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/


Question time

October 22, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, 22nd October, 1946

cleaner-and-greener-header

Alfred E Baldacchino

Afforestation is beneficial to society, to the ecosystem and also economically if this is undertaken in a professional way. The economic, ecological, and social benefits are priceless. It contributes to better health conditions, reduces stress, contributes to storage of water, and reduces erosion. In some countries afforestation is included in their gross national product.

buskett-h-004-16-05-14

What everybody is wishing, and hoping and waiting for, but…

Afforestation contributes to the control of carbon dioxide in the atmospheres and gives back the indispensable life bearing oxygen, thus also addressing Climate Change which is having such a tremendous social, economic and ecological negative impacts on life on this planet.

But to be able to plan with determination and achieve such noble aims these benefits have got to be appreciated and understood.

The fact that a report on afforestation has remained on the shelf for two long years clearly shows that there is no political will, no political desire or determination, no political appreciation, no political understanding, no political awareness of the responsibility in taking any action towards the achievement of such benefits.

Not only so but the decimation of trees and the planting of exotics and invasive species going on unchecked, with political blessings also leads one to conclude that there is an official hate for indigenous trees in Malta.

No public consultation has been held on such a report. The only thing that has been done is the usual ‘animated cartoons’ showing where such afforestation projects can take place.

Furthermore, the much promised tree protection regulations, which go hand in hand with such afforestation projects, and which have been drafted three years ago under the previous Minister Leo Brincat, are still ‘being studied’ after being initially shot down by some technocrats. The new Minister during the House of Representatives Permanent Committee on Environment and Development Planning, some months ago promised that they will soon be out for public consultation.

What is holding the implementation of such an afforestation report and the accompanying regulations for the protection of trees and afforestation?

Without doubt the highest hurdle towards achieving such benefits in the national interest is the lack of political will. This is further extended to the many political advisers who are not au courant on related national and international obligations, if they are even aware of the government’s electoral manifesto.

From past experience, one can see how MEPA handled such biodiversity obligations, before it shed its “Malta and Environment” responsibilities and changed its clothing to a PA. One can also see the decisions being hurriedly taken by this PA, blindfoldedly approving developmental permits without any concerns for anyone or anything, except developers.

It also seems that ERA, after three years in limbo, has been so blinded by the light of day that it cannot even find its own two feet and seems to be still under the beck and call of its past bedfellow. Could the implementation of such an afforestation report be seen as a stumbling block to the PA?

Sometimes I honestly hope that such an afforestation report is kept on the shelf and postponed sine die by the Minister for the Environment.  I believe that if it were to be implement with the political expertise he is dependent on, it would be another brick in the wall towards the further massacre of the environment, both with regards to the choice of species, and also with the now institutionalised pro-business vision, leading to the importation of indigenous trees used for such project because of pressure from ‘landscapers’. All contrary to international obligations such as the EU Environment Acquis, the Berne Convention, its recommendations and decisions, and also the Biodiversity Convention.

sleeping-dog-cartoon

… unfortunately

Where there is a will there is a way. Naturally where there is NO will there is NO way, afforestation or not. So the best step forward is to let sleeping dogs lie.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

For the views of the Dr Josè Herrera, Minister for sustainable development, the Environment and Climate Change see the following link:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20161022/opinion/Cleaner-and-greener.628708#.WAtVEVbhyoc.email

See also the following articles on my blog:

Another buskett onslaught

Trees butchered at university

Yet another toothless dog

Trees and invasive species

There is no respite for trees

The national wonders of tree pruning in Malta

Alien invasive species animation film

 


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

 


It never rains, it pours

March 26, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, 26th March 2016

It never rains, it pours
Alfred E. Baldacchino

The lack of rain this winter has become a great concern for many social leaders. Parched valleys, dried cisterns, empty wells, wilted vegetation, worried farmers, are just a harbinger of things to come during the coming hottest months of the year. This acute drought is making some leaders, whether political or religious, feel a little bit wet under the collar.

