Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta: nipproteġuha

 

Ministri tal-Gvern, u ta’ madwarhom, qieshom qegħdin fil-kju għall-prosit wara li tħabbar li Ta’ Qali ser ikun estiż biex ikun l-ikbar spazju miftuħ f’Malta. Park Nazzjonali, qalulna. Sal-ħin li qed nikteb għadu mhux ċar x’inhu propost eżattament, avolja l-fatt fih innifsu li l-ispazji miftuħa aċċessibli għal kulħadd ser jiżdiedu hu pass posittiv u li hu inkoraġġanti.

Huwa biss biż-żmien li nistgħu nsiru nafu jekk din l-aħbar hix intenzjonata biex tostor azzjonijiet oħra, bħal, pereżempju, l-qerda ta’ Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta. Ninsab infurmat li din il-possibilità, li Villa Gollcher tinqerd u flokha jkun żviluppat xi ħaġa oħra, ġiet diskussa minn kandidat tal-Partit Laburista għall-Kunsill Lokali tal-Mosta waqt laqgħa b’attendenza miżera li saret għall-komunità tan-negożju fil-Mosta. Speċifikament issemmiet il-possibilità li fuq sit li effettivament hu protett ikun ipprovdut parkeġġ għal 500 karozza!

Villa Gollcher qiegħda fil-qalba urbana tal-Mosta b’kejl superfiċjali ta’ madwar 13,000 metru kwadru. Il-parti l-kbira tas-sit hi okkupata minn ġnien mimli b’siġar taċ-ċitru. Villa Gollcher mhix skedata. Imma kont sorpriż meta identifikajt li hemm protezzjoni permezz tal-policy CG09 tal-pjan lokali għaċ-Ċentru ta’ Malta li kien approvat fl-2006. Mhux normali li nsibu sorpriżi bħal dawn fil-pjani lokali għax ġeneralment dawn kienu użati biex ikun immassakrat il-wirt mibni tagħna.

Il-Pjan Lokali jenfasizza li siti bħal Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta, bi ġnien imdaqqas, identifikati bħala spażji mhux mibnija bejn il-bini, għandhom ikunu mħarsa. Il-pjan lokali għaldaqstant jipprovdi li m’għandhomx ikunu kkunsidrati proposti biex isir żvilupp fuq dawn is-siti li bħala riżultat tiegħu jinħolqu binjiet separati, residenzjali jew mhux, u dan inkluż garaxxijiet għall-karozzi. L-unika possibiltajiet li jistgħu jkunu kkunsidrati huma dawk li jikkonċernaw xogħol żgħir immirat biex jikkonserva u/jew jirrestawra dawn it-tip ta’ propjetajiet fiż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana. Jista’ jkun hemm il-possibilità ukoll għal żidiet żgħar kompatibbli mar-regoli għaż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana imma jidher li hu possibli li Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta insalvawha.

Dejjem hemm il-logħob tal-iżviluppaturi, pereżempju, li ma jiħdux ħsieb il-bini biex tiġrilu l-ħsara u eventwalment ma jibqa’ xejn x’ikun protett! Biex nevitaw dawn l-affarijiet għandna ninsistu mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar biex tagħti kont ta’ egħmilha. Dan billi tassigura li sidien il-propjetà ma jippruvawx jonqsu mill-obbligi tagħhom biex jirnexxielhom jevitaw milli jintlaħqu l-miri tal-pjan lokali intenzjonati biex ikunu protetti ż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana.

Jiena infurmat li minkejja dan kollu, diġa ġie iffirmat konvenju biex tinbiegħ Villa Gollcher fil-Mosta, u dan soġġett li jinħareġ permess ta’ żvilupp mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għal svilupp massiċċ. Qed jissemmew miljuni kbar ta’ euro. Ilkoll nafu x’kapaċi jagħmlu l-flus!

Hemm ħafna ġonna mdaqqsa li jeħtieġilhom u jixirqilhom ikunu protetti fiż-żoni urbani tagħna li qegħdin fil-periklu li jkunu ssagrifikati u jkunu soġġetti għal żvilupp. Biex dan iseħħ irid ikun hemm il-kompliċità tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, għax il-bqija dan ma jistax iseħħx. Huwa dover tagħna li nassiguraw li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tkun kontinwament attenta biex dan ikun evitat f’kull ħin. L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għandha tkun iffukata biex twettaq dmirha ħalli l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art ikun servizz li minnu tibbenefika l-komunità kollha.

