0 to Scenario 5. Scenario 0 is defined as the “do-nothing option” with the other five scenarios being different combinations of interventions in the road infrastructure. The “do-nothing option”, as implied, signifies that no infrastructural interventions are involved: everything remains as is.

Infrastructure Malta’s brief is limited to infrastructural interventions. As a consequence, the authors of the Environmental Impact Assessment did not consider it worthwhile to examine whether it is at all possible to address traffic congestion through focused policy interventions over a suitable time frame. The government has already taken some positive steps in this regard through the offering of various carrots enticing different sectors to use alternative means of mobility, which include initiatives on both land and sea transport alternatives.

In the pipeline is the proposal to widen the appeal of public transport through making it free for everyone. Various other policy proposals have been implemented, including the provision of school transport to all schools, with the aim of reducing traffic during peak hours. This is all positive and could form the basis of an exercise to realistically address traffic congestion without the need for substantial infrastructural interventions.

What is the anticipated environmental impact of all this and possibly more? We are none the wiser through reading the Environment Impact Assessment.

The Transport Master Plan emphasises that the average journey length of a private car trip in Malta is 5.5 kilometres and that 50 per cent of trips take no more than 15 minutes. This obviously leads to the important consideration that regional and local public transport, if organised efficiently, could address the movement of a substantial number of cars on our roads with considerable environmental benefits. The EIA is silent on this basic information, which, if properly acted upon, could result in a substantial number of cars being removed from our roads without the need of any infrastructural intervention!

What role does environmental taxation have in encouraging a change in behaviour of those who can address their mobility needs in a reasonable manner without the need of using a private car?

Scenario 0, which considers environmental impacts without any infrastructural interventions, does not consider this. In so doing, the EIA is incomplete as it does not assess all the available options that can have an impact on traffic congestion. This contrasts with the provisions of the EIA Regulations which broadly regulate the process of analysing and reporting on the environmental impacts of major projects and emphasise that a “sufficiently detailed and reasonably exhaustive initial appraisal of potentially suitable alternatives” is essential.

This signifies that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has not carried out its role in moderating the contents of the EIA appropriately. This could possibly explain why, very strangely, Professor Victor Axiaq did not utter one single word during the public hearing of the Planning Authority Board during which he voted in favour of the Central Link project!

The long-term aim of Malta’s transport policy is spelled out in the Transport Master Plan 2025: it is a reduction in the number of cars from our roads. This will increase mobility through the use of sustainable alternatives such as public transport, cycling, walking and even sea transport between locations in our harbour areas.

Transport studies carried out all over the world indicate that major road works always end up generating additional traffic. The Central Link project will not be an exception and consequently, it will not follow the direction spelt out by Malta’s Transport Master Plan approved by government in 2016!

published on The Independent on Sunday : 28 July 2019

Il-proġett Central Link: riżultat ta’ inkompetenza

Ilkoll naqblu li l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna hi problema kbira.

Imma hi sfortuna kbira li dawk responsabbli biex jimplimentaw il-politika dwar it-trasport qieshom mhumiex konxji li meta qed japprovaw il-proġett Central Link qed jinjoraw il-kawża tal-problema u minflok qed jikkonċentraw fuq l-effetti. Il-konġestjoni tat-toroq tagħna mhix ikkawżata mit-tul jew mill-wisa’ tat-toroq imma min-numru ta’ karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnhom.

It-toroq tagħna ma jesgħux iktar karozzi li żdiedu b’mod sproporzjonat għad-daqs u l-ħtiġijiet ta’ dawn il-gżejjer.