Seemingly as a last resort, I would say more for convenience sake to appease their faithful, these social leaders are either reverting to PR exercises instead of working on the long overdue water management plans, or praying the Creator, asking Him for His intervention to send us some of the much needed rain. What an embarrassment!

TOM photo

Efforts were made to catch every drop and save it as a priceless resource without the help of any financial institution. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier – Times of Malta.

The Lord has always given us rain water for free during the years. He has also given us intelligence. One can see the results of such intelligence in past engineering works with regards to water harvesting. One can find and see the professional management of such a rare natural resource dating back to the times before Christ. Efforts were made to catch every drop and save it as a priceless resource without the help of any financial institution. In fact the

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta photo Keith Buhagiar

bell shaped water cistern in Valletta. photo Keith Buhagiar

Maltese islands are dotted with historical professional engineering projects with the sole aim that not a drop of water is wasted. This has seen the population of these islands go through two world wars without having any problems with water, which the Lord sends us for free.

But in the last 50 years, when we took over the management of our Country, we became affluent, like affluent rats, and we boast about it. This has led us to put a price to everything, and discard natural resources which are given to us for free. We are convinced that we have complete control over the ecosystem. Free assets, such as water, are regarded as having no commercial, economic, social or environmental value, and these can be exploited whenever and however we want to.

Today we live for the day, and exploit everything that we lay our eyes and hands on. Mainly, with endemic political intelligence, we ruined, and are still in the process of doing, whole historical engineering networks which contribute to the storing of such a rare natural resource.

LN-376-of-2012

How the professional management of water was adulterated for political reasons

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Professional legislation with regards to the management and conservation of water was adulterated, to accommodate speculators, with an eye on votes. We lost sight of this natural resource to the extent that official entities, like MEPA, that notorious environmental watchdog, prefers planning to store cars instead of planning to catch and store every drop of the rare resource of free rain water.

In our desperate greed, we contributed to the flooding of inhabited areas where the relatively poor reside, besides neglecting the water table with regards to its replenishment, its conservation, its abuse, and the enforcement of legal protection.

But the endemic political acumen, came out with a solution. This led to the asking for help from the new milking cow. Approximately €57 million were used to dig an underground tunnel so that all the free rain water which we are gifted with, could be swept to the sea. Such a scenario emerged from the uncontrolled development and lack of planning as a result of which water could not seep into the aquifer. A pain in the neck when rain water floods our street because of such mismanagement.

If we made use of the intelligence the Almighty gave us, as our ancestors did, we would have restored all the historic cisterns and wells, build new ones to capture and collect all the water, and not ask school children to catch a drop, and throw millions of gallons out to sea. Imagine if the historic professional water management systems were appreciated, cared for, renovated and kept in a good shape. There would not be any reason to pray for rain. Imagine if large cisterns were built in all the school yards, of which there are so many.

Wouldn’t the €57 million have been well spent and such harvested natural resource be so beneficial in this time of drought? But such common sense was not so common with the planning authority, or else these were regarded as whitebait not palatable and attractive enough to the sharks!

2012.10.00 - works in progress while the appeal keeps being postponed

The cemetery built in Nadur Gozo, disrupted and ruined the natural hydrological system and the professional engineering built by the Knights of Malta.

The religious authorities did not bat an eyelid for such waste of resources either. Not only so, but some had also a finger in the pie in the mismanagement of such a natural scarce resource. With MEPA’s blessing, they chose the largest water catchment area in Gozo where to build a cemetery. Yes, a cemetery consisting of 600 graves for the dead at the expense of the living. An appropriate adequate grave for present day intelligence.

