November 2016 – Issue 38
The higher we go…
What will be the impact of high-rise buildings on Malta’s urban and natural environment, Jamie Iain Genovese asks Alfred E. Baldacchino
Does the MEPA demerger into PA and ERA guarantee greater protection to the environment?
The only guarantee for greater protection to the environment is the will and determination for such protection by politicians and official entities. Neither MEPA nor the present PA have any interest or intent for such environment protection.
This was evident when MEPA’s CEO presented an impact study on Żonqor Point with regards to the development of the American University of Malta. Addressing the Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Environment and Development Planning, MEPA officially declared that the Environment Protection Directorate was not consulted. And the drafters of the report had to remain anonymous.
Following the demerger, the new Environment Resource Authority (ERA) sits on the Planning Authority (PA) Board and have a vote. During the decision taking on the high-rises, the ERA’s representative was indisposed because of medical reasons. The PA grabbed such a golden opportunity and continued with its decisions. A letter sent by the ERA representative to one of the PA Board members was not read in toto.
One cannot conclude that there is any will or environmental conscience within the PA who still have the final say in environmental matters. Despite that environmental matters is the responsibility of ERA, such a responsibility is also shared by all Government Ministries, and other social entities whether financial or religious.
With regards to the new ERA, the Ombudsman has remarked that this demerger has resulted in a “powerless, toothless” Authority. Cannot find any fault with such a statement.
How exactly does your research show high-rise development will impact their respective environments during their construction?
Considering that the decision in favour of high-rise development was taken without much social, environmental and even economic in-depth considerations, such negative impacts will be irreversible.
High-rise development will only have a political and economic benefit in the very short-run. The externalities of such mammoth development, will be borne by the economic, social and environmental fabric of these islands in the long-run.
This is also emphasised by the Environment and Resources Authority Chairman who, after the vote by the PA was taken, publicly described the environment impact assessment for the planned skyscraper in Sliema as a “sham”.
The footprint of the said development is in a very busy business area in Sliema, which is already heavily impacted with traffic. The long construction period, will add to such congestions with added heavy machinery, noise, dust, construction spills, and other inconveniences. This will surely impact on the business outlets with a possible decrease of patrons. And it would also impact the residents of the surrounding area.
Unfortunately the PA did not see anything wrong with this.
Such a mammoth development cannot but depend on much more transport: patrons’ cars, services vehicles, during a possible 24/7 activities. It has been estimated that the project will generate approximately 4000+ vehicles. Leaving the parking problems aside, vehicular transport emissions of hazardous particulate matter will also be of concerns both to residents and business outlets and their patrons.
The aesthetic impacts will dwarf both the immediate surroundings and the not so immediate surroundings. It would be interesting to know the results of the interplay between the high-rise buildings and the wind and sun.
Inhabitants can be deprived of the free solar energy. The characteristic narrow streets will also respond, in a negative way to higher humidity because of lack of sunshine.
Unfortunately quickly approved decisions without any social and environmental professional input, can only increase the costs of externalities, which the PA does not seem to find any objection to.
What would need to be different to make high-rise development be welcomed?
Decisions on high-rise cannot be taken haphazardly, short-sightedly, in isolation without taking in consideration externalities arising out of such decisions. All stake holders have to be part of the decision.
Stakeholders are not only entities within the environs of the development. One has also to take in consideration the carrying capacity of the whole island, something which the present planners and decision makes are completely oblivious of. The short-term financial profit of a project can contribute not only to its own destruction, but, in the long run, also to the failure of the business network and community surrounding it.
Is most of the ire down to ‘development fatigue’ or is it a conceptual issue, with high-rises being a no-go for many?
While development can contribute to the well-being of the Country, it can also contribute to its destruction. Presently development is being carried out without any real regard to the negative impacts it has, not only presently but also in the long run. Planners and decision makers must take in consideration the carrying capacity of the country, the overall business network: both services and industrial; the health of the community: physically and psychologically; the depletion of natural resources, the protection of the environment in its widest sense, including biodiversity, and the well-being of life on these islands. High-rises can only accentuate the social and environmnetal problems.
These externalities are not being taken in full consideration, and development is being run and approved mostly for its short-term returns only, or as has officially been said, to make hay while the sun shines. It is indeed irresponsible to ignore such externalities and let future generations pay the high costs for such a grab-and-go vision.