Ignoring residents and their local councils

strait street valletta 2

 

Government has published a consultation document dealing with the use of open public spaces by catering establishments, entitled Guidelines on Outdoor Catering Areas on Open Public Space : a holistic approach to creating an environment of comfort and safety.

This document was launched earlier this week at a press conference addressed by the Minister for Tourism Edward Zammit Lewis and the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for planning and simplification of administrative processes Michael Falzon.

The inter-Ministerial committee set up by government to draft the policy document was limited to representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, MEPA, Transport Malta, the Government Property Division, the Malta Tourism Authority and the Association of Hotels and Restaurants (MHRA). Representatives of the local councils were excluded from participating.

It seems that when the matter was being considered by Cabinet, the Minister for Local Councils Owen Bonnici was fast asleep as otherwise he would undoubtedly have drawn the attention of his colleagues that the Local Councils Act, in article 33, deems it a function of local councils “to advise and, where applicable, be consulted by, any authority empowered to take any decisions directly or indirectly affecting the Council and the residents it is responsible for”.

Surely the use of public open spaces by catering establishments is a matter which is of considerable interest to local councils as it affects both the councils and the residents they represent. Yet the government has a different opinion as representatives of local councils were not invited at the drawing board where the guidelines on the use of public open spaces by catering establishments were being drafted.

The guidelines introduce a one stop shop at MEPA, thereby eliminating the need to apply for around four other permits for the placing of tables and chairs in public open spaces. This would be a positive development if MEPA can take on board all the considerations which are normally an integral part of the four other application processes.

If the utilisation of public open spaces was limited to the squares in our towns and villages, I do not think that there would be any issue. There is sufficient space in such areas and using part of it for open air catering activities there would not be cause for concern.

However, problems will definitely arise in areas of mixed use, that is, areas where the ground floor is used commercially and the overlying areas are used as residences. This is a common occurrence in many of the localities where there is a high demand by the catering business for the utilisation of public open space. The guidelines, however, ignore the impacts which placing chairs and tables at street level could have on the residents in such areas, in particular those living in the floors immediately above ground level. Such impacts would primarily be the exposure of residents to secondary cigarette/tobacco smoke as well as noise and odours. The issue of noise will undoubtedly arise, in particular during siesta time, as well as late into the evenings while secondary smoke from cigarettes/tobacco as well as odours will be an ever present nuisance. Maybe if the local councils were not excluded from the inter-Ministerial Committee, these matters would have been taken into consideration.

In such instances it would be necessary to limit the placing of tables and chairs at such a distance from residences where impacts on residents from secondary smoke, noise and odours are insignificant: that is if there is sufficient space.

The guidelines establish that a passageway of 1.50 metres on pavements is to be reserved for pedestrians. In addition they establish that where a permit is requested to place chairs and tables outside third-party property, specific clearance in front of doors and windows is to be observed. Isn’t that thoughtful of the inter-Ministerial Committee? Instead of categorically excluding the placing of chairs and tables along the property of third parties it seeks to facilitate the creation of what would inevitably be a nuisance to the users of such a property. This, too, is the result of the lop-sided composition of the inter-Ministerial Committee.

Nor are parking spaces spared. The inter-Ministerial Committee makes provision in the proposed guidelines for the possibility that catering establishments can also make use of parking spaces for the placing of tables and chairs when other space is insufficient. The guidelines leave no stone unturned in ensuring that tables and chairs get priority, even though this is worded in terms that make it appear that it would be an exception.

Enforcement, as usual, will be another headache. We already have quite a number of cases in various localities where passageways are minimal or inexistent and pedestrians, excluded from walking along the pavement have to move along with the traffic, right in the middle of the road. At times this may prove quite difficult and dangerous, in particular for wheelchair users or in the case of parents with small children. Enforcement to date is practically inexistent and I do not think that matters will change much in this respect.

Unfortunately, MEPA is a repeat offender in ignoring the interests of the residential community when faced with all types of development. The guidelines on the use of public open space by catering establishments are thus more of the same.

While cars have taken over our roads, catering establishments will now be guided on how to take over our pavements and open spaces, parking included!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 13 September 2015  

Malta fid-dlam: Konrad u Zammit Lewis fejnhom?

where is Konrad

Wara li fil-lejl ta’ bejn it-Tlieta 12 u l-Erbgħa 13 ta’ Awwissu ma kellniex elettriku, uħud għal ħin qasir u oħrajn għal ħin itwal huwa tajjeb li nitkellmu bil-kalma dwar dak li ġara.