In the process, a historical engineering system, which was used to catch free rain water and harvest it in various cisterns, was ruined. This system used to ensure enough adequate water for agricultural needs of the farmers along Wied il-Qasab during the long hot summer months. But because of such mismanagement and lack of professional planning, today when it rains, not only is the water not collected for agricultural use, it now floods the fields further down the valley. The result of the approved plans, by you know who, which interfered with the flow of water through the geological strata. And the cemetery was blessed too!

eco-1This is why I feel embarrassed to pray for rain. I am surprised at the audacity some have, especially those who believe that they are closer to the Lord than any other. Why should the Lord listen to us when a great percentage of such free rain water would be swept to the sea as unwanted, undesired and useless water. And it also floods agricultural land because of land mismanagement and land abuse. What an embarrassment to man’s intelligence. How shameful!

And in the meantime, despite such a drought, large expanses of turf are still being sprinkled (during the darkness of night) with the Minister for Landscaping’s blessings.

If I had to pen a tentative reply to such prayers, I would say: “Be blessed, go and repent.” And remember that “Water is the driving force of all nature” (Leonardo da Vinci).

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Additional reading:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/dezert-niexef-nixfa-ta-ideat/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/l-immaniggar-tal-ilma-fmalta/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/02/14/in-nixfa-tax-xitwa-u-s-sigra-tal-lewz/

 https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-nadur-cemetery-%e2%80%93-where-the-dead-will-haunt-and-curse-the-living/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/an-official-water-policy/


Effects of Ta’ Ċenċ development on Flora and Fauna

March 1, 2016

interview

http://www.independent.com.mt/img/logo.jpg

Effects of Ta’ Ċenċ development on Flora and Fauna

ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO, a noted environmental lobbyist and keen writer has been working hard on the envronmental protection front since the early 1970s. Following the proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development The Malta Independent contacted Mr Baldacchino to see what the avid blogger and environmentalist had to say about the new proposal, the effects it will have on the flora and fauna of the area, and the role of NGOs.                 ___________________________________________________

Q. What flora will be affected by the development?

natura-2000-logo_2_fs.jpeg (800×600)Ta’ Ċenċ is an EU Natura 2000 site. This embraces a Special Area of Conservation with regards to flora and fauna (except birds) according to the Habitats Directive and also a Special Protection Area with regards to birds according to the Birds Directive.

Ta’ Ċenċ was accepted by the EU Commission after Malta forwarded a list of flora and fauna which were of importance to the EU according to the habitat types and species listed in the Habitats and Birds Directives. This was accepted by the EU Commission, and these NATURA 2000 Standard Data Forms (MT0000034) are referred to in the report on an appropriate assessment based on terrestrial ecological resources and on avifauna published by Ecoserve in December 2015.

These EU Directives do not only protect the species per se but also protect the habitats important for certain species within the delineated boundary. The site is important as one holistic ecosystem. These EU Directives oblige Member States to see that all activities, within the delineated boundary, are to be either aimed towards the management of the site or else they, and even those immediately outside, do not impact any habitats and any species of the Natura 2000 site.

endemic-sub endemic flowers

Photos courtesy of Stephen Mifsud

The proposed development, will have a negative impact on most of the flora, whether  common, vulnerable, endemic or endangered. These will be somehow affected both during and after works, and also during the increased human activities, mainly commercial, subsequent to the works not relevant to the management of the site. Some of the important flora found in this EU Natura 2000 are the sub endemic Maltese waterwort, the sub endemic Maltese toadflax, the endemic Maltese cliff orache, the endemic Maltese hyoseris, and the endemic Maltese rock centaury. These besides other important threatened vegetative communities such a those dominated by the endemic Maltese salt tree, and others including garigue and rock pools all of EU Community Importance.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015, besides highlighting the above, also states that: “More accurate prediction of environmental impact would necessitate extensive experimental work on the ecological responses of the species concerned and establishment of a mathematical model linking cause with effect.” A proper Environment Impact Assessment as obliged by the Directive, will have to be undertaken if the development is to proceed.

