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 

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To Gozo with love

January 8, 2019

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The proposed Gozo tunnel has resurfaced once again. No surprise. The MEP elections are round the corner. It is normal that white elephants are driven in the political arena during such times.

Their main aim is to try to get on board the blindfolded followers who can be convinced that a circle is square, especially if this comes from the political leaders, no matter from which side.

This time a new step in this regard has been made. An international call for tenders for the construction of the 10 km underwater tunnel, plus additional inland excavation – approximately an additional 5 km – was announced.

The information was revealed by the Minister for Transport, who regrettably, is already associated with the destruction of any tree which dares stand in the way of spending EU millions to widen roads – the latest to bite the dust are national trees at Buqana.

Suggested socially and environmentally friendly alternative connections between the two islands.

Does the public have a right to know what were the findings of the social, environmental and financial impacts of this tunnel? After all, our country belongs to all of us and not just to politicians and entrepreneurs.

Has consideration been given to the negative impacts of such works on the only remaining unadulterated water catchment area at l-Imbordin?  How will this affect the water table? And how will this affect the livelihood of  those involved in agriculture in the area?

What about the Gozitan farmers on the other side of the tunnel exit? Is this of importance? Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists? Have such studies been undertaken despite the official tender calls? Has the general public a right to know of these negative impacts or are these confidential too? Would any professional firm tender for such works without such important scientific studies?

How much deeper under the 35 m of sea-depth will the tunnel be excavated? What kind of geological strata grace such depths? What is the position of the ERA?

Who will be giving the assurance and take responsibility for any loss of human life and limb in meddling with such dangerous large and deep sea bottom faults the area is full of, as has been pointed out by geologist Peter Gatt?

Will the responsible minister and the Planning Authority, which incidentally is in his portfolio, be shouldering all responsibility for loss of human life and ecological and social destruction and disasters, both on the site in question and also, directly or indirectly, in the affected areas? Somebody has to.

The answer to these and other questions raised by sociologist Godfrey Baldacchino ‘What purpose should tunnel serve?’ (January 4) have never been addressed, much more answered.

In the background of this political circus, one can hear the artificial, shameless pleadings that this is all in the interest of the general public, especially Gozitans, who deserve to have better crossing facilities between the two islands. No doubt about it.

Everybody agrees that Gozitans and Maltese deserve better crossing facilities. But not with such destructive decisions bereft of any technical and scientific studies, solely based on local arbitrary political acumen and agendas.

There is an ever-increasing momentum among the public, not least Gozitans, that the best environmental, social and financially friendly approach is the fast ferry service between the two islands. These can run not just from Mġarr to Ċirkewwa, but also to St Paul’s Bay or Qawra, to Sliema and also to Valletta.

And if found that there is the appropriate economically feasible demand, also to the Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk.

This would help commuters from getting caught in traffic jams along the way in St Paul’s Bay, Mosta, Birkirkara, Msida, Ħamrun, Floriana or everywhere along their journey across the island, something the tunnel can never achieve. The sea routes are already available at no cost at all. And these do not need any widening.

Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists?

If the Ministry of Transport is open to suggestions, unless they believe that the people out there can all be convinced that a circle is square, they can plan a holistically better managed public transport system on both islands, in connection with the stops of these fast ferries service. The present service between the two islands should also form part of this national transport management plan.

Such holistic public transport management can include, among others, a shuttle service from the Valletta ferry stop to the Valletta bus terminus to cut down on private transport and help commuters reach their destination easier.

Another shuttle service can take commuters to the Blata l-Bajda park-and-ride to reach a parked car which, if one wishes, can be left there. Such facilities can also be available at every fast-ferry stop.

This would be far less expensive and more socially and environmentally friendly than the proposed tunnel, in all aspects. It would also help commuters to cut down on expenses, both in the consumption of petrol, and also in the wear and tear of their cars. It would also help to further reduce pollution from the urban and rural environment, with all its negative impacts on the people’s physical and psychological health.

Furthermore this would also help to lessen the stress in crossing from one island to the other, especially through the 15 km+ tunnel, where all the psychological impact studies seem to have been completely ignored. Unless of course these negative social impacts are also officially regarded as further contributing to the economy.

It would also be interesting to know the toll commuters will have to pay to use the tunnel. It seems that this is not in the public interest either, possibly because it might scare some of the ‘faithful’ who may have concluded that driving through the tunnel would be free, like driving through any other road.

