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/

 

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Il-masterplan għal Paceville

December 4, 2016

il-mument

Il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Diċembru 2016

Amy Borg

Masterplan orkestrat mill-qiegħ

F’intervista ma’ il-mument, Alfred E. Baldacchino jitkellem dwar il-konflitti ta’ interess fix-xogħol biex sar il-masterplan għal Paceville, fuq min taqa’ r-responsabbiltà u x’għandha tkun it-triq ‘il quddiem hekk kif ħamest ijiem oħra jagħlaq il-periodu tal-konsultazzjoni pubblika li kellha tiġġedded minħabba l-protesti u l-ilmenti tar-residenti u sidien ta’ negozji.

Kif għandu jsir masterplan għal Paceville? 

Paceville kiber mingħajr ebda pjan, għalhekk hemm bżonn wieħed illum qabel għada. Dan ma jfissirx li għandu jsir fuq xewqat dojoq kummerċjali mingħajr ħjiel ta’ risponsabbiltajiet soċjali, kummerċjali, saħħa fiżika u psikoloġika, ambjentali fis-sens wiesa’ kollha tal-kelma, kif ukoll għajxien ħieni u anki obbligi, kemm nazzjonali u internazzjonali, li l-pajjiż għandu.

Waqt laqgħa ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika tal-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-Ambjent, l-Awtorita’ għall-Ippjanar stiednet lill-konsulenti barranin li għamlu l-masterplan. Ma taħsibx li dawn kellhom jiltaqgħu mal-pubbliku qabel fassluh?

Fi kliem il-konsulenti barranin stess, dawn għamlu dak li ġew mitluba jagħmlu u xejn iżjed. Qalu li ma ħadux inkonsiderazzjoni ebda studju jew risponsabbiltà tal-carrying capacity tal-pajjiż, tal-externalities, jiġifieri dawk il-piżijiet u l-prezzijiet ekonomiċi moħbija; u ma taw l-ebda kas tal-ħsibijet, suġġerimenti, xewqat tal-istakeholders, lanqas tar-residenti.

F’kelma waħda dawn ma għamlu l-ebda konsiderazzjoni socioambjentali. Dan juri n-nuqqas ta’ responsabbilta’ u l-faqar tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar f’dan il-qasam, minkejja li hija mħallsa minn flus pubbliċi u mmexxija minn akkademiċi li suppost jifhmu u jafu li huma għandhom responsabbiltà lejn il-poplu Malti li qed iħallashom.

Taħseb li l-politiku għandu jerfa responsabbilità wara li ħareġ li jista’ jkun hemm konflitt ta interess għall-kumpanija li ntagħżlet mill-Gvern?

F’pajjiż demokratiku, il-politiċi magħżula mill-poplu jmexxu f’isem il-poplu li fdalhom ir-responsabbiltà. Dawn għandhom jagħmluh b’diskuzzjonijiet wiesgħa biex il-poplu kollu jħossu li huwa parti mid-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu. Hekk dawn ikunu magħġuna biex ikunu ta’ ġid ekonomiku, soċjali u ambjentali, għall-ġid ta’ kulħadd.

Għandhom jaraw ukoll li dawk li jmexxu entitajiet uffiċjali f’isem il-poplu, jimxu fuq dan il-prinċipju. Għalhekk, il-politiku li fi ħdan il-portfolio tiegħu taqa’ l-entità li tieħu dawn id-deċiżjonijiet, huwa l-bniedem responsabbli politikament. Barra minn hekk, jekk dan il-politikant ma jerfax ir-responsabbiltà tiegħu, allura l-Kabinett huwa kollettivament responsabbli.

Allura x’kellu jkun l-irwol tal-Awtorità għall-Ippjanar fit-tħejjija għall-masterplan ta Paceville? 

pa-cartoon

Il-viżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar Maltija, imneżża minn kull viżjoni ambjentali u soċjali.

L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hija magħmula minn nies akkademiċi u b’esperjenza f’dan il-qasam, imħallsa minn flus pubbliċi, bir-responsabbiltà individwalment u kollettivament, li jaraw li deċiżjonijiet li jittieħu minnhom ikunu fl-interess nazzjonali, jiġifieri, fl-interess kollettiv wiesa’ soċjali, ekonomiku u ambjentali.

