The drummer’s call

The drummer was floored. A photo on the social media depicted a drum departing from the hand of a uniformed policeman and flying in the direction of the floored drummer.

Last Thursday’s protest by Moviment Graffiti and Kamp Emergenza Ambjent was not about the pending decision on the proposed fuel service station at Bulebel in Żejtun. It was rather about the lethargy of the authorities in considering the overhaul of the Fuel Service Stations policy.

The mishandling of the protestors by the police apparently marks a new season: it has been ages since the police force was so employed in Malta. Apparently, the authorities are getting very itchy.

Appreciation of the environment is limited to clean-up days subject to the media’s glare, with the remaining days of the year being a free-for-all. There is nothing new in such an attitude. We have been facing it year-in, year-out for a considerable time. By now we are accustomed to greenwashing and some of us have developed an acute allergy to the authorities’ greenwashing.

Playing on the drum, the drummer was announcing to one and all that we are all fed up by the authorities’ procrastination and that it was about time that they realised that this is another case of abuse of authority and maladministration. The Republic belongs to everyone and not just to the privileged few.

The number of pending applications for fuel service stations is considerable, notwithstanding the fact that we do not need even one of them. The long-term policy direction is to reduce our dependency on private cars. In addition, as indicated by the Prime Minister around twelve months ago, we are awaiting the announcement of the cut-off date when the remaining cars on our roads are primarily electrically driven.

It has been repeatedly emphasised that the 3,000 square metres permissible footprint that the Fuel Service Station policy allows for the development of fuel service stations outside the development zone is excessive and the proposal by the Environment and Resources Authority to reduce this footprint to 2,000 square metres is not much of an improvement. If a fuel service station is required its footprint could be substantially less. Obviously, this would necessitate doing away with all the ancillary commercial activity at ODZ fuel service stations that the current fuel service station policy introduced in reaction to those seeking pastures new for their “investments”. The current policy gives more weight to ensuring a return on investment than to the need to protect our countryside from further rape.

Last Thursday, the Planning Authority Board turned down the application for a fuel service station at Bulebel in Żejtun. There are other applications pending, most of which will be eventually approved. This will be done notwithstanding the fact that there is no need for more fuel service stations. We have more than enough of them and it is certainly about time that we start closing some of the existing ones.

In my article last week, I emphasised that we need to implement the vision put forward by the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which advocates the need to reduce our dependency on cars. The need to overhaul the Fuel Service Station Policy has to be considered in this context. If we need to reduce (drastically) the number of cars on our roads, it follows that we do not need any more fuel service stations.

In the coming weeks the drummer’s call through more rhythmic movements of the drum sticks will be required to alert us to more sessions of the Planning Authority Board which will be convened to approve the further rape of our countryside.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16th September 2018

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Common sense at Buleben

The farmers at Buleben have been served with an evacuation order because the land they have tilled for generations is required to make way for the construction of new factories. We are told that our economy needs the land for factories. We also need our fields for agriculture and too much has already been lost!

We have been there before. One hectare after another is being gobbled up by concrete or tarmac. At Buleben, they want to enlarge the industrial estate. In other localities, roads, new residential development or hotels are planned instead of protecting agricultural land. Lately, we gave witnessed a never ending list of applications for petrol stations. There also seems to be an on-going competition of high-rise development: contrasting phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes.

Undeveloped land is under continuous siege.

In this specific case, the government through Malta Industrial Parks Limited is the developer and, like some of the other developers, at times it too tries to ride roughshod over one and all.

Do we consider this as progress? We need to stop and reflect on the consequences of the considerable damage which is piling up. Is anybody considering these impacts?

The expansion of the industrial estate was planned many years ago, as far back as the late 1960s when the then newly set up Malta Development Corporation embarked on the development of industrial estates. Fortunately, not all land available was then developed. However, agricultural rents from farmers in the area have not been accepted since then. They have now received their marching orders and must be gone within one month!