Q. What fauna will be affected by the development?

All the fauna will also be affected both during and also after the completion of the works. The proposed development will greatly affect and damage the ecological set-up and the conservation of this EU Natura 2000 Site.

short toed lark - michael sammut

Ta’ Ċenċ is the stronghold of the short-toed lark, which is a summer resident to the Maltese Islands where it nests.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 states that not only the sedentary fauna within this EU Natura 2000 will be affected, but also those which can visit and can leave the area. All the breeding birds in this EU Natura 2000 site will be affected, not only the sea birds colonies breeding on the cliffs but also those which breed or use the plateau for foraging, whether residents or migratory.

blue rock thrush - michael sammut

The blue rock thrush (the national bird of Malta) also breeds at Ta’ Ċenċ and besides the sea cliffs it uses the garigue plateau as its feeding grounds.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 mentions 24 species of breeding or potential breeding birds recorded at Ta’ Ċenċ. These are either species of global conservation concern, or unfavourable conservation status whether concentrated or not in Europe. Eleven of these are all protected and either vulnerable or endangered and listed in the Maltese Red Data Book such as the corn bunting the short-toed lark, the blue rock thrush, and the barn owl, among others.  This is also confirmed in the Appropriate Assessment 2015.

Short-toed Lark nest at Ta' Ċenċ - Michael Sammut May 2015

The nest of the short-toed lark at Ta’ Ċenċ.  

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 stresses that “Development within these two zones (the hotel area including the interpretation centre, and the villa area) is likely to generate environmental impact that may affect significant resources within Ta’ Ċenċ SAC and this assessment accordingly focuses on processes in these zones.”

Q. How valid are the impact assessments which have been performed and what could they have done better?

The assessment which has been published in 2015 is just an Appropriate Assessment. It is not a proper Environment Impact Assessment which is required before every development in an EU Natura 2000 site, as obliged by the Habitats Directive and as also indicated in the Appropriate Assessment.

The Appropriate Assessment also states that the proposed footprints of the Hotel area, the villa area and the interpretation centre “will obliterate plant assemblages and sedentary or slow moving fauna, and displace more vagile (free moving) fauna from the habitat”.

An earlier Environment Impact Assessment on Ta’ Ċenċ was by made by John Azzopardi in 2005. John Azzopardi is a past Assistant Secretary of the then Malta Ornithological Society with over 35 years experience in field ornithology, and also a past chairman of the International Council for Bird Preservation (Malta Section) – today Birdlife International. In his study John Azzopardi  elaborates “that nocturnal seabirds may be disoriented by artificial lighting whilst travelling from feeding grounds to nesting sites. Possible effects of artificial lighting on nocturnal seabirds, include abandonment of nest sites and burrows (with subsequent vulnerability of chick to starvation or depredation), collision with structures during flight, reduction of reproductive rate and of recruitment rate, interference with navigation and direction-finding and interference with the food sources of the birds.”

According to the EU Habitats Directive, each EU Natura 2000 site has to have a management plan not later than six years after accession, in our case, 2004. Malta did not reach this deadline and was given additional time up to December 2015. By that time, the management plans for all EU Natura 2000 sites were finalised by Epsilon-Adi Consortium, and discussed at public meetings. These had to be approved by Government and sent by MEPA to be approved by the EU Commission.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 mentions these EU obligatory Management Plans for the EU Natura 2000 sites, but indicates that no reference was made to them despite that these are public. One can either conclude that these have not been sent to the EU, or else that they have not been approved by the EU Commisison. I just cannot image how such a development can be considered by MEPA, when it failed to consolidate and get EU approval for the management plans, now overdue as obliged by the EU Commission. But MEPA is MEPA – no real concern for biodiversity and no interest in EU environmental obligations despite being the official Competent Authority for environmental matters.

