Siġar, Biodiversità u l-Unjoni Ewropea

May 9, 2012

07 Mejju, 2012

Saviour Balzan jintervista lil Alfred E. Baldacchino
fuq il-Programm Reporter

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On pruning trees in Malta

April 12, 2012

12 April, 2012

On pruning trees in Malta

Alfred E Baldacchino

The appreciation of trees in the Maltese Islands is gaining great momentum among the general public, though unfortunatley the official side has still a lot of ground to cover to be in line with modern thinking, despite national and international  legal obligations and much publicised colourful plans and projects.

This has led to the creation of a blog on saving our trees which are so much under official pressure and being decimated by the dozen without any proper management and without any official regulator, making the political responsibility so much greater. Congratulations to all those who have given birth to such a blog and to all those, without exception, who are contributing to it. It is a healthy dialogue which one hopes one day will lead to a proper professional management of trees in Malta.

A reference was made in the blog to a  tree at Balzan which was damaged by the strong wind (Photo 2).   It grew  on a small traffic island at the end of a one way street reached from Balzan square. Because of the way it was pruned, it was so top-heavy, with a heavy crown on thin main branches,  that with a relatively  strong wind it cracked. This photo (2) was taken on 10th February 2008.

Today I passed from the site to see how the trees there were faring. They did recieve quite an extensive ‘haircut’ as photo 3 shows. To my asthonisment, the tree in photo 2 was not there. Wonder of wonders: it had either gone to heaven, or gone up in smoke. The traffic island though is still there but covered in concrete.

Scandalous management of street trees in Malta.
(photo taken by AEB on 10.02.08)

I walked further up the line of “hair-cut” trees to see how the tree in photo 1, the phallus shaped tree, had fared. It looks more like a lolipop than a tree, or  like an upside down phallus, hiding its head in shame  while exposing its pubic hair.

On this save the tree blog above mentioned, there is a very interesting, educational video regarding the pruning of ficus trees, and one should thank the person responsible for putting it there. But unfortuntely  many of the various suggestions and advice given in this video were not taken in consideration in pruning these trees? I sometimes believe that street trees in Malta have never seen any secutors (imqass taż-żabra) in their lives. Chainsaws are more quick in the job, and thus they do not drain any of the proifts, irrispective of the negative aesthetic value they leave behind (photo 3).

Trees crying in agony after chainsaw treatment, and possibly the one who gave such an order was having an orgasm. (photo taken by AEB,on 10th February 2008)

I remember, as I am sure many of the readers do, when the Department of Agriculture was still responsible for landscaping,  before the present Governemnt Contractor took over. Such trees used to be pruned with more dedication and with more feeling.  I remember the ficus trees at Saqajja Rabat, which, in those days, were professionally pruned in a  seemingly sculptured way, with a crown that extended from one end of the line to the other, and with small branches seemingly like a trellis, which were so adequate against the historic builidngs behind. At that time the Department of Agriculture did not have any of the resources that today’s  ‘landscapers’ have, but in the past they used to do miracles, with as little public expenses as possible.

If one looks at the way that street trees are being pruned today, one immediately asks how  professional this  is. True that one has to keep in mind that we live in Malta, where everything is possible, and where amateurism is called professinalism and professinalism is called fundamentalism!

While following the line of the trees pruned in 2008, still showing their wounds, I came across the cherry on the cake in present Maltese landscaping approved by the political masters. When I went  past the Lija Cemetery on the road to Mosta, an employee with a tank on his back, probably paid out of public funds, was spraying herbicide around all the trees lining the pavement! Now those who know something about ecology and nature conservation know that at this time of the year the undergrowth is full of life with the various stages of a number of fauna and flora, such as butterflies and moths which are becoming scarcer by the hour.  Those in official positions know that the Governemnt on behalf of Malta is obliged to take measures to control biodiversity loss, an obligation arising out of our EU Membership. Those who chose not to know anything about the subject, endorse invoices for the payment of such activities paid out of public funds.  The poltiical responsiblity is greater than one thinks. It is a permanent dent on the ecological set up of these islands, as much as tampering with Hagar Qim or Imnajdra is a permanent dent on the archaeological heritage of the islands. No wonder a person I met told me that the Maltese people hate trees!