Ta’ Buleben, was always considered as an extremely fertile agricultural area. Erin Serracino Inglott in his dictionary Miklem Malti explains that the word Buleben means “the owner of herds producing large quantities of milk”. When agriculture was the principal economic activity, it was of paramount importance to be able to farm land which yielded abundant harvests.

The land at Buleben is owned by the government. It can argue that there is insufficient space for existing industrial estates to expand. The government could also inform us that an industrial estate which could have been put to use instead of the Buleben one was that of Ricasoli. But in the meantime, the Ricasoli Industrial Estate was given over for speculation by a previous government which ignored the need for more space for industrial use. Such reasoning would be correct. However pointing at yesterday’s serious mistakes to try to justify today’s shortcomings would not solve anything. We are still shouldered with the responsibility to take care of what’s left of society’s assets.

This is what the Zejtun NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun led by Architect Reuben Abela is doing. Even Żejtun requires and deserves protection. It is definitely a step forward that more of our fellow Maltese are voicing their concerns about protecting our national heritage.

As emphasised by Wirt iż-Żejtun, it is possible to address the need to provide more space for factories without taking up more agricultural land. We should take note that the Local Plan for the South, approved twelve years ago, included a declaration on the need to provide protection to agricultural land in the surroundings that contain a large number of protected carob trees which have graced the area for possibly hundreds of years.

It would be pertinent if we remember that  Punic remains were discovered in the Buleben area some years ago and it would be realistic to expect that more archeological remains could be uncovered if more land is disturbed.

Another important consideration concerns the proximity of the proposed industrial estate extension to the residential area of Ġebel San Martin at Żejtun. The proposed factories will be too close to the residential area. I have not seen the drawings of the proposed development, as they have not been made available. However, NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun is on record as stating that only a few tens of metres would actually separate the residential from the industrial.

When one considers that the existing industrial estate is already a cause of nuisance, acoustic primarily, throughout the day, this signifies not only that this nuisance will increase but that it would also be made worse.

At the time of writing this article, Members of Parliament elected on behalf of the Labour Party from the Third Electoral District (which incorporates Żejtun) have declared that the government is in listening mode and is considering alternative sites. This is a good step forward. It is always appropriate to ensure that common sense is in charge. But this also means that the proposal as made was not sufficiently analysed before the planning stage was concluded.

If the proposal is not scrapped, another green lung, this time around Żejtun, will be lost. It is useless to complain that the young generation is barely interested in agriculture if consecutive governments treat farmers in this manner.

Our land needs protection from excessive development. If the Buleben proposal is not discarded at the earliest we may soon see our last carob tree!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 February 2018

published in The Independent on Sunday : 11 February 2018

L-aħħar ħarruba ġo Buleben u s-sens komun

 

Il-bdiewa ġo Buleben ġew ordnati jiżgumbraw għax l-art li ilhom jindukraw ġenerazzjoni wara l-oħra trid tagħmel il-wisgħa għal fabbriki ġodda. Għax qalulna li għandna bżonn il-fabbriki. Qiesu m’għandniex bżonn ir-raba’ wkoll: il-ftit li baqa’!

Hi storja li ilha tirrepeti ruħha, kontinwament. Tomna wara l-oħra qed tinbela mill-konkos jew mit-tarmac. F’Buleben iridu jkabbru ż-żona industrijali. F’inħawi oħra jridu jgħaddu t-toroq jew jibnu id-djar jew xi lukanda, inkella joħolmu b’pompa tal-petrol, waħda wara l-oħra. Inkella nimlew lill-pajjiż bit-torrijiet, kompetizzjoni ta’ simboli falliċi, wieħed ikbar mill-ieħor.

L-attakk fuq l-art mhux żviluppata donnu li ma jistax jieqaf. L-iżviluppatur f’dan il-każ hu l-Gvern permezz tal-Malta Industrial Parks Limited. Anke l-Gvern qed jipprova jagħmel bħal uħud mill-iżviluppaturi: jipprova jibqa’ għaddej minn fuq kulħadd.