Forsi, min jaf, il-ħarsien tal-wirt mibni tagħna ikun xi ftit iktar faċli milli hu illum.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Mejju 2019

Hands off Mosta’s Villa Gollcher

Government Ministers, and hangers-on, are queuing to share credit for the announcement regarding Ta’ Qali’s extension into the largest open space in Malta. A National Park. At the time of writing, it is not at all clear as to what is being proposed -even though the number of increasing accessible open spaces is laudable.

Time will tell whether this announcement will be used to camouflage other action, such as – for example – the chopping up of Villa Gollcher in Mosta. I am informed that this possibility, the demolition of Villa Gollcher and the redevelopment of the site, was recently discussed by a Labour Party Mosta Local Council candidate during a sparsely attended meeting for the Mosta business community. Specifically mentioned was the possibility of providing parking for 500 cars on what is currently a protected site: Villa Gollcher.

Villa Gollcher lies within the urban core of Mosta. It has a superficial area of around 13,000 square metres. Most of the area is taken up by a large garden full of citrus trees. Villa Gollcher is not scheduled. However, I was surprised to identify its protection through Policy CG09 of the Malta Central Local Plan which was approved in 2006. A pleasant surprise – which I am not accustomed to finding in the Local Plans as they have generally been used time and again to place our built heritage on the development chopping board.

The Local Plan, in fact, underlines the special provisions applicable in respect of sites which, like Villa Gollcher in Mosta, are identified as open space enclaves. In this respect, it is stated in the Local Plan, that the Planning Authority “will not consider any development or redevelopment proposals that create new independent residential/non-residential units, including garages for the parking of vehicles.” The only possible developments which may be considered are very minor ones which are aimed at converting/restoring this, and similar properties, in urban conservation areas. There may be room for minor additions compatible with Urban Conservation rules but I believe that – on the basis of the above-quoted policy – it is possible to save Mosta’s Villa Gollcher.

Of course there are the usual tricks which developers play, such as facilitating the dilapidation process through a lack of maintenance. In this respect, we should hold the Planning Authority to account: with appropriate measures it should ensure that owners of properties do not try to successfully stultify the Local Plan policies intended to protect the character of our urban conservation areas.

I am informed that, notwithstanding all this, a promise of sale has been entered into respect of Villa Gollcher, subject to the condition of the issuance of development permits for a large-scale redevelopment. Millions of euros are in play and at stake and we all know that money talks.

Many large gardens worthy of protection in our old urban areas are at risk of being sacrificed on the development chopping board. This will only be possible with the complicity of the Planning Authority and it is our duty to ensure that the Planning Authority is kept on its toes in order that this is avoided. It should be focused on carrying out its duties in ensuring that land use planning is a service from which the whole community stands to gain.

Maybe, who knows, protecting our heritage would be an easier task than it is today.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 May 2019

Bejn prezz u valur

Kien Oscar Wilde li madwar mitt sena ilu kiteb li hawn uħud li jafu l-prezz ta’ kollox imma m’għandhomx l-iċken idea tal-valur ta’ dak li hemm madwarhom. Illum l-affarijiet huma ferm iktar soffistikati minn hekk. Għandna studji kkumplikati li janalizzaw il-benefiċċju miksub ikkomparat mal-infieq li jsir u studji dwar impatti ta’ kull xorta li bihom tista’ tipprova tiġġustifika dak li trid, dejjem sakemm tkun ippreparat biex tħallas minn imnieħrek għal dan il-privileġġ.

Illum il-ġurnata prattikament kollox hu ridott għal valur monetarju. Meta nitkellmu dwar spiża, prattikament kulħadd jifhem nefqa f’termini ta’ flus. Li titkellem dwar spiża ambjentali jew spiża soċjali donnu li hi xi ħaġa stramba, qisu diffiċli biex tinftiehem.

