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

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Another Buskett onslaught

September 15, 2016

times-of-malta

Another Buskett onslaught

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Buskett is one of the few remaining rich ecological areas. It is a tree protection area. It is also a bird protection area: birds of prey migrating in both spring and autumn and for other migrating, wintering and resident species.

Buskett supports eight different habitat types of EU Community interest, whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation (SAC). It also supports six different species of fauna (besides birds) and plant species of EU Community interest, whose conservation also demands the SAC designation.

At Buskett, there are 32 bird species recorded, all qualifying for special EU conservation measures with regard to their habitat to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution. Because of this, Buskett is a special protection area (SPA).

Buskett is thus both an SPA and an SAC, making the place an EU Natura 2000 site. These are designed to afford protection to the most vulnerable species in Europe.

buskett

BUSKETT – an SPA, an SAC – and an EU NATURA 2000 site.

Within six years, at most, from the designation of a Natura 2000 site (from 2004, in our case), member states are obliged to establish priorities in the light of the importance of the sites for the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of a natural habitat type or a species for the coherence of Natura 2000 and in the light of the threats of degradation or destruction to which those sites are exposed.

 

Since EU accession in 2004, the environment has never been
so much neglected, abused and exploited as it is today
 
The priority that has officially materialised so far is a rave party in the midst of this Natura 2000 site during a sensitive migration  for birds of prey. This despite the fact that EU funds were acquired for the rehabilitation of Buskett’s environment.

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 its conservation objectives.

The competent national authority (the Environment and Resources Authority) has to agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and after having obtained the opinion of the public.

By December 2015, management plans for Malta’s Natura 2000 sites were ready and approved by the government after a public consultation exercise. However, Buskett is still under tremendous pressure and disturbance.

Highlighted negative impacts on this Natura 2000 site, according to the management plan, are noise and light pollution resulting in disturbance. Noise was attributed to large groups of people, unnecessary shouting and also the use of megaphones.

Light pollution was also referred to from a transient source, such as from a passing vehicle or from adjacent areas.

The management plan confirmed that “all these result in considerable disturbance to wildlife”.

The plan also recommends that the range, population size, roosting habitat and future prospects of migratory raptors are to be maintained; the future prospects of breeding and wintering passerines are to be improved.

buskett-kuccarda-bghadam-wrdpress-2

Buskett is a Special Protection Area (SPA) declared under the EU Bird Directive because of its importance for migratory birds of prey.

It further recommends that Buskett should receive full legal protection implemented according to national legislation and local polices. With regard to birds, one of the main objectives is to maintain its high ornithological value. These are all in line with obligations arising out of the EU environmental acquis, which have been transposed to local legislation.

The Minister for the Environment and his ERA seem to be yet oblivious to what has hit them. They failed terribly at their first hurdle, which seemingly was a bit too high for them. Now they seem to have been mesmerised by this rave party, which took place on September 7 in the midst of Buskett. This should never have been given a permit to be held –  unless, of course, it was held without any permit, which would still be of ERA’s concern.

 

2016-09-08-black-kitss-marcus-camilleri-wordpress-photo-3

One of the largest flocks of Black Kites congregating over Buskett EU Natura 2000 site on the 7th September 2016, waiting to roost in the trees, on the same day the rave party was held.

The minister and his ERA are intelligent enough, I believe, to see that such a rave party is diametrically opposed to the EU Natura 2000 obligations, especially in a sensitively bird of prey migratory period. Even genuine bird hunters and bird conservationists (who, in the recent past, have never seen eye to eye) have come out in force against such disturbances to this Natura 2000 site.

malta-taghna-lkoll“The Environment and Resources Authority… will focus more specifically on the conservation, protection and amelioration of the environment and resources while undertaking also the responsibility of the important role of an environmental regulator, which presently our country does not have.” So were the people promised in the Malta Tagħna Ikoll electoral manifesto in 2013.

But the people are still waiting for this promise to be realised and the responsibility of the environmental regulator (“which our country does not have”) to be effective.

Not only has Malta not become the “best in Europe”, as also promised, but, since accession to the EU in 2004, the environment has never been so much neglected, abused and exploited as it is today.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

Honey Buzzard – Pernis apivoris  – il-kuċċarda
Black Kite – Milvus migrans – l-astun iswed
Marsh Harrier – Circus aeruginosus – il-bagħdan aħmar

 

photos-of-buskett

A photo of Buskett an EU Natura 2000 site, taken on 12th September 2016. For the attentino of ERA,  the promised environmental regulator.

See also

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/buskett-%e2%80%93-a-special-area-of-conservation-in-the-eu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/il-buskett/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/the-eu-habitats-directive/