Dan xi progress hu? Għandna bżonn nieqfu naħsbu ftit dwar il-konsegwenzi ta’ dak li għaddej, tat-tħarbit li qiegħed jiġi ippjanat. Min qed iqis l-effett ta’ dan kollu?

Bla dubju l-espansjoni taż-żona industrijali ilha ippjanata żmien, snin kbar, sa minn meta tfassal għall-ewwel darba l-inħawi fis-snin sittin meta l-Korporazzjoni Maltija tal-Iżvilupp bdiet tiżviluppa l-ewwel żoni industrijali. Imma fortunatament dakinnhar ma kienx hemm bżonn l-art kollha u z-zona industrijali ma kienitx kbira daqs kemm kien ippjanat. Imma l-qbiela mingħand il-bdiewa ilha sa minn dakinhar ma tkun aċċettata. Issa tawhom ordni ta’ żgumbrament u għandhom xahar żmien biex joħorġu ‘l-barra.

Ta’ Buleben, dejjem kienet meqjusa bħala art mill-iktar għammiela, sakemm ħallewha bi kwieta. Fil-fatt Erin Serracino Inglott fil-Miklem Malti jfisser il-kelma Buleben bħala “sid l-imrieħel li jagħtu ħafna ħalib”. Kien għalhekk li meta l-agrikultura kella importanza ekonomika ikbar li l-art ta’ Buleben kienet meqjusa bħala ta’ importanza għax kienet art li tirrendi. Min għandu Ta’ Buleben, jgħid wieħed mill-qwiel li ħolqu missierietna, id-dinja tagħtih widen. Għax agrikultura għammiela kienet tfisser ukoll saħħa ekonomika, meta l-agrikultura kellha importanza ċentrali fil-ħajja ta’ missierijietna.

L-art hi tal-Gvern li bla dubju issa ser jargumenta li ma baqax biżżejjed art fejn jikbru ż-żoni industrijali. Forsi jgħidilna ukoll li wieħed mill-oqsma industrijali li seta jintuża flok dak ta’ Buleben kien dak tar-Rikażli. Imma ż-żona industrijali tar-Rikażli sadanittant ingħatat għall-ispekulazzjoni minn Gvern ieħor li injora l-ħtieġa ta’ iktar spazju għall-fabbriki. Ikollu raġun jekk jgħid hekk il-Gvern. Imma mhux biżżejjed li nippuntaw subgħajna lejn l-iżbalji ħoxnin tal-bieraħ biex niġġustifikaw l-iżbalji tal-lum. Xorta jibqalna l-obbligu li illum nagħmlu ħilitna kollha biex nipproteġu l-ftit li baqa’.

Huwa għalhekk floku dak li qed tagħmel l-għaqda Żejtunija Wirt iż-Żejtun, immexxija mill-Perit Żejtuni Reuben Abela. Għax anke iż-Żejtun, jeħtieġ u jixraqlu l-protezzjoni. Huwa pass ‘il-quddiem li n-nies, huma għajnejhom miftuħin beraħ biex, safejn hu possibli, huma ukoll iħarsu wirt missirijietna.

Hu possibli, kif qalet l-assoċjazzjoni Wirt iż-Żejtun li jintuża spazju fiż-żona industrijali mingħajr ma tintmiss iktar raba’. Ikun floku ukoll li niftakru li l-Pjan Lokali għan-Nofsinnhar, approvat tnax-il sena ilu, jinkludi dikjarazzjoni dwar il-ħtieġa li jkun imħares il-valur agrikolu tal-art fl-inħawi li fiha kwantità mhux żgħira ta’ siġar tal-ħarrub li huma f’saħħithom u li ilhom hemm mijiet ta’ snin.

Tajjeb li niftakru ukoll li fl-inħawi f’dawn l-aħħar snin instabu fdalijiet Puniċi u li jekk iktar art ser tkun disturbata probabbilment jinstabu bosta iktar fdalijiet arkeoloġiċi.

