Environment hit by EU funds

July 27, 2019

Saturday, 27th July, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

On July 18, the Planning Authority approved the Attard Central Link Project for which the EU is going to contribute €55 million.

There were a lot of questions and doubts on this project which everybody hoped a meeting would iron out. Not only were these not answered but even more doubts were cast.

The meeting was opened by the Infrastructure Malta CEO, Engineer Fredrick Azzopardi, representing the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure. He tried to convince those present that this Central Link project has many benefits. Stakeholders subsequently expressed more doubts and asked more questions, confirming the lack of public consultations.

Here is a résumé of the questions:

Those present for the meeting asked how such a project would be beneficial for full-time or part-time farmers, and those involved in animal husbandry.

There were also questions about the loss of 22,000 square metres of agricultural land and the subsequent loss of jobs due to this land being destroyed.

There were concerns about the fruit and crops in the area since these would be covered with additional emissions that would disperse across the adjacent fields.

The biodiversity of the area was also a point of concern seeing as this was facing the destruction of more than 550 trees, many of which are protected, and the loss of their contribution to climate change and the ecological niches of which they form part.

Questions were asked about the hydrological system feeding Wied is-Sewda, along with the farmers’ cisterns and the disruption of natural water flow destroyed by the project (which was unbelievably referred to as “flood water”).

Not to mention the concerns about the psychological and physical health of residents in the vicinity and beyond Attard, including those residing in Siġġiewi and Qormi, given the increase in noise pollution and toxic chemicals that the project is sure to cause.

There was also the question about the cultural heritage of the area and the number of historical constructions that would be threatened, some dating back to the times of the Knights of Malta.

Will the towers being built close to the Malta Financial Services Authority, nonchalantly approved by the lack-of-vision, commercially minded PA – definitely be­yond the carrying capacity of the area – be the main beneficiaries of the public land being taken up and the EU funds being spent?

None of the social and environmental elements mentioned above is going to bene­fit from this EU-funded project.

None of the questions were answered by the CEO of Infrastructure Malta. None of the concerns put forward were even addressed. The Environment Im­pact Assessment presented gave a very superficial indication of the project’s negative impacts.

The chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, as silent as a grave, in a later interview in the press (July 19) was quoted as saying that “he had nothing to add” because none of the comments raised by stakeholders during the meeting changed anything from the ERA’s report.

He called most interventions against the project “emotional”! He also justified the project “on the basis of national interest”.

In yet another section of the press (July 19), Environment Minister José Herrera said that “the authority (ERA) would be vigilant and in a consistent way, [fulfil] its duties to offer the greatest elements of protection to our natural capital, and this with the means and parameters established by law”.

This trophy was first awarded to MEPA in 2015. Despite the fact that the year 2019 is not yet out, this has been awarded to the Planning Authority and the Infrastructure Malta for the environmental devastation that they are involved in.

 

So long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction

The Infrastructure Malta CEO said that this project, according to his economist’s report, will “give back” €16 savings for every €1 spent without even saying how. His economist did not refer to any externalities or the hidden costs that would be borne by the public and the environment. No wonder all the above questions asked were ignored by the CEO.

With regard to the uprooting of trees, he told the press, with hand on heart, “they are using the ERA compensation system of planting trees for those uprooted”, and that the “trees to be planted as compensation will have to be at least three metres tall”. This implies they will all be imported irrespective of the possible dangers of diseases and other invasive species they may bring with them, contrary to EU recommendations as administered by ERA.

Farmers were up in arms when they heard the Infrastructure Malta CEO say that they had been consulted, and could not keep from emphasising that this was a blatant lie.

This is how decisions are taken in Malta – a final late meeting on decision day without the stakeholders being properly consulted, despite this being a requirement whenever EU funds are involved.

All stakeholders and the public have to be involved and consulted so that they are part of the decision rather than just being informed of the decision after it has been taken. Consultation does not mean planting political individuals amidst the public and stakeholders and having them clap every time their minister’s wishes are supported.

The bottleneck at the roundabout beneath Saqqajja Hill will not only remain as it is but will become worse because of the heavier and faster volume of traffic that will be introduced, as advertised by the Ministry’s billboard in Attard.

How on earth can one imagine that the bulk of this traffic has to make its way up Saqqajja Hill where there are only two carriageways? No explanation whatsoever was given by the Infrastructure engineer.

Unbelievably, the EU is dishing out €55 million to the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for this particular project, while stakeholders and the public have to depend on voluntary contributions to protect the country from environmental and social destruction.