Id-dibattitu fuq il-proġett Central Link iffoka fuq ħafna materji importanti: l-kwalità tal-arja, l-ħarsien tal-agrikultura, l-ħarsien tas-siġar, l-passaġġi riżervati għar-roti, imma li lkoll kemm huma għandhom importanza marġinali għas-soluzzjoni tal-problema reali tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Il-kawża tal-problema mhix id-daqs tat-toroq imma n-numru tal-karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnhom u li sirna dipendenti wisq fuqhom.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport fih referenza għall-analiżi bażika li tindika x’qed jikkawża l-problemi tagħna: s’issa ma konniex kapaċi nħarsu fit-tul fl-ippjanar tat-trasport. Jiġifieri aħna nfittxu l-benefiċċji mmedjati u ninjoraw l-impatti fit-tul.
B’mod speċifiku taħt it-titlu “Intejbu l-ippjanar u d-diżinn għat-traport integrat u li jħares fit-tul” il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport jgħid hekk: “……….. nistgħu naraw, mill-esperjenza, li l-politika u l-ippjanar tat-trasport f’Malta ġeneralment ħares lejn l-immedjat ( 4 sa 5 snin). In-nuqqas li tingħata importanza lejn l-ippjanar fit-tul ifisser li ma hemm l-ebda pjan integrat ibbażat fuq analiżi solida, b’miri ċari li jħarsu fit-tul. Dan wassal għal nuqqas ta’ direzzjonji strateġika u n-nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu indirizzati materji diffiċli bħall-kontroll fuq l-użu ta’ karozzi privati. Is-soċjetà Maltija bil-mod biex tiċċaqlaq, u dan f’kuntrast mal-ħtieġa għal azzjoni biex il-problema tat-traffiku tkun indirizzata kemm illum kif ukoll fil-futur. Dan iwassal biex il-vjaġġatur Malti jistenna li kulħadd jibdel id-drawwiet tiegħu ħalli hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza. ” (sezzjoni 2.2.1 tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport)

L-affarijiet ma jistgħux ikunu iktar ċari minn hekk. Il-problema hi waħda: d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi. Toroq li jkunu usa’ jew itwal jistgħu jsolvu l-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku għal żmien limitat. Imma kif ġie repetutament ippruvat minn studji li saru f’diversi pajjiżi oħra, l-interventi fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq, fl-aħħar jispiċċaw biex iżidu l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, u dan għax iżidu it-traffiku.

Min-naħa l-oħra, il-proċess biex jitnaqqas id-dipendenza fuq il-karozza jieħu l-ħin, u l-votanti mhux ser jieħdu ġost!

Sfortunatament, uħud mill-dawk li kienu kritiċi tal-proġett iffukaw fuq id-dettalji u ma ħarsux lejn il-proġett fih innifsu, fit-totalità tiegħu, u allura ma rnexxilhomx japprezzaw kemm hi kbira l-ħsara li ser jagħmel il-proġett fit-totalità tiegħu.

Dan il-proġett m’għandniex bżonnu. Neħtieġu li niffukaw fuq il-problema li ġiet evitata kontinwament għax il-politiċi fil-Parlament u fil-Gvern ma jridux jieħdu deċiżjonijiet li m’humiex popolari. Għal din ir-raġuni iroxxu l-flus u jonfquhom, taparsi qed isolvu l-problemi. Mhux flushom, ovvjament, imma dak li jiġbru mit-taxxi minn fuqna. Il-problemi tal-lum, b’hekk, ikunu trasferiti f’ħoġor il-ġenerazzjonjiet futuri.

Is-soluzzjoni meħtieġa ma tinvolvix ħafna xogħol infrastrutturali imma prinċipalment inizjattivi politiċi biex jinkoraġixxu l-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ mobilità u dan flimkien ma inizjattivi li jippenalizzaw l-użu tal-karozzi privati.

Biex inkun ġust fil-kritika tiegħi ngħid li xi inizjattivi ittieħdu diġà u oħrajn bla dubju jitwettqu ukoll. Żdied sostanzjalment is-sussidju għat-trasport pubbliku. Ittieħdu inizjattivi diversi dwar aċċess b’xejn għat-trasport pubbliku lil diversi kategoriji u eventwalment hu ippjanat li dan ikun b’xejn għal kulħadd. Dan kollu tajjeb, iżda mhux biżżejjed. Flimkien ma dawn il-miżuri u bosta oħrajn hemm bżonn inizjattivi li jippenalizzaw l-użu tal-karozzi privati. Dawn jistgħu jinkludu żieda fit-taxxi applikabbli kemm għar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi kif ukoll għall-liċenzji. Dan iwassal għal tnaqqis fin-numru tal-karozzi fit-toroq.

It-taxxi ambjentali jagħmlu l-ġid. Huma l-għodda politika li jekk użati tajjeb jgħinu biex tissolva l-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku illum.

Għax il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hu l-prezz li l-ġenerazzjoni tal-lum qed tħallas għall-inkompetenza akkumulata tal-gvernijiet differenti fl-amministrazzjoni tal-politika tat-trasport. Sal-lum ġie evitat li jkunu ndirizzati l-problemi reali. Fir-realtà ma hemmx soluzzjonjijiet maġiċi: irridu naffrontaw il-problema. Sakemm nagħmlu hekk, il-problema tikber tista’.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Lulju 2019