L-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin dejjem trid iktar. B’pariri minn xi professjonisti, inkluż eks uffiċjali anzjani tal-ippjanar, issa l-iżviluppaturi qed jippreżentaw it-talbiet tagħhom billi jilgħabuha tal-vittmi tar-regolamentazzjoni. Imma fis-sustanza t-talbiet tagħhom huma dejjem l-istess: biex jimmassimizzaw il-frott tar-rebgħa.

Kważi fl-istess ħin sirna nafu li l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija tal-Ilma żarmat. Okkazjoni bħal din hi dejjem waħda ta’ dieqa. Imma r-realtà tibqa’ li f’Malta hawn ftit wisq attivisti ambjentali f’numru ta’ għaqdiet ambjentali li mhux wieħed żgħir. Forsi l-għaqdiet ambjentali jirrealizzaw illi l-multiplikazzjoni tagħhom ma tagħmilx ġid lill-kawża li jmexxu l-quddiem. Lanqas ma jagħmel ġid li dawn l-għaqdiet iħarsu lejn il-konsulenti tal-iżviluppaturi l-kbar huma u jfittxu tmexxija ġdida. Il-kredibilità tagħhom, naħseb, li tista’ tieħu daqqa ta’ ħarta.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent hu għadma iebsa. Bosta ma jirrealizzawx li l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna jiddependi minn din il-ħidma. Ir-riżultati tal-ħidma favur il-ħarsien tal-ambjent, jew in-nuqqas tagħha, jidhru ġeneralment fuq tul ta’ żmien, ma jidhrux malajr. Dan inevitabilment iwassal biex ma tidhirx b’mod ċar ir-rabta bejn il-kawża u l-effett u bħala  konsegwenza ma jkunx hemm biżżejjed interess f’dak li qed jiġri, sakemm ikun tard wisq.

Illum bosta qed jirrealizzaw x’inhuma l-impatti konsiderevoli tal-ezerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni tal-art li nieda l-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi fl-2006 li bħala riżultat tiegħu madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art madwar dawn il-gżejjer saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp mil-lum għal għada. Ftit jiftakru li l-Partit Laburista, dakinnhar, kien ħa posizzjoni kontra l-proposta ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni u kien anke ivvota kontra tagħha fil-Parlament. Illum il-ġurnata, imma, l-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern ħalla kollox kif kien, għax, wara kollox, hu komdu li meta kkritikat tkun tista’ twaħħal f’ ta’ qablek u b’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali tiddikjara li ma tista’ tagħmel xejn, għax sadanittant hemm min laħaq rabba’ l-ġust!

Din l-aħħar manuvra tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi li jilgħabuha tal-vittmi mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida. Kif spjega dak li kien Direttur tal-Ippjanar, u li illum mid-dehra hu konsulent tal-Assoċjazzjoni, l-Perit Stephen Farrugia, l-proposta tinvolvi tpartit ta’ arja f’żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana ma drittijiet ta’ żvilupp iktar vantaġġjuż xi mkien ieħor. Bażikament it-talba tal-Assoċjazzjoni hi biex il-membri tagħha jkunu kkumpensati għar-restrizzjonijiet fiż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana kif ukoll fil-konfront ta’ bini protett. Kif intqal f’artiklu ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa mill-President tal-Assoċjazzjoni Sandro Chetcuti t-talba hi biex dak li mhux jitħallew jiżviluppaw jibqa’ għandhom bi dritt li jkun trasferit fuq art oħra fejn ma hemmx l-istess restrizzjonijiet. S’issa ma ippubblikawx dettalji imma hu ovvju li l-proposta qed tfittex li jinħolqu ammont sostanzjali ta’ drittijiet ta’ żvilupp li jkompli jżid mal-madra li diġa hawn.

L-Assoċjazzjoni bil-proposta tagħha qed tmur kontra dak li hu bażiku fl-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art għax qed tassumi b’mod żbaljat li kull sid ta’ propjetà għandu dritt ugwali biex jiżviluppa rrispettivament mil-livell ta’ protezzjoni applikabbli. Hi proposta li tfisser biss taħwid, iktar milli diġa hawn.

X’baqa’ jiġri?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 24 ta’ Marzu 2019

Knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing

It was Oscar Wilde who over 100 years ago coined the expression on “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing”. Today matters are more sophisticated, with “cost benefit analysis” and impact studies of all sorts which seek to justify practically anything, as long as you can pay for the privilege.

