MEPA leaves no stone unturned

August 19, 2014

times

Mepa leaves no stone unturned

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 The illegally extended road on Comino. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The illegally extended road on Comino. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Times of Malta lately reported the construction of a dirt and concrete road on Comino, an island with barely half a dozen residents and an EU Natura 2000 site.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority, which is the Competent Authority for the EU environment acquis, thus also for Natura 2000 sites, was quick to show its surprise and lack of awareness of the matter.

It immediately issued an enforcement notice on the Commissioner of Land, on the grounds that Comino is government land. Pontius Pilate would have envied this. Incidentally, the Commissioner of Land falls within the portfolio of the Prime Minster.

Natura 2000 sites are sites listed according to important habitat types in the EU Habitats Directive. On accession, each member state has to declare such sites, and once approved by the EU Commission as Special Areas of Conservation, these form part of the EU Natura 2000 Network, all of European ecological importance.

Member states are obliged to draw up a management plan for each Natura 2000 site. Following agreement with the EU, Malta’s management plans were finalised by December 2013. What happened to these management plans: have these been shelved sine die?

According to the government’s electoral manifesto, the Environment Directorate had to be separated from the Planning Directorate. “The main aim of the separation will be to strengthen the respective autonomy of the two important parts”, “the environment will be given the priority it deserves” and “the environment and resources will be conserved, protected…” the new authority established “will assume the important role of a regulator which to date our country does not have”.

Furthermore, “a new government will be more seriously committed in the environmental field. We will work with determination so that we will recover the lost time, conscious that there are a number of difficult decisions to be taken, amongst them the Mepa reform. We will take these measures in the interest of the environment of our country so that we will be in a positon to address the challenge”. (Malta Tagħna Lkoll – Manifest Elettorali 2013 – section 9, pages 92 – 96)

Not only has the pitiful state of the environment under the previous administration not been addressed but today, I regret to say, it is worse than it was before. After 18 months, the environment is still in limbo, still hijacked by Mepa.

2014.08.17 - mepa reform

A cartoon which appeared in the Sunday Times of Malta – 17 August, 2014

The political responsiblility today rests with a Parliamentary Secretary within the Office of the Prime Minister. This can lead one to rightly conclude that the aim behind the separation of the directorates is more a measure of convenience than of conviction. The status quo has definitely not strengthened the environment. It is contributing to its destruction.

The fact that the environment does not fall within the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment, but is still in Mepa’s grip, also shows the lack of good governance of this social, national and international responsibility. The damage and rampage going on in the environment, endorsed by the Competent Authority paid to ensure that this does not happen, is unbelievable.

The feeling of those who honestly have the national interest of society and the environment at heart is that the environment is not a priority on the govenment’s agenda, despite the fine words in the electoral manifesto. In fact,the environment is not on the agenda at all.

Mepa is on the front line, as a Competent Authority, leaving no stone unturned to accomodate widespread and massive development and to sanction illegalities, with a hugely negative impact on society and the environment.

I fear there is much more to come. Such laissez-faire in environmetal protection leads one to ask if Mepa is finding it difficult to honour its obligations. It seems as if it wants to imply that one should ask any related questions and forward any complaints on the environment to the European Commission, because Mepa is not interested, not willing and perhaps not competent to deliver.

 The Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, responsible for this Competent Authority, is miles away from a basic awareness of professional environmental management and planning, judging by his comments and stands taken.

And with such an official political lack of vision of environmental matters, despite the electoral manifesto, one can understand the sorry state to which the environment is degenerating.

 

“Not only has the pitiful state of the environment under the previous administration not been addressed, but today, I regret to say, it is worse than it was before”

Aware of Mepa’s workings, I can almost see another Montekristo on Comino, with Mepa eventually boasting that it has issued scores of enforcement notices to stop the rape – and doing nothing about it.

One such note has already been issued. Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken. And if the electoral manifesto is anything to go by, Mepa has ample directions, unless it has succumbed to a rubber stamp role.

“We believe that Malta should be in the forefront on environmental standards. Not because there is the obligation of European directions, but because our children deserves this.” Eloquent words in the manifesto, which every citizen of this country should applaud and look forward to achieve.

But with the Competent Authority finding it difficult to address a mere illegal dirt road in a Natura 2000 site, I very much doubt whether such an electoral promise can ever be achieved.

Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken.

Mepa is morally bound (if this means anything to Mepa) to explain and advise politicians about the negative consequences that the generations of today and the future will be facing by the decisions being taken.