Hemm imbagħad konsiderazzjoni oħra. Il-binja tal-estensjoni taż-żona industrjali ser tqarreb il-fabbriki lejn iż-żona residenzjali ta’ Ġebel San Martin fiż-Żejtun. Il-fabbriki l-ġodda jidher li ser jiġu viċin wisq tar-residenzi. Il-pjanti proposti jiena ma rajthomx, ma jidhirx li huma pubbliċi s’issa. Imma l-għaqda Wirt iż-Żejtun tgħid li ser ikun hemm biss ftit għexieren ta’ metri li jifred iż-żona residenzjali minn dik industrijali.

Issa meta tqis li diġa hemm inkonvenjent prinċipalment ikkawżat minn ħsejjes f’kull ħin tal-jum, dan ifisser li l-inkonvenjent ser jikber u ser ikun iktar qrib ukoll.

Waqt li qed nikteb ħarġet l-aħbar li diversi Membri Parlamentari li jiġu eletti f’isem il-Partit Laburista mit-tielet distrett elettorali (li jinkludi ż-Żejtun) qed jgħidu li l-Gvern qiegħed jisma’ dak li qiegħed jingħad u qed jikkunsidra siti alternattivi. Dan hu pass tajjeb. Għax hu dejjem tajjeb li s-sens komun jingħata ftit ċans. Imma dan ifisser ukoll li l-proposta ma kienitx studjata sewwa qabel ma tħejjew il-pjani għal iżjed fabbriki.

Jekk il-proposta ma tinbidilx ser ikun ifisser li ser noqtlu pulmun ieħor din id-darba dak ta’ madwar iż-Żejtun. Hu inutli li nilmentaw kemm il-ġenerazzjoni żagħżugħa ftit hi interessat fil-biedja jekk Gvern wara l-ieħor jibqa’ jittratta lill-bdiewa daqstant ħażin.

Inħarsu l-art mill-esaġerazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp. Din il-proposta għal Buleben teħtieġ li titwarrab minnufih. Jekk le daqt inkun nistgħu ngħidu li rajna l-aħħar ħarruba!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 11 ta’ Frar 2018

Żejtun Airways

Fl-intervista tiegħu fis-Sunday Times ta’ nhar il-Ħadd li għadda, Bertie Mizzi, li kien l-ewwel Chairman tal-Air Malta, fisser kif sa mill-bidunett kienu jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet fl-Air Malta meta kienu jimpjegaw in-nies mal-kumpanija.

Fl-intervista jingħad is-segwenti :

“When I was at Air Malta, at Budget time the minister used to go around to see what employment he could factor in for the following year.

“He’d say: ‘Who will Air Malta be employing next year? I’d reply, ‘nobody, because we don’t need anyone’. And the response would be that the airline had to take at least 100 people whether you like it or not.”

Ic-Chairman dak iż-żmien kien Bertie Mizzi. Il-Ministru kien il-Membru Parlamentari elett miż-Żejtun, Wistin Abela.

Għalhekk dak iż-żmien l-Air Malta kienet qiesha Żejtun Airways!

PS : Għal iżjed dettalji aqra Air Malta: a reminder is always useful.   Tiffriska ftit il-memorja!

The Quality of Life Account

Considering the Delimara power station extension in terms of the integrated pollution prevention and control application, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority asked Enemalta to submit an economic study on the different fuels that could be used. With a working language in euros, the study inevitably ends up considering whether preventing or reversing air quality degradation is, in fact, feasible due to the costs involved. I am being crude but that is basically what it entails.

It has been explained elsewhere that opting for gas oil instead of heavy fuel oil (HFO) will result in 37.75 per cent lower emissions of PM2.5 (particulate matter having up to 2.5 microns diameter).

Cubed Consultants Limited, author of the Delimara cost benefit analysis, recognises that gas oil has a better emissions performance than HFO. It arrives at this conclusion notwithstanding the incomplete information at its disposal, which information ignores a number of significant HFO emissions.