Reducing everything to a monetary value seems to be the order of the day. When we speak of costs, we are only understood as having spoken about financial outlays. Environmental costs or social costs seem to be something out of this world: apparently, they are so difficult to comprehend.

The Malta Developers Association wants more. With advice from professionals, including former senior land use planning regulators, they are now sugar-coating their demands. Essentially, however they are still making the same point: they are seeking to maximise the fruits of greed.

Almost simultaneously, we get to know that the Malta Water Association has closed shop. It is always a sad day when an eNGO disbands, but the reality is that we have too few environmental activists and too many environmental organisations on this little rock. It is about time that all environmental NGOs come together, as the proliferation of eNGOs is not doing the environment lobby any good. Nor is it helpful to the environment cause to co-opt former advisors of mega-developers to lead eNGOs. Credibility may, in my view, be at stake.

Protecting the environment is a tough job because not many realise that our quality of life is dependent on it. The results of environment protection – or the lack of it – are generally only evident in the long term as they are not easily identifiable immediately. This inevitably leads to a lack of connection between cause and effect and consequently to a lack of interest in the issues which matter, until it is too late.

Today, many people are realising the considerable impacts of the rationalisation exercise on land use embarked upon by the Lawrence Gonzi administration in 2006, as a result of which around two million square metres of land spread around the Maltese islands became suitable for development overnight. Few remember that, at the time, the Labour Party had then taken a stand against the proposal, even voting against it in Parliament. Today, however, Labour leaves the rationalisation proposals in place because, when faced with rampant over-development, it is most convenient to be able to continuously shift the blame on your predecessors, sanctimoniously declaring that you cannot do anything about it, as, in the meantime, vested rights have taken root!

The latest MDA land use planning gimmick is a well-known strategy of playing the role of the victims. As explained by the former Director of Planning – now apparently a consultant to the Association, architect Stephen Farrugia – this MDA proposal will involve trading in airspaces in urban conservation areas in order to acquire more advantageous planning rights elsewhere instead. Basically, it is a request by the MDA for its members to be compensated for planning restrictions in Urban Conservation Areas as well as in respect of limitations on the potential development of protected buildings. The MDA seeks the possibility, as stated earlier in an article published this week by its President Sandro Chetcuti, to transfer the potential unused gross floor area from buildings whose development is restricted to areas where it is not. The details are not yet out but it is obvious that this proposal seeks to create a substantial amount of development rights which will further increase the unbridled development to which we have become so accustomed to.

The MRA proposal negates the very basics of land use planning as it assumes that every property owner has an equal right to develop, irrespective of the level of protection afforded to specific properties. In practise the MDA proposal will signify deregulation and the sooner it is shot down, the better.

What next?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 24 October 2019

L-istupru tas-Saqqajja

Nitkellmu dwar it-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja. Imma jidher li s-Saqqajja għan-niżla!

L-applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp biex żewġt idjar qodma fuq is-Saqqajja r-Rabat ikunu mibdula f’lukanda żgħira (boutique hotel) hu attentat ieħor biex ikun sfrakassat il-wirt storiku tal-pajjiż. Il-fillera sħiħa ta’ djar fuq is-Saqqajja flok ma jitħallew jinqerdu minn dak li wħud isejħulu żvilupp għandhom jingħataw protezzjoni fit-totalità tagħhom. Kif ippropona l-Professur Mario Buhagiar dawn id-djar fuq is- Saqqajja , tal-inqas, jistħoqilhom protezzjoni fi Grade 2, jiġifieri li l-faċċata tagħhom ma tkunx tista’ tintmiss. Possibilment jistħoqilhom iktar minn hekk ukoll: li jkunu mħarsa b’mod komplet fi Grad 1.  

 L-applikazzjoni għal żvilupp bin-numru 9516/18 tipproponi li d-djar 14 u 15 fuq Is-Saqqajja Rabat (b’faċċata ukoll fuq Vjal Santu Wistin) jinbidlu f’lukanda fi klassi 3B . Minn eżami tal-pjanti sottomessi jidher ċar li l-proposta tinkludi ż-żieda ta’ żewġ sulari fuq il-binja eżistenti kif ukoll il-mutilazzjoni tal-partijiet interni ta’ dawn iż-żewġt idjar biex ikunu jistgħu jkunu mibdula f’lukanda żgħira.