L-uffiċjali tal-Korporazzjoni Enemalta tkellmu mal-istampa u qalu li s’issa ma jirriżultax li l-ħsara  kienet b’xi mod konsegwenza ta’ xi ħaġa li għamlet il-Korporazzjoni jew l-impjegati tagħha.

Nistennew mela ħalli naraw kif seħħ l-inċident.

Ovvjament l-inċident hu assoċjat ma difett li irriżulta fil-cables deħlin fid-Distribution Centre tal-Marsa.  Il-bieraħ rajt xi ritratti interessanti online dwar dawn il-cables imma illum dawn donnhom għosfru. Ma nistax insibhom. Bħalma l-anqas ma nista’ nsib kummenti interessantissimi dwar dawn ir-ritratti li taw spjegazzjoni li tista’ tagħmel ħafna sens dwar x’seta’ wassal għall-inċident.

Min jaf forsi jerġgħu jitfaċċaw dawn l-imberkin ritratti.

Inċident dejjem jista’ jiġri lil kulħadd. Minnu tipprova titgħallem. Ankè jekk f’xi ħin jirriżulta illi sar xi żball oħxon x’imkien.

X’tgħallimna?

L-iktar lezzjoni ovvja li suppost nitgħallmu darba għal dejjem hi li m’aħniex ippreparati. Mhux biss il-Korporazzjoni Enemalta li damet ħafna ma ipprovdiet l-elettriku mill-ġdid lil kull min kien jeħtieġu għal kważi 24 siegħa teħtieġ titgħallem, imma ukoll l-Ajruport Internazzjonali ta’ Malta (MIA).

Il-ħtija tal-MIA hi kbira u l-effetti fuq it-turiżmu huma kbar ukoll. Il-bieraħ wara nofsinnhar l-MIA għamlet apoloġija pubblika u wegħdet li ma terġax. Dan mhux biżżejjed. Avolja l-MIA illum il-ġurnata hi f’idejn is-settur privat xorta għandha l-obbligu li tkun ippreparata. MIA li tgħaffeġ tagħmel il-ħsara lit-turiżmu, ħsara li mhiex żgħira u li ma titkejjilx bl-euros. Hi ħsara lir-reputazzjoni. Ir-reputazzjoni tibnija bil-mod imma titlifha f’ħakka t’għajn.

X’ser jagħmel il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu? Ser jinvestiga x’wassal biex l-MIA ma kienitx ippreparata tant li għal xi ħin kellu jagħlaq l-airport?

Nistennew lill-Ministri Konrad Mizzi u lil Edward Zammit Lewis għax bħalissa ma issibhomx b’nemes. Għandhom ħafna x’jispjegaw.

It-turiżmu: benefiċċji biss?

Malta Tourism Authority

 

Illum it-Tnejn, fil-Parlament ġew diskussi l-estimi tad-dħul u l-ħruġ tal-Awtorita’ Maltija tat-Turiżmu.

Bħalma aħna mdorrijin nisimgħu, sena wara l-oħra, smajna fuq records ta’ numri ta’ turisti li żaru Malta.  Matul l-2013, qalilna Edward Żammit Lewis, Ministru tat-Turiżmu, ġew f’Malta 1,500,000 turist, żieda ta’ 9.6% fuq l-2012. Dan kien ifisser nefqa ta’ biljun euro f’Malta. Dħul tajjeb għal Malta li jsostni eluf ta’ impiegi.

Ikun tajjeb ukoll iżda jekk f’diskussjoni ta’ din ix-xorta napprezzaw ukoll li t-turiżmu għandu impatt mhux żgħir fuq l-ambjent. Ras għal ras kull turist għandu impatt ambjentali 50% iktar minn residenti permanenti f’Malta.

Dan l-impatt ifisser li ras għal ras turist jikkonsma iktar ilma u iktar elettriku kuljum. Ifisser ukoll li jiġġenera iktar skart u iktar tniġġis. Ħuwa importanti li jsir sforz ikbar milli sar s’issa biex dan l-impatt jonqos.

Huwa xieraq li nirrikonoxxu li diġa saru sforzi kbar. Anke mil-lukandi infushom. Permezz tal-Malta Business Bureau u b’għajnuna mill-Unjoni Ewropeja qed jiġi indirizzat il-konsum tal-ilma. Bosta lukandi ħadu jew qed jieħdu passi. Diversi diġa naqqsu b’mod mhux żgħir il-konsum tagħhom tal-ilma. Tajjeb, għax b’inqas konsum ta’ ilma mill-industrija tat-turiżmu żdied il-qliegħ tal-industrija u tnaqqas impatt ambjentali.