L-Awtorità għandha l-obbligu li tisma’, u tagħmilha ħafif u xejn diffiċli biex dawk l-istakeholders kollha li għandhom xi interess fuq is-suġġett, ikunu jistgħu jwasslu s-suġġerimenti u l-kummenti tagħhom, il-biżgħat u l-ħsibijiet tagħhom biex minn imexxi jkun jista’ jieħu deċiżjoni fl-interess ta’ poplu.

Milli wieħed jista’ jara, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar aktar ixxaqleb lejn idejat kummerċjali milli għandha xi interess minimu dwar l-ambjent jew li tagħti xi widen lill-leħen tal-poplu.

X’taħseb dwar il-high rise buildings f’dan il-masterplan?

Dan il-viżjoni tal-high rise buildings saret qisha ossessjoni, bħal ta’ dak it-tifel li ma joqgħodx kwiet sakemm bis-sewwa jew bid-dnewwa jaħtaf dak li jrid. Il-ftit studju li sar juri li dawn ma humiex adattati għal Malta mill-aspett soċjoekonomiku. Ma nafux x’effett sejrin ikollhom fuq il-carrying capacity tal-pajjiż, fuq is-saħħa fiżika u psikoloġika tal-poplu u fuq il-kummerċ taż-żgħir, fuq ir-riżorsi naturali tal-pajjiż, u anki fuq il-biodiversità.

Dan it-tip ta’ żvilupp, dejjem bl-għerf tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fit-tmun, inħoss li aktar huwa bħal xi ħadd li jrid jimla’ vażett li jesa’ litru b’għaxar litri. Il-ħela ta’ riżorsi wkoll iddgħajjef l-istruttura ekonomika, soċjali u ambjentali li diġà teżisti.

Minn dik il-laqgħa l-pubbliku qajjem diversi kwistjonijiet u rabja wkoll. X’tikkumenta?

Veru li matul il-laqgħa tal-Kumitat Parlamentari msemmija kien hemm rabja li wasslet ukoll għall-ibbujjar. Din l-imġieba jien ma naqbelx magħha. Imma mill-banda l-oħra meta wħud iħossuhom marsusa f’rokna, imżebilha, iffrustati, ikkalpestati, inġurjati, u jaraw ħwejjiġhom li jistgħu jittieħdu għar-rejba tal-ftit, f’rapport uffiċjali li sewa €300,000, din hija r-reazzjoni li wieħed jistenna’ b’mod naturali. Aktar u aktar meta dan ir-rapport huwa mħallas minn flus pubbliċi li anki l-istakeholders mingħajr ma kienu jafu minn qabel, ħallsu għalih mingħajr ma kellhom l-iċken kontribut.

X’tikkumenta dwar kif wieġbu l-konsulenti barranin għall-mistoqsijiet tal-pubbliku?

Wieħed seta’ jara li l-konsulenti barranin kienu imbarazzati sewwa. Tant hu hekk, li meta kienu ssikkati bil-mistoqsijiet, qalu li huma għamlu dikjarazzjoni verbali lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li kien hemm studji li l-kumpanija tagħhom għamlet għal xi żviluppatur li x-xewqat tiegħu dehru fil-masterplan.

Qalu wkoll b’mod ċar li kull masterplan ma jistax jirnexxi jekk ma jkunx hemm studji dwar l-externalities. Komplew żiedu li huma għamlu dak li ġew mitluba biss. Ma għamlu l-ebda studji li juru l-externalities tal-masterplan. Lanqas ma ngħatalhom xi rapport jew ħjiel tal-biżgħat tal-istakeholdres.

Dawn iwasslu biex ir-rapport xejn ma jidher profesjonali. L-istess bħal dak taż-Żonqor f’Marsaskala. Ħadmu fuq tagħrif mogħoddi lilhom mill-klient, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, u tawh ftit kulur, dehra sabiħa u firma.