Bħal bosta oħrajn jiena ukoll ippreżentajt oġġezzjoni għal dan l-aħħar attakk fuq il-wirt tagħna lkoll. Ir-raġunijiet għal dan huma diversi.

L-ikbar raġuni hi li l-iżvilupp propost jistona fil-kuntest li hu propost li jsir.  Ser jeqred darba għal dejjem l-omoġenejità u l-armonija tal-faċċati tal-bini kemm fuq is-Saqqajja kif ukoll fuq Vjal Santu Wistin. Fuq Vjal Santu Wistin  l-iżviluppatur irid iħarbat parti kbira mill-ġnien li jagħti karattru uniku u hu parti integrali mill-binja. Hi l-binja kollha, kif inhi, bil-ġnien kollu  li teħtieġ li tkun protetta.

Il-Pjan Lokali, li jqis liż-żona bħala waħda ta’ konservazzjoni urbana jillimita l-iżvilupp fiż-żona għal żewġ sulari. Il-proposta ta’ żvilupp tinjora din il-limitazzjoni kompletament. Huwa għaldaqstant ovvju li jekk din l-applikazzjoni tibqa’ għaddejja u tkun approvata ser twassal għall-qerda tal-filliera sħiħa tad-djar  fuq is-Saqqajja għax li jgħodd għal wieħed jgħodd għal kulħadd. Imbagħad  tkun ġiet stuprata ż-żona kollha.

Iżjed ‘l-isfel, fit-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja, fejn sa ftit ilu kien hemm it-Tattingers Club u xi propjetajiet oħra, il-ħerba tkompli.  Dan is-sit ukoll għandu mdendla miegħu proposta ta’ żvilupp: lukanda massiċċa ta’ 110 kmamar mifruxa fuq 5600 metru kwadru. Mhumiex l-uniċi applikazzjonijiet fl-inħawi għax hemm oħrajn. Iżda huma l-iktar li jagħtu fil-għajn. 

Jidher li waslet id-daqqa tar-Rabat li jrid jiffaċċja l-forza tal-qerda li tpoġġi l-flus qabel il-wirt komuni tagħna lkoll.

Il-mod kif ġiebet ruħha l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fil-passat ma tantx hu ta’ awgurju tajjeb li din b’xi mod kapaċi tieqaf lill-forzi tal-qerda. Permezz tad-deċiżjonijiet tagħha sal-lum, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bagħatet messaġġ ċar li, fil-fehma tagħha, l-impatt ekonomiku tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni jixirqilha ferm iktar attenzjoni minn kwlaunkwe ħaġa oħra.  B’ġustizzja ngħid li hemm xi żewġ membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li jispikkaw minħabba li b’differenza minn sħabhom jiddefendu regolarment kemm il-wirt storiku kif ukoll dak naturali. Imma dawn qegħdin f’minoranza assoluta, avolja xi kultant ġieli jappoġġawhom uħud mill-bqija.

Imma x’tistenna minn Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li l-membri tiegħu ma jħossuhomx skomdi madwar l-istess mejda ma’ agent tal-propjetà biex jgħaddu ġudizzju dwar liema applikazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp jixirqilhom ikunu approvati u liema le?  

M’għandi l-ebda idea dwar x’deċiżjoni ser ikollna, imma fid-dawl ta’ kif ġiebet ruħha sal-lum l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar xejn ma niskanta jekk tagħti l-approvazzjoni tagħha biex il-qerda tibda tiela’ t-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja. 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 9 ta’ Diċembru 2018

The mutilation of Saqqajja

The planning application to convert two old town-houses at Saqqajja, Rabat into a boutique hotel is another attempt to mutilate our historical heritage. The whole row of town houses at Saqqajja, rather than being placed on the chopping board of so-called development should be protected in their totality. As proposed by Professor Mario Buhagiar, these Saqqajja town houses, as a minimum, deserve a Grade 2 protection, that is to say their elevation must be preserved in its entirety. Their protection should possibly be even more extensive: total protection at Grade 1.