If there were no EU funds, there would not be such useless environmental destruction taking place. The impression one gets is that, so long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction.

ERA, the competent authority recognised by the EU for the protection of the environment, gave its endorsement of this environmental destruction because most of the questions asked, according to the ERA chairman, were “emotional”.

On its website, the ERA says that it is committed “to safeguard the environment for a sustainable quality of life”. There was no confirmation of this whatsoever from the ERA chairman during the meeting, which took place on a very black Thursday for the Maltese environment, with the blessing of ERA.

Can anybody with a real national, social and environmental conscience, and without any political influence, be blamed for losing all confidence in ERA?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 


Dwejra: Tribunal dazzled by delight

July 8, 2019

 

Monday, 8th July 2019

Alfred Baldacchino

A recent decision by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has overturned a Planning Authority decision, ordering it to approve a permit for the extension of a restaurant, the installation of light and increasing the number of tables and chairs in an EU Natura 2000 site in Dwejra.

Without any doubt, this throws a lot of light on the official political disrespect, disinterest, exploitation and disregard for the environment as well as national and international legislation.

Dwejra is a Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation with regard to biodiversity, in line with the Birds and Habitat Directives. It is part of the EU Natura 2000 network because of its importance to the EU.

The Malta Environment and Resources Authority is the responsible competent authority recognised by the EU. Competent national authorities are those entitled to give authorisation or consent to a plan or project in Natura 2000 sites.

 

Dwejra is the best remaining site on the islands for astronomical observations. Photo provided by the Physics Department and the Institute for Astronomy and Space Sciences

Dwejra is also designated as a ‘dark sky heritage area’ in the Gozo and Comino Local Plan.

Article 6 of the EU Habitat Directive can be regarded as a key framework for giving effect to the principle of integration with regard to the management of the protected areas in a sustainable way and sets the limits of activities that can impact negatively on protected areas.

In an international context, Article 6 also helps to achieve the aims of relevant international nature conservation conventions such as the Berne Convention and the Biodiversity Convention (Malta is a party to both), while at the same time creating a more detailed framework for site conservation and protection than these conventions themselves do.

Where assessment is required by Article 6 (3) it takes the form of an assessment under Directive 85/337/EEC (on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment), where public consultation is necessary.

In this context, it is worth mentioning the possible longer-term implications of the Aarhus Convention, which emphasises the importance of public consultation in relation to environmental decision-making.

According to Habitat Directive’s article 6 (2) “any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives”.

The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has completely undermined Malta’s obligations at EU level

“In the light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of the Habitat Directive (para 4), the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.”

An EU Commission publication dated 2000, Managing Natura 2000 Sites – The provisions of Article 6 of the Habitats Directive 92/43/CEE, explains that “member states shall take appropriate steps to avoid, in the special areas of conservation, (like Dwejra) the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbances of the species for which the areas have been designated, in so far as such disturbance could be significant in relation to the objectives of this directive”.

The article also states that “member states shall take appropriate steps to avoid, in the special areas of conservation, the deterioration… as well as disturbances…” of species and habitats for which the sites have been designated and should also be implemented if necessary outside the sites. (Article 6 (2)).

Disturbances include, among others, noise and source of light.

The intensity, duration and frequency of repetition of disturbance are, therefore, important parameters and can be regarded as a significant disturbance.

Even a plan or project that includes conservation management among its objectives may still require assessment.

Although the management plan for Dwejra has long been drawn up with the help of EU funds, and approved by the EU, it is still gathering dust on the ministry’s bookshelf.

There is still no administrative set-up for its implementation, enforcement, management, administration, education and no stakeholders are involved, as obliged by the management plan.

The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has completely undermined Malta’s obligations at EU level. Can the ERA contest such a decision in court, especially when the Minister for the Environment has publicly stated that he does not agree with this permit? If not, does this decision mean the ERA is impotent as a competent authority responsible for EU obligations when confronted by such a tribunal?

Do the citizens have to refer the matter to the EU to achieve what the ERA should be on the front line defending on their behalf?

This is definitely another decision reached by hand-picked political academics,whose short-sighted decision embarrassed Malta with regard to its international obligations.

If such a tribunal is independent, then the responsibility has to be carried by those people involved in such a decision and who have completely ignored and defied the decision made by two national competent authorities and also the public with great political and environmental consequences.

It is high time the EU DG Environment investigates how Natura 2000 sites in Malta are being brought to disrepute.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

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

related articles:

Dwejra: Gone with the wind

A window pain for sure

Sifting solidified sand at Dwejra

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com