From past experience, I am convinced that the minister responsible for transport has a positive environmental awareness and would positively study any alternative suggestions. However, I have my doubts how much power he has to decide himself because of directions from upstairs.

From the way the social and environmental fabric of these islands is being officially exploited and destroyed, without any scientific studies or regard for their negative impacts, it is very difficult not to conclude that their destruction is part of an official political agenda supported by the square-circled mentality, and endorsed by some academics paid to decide politically and not to think professionally.

The Minister for Transport, nonetheless, is both personally and collectively responsible for the future sanity and well-being of the people of these islands and their environment with regards to the tunnel and transport management.

The crossing to Gozo and back can be made easier for the benefit of the people of these islands, with love and not with co-ordinated politically motivated destruction.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

other related articles:

Tunnelling the cross

Efficient link to Gozo

 

 


Paceville’s hide and seek

November 8, 2016

times-of-malta

Tuesday, 8th November 2016

Paceville’s hide and seek

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Mott MacDonald and Broadway Malyan were commissioned by the Planning Authority to draw up a master plan for Paceville. A master plan described by the PA, their client, as one that “creates inviting public spaces, opens up views to the sea, and makes the most of the impressive coastline”, “it builds (my italics) an iconic skyline and a real sense of place”. The PA boasts that they have “looked at the bigger picture, to deliver something for everyone in Malta.”

How very true. When it comes to building and overlooking the nitty gritty and externalities of such developments, especially monstrous ones, there is no one better than the PA to build and just look at the bigger picture.

The PA brought over their international consultants for the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Environment and Planning’s meeting on 2nd November. The room was bursting at its seams with stakeholders from all walks of life, all searching for information on a master plan they had unknowingly paid for without any input from them, but just from the selected few, or let’s say, the PA.

Unfortunately the consultants’ explanations raised more questions than answers. It was more like a mix and match master plan: wish lists, selected suggestions, hidden justifications, and discreet terms of reference, with the Planning Authority in the driving seat dishing €300,000 for their desired choice.

Without exception, stakeholders present on 2nd November, all (except ERA) painfully sought information about how the hidden externalities of this master plan would affect them. How will these impact the present commercial community of Paceville and beyond?

How will the well-being of the present and future residents, and all commuters to the area be affected, both physically and psychologically? How will the residents’ private properties be impacted, some even worried that their property will be expropriated to accommodate private commercial purposes?

Considering the high population density of the area and beyond, one of the highest in Europe, can this be borne by the Island’s carrying capacity?

pa-cartoon

Malta Planning Authority’s pie in the sky

 

What will be the impact on the acute daily traffic problems, now acknowledged by the Minister for transport? Not just in Paceville, but also in the surrounding environs?

Is the proposed land reclamation in line with Malta’s international obligations ?

What are the impacts on the terrestrial and marine biodiversity?

Are some of the designs in the master plan put forward by the local Authority, or are they original designs of the consultants?

What was the relationship of the consultants, directly or indirectly, with developer(s) interested in the area?

How will such a master plan further deplete the scarce natural resources of the island?

In what way will the infrastructure of the area have to be redesigned?

Not one adequate or satisfactory reply was forthcoming from the consultants, who admitted that they did not undertake any engagements that were not requested. It is vital, though, that any master plan has to have full understanding of such externalities. No such studies were made, and there is no stakeholders report, they confirmed.

A clear case of putting the cart before the horse.

Nobody can be blamed for asking: is this mix and match master plan just a wild goose chase? Is it just to appease someone? Is it just to alienate the public from other matters? Is it in the national interest? And does all this have political blessings? Is this really happening in our Malta? Is there any conscientious politician personally deeply worried by this pie in the sky?

Nobody can be blamed for asking: is this mix and match master plan just a wild goose chase?

During a previous meeting of the Parliamentary Committee, representatives of the Environment and Resources Authority, who also sit on the PA executive committee, said that they are as much a stakeholder as the general public. But during the last sitting of the Parliamentary Committee their silence dwarfed all the vociferous demands of the worried stakeholders. Any church mouse would have envied such silence.

The Environment Minister has recently been quoted as saying that “Labour has provided the country with “strong environmental credentials”. If the above are part of these “strong environmental credentials”, then God help Malta. The minister might just as well have tried to convince us that a circle is square.

This Paceville master plan has concretely served to prove how correct American political satirist PJ O’Rourke was when he said: “No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed, and love of power.”

Let’s have a master plan for Paceville by all means. But a professional one where every stakeholder can say that he was part of the decision.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com