Planning application 9516/18 proposes to change the use of residences at 14 and 15 Is-Saqqajja Rabat (with back elevations onto Vjal Santu Wistin) into a Class 3B hotel. Through an examination of the proposed drawings, it is clear that the proposal includes the addition of two new floors as well as an internal mutilation of the properties to render them usable as a boutique hotel.

I have joined countless others in submitting an objection to this latest assault on our historical heritage. The reasons for objecting are numerous.

The most obvious reason for objecting is that the proposed development is out of tune with its surroundings. It will ruin the homogenous eloquence of both the Saqqajja elevation as well as that of Vjal Santu Wistin on which elevation the developer is proposing to gobble up an extensive part of the existing garden that contributes to a unique setting which needs the maximum protection possible.

The Local Plan, defining the area as an Urban Conservation Area, limits any proposed development in the area to two floors. This limitation is blatantly disregarded by the proposal for this boutique hotel. If this application is not stopped in its tracks, it is inevitable that it will eventually lead to the complete mutilation of the whole row of Saqqajja town-houses, because what’s good for the goose is naturally good for the gander.

Further down the hill, on the site currently occupied by Tattingers Club and a number of adjoining properties, the mutilation exercise continues. This site has another development proposal for a massive 110-room hotel spread over an area of around 5600 square metres. There are other planning applications in the vicinity but the above two are the most conspicuous. It seems that the mutilation brigade has shifted their attention towards Rabat and its surroundings.

The past performance of the Planning Authority is not very reassuring as it does not seem capable of withstanding the pressures of the development lobby. The Planning Authority has, as a result of its past decisions, sent a clear message that it considers the economic activity of the building industry more worthy of its attention and protection than anything else. In all fairness, there are a couple of members on the Planning Authority Board who stand out because they continuously defend the national heritage and the natural environment. But they are unfortunately a very small minority even when, occasionally, they are supported by others.

What else do you expect from a Planning Authority Board whose members are not uncomfortable when they sit with an estate agent in judgement as to which applications for a development permit are approved or refused?

I have no idea what the decision will be, but, based on past performance it is not beyond the Planning Authority Board to give its approval to the massacre brigade marching up Saqqajja Hill.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 December 2018

A stinking amnesty

It smells

 

The planning amnesty which Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri launched last week to regularise development illegalities that cannot be addressed through a proper application of planning policies is a throwback to the Stone Age of land use planning in Malta.

While land use planning in Malta has been and  always will be the most controversial of activities of public bodies, it has to be stated that, since 1992, the Planning Authority (warts and all) has developed into the most transparent government authority. It could be much more transparent but no one in his right senses doubts that, to date, it still surpasses all the other government departments and authorities in issues of transparency.

Applications for the issuance of a development permit are publicised through a site notice and on the Planning Authority website, as well as in the Malta Government Gazette. On the Planning Authority website one can also examine the exact proposal, as all the drawings submitted can be viewed online. On the basis of this available  information, it is possible to submit to the Planning Authority observations about – and objections to – the development proposal , which observations and objections have to be addressed when the final report on the particular application is drawn up recommending approval or refusal of the development proposal.

To date there is one exception, commonly referred to as the DNO  (Development Notification Order) application which is a fast-track application process. Generally, this type of application is non-controversial and involves minor or straightforward applications. However, recently the Planning Authority considered that it was advisable to reduce the number of cases to which the DNO process applies, thereby widening the number of proposals for development which are subject to public consultation.

Legal Notice 285 of 2016, published under the authority of Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri, stands in stark contrast to all this and stinks. Entitled Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations 2016, these regulations establish the procedures to be followed in order to regularise existing development illegalities. We have to thank Dr Schembri for small mercies, as she excluded illegal ODZ developments from the regularisation process. However, she did not consider it appropriate to similarly exclude illegal developments in UCAs (Urban Conservation Areas) or illegalities concerning scheduled or protected properties.

Nor is there a distinction between minor illegalities and major illegalities. Had the proposed regularisation process sought to sanction minor illegalities, matters would have been substantially different and most probably the proposal would have been acceptable. This would be so even though most of the minor illegalities would most probably not require an amnesty. Most can easily be dealt with within the parameters of existing policies and regulations. These cases of minor illegalities are, in fact, the perfect camouflage for the major illegalities.