Never in the history of ecological conservation in Malta,  (or its exploitation) have so few benefited at the expense of so many.

Trees, rubble walls and BSS

August 26, 2011

August 26, 2011

Trees, rubble walls and BSS

Alfred E. Baldacchino

A few weeks ago, workmen were laying out a pavement on either side of the Rabat road near the Ta’ Qali intersection. A layby for the new buses, I thought! And so it was.

Little thought, if any, was given either to the Aleppo pine trees and the rubble walls along the stretches of the new pavement. The Aleppo pines, which characterise this stretch of road leading to Rabat, show a number of scars, now including fresh ones, resulting from mismanagement. Some of the trees are completely engulfed in concrete, some with nails hammered in them, further sealing their miserable fate at the hands of unsustainable mismanagement of the living natural heritage.

Blatant infringement of the Trees and Woodland Protection Regulations published on 24 ta’ May, 2011, over the signature of the Prime Minister, the Minster responsible for the Environment.

In the same stretch, part of the rubble walls were also heavily damaged! In an ingeneous, indigenous way, a brick wall was built on the rubble wall. As I slowed in the traffic to clear the roundabout intersecting the Żebbuġ, Mtarfa and Rabat roads – the one where sprinklers usually water much of the road as much as they water the turf – I could not help think and ask myself how the lack of coordination between ministries reigns supreme in this land.

A 'newly restored rubble wall' . What about the regulations for the protection of rubble walls? Well that is the responsibility of the Minster for the Environment and not of the Minister responsible for such works!

A couple of weeks ago, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority declared new tree protection areas. In the same legal notice (200 of 2011), signed by the Prime Minister himself, there are two schedules of protected trees. The Aleppo pine trees along Rabat road are listed in schedule II. They are more than 50 years old and are growing in an outside development zone area.

The brutal fresh pruning of the protected Aleppo Pine, which could only have been carried out by approval from the Minister of Rural Affairs and the Minster for the Environmnet.

Schedule II trees are protected to the extent that no person shall bury in the ground, dump, or deposit, any soil, manure, waste, rubbish, stones, rubble, scrap metal or any refuse near them; not even attempt to. Mepa is responsible for the administration, implementation and enforcement of these regulations.

How the rubble wall protection regulations were brought to disrepute for one and all to see

Legal Notice 160 of 1997 protects rubble walls and non-habitable rural structures in view of their historical and architectural importance, their exceptional beauty, their affording a habitat for flora and fauna and their vital importance in the conservation of the soil and of water. It is unlawful to demolish them or to prevent free percolation of rainwater through rubble walls or to undermine the foundations of a rural construction.
The regulations add that no permit is required for sensitively executed repairs, provided that repairs are carried out using exclusively the same type of drystone rubble walling that composed the existing wall and that they do not significantly modify the overall profile or character of the wall. Again, Mepa is responsible for the administration, implementation and enforcement of these regulations.
Now, somebody in the corridors of power in this EU member state must be responsible for such works, unless, of course, someone convinces me that there is only a virtual government. The minister responsible for the environment cannot be held directly responsible for the works done but is directly responsible to ensure that environmental policies, laws and regulations are adhered to. He has a very expensive watchdog to see to this but it seems this watchdog is all bark and no bite.
The minister has the authority to direct in no uncertain way that the duty to protect the environment is not just his but is a collective political responsibility. As chairman of the National Sustainable Development Commission he has all the tools to do so. Unfortunately, as I finalised this article, I read in The Times that “Just before Parliament rose for the summer recess, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who is responsible for environment matters, confirmed that the National Sustainable Development Commission was disbanded in 2008 after the government approved the sustainable development strategy”. And this despite national and EU obligations! Yet, we are also told that “the government puts responsibility for sustainable development at the ‘highest level’”.

When protected national heritage meets financial consideration and political decisions - despite the 'high level' or responsibility given to 'sustainable development'

What is the use of drafting regulations and national environment policies when some Cabinet colleagues and their staff are immune to the laws of the land? In the meantime, the watchdog, Mepa, like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets.
I would not be surprised if I am taken to task by some colour-blinkered pen pusher on grounds that this is a trivial matter. Admittedly, I am not writing on the building of a new power station but the same concept, the same perception and the same vision (or lack of it) apply to both examples. First, go ahead with the development and, then, consider the regulations and see if there are any necessary permits to acquire. In the meantime, tell the gullible this is highest level of sustainable development at its best.