Q. What is the role of the NGOs in all of this, and do you think they are acting accordingly?

I believe that every NGO convinced and proud of its statuary aims for the protection of biodiversity, in whole or in part, have to make its stand publicly known on this unique important EU Natura 2000 site. To the time of writing, only Din l-Art Ħelwa has publicly declared its disagreement with this proposed development so damaging to this EU Natura 2000 site.

http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2016-02-29/local-news/Din-l-Art-Helwa-hits-out-at-Ta-Cenc-proposal-building-in-ODZ-land-unacceptable-6736154093

Sometimes environmental NGOs do surprise me by the stand they take or by their complete silence. The Malta Independent (25.02.16) carried a back page article with a declaration that “Proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development will not interfere with nesting habits – BirdLife Malta”.

Having been the Hon. General Secretary of the MOS (now BirdLife Malta) from 1974 to 1986 when bird protection principles were established with great sacrifices by many, I find it very difficult to believe this. IF this is correct, this is a stab in the back to all those who have and are still contributing to biodiversity and bird protection in Malta, and an insult to all the personal sacrifices by  many who contributed or are contributing, in one way or other towards bird protection.

GuideOne has only to take in consideration the various official publication of BirdLife Malta on the area. Ta’ Ċenc is regarded as the stronghold of the breeding Short-toed Lark, and important for a number of potential breeding species referred to in the Appropriate Assessment 2015, all listed as vulnerable or endangered in the Malta Red Data Book.

An international seabird conference was hosted by BirdLife Malta on 22 November, 2015, and attended by an international delegation of marine scientists, government authorities, and the European Commission representatives, (incidentally, though not much publicised, held at the Hotel Ta’ Ċenċ, Gozo). There it was agreed that “Important Bird Areas (IBAs) (such as Ta’ Ċenċ) represent the largest global network of important sites for biodiversity”.

The Maltese Environment EU Commissioner, Karmenu Vella who addressed the conference by video link is reported as having said that: “Natura 2000 sites (such as Ta’ Ċenċ) are the centrepiece of European nature legislation, helping in our efforts to halt biodiversity loss.

IBA booklet2In July 2004, Birdlife Malta produced a booklet, printed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB): Important Bird Areas of EU Importance in Malta. This is compiled by John J Borg and Joe Sultana, (the former one of the authors of the Appropriate Assessment 2015). Under the Important Bird Area of Ta’ Ċenċ, the authors list the following as threats for this IBA, now an EU Natura 2000 site: “A tourist complex is situated about 100 m from the cliffs with plans of extension. Uncontrolled recreation, mainly trekking and rock climbing, unsustainable exploitation (e.g. illegal bird shooting and trapping).”

RDBTaking the above, besides many others, in consideration, I find it very very difficult to believe Birdlife Malta statement regarding the non negative impact of development at Ta’ Ċenċ. Of course, one expects an official declaration by Birdlife Malta if this is not correct and is contrary to what Birdlife Malta have been working for, through popular and scientific literature, and publicly campaigning for bird protection since the birth of the society’s in 1962 when it was the Malta Ornithological Society –  MOS.

If such an official declaration is not forthcoming, then I have to regrettably believe it. However, I would then also expect a clarification by Birdlife International for this change of position regarding bird protection in Malta from their local partner, whom they support morally and financially.

I have to strongly disassociate myself from this declaration from Birdlife Malta that the proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development will not interfere with nesting habits, as reported in your paper, and hope that this is a very grave lapsus.

Do you think it is possible to have any sort of compromise with the developers where they can go ahead with development while safeguarding the natural surroundings?

Compromise is not a word in my vocabulary, especially when it comes to eliminating ecosystems, the more so when there are international obligations with regards to the protection of biodiversity of an EU Natura 2000 site. As stated in the Appropriate Assessment 2015 with regards to the obliteration of habitats: “No mitigation measures can be proposed for the actual area obliterated, since this impact is irreversible.”