To ensure that this camouflage works as planned, Legal Notice 285 of 2016 makes short shrift of the transparency process by ensuring that it is not applicable to applications for the regularisation of illegal developments. The legal notice, in its regulation 5, emphasises only one exception, which is those cases where an illegal development was subject to an enforcement order. In such cases where an enforcement order would have been issued “following the submission of a formal complaint by third parties” the said third parties will be informed that an application has been submitted for the regularisation of the illegalities and they will be given the opportunity to be considered “interested parties”.

In all other cases, contrary to the provisions of the Development Planning Act of 2016, no one has the right to be considered an interested party. This can be stated with certainty as being a specific objective in view of the fact the regulation 3 of Legal Notice clearly spells out its objectives, which are: “to lay down procedures by which any person may request the regularisation of an existing irregular development.”

The legal notice makes no provision either for access to information about the proposals submitted or on the timeframe for submissions of observations and/or objections by interested third parties other than by the solitary exception referred to previously.

This is the state of affairs which led four environmental NGOs – Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth (Malta) and Ramblers Association – to submit in Court a judicial protest in which they insisted that the government cannot ignore the transparency provisions of the Development Planning Act 2016 when considering whether to regularise illegal development. These applications have to be publicised and the public has a right to scrutinise them as well as submit comments and objections when they consider these to be appropriate.

There is only one simple question to ask: why this stink?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 4 September 2016

L-amnestija hi insult għalina lkoll

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L-amnestija imħabbra l-ġimgħa l-oħra mis-Segretarju Parlamentari Deborah Schembri u l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hu insult goff lill-poplu Malti. Għax bl-amnestija ser ikun possibli li binjiet illegali jitnaddfu mill-illegalità tagħhom u jingħataw permess ta’ żvilupp.

Din l-amnestija mhiex limitata għal irregolaritajiet żgħar fil-bini. Li kienet hekk wieħed kien jifhem. Hi amnestija miftuħa għal kull irregolarità sakemm din l-irregolarità tkun fiż-żona tal-iżvilupp kif ukoll sakemm din ma tkunx ta’ ħsara lil terzi jew lil madwar (imsejħa injury to amenity). Ir-regolamenti ppubblikati ma jeskludux irregolaritajiet fiż-żona ta’ konservazzjoni urbana jew irregolaritajiet li jkunu saru f’bini skedat. Jiġifieri anke dwar dawn l-irregolaritajiet jista’ jinħareġ permess ta’ żvilupp!

Hemm ukoll element ta’ segretezza konness mal-applikazzjonijiet għal amnestija. Dan ser jagħmel l-iskrutinju pubbliku iktar diffiċli. L-anqas ma jissemma d-dritt tal-oggezzjoni li (skond il-liġi) jista’ jsir minn terzi.

Din l-amnestija hi insult lil min għażel li jimxi sewwa u josserva l-liġi u jimxi mal-kundizzjonijiet tal-permess ta’ żvilupp. Din mhiex l-ewwel amnestija li ngħatat u minkejja dak kollu li qed jingħad l-anqas ma hi ser tkun l-aħħar waħda.

L-amnestija qed tingħata minħabba l-kwantità ta’ irregolaritajiet fil-bini fil-pajjiż kif rifless fin-numru kbir ta’ ordnijiet ta’ infurzar li baqgħu pendenti tul is-snin. Numru li kompla jikber, sena wara l-oħra, għax l-awtoritajiet ma kienux kapaċi li jinfurzaw il-liġi quddiem min kien lest li jisfida. Mela issa min sfida u għamel ta’ rasu qed jgħidulu: issa ħallas multa u qiesu qatt ma kien xejn!

L-amnestija qed tippremja lil min abbuża u fl-istess ħin qed tikkastiga lil min mexa sewwa. Hi fuq kollox dikjarazzjoni ta’ falliment fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika.

Ir-Regolamenti dwar ir-Regolarizzazzjoni ta’ Żvilupp Eżistenti li permezz tagħhom qed tiddaħħal l-amnestija fihom ħafna difetti, fil-fehma tiegħi probabbilment intenzjonati. Difetti li jikkontrastaw ma dak li tipprovdi l-liġi prinċipali. Minħabba dawn id-difetti, l-validità legali ta’ dawn ir-regolamenti tista’ tkun attakkata fil-Qrati. Dawn id-difetti ser joħolqu inġustizzji u l-possibiltà ta’ abbuż. Għandhom ikunu ta’ mistħija għal kull min kellu x’jaqsam magħhom.