Imagine the stand Mepa will take with regard to the White Rocks development, extending into a Natura 2000 site, which will definitely be negatively impacted. The more so since the project cannot be regarded as a development related to the management of the site.

I believe that if the Prime Minister – who is responsible for Mepa, the Competent Authority for environmental matters – really wants to achieve the electoral promises made in the Labour Party’s manifesto, he has to seriously commit himself before it becomes almost impossible to achieve them.

“Our aim is clear: we want to be the best because this is what we deserve. We want to leave behind us a heritage to future generations so that these will be better than we are today.”

Too much time has already been wasted and much damage has been done.

With Mepa at the helm of environmental protection and management, there is no possibility at all for the government to achieve and honour its electoral promises.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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The garden at Salina park

February 9, 2013

times

Friday, February 8, 2013

by Alfred E. Baldacchino

A report was carried in The Times on the extension of the “landscaped gardens in Salina park” (January 14).
Such projects can be very beneficial if they are accomplished with in-depth planning and management. I have gone through the project description statement (PDS) submitted for the extension. Unfortunately, the document lacks important data to enable support for such a project.
Nonetheless, with some suggestions and comments, such a ‘garden’ can achieve its aims without any negative social and ecological impacts.
Let’s start with water. Although the use of water can contribute to the natural environment of the park in a number of ways, be they aesthetical, ecological or social, one has to keep in mind and emphasise that water is a scarce resource.
The PDS refers to “water features” without any indication of what these actually   are. Keeping in mind the recent obsession with ‘water fountains’, one cannot be  blamed for thinking that these are some of the features referred to, which, in some cases, are completely unsustainable.
The PDS also refers to a new dug ‘water cistern’, which is slightly larger than half the size of the proposed underground space for a “pump room and services”. The water storage for use in watering trees and for the ‘water features’ is definitely not adequate, as indicated by the need of a ‘water
tanker for filling in the water reservoir’.
There is also no indication of why the water cistern in question is so small when there is so much flood water being channelled to the sea and the sewer system. The pull-quote in The Times report – “A long stretch of stream will refresh the atmosphere” – is quite inappropriate, considering the local precarious water situation because this can also hole a number of public pockets. How sustainable is the use of such a scarce resource as suggested in the PDS?
There is then the issue of trees. The PDS indicates areas where new trees are to be planted but there is no data whatsoever on such trees. To better enable more comments, suggestions and support for the project, additional information is needed, such as: the species of trees to be used; whether the trees are indigenous or exotic; whether the supply of trees is to be obtained from local stock or imported; whether there are plans to implement the Government’s obligations in contributing to the European Union loss of biodiversity campaign by utilising endangered or rare indigenous trees propagated from local stock and adequate to such a habitat; whether the
new ‘garden’ will be according to the guidelines of the National Environment Policy, the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations, 2006, the Trees and Woodlands Protection Regulations, 2011 and other related national and EU obligations with regard to the protection of biodiversity.
There is absolutely no reference to this at all in the PDS and, considering the way that ‘landscaping’ is mentioned in the proposal, it makes it a bit more difficult to support such a project given such lack of important data.
Another consideration is use of electricity. The PDS refers to the need of electricity for ‘pedestrian lighting’ but, again, there is no indication or line drawings of how this lighting will be used and controlled. This ‘park’ or ‘garden’ will, no doubt, become a natural habitat for nocturnal fauna but there is no mention of mitigation measures of how these would not be disturbed. More data is also needed to enable both the public and environmental groups to comment on the use of the planned ‘pedestrian lighting’.

With regard to the management of the site, annex 1 (reference to figure 2: aerial view – photographic survey) attached to the PDS, shows that, in certain areas, some of the trees are planted too close to each other, thus preventing the proper growth of a tree canopy. This can lead one to conclude that either the site is not properly managed or else that the number of trees planted is more important than the final grove itself.
Such crowded trees will necessitate future thinning and this is a waste of resources (financial, human, and ecological), especially where the trees involved cannot be replanted, such as the Pinus species.

Such a ‘garden’ in the ‘park’ (I cannot understand the need for such a distinction in this context) has to have a management plan but none is mentioned in the PDS. One has to see what conditions the Malta Environment and Planning Authority comes up with in connection with the permit, such as use and management of a managed natural habitat. Not that I am very optimistic because where government projects are involved, Mepa unfortunately uses the same rubber stamp.
No one would like to be led up a garden path for a walk in the park.
aebaldacchino@gmail.com
alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com