Credit where credit is due

April 18, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Following concerns expressed by members of the public, eNGOs, and individuals, on the destruction of biodiversity in country paths which were being widened and covered with concrete, Environment Resources Authority (ERA) ordered Infrastructure Malta to halt the works, and issued a stop and compliance order. Furthermore, according to press reporting, ERA ordered Infrastructure Malta to reinstate the country paths to their original state.

One hopes that all country paths mismanaged by Infrastructure Malta will be reinstated to their original state. One also hopes that this is the end of an era where biodiversity is regarded as ‘ħaxix ħażin’ (good-for-nothing-vegetation) and that such mentality will be put to rest.

One cannot but applaud the stand ERA has taken and look out to more similar decisions in the near future to protect biodiversity.

The following is one of the article which appeared in the media.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Rabat country roads being reinstated after controversial widening

Recent concrete works encroached adjacent land

Keith Micallef

 

Country roads at Wied l-Isqof in Rabat are being reinstated to their original state. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Country roads at Wied l-Isqof in Rabat are being reinstated to their original state. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Some of the concrete controversially laid on country roads in a Rabat valley is being pulled up again by Infrastructure Malta on orders from the environment watchdog, which wants the roads to be reinstated to their original footprint.

The controversy erupted last month when it transpired that a number of narrow country roads used primarily by farmers at Wied l-Isqof were being widened, as part of a government project to “reconstruct” rural roads.

Faced by this outrage, the Environment Resources Authority ordered Infrastructure Malta to halt the works, through what it called a stop and compliance order. The measure was taken because the project was resulting in “biodiversity destruction”, ERA had said.

Infrastructure Malta argued that the roads in question were not being widened beyond their original footprint – even though evidence on the ground suggested otherwise.

However, an ERA spokeswoman confirmed that Infrastructure Malta had, in fact, encroached on adjacent land. She said that concreting beyond the original footprint was being removed by the roads agency’s contractors through the use of appropriate heavy machinery.

Several truckloads of material have been removed and dispatched for appropriate disposal to enable the area’s habitat to regenerate even in the area previously concreted, she said.

An onsite visit confirmed that the roads had been narrowed, with a stretch of soil replacing the concrete along the perimeter.

In its reply, ERA said it had intervened because the roadworks were degrading the ecosystem of the area beyond the asphalted area.

Among other things, the interventions had altered the physical profile of the valley and the natural course of the freshwater stream to the detriment of the biodiversity and the natural characteristics of the site, the spokeswoman said.

Environmentalists had denounced the works, saying vegetation was being obliterated as concrete was being poured beyond the existing footprint, damaging flora and fauna on both sides of the road.

Biodiversity expert and former assistant director of the environment protection directorate at the now defunct Malta environment and planning authority, Alfred Baldacchino, had warned that turning these roads into “highways” could have a detrimental effect on farmers due to the increase in traffic.

He also criticised the project, saying the concrete was blocking the percolation of rainwater to the water table.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 

related articles:

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

 

 

 

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The higher we go…

December 5, 2016

money-sep-2016-issue-38-by-be-communications-cover

 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.

And after? 

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.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

See also

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/pacevilles-hide-and-seek/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/12/04/il-masterplan-ghal-paceville/