To Gozo with love

January 8, 2019

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The proposed Gozo tunnel has resurfaced once again. No surprise. The MEP elections are round the corner. It is normal that white elephants are driven in the political arena during such times.

Their main aim is to try to get on board the blindfolded followers who can be convinced that a circle is square, especially if this comes from the political leaders, no matter from which side.

This time a new step in this regard has been made. An international call for tenders for the construction of the 10 km underwater tunnel, plus additional inland excavation – approximately an additional 5 km – was announced.

The information was revealed by the Minister for Transport, who regrettably, is already associated with the destruction of any tree which dares stand in the way of spending EU millions to widen roads – the latest to bite the dust are national trees at Buqana.

Suggested socially and environmentally friendly alternative connections between the two islands.

Does the public have a right to know what were the findings of the social, environmental and financial impacts of this tunnel? After all, our country belongs to all of us and not just to politicians and entrepreneurs.

Has consideration been given to the negative impacts of such works on the only remaining unadulterated water catchment area at l-Imbordin?  How will this affect the water table? And how will this affect the livelihood of  those involved in agriculture in the area?

What about the Gozitan farmers on the other side of the tunnel exit? Is this of importance? Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists? Have such studies been undertaken despite the official tender calls? Has the general public a right to know of these negative impacts or are these confidential too? Would any professional firm tender for such works without such important scientific studies?

How much deeper under the 35 m of sea-depth will the tunnel be excavated? What kind of geological strata grace such depths? What is the position of the ERA?

Who will be giving the assurance and take responsibility for any loss of human life and limb in meddling with such dangerous large and deep sea bottom faults the area is full of, as has been pointed out by geologist Peter Gatt?

Will the responsible minister and the Planning Authority, which incidentally is in his portfolio, be shouldering all responsibility for loss of human life and ecological and social destruction and disasters, both on the site in question and also, directly or indirectly, in the affected areas? Somebody has to.

The answer to these and other questions raised by sociologist Godfrey Baldacchino ‘What purpose should tunnel serve?’ (January 4) have never been addressed, much more answered.

In the background of this political circus, one can hear the artificial, shameless pleadings that this is all in the interest of the general public, especially Gozitans, who deserve to have better crossing facilities between the two islands. No doubt about it.

Everybody agrees that Gozitans and Maltese deserve better crossing facilities. But not with such destructive decisions bereft of any technical and scientific studies, solely based on local arbitrary political acumen and agendas.

There is an ever-increasing momentum among the public, not least Gozitans, that the best environmental, social and financially friendly approach is the fast ferry service between the two islands. These can run not just from Mġarr to Ċirkewwa, but also to St Paul’s Bay or Qawra, to Sliema and also to Valletta.

And if found that there is the appropriate economically feasible demand, also to the Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk.

This would help commuters from getting caught in traffic jams along the way in St Paul’s Bay, Mosta, Birkirkara, Msida, Ħamrun, Floriana or everywhere along their journey across the island, something the tunnel can never achieve. The sea routes are already available at no cost at all. And these do not need any widening.

Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists?

If the Ministry of Transport is open to suggestions, unless they believe that the people out there can all be convinced that a circle is square, they can plan a holistically better managed public transport system on both islands, in connection with the stops of these fast ferries service. The present service between the two islands should also form part of this national transport management plan.

Such holistic public transport management can include, among others, a shuttle service from the Valletta ferry stop to the Valletta bus terminus to cut down on private transport and help commuters reach their destination easier.

Another shuttle service can take commuters to the Blata l-Bajda park-and-ride to reach a parked car which, if one wishes, can be left there. Such facilities can also be available at every fast-ferry stop.

This would be far less expensive and more socially and environmentally friendly than the proposed tunnel, in all aspects. It would also help commuters to cut down on expenses, both in the consumption of petrol, and also in the wear and tear of their cars. It would also help to further reduce pollution from the urban and rural environment, with all its negative impacts on the people’s physical and psychological health.

Furthermore this would also help to lessen the stress in crossing from one island to the other, especially through the 15 km+ tunnel, where all the psychological impact studies seem to have been completely ignored. Unless of course these negative social impacts are also officially regarded as further contributing to the economy.

It would also be interesting to know the toll commuters will have to pay to use the tunnel. It seems that this is not in the public interest either, possibly because it might scare some of the ‘faithful’ who may have concluded that driving through the tunnel would be free, like driving through any other road.

From past experience, I am convinced that the minister responsible for transport has a positive environmental awareness and would positively study any alternative suggestions. However, I have my doubts how much power he has to decide himself because of directions from upstairs.

From the way the social and environmental fabric of these islands is being officially exploited and destroyed, without any scientific studies or regard for their negative impacts, it is very difficult not to conclude that their destruction is part of an official political agenda supported by the square-circled mentality, and endorsed by some academics paid to decide politically and not to think professionally.