In Malta it pays to ignore planning law and policy

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The planning amnesty announced earlier this week has been in the pipeline for 18 months. In the initial stages of the debate – on 8 February 2015 in an article published in this paper – I had described it as The spoils of environmental crime.

The need to promulgate an amnesty is a political declaration that there has been a failure of good governance. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence on these islands, where politicians are repeatedly held hostage by various special interest groups. It is has happened with fiscal issues and it is happening with development irregularities.

In 2012,  had through Legal Notice 229 of that year,  the Gonzi-led government introduced a concession related to infringement of sanitary rules in development. On the Planning Authority website, the present amnesty has been labelled as “the new regularisation process”. It is described as a “one-time opportunity to regularise existing unsanctionable non-conformant development located entirely within the development boundaries”. The only practical limitation to the said regularisation is if the said regularisation has an impact on third parties, described as “injury to amenity”. In such instances, the regularisation cannot be proceeded with. However, beyond a general definition of  “amenity” Legal Notice 265 of 2016 entitled Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations 2016 does not  go into any detail on the criteria as to what constitutes “injury to amenity”. This is very worrying as it signifies that third party rights are once more on very shaky grounds, with the Authority deciding each case on its merits.

The proposed regularisation is applicable within the development boundaries. This signifies that no application to regularise development illegalities carried out ODZ can be submitted. However, there are no limitations on the regularisation of illegalities carried out within urban conservation areas and more so on scheduled properties. The Planning Authority is authorised to regularise these irregularities if an application is submitted. It will all depend on the common sense of the individual decision-takers and the inevitable pressures that will be applied to approve most, if not all, of the applications submitted. On the basis of the Planning Authority’s past performance this is very worrying.

This amnesty, like the one before it, sends out one very clear message: it pays not to observe the law and policies. Those who, over the years, have ignored enforcement notices are now being rewarded.

This is ethically reprehensible as, simultaneously, those who have observed planning law and policies are indirectly being punished.  Does anyone seriously believe that after this amnesty there will be an increased observance of planning laws?

In a statement earlier this week, the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers  rightly pointed out that “ ………. these regulations will open the door to severe blots in our built landscape, and will serve to promote the laissez faire attitude of certain developers by condoning the provision of a mechanism for illegalities to become legal.”

The regulations promoting this planning amnesty are vague and open to a wide interpretation. This signifies a clear intent at drafting stage to ensure that the enforcement backlog is wiped out. It is, however, still unclear  whether and to what extent third party rights will be protected unless they had reported the illegality to the authority in the first place.

The whole exercise carried out by the authority is clearly drafted with the specific intent of protecting those who have ignored rules and regulations. Instead of observing the law, it is now possible to pay your way around it. This is now official government policy.

At the end of the day, the Maltese government is sending out a clear message: in Malta it pays to ignore planning laws and policies. Wait for the next amnesty when you can cash in the spoils of environmental crime.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 28 August 2016

Business Sense and Environmental Nonsense

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They call it business sense.  They do not realise that at times it is also environmental nonsense.

On MEPA’s website there is a link named Businessense. More efficiency. Less bureaucracy.

 

Among the measures which are being labelled as being ones which make business sense the reduction of development permit fees tops the list.

Now there are instances where it makes sense to reduce and at times even eliminate completely the payment of development permit fees. Among the examples which come to mind are restoration works in Urban Conservation Areas and Scheduled properties.

The reason for such reduction/elimination of fees is the need to encourage business to ensure that properties worth preserving are in fact restored and utilised. It is a way to channel investment in the preservation of our heritage by ensuring that our past has a future.

 

A blanket reduction of development permit fees is however environmental nonsense. The aim of development permit fees is not just to recover the costs incurred in the processing of planning applications. Development permit fees also serve another purpose: to encourage or discourage building activity.

In the present circumstances, that is with over 72,000 vacant properties (including those used partially for seasonal accommodation) there is no need to encourage building activity.

The reduction of development permit fees by MEPA thus makes neither business nor environmental sense. It is rather classified as utter nonsense.