The long and winding road for protected trees in the Maltese Islands.

The Bisazza Street Syndrome (BSS) is rearing its ugly head – one legislates, another ignores. If BSS is not taken by the horns and immediately put in check, it will soon become the national environmental policy without any need for public consultations and without any need for backup legislation.
I can image that the picture of sustainable development to be submitted at the next UN Rio +20 conference in 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rio earth summit will be all nice and rosy: Malta puts responsibilty for sustianable development at the highest level while disbanding the commission to ensure that sustainable development is achieved.
Other photos taken on 24th Augut 2011, showing the complete desregard for protected trees, and protected rubble walls, despite the fresh declaration that “the government puts responsibility for sustainable development at the ‘highest level’”

According to Maltese politicians and their advisors, this is a tree - a protected tree!

Politically, to the applause of the gullible, it was the tree's fault moving in the bulldozer's path!

The dead branches of a mauled potected Aleppo Pine tree. Only possible with a permit from the Minster for the Environment and the Minster for Resources and Rural Affairs!

NO COMMENT - readers may wish to comment themselves.

One of the ARRIVA bus stops in the stretch of the new works. With the arrival of the new bus service, social, environmental and financial negative impacts have also arrived, though as I understand, some are still waiting for the buses.

Il-kapriċċ tal-proprjetà vojta (2) Ħadd mhu jerfa’ l-ħtija tan-nuqqas ta’ ppjanar

July 26, 2011

Il-kapriċċ tal-proprjetà vojta (2) 
Ħadd mhu jerfa’ l-ħtija tan-nuqqas ta’ ppjanar

minn aleander balzan

KIF irraportat minn din il-gazzetta nhar il-Ħadd li għadda, fi ftit snin żdiedu bl-eluf in-numru ta’ proprjetajiet vojta f’pajjiżna. Skont iċ-chairman tal-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar (MEPA), Austin Walker, huwa stmat li llum għandna 76,000 proprjetà vojta. Minkejja dan ħadd mhu qiegħed jerfa’ l-ħtija ta’ dan in-nuqqas ta’ ppjanar. Fi kliem l-ambjentalisti Alfred E. Baldacchino u Astrid Vella dan in-nuqqas ta’ ppjanar qiegħed iwassal għal ħela ta’ riżorsi enormi.

Alfred E. Baldacchino, li huwa speċjalizzat fl-ippjanar u l-immaniġjar tal-ambjent argumenta mat-TORĊA li dawn il-proprjetajiet vojta “huma ħela ta’ riżorsi finanzjarji kif ukoll riżorsi naturali li ftit li xejn għandna minn fejn naħlu. Dan huwa wkoll nuqqas ta’ ippjanar serju għaliex wieħed qed iħares biss lejn ir-riżultat fiż-żmien il-qasir.”

“L-impatt fuq l-ambjent hu tant negattiv li qiegħed ikun hemm ħela ta’ riżorsi naturali, bħat-teħid tal-art, anki ta’ valur kbir ekoloġiku, storiku, u rikreattiv, tifrik ta’ sistemi fl-ippjanar tal-ambjent bħal sistemi tal-ġbir tal-ilma tax-xita, sfreġju u qerda ta’ sistemi ekoloġiċi bħall-ispeċi ta’ fawna u flora, u produzzjoni ta’ skart li jirriżulta mill-bini,” jargumenta Baldacchino li jgħid li dawn ir-riżorsi jistgħu jintużaw f’oqsma oħra.

“L-użu tar-riżorsi kemm naturali kif ukoll finanzjarji jistgħu faċilment jintużaw f’attivitajiet oħra minflok bini u bini li ma hawnx bżonnu. Permessi għar-restawr xorta waħda jkun hemm bżonnhom, imma hemm bżonn ukoll diversifikazzjoni. Il-’valur’ ta’ dawn il-ħela ta’ riżorsi mill-aspett ekonomiku qiegħed isir għas-spejjeż tal-valur soċjali u dak ambjentali,” żied Baldacchino.