Cubed Consultants Limited concludes that there is an immediately apparent trade-off between low financial costs and high emission costs: they balance each other out! This may be so in the context of the economic philosophy adopted by Enemalta’s consultants but in the real world things work out differently.

The high emission costs are billed elsewhere. The health account foots part of the bill shouldering higher expenses for health care in general and respiratory ailments in particular. The quality of life account foots the rest of the bill. As a result of opting for lower fuel expenses the higher emissions produced will affect residents in the areas impacted. The varying impacts on their health will reduce their quality of life. Residents in neighbouring areas will also share the effects of the lower air quality.

One of the documents submitted to Mepa by the Marsaxlokk, Birżebbuġa and Żejtun local councils in reply to Enemalta’s IPPC submissions is authored by medical doctor Jason Bonnici and deals with the health effects of air pollution.

Dr Bonnici refers to studies carried out in Atlanta, US in 1996 both before and after the Olympic Games. As a result of measures taken to reduce air pollution during the three weeks of the Games, various indicators (ozone, NO2, carbon monoxide, PM10…) registered a substantial decrease. PM10 (particulate matter up to 10 microns diameter) for example, registered a 16 per cent decrease over the pre-Games levels.

As a result, Atlanta achieved a 40 per cent reduction of consultations in medical practices for asthma in children and a decline of between 11 and 19 per cent of asthma-related visits to emergency departments.

In Beijing, during the 2008 Olympic Games, similar efforts to reduce pollution resulted in a reduction of 31 per cent in PM2.5 and 35 per cent in PM10 concentrations. Results on the impacts of this achievement on health are not yet available.

Faced with this information, it is clear that the generation of air pollution through the use of HFO comes at a heavy health and environmental cost. No amount of economic benefit may balance out the reduction in the quality of life of those whose health is impaired. That is if they live on, as studies quoted by Dr Bonnici indicate an increased death rate in areas that experience the impact of high level PM2.5 and PM10 emissions.

Now, the PM2.5 and PM10 emissions measured by Mepa at Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk in April and May 2011 are already very high. Average PM2.5 daily readings measured 52.50μg/m3 at Marsaxlokk and 34.70μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa in contrast with the EU mandatory target value of 25μg/m3. On the other hand, average PM10 daily readings measured 54.10μg/m3 at Marsa­xlokk and 70μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa. The EU mandatory daily average is of 50μg/m3.

Faced with this reality, Mepa should feel in duty bound to ensure that the fuel option with the least impacts is selected. It is gas oil that pollutes the least and, hence, it presents the minimum of environmental and health impacts.

There is one further point that Edward Mallia has illustrated time and again. The cost to produce a unit of electricity at the Delimara extension making use of gas oil as a fuel is cheaper than what it presently costs at the Marsa power station using HFO. In the local councils’ documents presented to Mepa, Prof. Mallia and engineer Arthur Ciantar present the workings proving that it is not correct to state that using gas oil instead of HFO would lead to higher electricity bills.

Reducing health and environmental issues to prices and incremental costs or savings tends to lead to a situation of knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing, particularly the value of human life. Euros are not a suitable tool to measure the value of human life, health, the quality of life and the environment.

The ball is now in Mepa’s court. In the next few weeks, we will be able to comprehend the extent to which human life, health, quality of life and environmental issues are factored in (if at all) when important decisions are taken by Mepa.

Published in The Times, October 29,  2011

Taking their breath away

Enemalta decided to use heavy fuel oil at the Delimara power station extension during the tendering process for the power generating plant. The installed equipment, however, can function through the use of either HFO or gas oil. The former is a heavy polluter, the latter polluting substantially less.