X’nuqqasijiet fih il-masterplan?

aeb-quote

Fir-rigward tal-qasam kummerċjali goff, ma hemm xejn nieqes: perfett. Ma nstema’ l-ebda kumment kontra dan il-masterplan minn dan is-settur. Minn naħa tal-istakeholders (mhux qed ninkludi lil ERA bħala stakeholder) mhux talli ma kienx hemm nuqqasijiet, talli ma kien hemm xejn li jitkellem fuq l-impatti negattivi ekonomiċi, soċjali u ambjentali: kemm fuq ġewwa tal-masterplan, kemm tal-madwar, kif ukoll tal-pajjiż kollu. Bil-PA fit-tmun ma niskanta xejn. Anżi nistennihom.

L-ERA għada ma tidherx u bla vuċi. U qed jingħad li ma tistax tappella għax l-ERA qiegħda fuq il-board tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar!

Li kieku kelli niddeskrivi dan il-masterplan, kont ngħidlu Masterplan orkestrat mill-qiegħ.

Taħseb li l-ħsibijiet ta kulħadd jistgħu jkunu inkorporati fil-masterplan bla ma jkun hemm kunflitti bejn parti jew oħra?

Kif qalu l-konsulenti barranin, l-ebda masterplan ma jista’ jirnexxi mingħajr studji dwar l-externalities tiegħu. U kif qalu wkoll, ma kien hemm l-ebda talba minn għand il-klient tagħhom, il-Planning Authority, li suppost tippreżenta l-interessi tal-poplu, biex huma jagħmlu dan. Jekk il-mastserplan, bħal kull deċiżjoni oħra, ma jkollux, ma jiħux u ma jkunx irid jieħu l-kummenti ta’ kull stakeholder, din tkun deċiżjoni imposta fuq kulħadd.

Mingħajr dubju, il-kummenti, is-suġġerimenti u l-ħsibijiet tal-istakeholders jwassalu biex ikollhom sehem fid-deċiżjoni biex ikunu jistgħu jgħidu li huma parti mid-deċiżjoni li tkun fl-interess ta’ kulħadd. Dan ma tantx jidher li huwa l-interess tal-Planning Authority.

Il-Gvern qed jisħaq li qed joffri lill-pubbliku politika dwar l-ambjent b’saħħitha. Taqbel?

Dan smajtu. U anki qrajtu. Imma ma nista’ naraħ imkien, la fid-deċiżjonijet u lanqas fi proġetti.

Meta niftakar fiż-Żonqor f’Marsascala; fi pjani mressqa mill-MEPA li dgħajfu jew ħattew kull pjan li kien hemm u li fuqu setgħet kompliet tinbena l-politika ambjentali; fil-landscaping imsejjes fuq siġar eżotiċi importati bi dħul ta’ mard u speċi invażivi, ma nistax ma ngħidx li din hija aktar politika ta’ konvenjenża milli politika ta’ konvinżjoni.

Meta nqis li ħafna minn dawn l-attivitajiet huma mħallsa minn flus pubblici u bi ftehimiet sigrieti, ma nafx kif xi ħadd serju jista’ jsejjah din bħala politika ambjentali b’saħħitha.  Aktar naraha bħala waħda msewwsa b’deċiżjonijiet ta’ viżjoni kummerċjali mgħammda bil-barka uffiċjali.

X’għandha tkun il-politika dwar l-ambjent għall-pajjiżna?

Politika ambjentali b’saħħitha hija msejjsa fuq qafas li jiġbor fih id-direttivi, ir-regolamenti, u d-deċiżjonijiet kollha tal-Unjoni Ewropa. Qatt ma jista’ jkun hemm politika ambjentali li tinjora dan il-qafas.

Lanqas ma jista’ jkun hemm politika ambjentali b’saħħitha fejn l-Awtorità tal-Ambjent tkun maħkuma mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, u fejn anki  tlaqqa’ l-poplu għall-konsultazzjoni meta d-deċiżjoni tkun diġà meħuda, u xi kultant il-bidu tal-iżvilupp ikun diġà beda.