Responsabbiltà tal-banek 
Fil-ħarġa ta’ nhar il-Ħadd li għadda l-ekonomista Joe Vella Bonnici argumenta li s-settur bankarju qiegħed ikun iktar kawt. “Ta’ min jgħid li llum is-settur bankarju rari jsellef għal bini ġdid. Dan wara ħafna twissijiet mill-International Monetary Fund li l-banek tagħna kellhom exposure qawwi fuq il-proprjetà,” qal Vella Bonnici.

Alfred E. Baldacchino u Astrid Vella wkoll jitkellmu dwar il-banek u fuqhom jitfgħu anke responsabbiltà.

“Naħseb li hawn tidħol ir-responsabbiltà kemm tal-banek lokali kif ukoll tal-MEPA. Sfortunatament, il-banek m’ għandhomx ħjiel tal-Corporate Social Responsibility u jaħsbu li għax iqassmu xi ċekk stampat kbir kbir qegħdin jilħqu dan il-għan. Għalihom imbasta jisilfu l-flus u jdaħħlu l-interessi. Jekk proġetti jibqgħu vojta u fil-proċess jinħlew ir-riżorsi jgħidlulek li mhix responsabbiltà tagħhom,” qal Baldacchino.

Astrid Vella żżid mal-argument u min-naħa tagħha telabora dwar l-impatt li dawn id-deċiżjonijiet qegħdin iħallu fuq is-soċjetà Maltija.

“It-twemmin popolari li s-suq għandu jirregola lilu nnifsu huwa żbaljat għax wieħed ikun qiegħed jassumi li huma biss l-iżviluppaturi li jġorru r-riskju li qegħdin jieħdu. Kuntrarju għal dan it-twemmin, rapport dwar l-istabbilità finanzjarja tal-Bank Ċentrali, għas-sena 2010, jgħid li d-dgħufija preżenti fis-settur tal-proprjetà tpoġġi riskju fuq is-saħħa tas-settur finanzjarju Malti dan għax il-proprjetà tirrappreżenta ħafna mis-self tal-banek. Din toħloq riskju fi żmien li s-sitwazzjoni tal-proprjetà qiegħda twassal għal ‘defaulting loans’,” tispjega Vella.

L-irwol tal-MEPA 
Iż-żewġ ambjentalisti jaqblu dwar il-falliment tal-MEPA fi rwol tagħha ta’ regolatur.

“Mill-banda l-oħra, il-MEPA, li suppost għandha r-responsabbiltà dwar l-ippjanar ma nistax nifhem kif 76,000 post vojt wieħed jista’ jgħidli li huwa ppjanar tajjeb, bl-impatti negattivi kollha li dawn iġibu magħhom, kemm direttament kif ukoll indirettament,” jargumenta Baldacchino.

Astrid Vella żżid ma’ dan l-argument: “Il-falliment tal-MEPA li tassumi r-responsabbiltajiet tagħha bħala regolatur – li ħolqot mentalità ta’ ġirja biex nibnu – mhux biss irrovinat l-irħula tagħna u l-qalba tal-villaġġi iżda ironikament wasslet għal tnaqqis fil-bejgħ tal-proprjetà.”

“Il-MEPA falliet fid-dmir tagħha li tirrikonċilja d-drittijiet li wieħed jiżviluppa l-proprjetà privata ma’ dak ta’ saħħa tajba. Li neħħejna d-djar biex għamilna l-appartamenti għandu effett doppju għax iwassal għal iktar karozzi f’żoni residenzjali,” qalet Vella li elaborat dwar l-effetti ta’ dan il-bini żejjed, b’mod partikolari fuq saħħet in-nies.

Alfred E. Baldacchino jċanfar ukoll lill-awtoritajiet għax għażlu triq li wasslet għal iktar bini ġdid flok irranġar u restawr ta’ dak li għandna.