Pollution in the Marsaxlokk Bay area affects Marsaxlokk, Birżebbuġa and Żejtun. It is made up of accumulated emissions from Marsa and Delimara power stations, land transport and emissions from air traffic in the flight path over Birżebbuġa prior to landing.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority has concluded public consultation on Enemalta’s integrated pollution prevention and control application to operate the Delimara power station extension. During this consultation, Mepa released an air dispersion modelling report it commissioned. Authored by Maltese consultants Ecoserve Ltd with their Austrian partners, the report is dated August 2011.

The report applies a range of numerical simulation models for air quality impact assessment to the Delimara power station and its extension in a domain around the plant. The Ecoserve report, utilising emission data supplied by Enemalta, concludes that present accumulated emissions in the Marsa­xlokk Bay area are well within the limits of the EU Clean Air Directive. It then goes on to simulate the emissions when the Delimara extension starts functioning and the Marsa power station is switched off.

Now this conclusion contrasts with other information contained in the study. Limiting myself to particulate matter, data collected over a four-week period by Mepa and reproduced in the Ecoserve study shows that in the period under the spotlight particulate matter present in the air at Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa was well in excess of permissible limits in terms of the EU Air Quality Directive.

Average PM2.5 daily readings measured 52.50 μg/m3 at Marsaxlokk and 34.7 μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa whereas maximum readings were 149 μg/m3 at Marsaxlokk and 61 μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa. This contrasts with the target value of 25 μg/m3 for PM2.5, which is mandatory in terms of the EU Air Quality Directive. This means an average reading of 210 per cent of the EU limits for Marsaxlokk and 139 per cent for Birżebbuġa.

On the other hand, average PM10 readings measured 54.10 μg/m3 for Marsaxlokk and 70 μg/m3 for Birżebbuġa while maximum readings were 154 μg/m3 at Marsaxlokk and 250 μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa. This contrasts with the limit value of 50 μg/m3 (daily average) that is mandatory in terms of the EU Air Quality Directive. This means an average reading of eight per cent above the EU limits for Marsaxlokk and 40 per cent above EU limits for Birżebbuġa.

In contrast, the simulation exercise “assuming the worst case scenario meteorology for 2010” concludes an annual average of 12.1 μg/m3 of PM10 with just four cases when the EU limit is exceeded! As the EU directive permits exceedances on not more than 35 occasions, the simulation exercise concludes that all would be fine at Marsaxlokk Bay.

(PM10 refers to particulate matter up to 10 microns in diameter whereas PM2.5 refers to particulate matter up to 2.5 microns in diameter.)

The Ecoserve study does not explain how this discrepancy between the conclusions of the simulation exercise and the Mepa actual readings in Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa is to be interpreted. Both Mepa and its contractor, Ecoserve Ltd, have a lot of explaining to do.

Mepa also has a duty to explain why the request by local councils for a long-term air monitoring exercise at Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa was not acted upon. Having data covering a longer time frame would lead to more robust conclusions relative to air quality at Marsaxlokk Bay. As things stand, having a contrast between simulated and real-life data, I would not hesitate one second to give more weight to the data actually measured. As to the projections into the future they simply cannot be relied upon.

Particulate matter present in the air gives rise to various issues of health. These fine particles originate primarily through the combustion of fuels, their chemical composition depending on the fuel from which they originate. The coarser particles when inhaled by humans lodge in the upper respiratory tract while the finer ones deposit themselves inside the lungs and are absorbed into the bloodstream causing a multitude of health problems.

As indicated by various studies, the excessive presence of particulate matter in the air is one of the causes of various respiratory ailments notably asthma, the incidence of which, according to medical general practitioners in the area, has been rising considerably in the Marsaxlokk Bay area over the past years.

In view of the above, it is clear that the choice of fuel on which the Delimara power station extension is run will contribute significantly to air quality in the Marsaxlokk Bay area. Use of HFO will take our breath away as it would increase the emission of particulate matter. Using gas oil, on the other hand, would ensure lower emissions and give the opportunity of breathing cleaner air to the community residing around the Marsaxlokk Bay.

published in The Times, October 15 , 2011 under the title :

A Choice which Takes Our Breath Away