The Minister for Transport, nonetheless, is both personally and collectively responsible for the future sanity and well-being of the people of these islands and their environment with regards to the tunnel and transport management.

The crossing to Gozo and back can be made easier for the benefit of the people of these islands, with love and not with co-ordinated politically motivated destruction.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

other related articles:

Tunnelling the cross

Efficient link to Gozo

 

 

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Tree protection laws ‘pruned for developers’

June 1, 2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ivan Martin

Robust laws protecting trees were “pruned” years ago and fresh efforts by this government to revive them left a lot to be desired, a veteran environmental expert told the Times of Malta.

“It is obvious trees are seen as an obstacle to development and roadworks. Why else would this administration be taking so long to reverse a decision, made by their predecessors, if not to continue facilitating construction,” the former deputy director at the environment protection directorate, Alfred Baldacchino, said.

Conservationists on Tuesday called for an investigation into the needless “massacre” of trees in various localities, saying the laws had to be bolstered.

A number of trees – some of them landmarks – were removed from urban areas over the past weeks, including 14 mulberry trees in Victoria, a Holm oak tree just outside the Upper Barrakka, in Valletta, and the iconic carob tree in Villa Forte Garden, Lija.

Mr Baldacchino said the scaling back of the protective status enjoyed by various tree species had started as a result of pressure on successive administrations by the construction and roadworks lobbies.

He was among the officials responsible for drafting the Trees and Woodlands (Protection) Regulations back in 2001. This included a list of about 54 species that could not be removed.

Mr Baldacchino said that although the original law contained loopholes that allowed protected trees to be uprooted or chopped down if special permission was obtained, the authorities still came under pressure from “certain interests” to amend the law.

“Eventually, the government gave in and, in 2011, the law I had drafted was amended. I protested at the decision but, ultimately, this is what happened,” Mr Baldacchino recalled.

The list of 54 protected types of trees was cut by half to 27

The list of 54 protected types of trees was cut by half to 27 and some clauses were reworded. A section of the original law, protecting “all trees older than 50 years” irrespective of whether they were on the protected list or not, was removed entirely.

The government last February announced plans to review the laws protecting trees and woodlands, however, although a public consultation period closed in March, Mr Baldacchino pointed out there was still no word on when the reformed law would be enacted.

“This is what happens in this country, we drag our feet and, in the meantime, old trees are cut down to make way for slightly wider roads or someone else wanting to enlarge a garage,” Mr Baldacchino said.

The remains of the iconic carob tree in Villa Forte Garden, Lija. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

A spokesman for Environment Minister Josè Herrera said the government was addressing the situation from “a policy and implementation aspect”.

New regulations on the protection of trees would be submitted to the Cabinet in the coming weeks, he added.

Meanwhile, sources at the Environment and Resources Authority said complaints on the cutting down of trees had been received in recent weeks and a meeting on the matter was scheduled to be held in the next few days.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

Some photographic evidence of recently destroyed trees 

The iconic 300 year old carob tree at Lija. According to comments by the Ministry for the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, this tree was not protected. So it was chopped down to make way for a garage.

 

This historic tree Holm Oak indigenous Maltese tree, at the entrance of the Upper Barrakka gardens, adjacent to the Office of the Prime Minster, had withstood World War II, but did not withstand the decision of the Ministry for the Environment responsible for the protection of trees. It was chopped and destroyed during the silent hours of the night.

In a statement, the Ministry for the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, said that “the tree had been sick and deteriorating fast, especially following strong winds in the past weeks” (sic.). (TOM, May 30, 2018).

A line of eight old Holm Oaks at Lija, including one 100 years old, were all chopped down after the Minster for the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, confirmed that these trees were not protected.

 

 

After my attention was drawn by the public to this cypress tree which was damaged by winds, I drew the attention of the Environment and Resource Authority, in the Ministry for the Environment, so that measures could be taken to save the tree. The now short standard reply from the Ministry of the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, was: “Ġentilment ninfurmak li s-siġra taċ-Ċipress f’Santa Venera mhix protetta u għaldaqstant ma tirrikjedix permess.”  (We would like to kindly inform you that the Cypress tree in Santa Venera is not protected, and as such it does not need any permit).!!

A tamarix tree on the Sliema promenade disappeared during the night. No comments from the Ministry for the Environment responsible for the protection of trees, except that government workers were seem on the following morning clearing up the mess.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Josè Herrera said the government was addressing the situation from “a policy and implementation aspect”.

 

other related articles:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2018/05/04/trees-hit-headlines/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/07/17/lija-tree-felling-a-result-of-jose-herreras-failure-environmentalist-says-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/lija-tree-felling-a-result-of-jose-herreras-failure-environmentalist-says/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/our-landscaping-needs-professional-updating/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/lija-oak-cemetery/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/there-is-no-respite-for-trees/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2018/05/25/destroying-trees-to-make-way-for-cars-is-a-big-mistake/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/trees-butchered-at-university/


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/