Where biodiversity is concerned, there can be no compromises: in an EU Natura 2000 site, impacts are either wrong or not wrong. Compromises are reached only by those who have a pro-business vision willing and ready to accept the elimination of a living ecosystems, which after all also sustain us all. And such a compromise is reached only for commercial personal gain, naturally at the expense of society and the living environment.

scientific names

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 

 


A splitting image of Mepa

August 3, 2015

times of malta

Monday, 3rd August, 2015

A splitting image of MEPA 

Alfred E Baldacchino

mepa logo-1

MEPA’s failure in its environmental responsibility started from day one. Barely a week from the ‘merger’ with the Environment Department, in 2001, I was told in a joking vein: “forget about environment; it is development which dictates here.”

And so it was to be. And so it is today. Honouring national and international environmental obligations, which were never understood or wanted to be understood by MEPA, seemed like trying to swim up the Niagara falls. Eventually, environment became MEPA’s Cinderella, leading to its present headless mummified state in limbo.

After two years in government, it has now been thought appropriate to resuscitate such a mummy. Despite being an electoral promise, the move is accompanied by a lot of fanfare and publicity, and this raises more questions than answers. Is it to hide past failures and the procrastination in making such move? Is it to detract from the fact that environment has been kept out of the portfolio of the Minster for the Environment but is in that of the Prime Minster? Is it to make up for the environmental degradation which also saw the Environment Directorate degenerate into a mummified orphaned headless Cinderella? Is it just meant for that part of the electorate who can be convinced that a circle is square?

To consolidate MEPA complete disregard for the environment, on its death bed MEPA, forwarded a report to the Prime Minister, a couple of weeks ago, suggesting that Żonqor was the best site for the university development. The report completely ignored the Environment Directorate, it’s acting Director (no Director since change of government) and the MEPA board too.

MEPA has stooped so low, with such farcical unprofessional behaviour along the years, that it has lost all credibility. It is in need of new image to “secure better planning”!  Is the colourful publicity and change of name merely dressing the old wolf in new sheep’s clothing? Many already see the Executive Council referred to in the new Bills, as already set up and running, as evidenced by the Żonqor report. It seems that the rape will go on, till there is nothing left to rape.

As advertised, MEPA will be no more, and will only be remembered in the books of history especially for its complete environmental failures. Few would shed a tear.

 

trophy

Future generations have a right to know who was responsible for the protection of the Maltese environment, which they have lent us.

I won’t. I have gone through the new environment bill. An exercise undertaken by a parliamentary secretary in the office of the prime minister. The new bill transposes all the environmental provisions from the MEPA Act (except for some ‘overlooked touches’): a cut and paste exercise to ensure that the EU Environment Aquis obligations are all there.

If the new Environment Act is to put the environment high on the agenda, why was it not possible to achieve such aims, with the same legal provisions, when it was under the responsibility of the Prime Minister? Is all this fanfare a confirmation of failure? MEPA has been declared a monster, without any political control, when as everybody knows it functions by political nods, as one concludes from a rationalised  żonqor point.

I honestly believe that the Minster for the Environment, Leo Brincat, can administer the environment on professional lines. Perhaps this is why he has been kept away from environmental responsibility, and MEPA, environment and all, are still not in his portfolio after two years. It is nice to have someone to shield the blows though!

One now hopes the Minster for the environment won’t be given a ‘promotion’ and be replaced by someone whose main qualification will be to convince us that he is ‘balancing’ environment and planning, naturally in the ‘national’ interest. This would only result in handing over of a mummified headless Cinderella from limbo, nicely adorned as a skeleton on a string, controlled by the Executive Council.

 

 

cartoon

What trust can one have in the headless skeleton, resuscitated and dressed as an Environmental Authority? In the absence of such trust, which is not easy to re-establish, it is very difficult to believe everything that is being said.

Those who yearn for a better future, better social wellbeing, a better environmental home, have to fasten their seatbelts. We are all in for a rough ride.

I sincerely wish all the good luck to the Environment Minister who will need all the help he can from genuine individuals and social entities, especially from the political field.

Unfortunately though he will have a lot of bones to pick with.

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PS – graphics were added to the original article.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com