Hemm bżonn inżidu l-isforz, mhux biss dwar l-ilma, iżda dwar l-oqsma l-oħra kollha ta’ impatti ambjentali.

Santiago and maritime affairs

Aerial View_Grand Harbour

Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea” was unlucky. It took him 85 days to catch his big fish. But when he did, being on his own out at sea without any help, he had to tow it back to port, only to discover then that the sharks had reduced his catch to a mere skeleton.  It is the same with maritime policy. We need to coordinate with our Mediterranean neighbours to have meaningful and lasting results. On our own we can achieve very little.

A national integrated maritime strategy is an essential policy tool. Yet, as was pointed out by Parliamentary Secretary Edward Zammit Lewis, it is still unavailable. On May 19, European Maritime Day,  it was emphasised by Zammit Lewis that such a strategy would identify Malta’s maritime policy priorities required to support the Blue Economy.

The economic opportunities presented by the sea which surrounds Malta are substantial. We do however have to make use of such opportunities carefully, knowing that various impacts may result. Through the sea surrounding us we are subject to impacts as a result of the actions of others. Similarly Malta’s maritime activities necessarily will impact other countries, for better or for worse.

The excellent quality of seawater around the Maltese islands resulting from Malta’s recent adherence to the Urban Wastewater Directive of the EU is one positive contribution to a better Mediterranean Sea even though the sewage treatment system is badly designed as it ignores the resource value of the discharged treated water.

Through Arvid Pardo in the 1960s Malta made a lasting contribution to global maritime thought by emphasising that the seabed forms part of the common heritage of mankind.

The sea and its resources have always had a central importance in Malta’s development. Tourism, fisheries and water management easily come to mind. Maritime trade and services as well as the sustainable utilisation of resources on the seabed are also essential for this island state.

Whilst a national maritime strategy will inevitably seek the further utilisation of the coastline and its contiguous areas it is hoped that environmental responsibilities will be adequately addressed in the proposals considered.

A national integrated maritime policy, though essential, cannot however be effective if it  does not take into consideration the activities of our neighbours: both their maritime  as well as their coastal activities.

This is an issue which is given considerable importance within the European Union which seeks to assist member states in coordinating their maritime policies for the specific reason that the impacts of such policies are by their very nature transboundary.  In fact one of the EU Commissioners, Maria Damanaki,  is tasked with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  Her work is underpinned by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which seeks to protect the sea in order that it could be utilised sustainably thereby contributing to attaining the objectives of EU2020, the ten year growth strategy of the European Union.

Within its maritime competencies the EU has also developed effective instruments of transboundary cooperation foremost amongst which are the Baltic Strategy and the Danube Strategy.  These macro-strategies of the European Union, as their name implies, focus on the Baltic Sea and the river Danube respectively. They bring together the European regions bordering the Baltic Sea and the Danube to cooperate in various policy areas such that the resulting coordination addresses challenges which no single country can address on its own.

Such strategies also serve as an instrument of cooperation with non-EU countries. Through the Baltic Strategy it is cooperation with Russia, Iceland and Norway whilst through the Danube Strategy eight EU member states cooperate with six European non-EU member states.  The EU has also more recently launched an Atlantic Ocean Strategy.

A national maritime strategy will  seek to identify those areas which can absorb strategic investments in order to develop the blue economy.  An important point worth emphasising is that a sustainable development of the blue economy will ensure that no negative impacts are borne by our communities residing along and adjacent to the coastal areas. Unfortunately not enough attention has been paid to this aspect in the past. Such negative impacts can be avoided not only through careful planning but also through proper consultation with both civil society as well as directly with residents.

Impacts which have to be avoided include air and sea pollution. In addition potential noise and light pollution need careful attention in particular if the operating times of the newly identified activities span into the silent hours.

Malta’s Maritime strategy needs a double focus: a national and a regional one.  Both are essential elements neither of which can be ignored. It is in Malta’s interest to take part in initiatives addressing transboundary impacts and simultaneously to integrate these initiatives within a national maritime policy strategy. Otherwise we will face Santiago’s fate. The result of our good work will be taken up by the sharks!

Originally published in The Times of Malta, Saturday June 8, 2013