“Hawn ħafna bini mitluq, qadim, storiku, u mibni b’konsiderazzjoni ambjentali siewja, imma n-nuqqas ta’ ippjanar li jeżisti jwassal biex minflok dan jitranġa u jkun restawrat, dan jitwaqqa’ u jittella’ bini ġdid, fil-forma ta’ kerrejjiet moderni, biex ngħidu hekk. Dan minkejja li hawn kemm domanda għal dawn il-postijiet (bini qadim restawrat), kif ukoll hawn kuxjenza qawwija nazzjonali biex dawn ikunu restawrati kif ukoll salvati. Imma mid-dehra dan mhux parti tar-responsabbiltà ta’ min huwa inkarigat biex jara li l-ippjanar ta’ dawn il-gżejjer isir minn kull aspett, kemm soċjali, kemm ambjentali kif ukoll ekonomiku. L-importanza li tingħata hija biss mill-aspett ekonomiku u l-oħrajn jiġu kompletament injorati. Ħadd ma jgħid li huwa responsabbli għal dan. Anzi kulħadd jgħid li mhux huwa responsabbli,” jgħid Baldacchino.

Ħtija tal-politiċi 
“Il-politiċi tagħna jiddefendu iktar żvilupp billi jgħidu li l-ġenituri qegħdin jipprovdu l-appartamenti għal uliedhom. Din il-ġustifikazzjoni ntużat fl-2006 meta kien hemm l-iskema ta’ razzjonalizazzjoni u medded ta’ art fil-kampanja ttieħdu biex jinbnew mijiet ta’ appartamenti minn żviluppatur wieħed.
“Din twassal għal mistoqsija oħra: jekk il-ġenituri qegħdin jipprovdu l-appartamenti lil uliedhom, l-eluf ta’ appartamenti tal-ispekulaturi lil min se jinbiegħu? Żgur mhux lill-barranin, għax mill-2009 kien hemm biss 300 bejgħ fejn kienu involuti l-barranin. Il-MEPA kkalkulat li l-ħtieġa annwali għad-djar ġodda hija madwar 2,000, iżda mill-2005 sal-2009 kienu approvati bejn 8,000 u 12,000 unit fis-sena,” tgħid Astrid Vella li tappella għal studju serju u tisħaq li din il-problema għandha tkun indirizzata.

“In-numru ta’ postijiet vojta huwa destinat li jikber iktar, hekk kif hemm permessi approvati mill-MEPA li għad irid isir il-bini tagħhom u hemm ukoll iktar proġetti kbar ippjanati. Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar temmen li l-kwistjoni ta’ żvilupp iktar milli meħtieġ għandha tkun indirizzata. Jekk iktar appartamenti se jkunu approvati, fuq liema bażi se niġġustifikaw it-telfien ta’ iktar kampanja?” ittemm tgħid Vella.

Baldacchino wkoll jitkellem dwar l-irwol tal-politiċi u ma jdurx mal-lewża.

“Ir-riżultat ta’ dan kollu huwa li din hija politika żbaljata tal-entitajiet governattivi u pubbliċi li kulħadd jara l-parti tiegħu biss u ma jimpurtahx minn entitajiet ohra. Anki f ‘deċiżjonijet żgħar jittieħdu deċiżjonijiet li jmorru kontra tfassil u deċiżjonijiet ta’ entitajet oħra.

“Dan jidher u jinħass bħal ngħidu aħna fil-ħarsien u mmaniġġjar tal-ilma, f’dak tat-trasport, f’dak tal-biodiversità, u ħafna u ħafna oħrajn. F’dan il-qasam huwa ġenerazzjoni ta’ xogħol artifiċjali, għas-spejjeż tar-riżorsi nazzjonali, biex taparsi jinħoloq ix-xogħol, xogħol li għandu ħafna prezzijiet u piżijiet moħbija, li qed tħallas għalihom is-soċjetà u l-ambjent b’mod ġenerali,” qal Baldacchino, li fakkar ukoll kif il-Kummissjoni Nazzjonali għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli għadha ma bdietx tiltaqa’.
“Opportunità li kien hemm u li għad hemm biex dawn il-fares jinqatgħu kienet li tibda taħdem il-Kummissjoni Nazzjonali għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli. Imma din tpoġġiet fuq l-ixkaffa tistenna l-mument meta jkun tard wisq u l-pajjiż jibqa’ jħallas minn imnieħru. Imbagħad forsi tirxoxta jew inkella titfassal oħra bħalha,” temm Baldacchino.

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