Dawn iż-żewġ awtoritajiet għandhom ikunu awtonomi u jaħdmu f’isem il-poplu u l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri mingħajr ebda indħil. Qatt ma jista’ jkun hemm politika ambjentali b’saħħitha fejn dawn l-awtoritajiet aktar ikunu lesti biex jogħġbu lill-politikant milli biex jaqdu dmirhom lejn il-poplu u l-pajjiż.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Ara ukoll

Paceville’s hide and seek – https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/pacevilles-hide-and-seek/


Yet another toothless dog

August 26, 2016

times of malta

Yet another toothless dog

Friday. August 26, 2016

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The way in which the new Planning Authority handled the applications for high rise buildings is a harbinger of things to come with regard to the complete destruction of these islands socially, environmentally and economically. Without any policy on the matter, without any public consultations, without any respect for anything or anyone but with urgency to please the selected few while the sun shines, the PA decided to approve the applications with absolutely no sign of professionality at all.

The fact that the new Environment and Resources Authority was absent from such an important decision is also very worrying.

A new era seems to be dawning on the environment, which, we have been told, ” … will be given the priority it deserves…”

The ERA chairman was indisposed and sent an explanatory letter. If I were the ERA chairman and I were sick, I would have crawled to the meeting, if only to make my presence felt. It would have been important to vote and make ERA’s position known. If medical reasons did not allow me to crawl, I would have sent a letter to the PA chairman stressing the need for it to be read before the vote was taken and highlighting ERA’s vote.

I would also have entrusted one of the ERA board members with the task to substantiate ERA’s official position. I would certainly not have sent the letter to a PA board member to use as he deems fit.

Such unprofessional behaviour simply shows that the government’s intentions to split Mepa into two authorities was just a sham. It wanted to make things easier for the selected few, weakening national and EU environmental obligations and responsibilities, giving a blank cheque to development applications having a hidden political blessing.

This was evident when the environment protection directorate was kept in limbo by Mepa when they were supposed to be in the same bed. Unconcerned, Mepa presented the Parliamentary standing committee on the environment with an impact assessment on Żonqor Point, confirming that the directorate was not consulted and drafters of the assessment had to remain anonymous.

The Environment and
Resources Authority, still so
young, has signed its own
death warrant

 

The new ERA, the promised champion of the environment, failed at its first hurdle. ERA, still so young, has signed its own death warrant through its impotency. The subsequent news that the ERA chairman described the EIA of the Sliema skyscraper as a “sham” confirms that ERA is another toothless authority.

I am indeed sorry for the ERA chairman. I had high hopes and honestly believed he would go far towards the protection of our environment – the basis of life as professionally he fully well knows.

The Sliema parish priests and the Church Environment Commission were constrained to voice their concerns. One cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. The leadership of the Church is emerging to be a solid promoter of the social and environmental responsibilities in the country, in line with Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. Yet, it is already being hounded by the square-circled political mentality.

Considering the local conditions, the high rises approved and others being proposed are anti-social, anti-environmental and anti-economical. Unfortunately, the powers that be, despite claiming they hail from the socialist camp, are dead set to accommodate the selected few at the expense of the exploited many, who sooner rather than later will have to pay through their noses, financially, socially and environmentally.

Such an official blinded vision is an extreme capitalist mentality rather than a moderate socialist commitment. But this is of no concern to those involved in these decisions. Greed, materialism and the exploitation of everything, at everyone’s expense, seem to be the order of the day.

As a past chairman of the Church Environment Commission once wrote: ” … Mepa, which should be our national watchdog on environmental protection and good management, has been turned into an old toothless dog often receiving merciless battering from all directions, including from the authorities, the public at large, NGOs and also from environmental speculators. And, let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter!”

He had also said: “What we need is a national watchdog called MEA: the Malta Environment Autlority. This should be able to act as a strong regulatory body in environmental matters, with all the required resources, including a well-trained and motivated staff. And, as a national watchdog, it should be able to act independently of all other govemment entities and authorities. Our MEA should play second fiddle to none” (Times of Malta, January 1, 2010).

Bold and noble words indeed when said with conviction.

cartoonThe old toothless dog is still running the show. And it is not only the old toothless dog that is still receiving such criticism. It has now been joined by a seemingly toothlless ERA.

One has to be aware that scientific decisions are arrived at in a very, very different way from political decisions. “And let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter”.

Who has let down whom?

Alfled Baldacchino served as assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com