The Malta Independent 5 August 2020, Wednesday

Consultation, transport, waste top issues ENGOs urge new minister to prioritise

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 23 February 2020, 10:30 Last update: about 6 months ago

Environmental NGOs in Malta have a number of different issues which they believe the new Environment Minister, Aaron Farrugia, must focus on as priorities. Some of the eNGOs for example, highlight the need for better consultation, while another highlighted the traffic problems on the island.

Din L-Art Helwa

Din L-Art Helwa’s (DLH) Executive Council President Alex Torpiano said that the NGO has asked the new Environment Minister for a meeting so that it can explain its concerns in detail.

Professor Torpiano said that the minister has made important declarations, such as that development should not be at the expense of the environment, and that the minister “also seems to be addressing the serious problems we have at the Planning Authority. We hope that he will be making changes there."

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He explained that he is not sure that the changes in the Planning Authority can just be a question of tweaking and changing the people on the boards, but rather must deal with the whole frame of mind in terms of approaching planning on the island.

He referred to a statement by Farrugia, in which the Minister said that we have to change the way we plan out urban areas. “I am not exactly sure what he meant by that, but it would be very interested to hear more about what he has in mind. I think he is right, that our model for designing urban areas needs to change, but we want to know what he has in mind."

"We have not heard much about any changes in the approach to ODZ development, and we believe that the concept of ODZ needs to be revised," Torpiano continued. 

He said that it is not land which is uniform, and there are different characteristics. "In general, ODZ at the moment is left a bit as a sort of reserve, to use when we need certain things.” He used the Maghtab waste treatment land extension as one example, and road widening as another.

He said that his personal opinion is that in some areas it is ok to build if there is a national requirement, "but we must be sure that such a national requirement is there. However, there are other areas where even that national requirement would be inconceivable.”

“We have made the case for the need for landscape planning in Malta, the need to plan what our landscapes will look like and not simply leave it by saying that one cannot build there, as in the future there might be an urgent need to build and we would then not look at the impact."

On this issue of ODZ, he explained that there is a need for classification of areas outside the development zone. "I would look at it from the landscape point of view. As an example, if we are talking about a valley, we would say that all of this area, what can be seen from the bottom of the valley, has to be preserved, so no development can take place there, including electricity cables, and we can even talk about what kind of agriculture would be allowed there." 

He said that, "first we must define where we cannot build, and different degrees of that, etc. The approach we take currently is that if there is an old possibly ruined farmhouse and it is proved that it was inhabited then it can be built into a villa because the person might have a vested right. I'm saying that it may be in an area where, if anything, it should either be left as a ruin or possibly removed altogether and not built up. The point of departure should be what we cannot do in an area, not what we can do."

Professor Torpiano said that in terms of the issue of urban design, he is not convinced that the rules as defined up to now are in any way effective. "They are concerned with details such as that a building cannot be higher that X height but, in truth, it is far more complicated than that. Unless the people at the authority take a view that whatever is proposed adds to the beauty of something, rather than just adhere to the rules, then we can never improve.”

"As far as we are concerned, perhaps the biggest point is for the minister and the relative planning agencies to consult more with NGOs. NGOs conduct their work because they are concerned, and don't do this for money. They are volunteers, concerned citizens. Many-a-time we have been proved right. When we have objected to a development and it was approved anyway, we were proved right about the negative effects."

He also spoke on the need for more discussion with society. He said that, when NGOs had argued in the past for more information on the Gozo tunnel, it is not enough for "someone to tell us that the experts have studied it. Where are the real discussions with the community? I'm referring to discussions and not surveys and online polls." 

 

Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar

Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar’s (FAA) Astrid Vella told The Malta Independent on Sunday that a great many urgent changes are needed.

On planning policy, FAA “calls for the elimination of the present clauses on commitment which often uses abusive buildings, or even ‘potential’ commitment, in order to justify totally inappropriate development in almost intact heritage areas. Other urgent changes include the long-overdue revision of the Rural Policy and the Petrol Stations policy which have caused havoc in our Out of Development Zones.”

“One of the two EPRT tribunals is not functioning due to chairman Perit Saliba’s appointment to the EPC board. This has meant that many developers have commenced work on their suspended cases, foremost of which is the Manoel Island case, where works have been ongoing for some time in this area where there are heritage remains dating back to the Roman period. The same goes for other cases, as a backlog of between 40 and 50 new appeals is registered every month. This is in spite of the fact that any ODZ or heritage project is supposed to be suspended completely during the course of an appeal.”

She said that the May 2019 change in policy “by which the Planning Authority took the unprecedented step to eliminate public access to the details of planning applications which are not yet ‘completed’, is in direct violation of the Aarhus Convention and the EU Directive on Public Access to Environmental Information. This curtailing of the public's access to applications constitutes a serious impediment to residents to become aware of applications in their area, and severely restricts their ability to object to said applications, favouring developers' interests as their applications go undetected or unchallenged.”

Government has just designated two sites as Public Domain when FAA's proposal of sites was backed by hundreds of members of the public, she said. “What of the other sites of great historical and environmental importance? Is this another greenwash measure meant to impress without achieving much?”

She said that the new Minister needs to instil a sense of ethics, transparency and accountability.

“While Minister Aaron Farrugia has made a step in the right direction with the news that Elizabeth Ellul is to be removed as chairperson of the ODZ Planning Commission, that is not enough. FAA calls for immediate investigations into the Commission's irregular and highly questionable permits, some of which can still be rescinded before they scar the landscape for ever, as so many have already done. Until those in positions of power are held personally accountable, we shall not see the change in governance that Malta so desperately needs.”

 

Friends of the Earth Malta

Friends of the Earth Malta Director Martin Galea De Giovanni explained that, in his first month or so since becoming Minister, Aaron Farrugia has so far announced two positive initiatives, namely the transparency register and also the SPED review (of course depending on how it all pans out). “One will be expecting much more over the coming months but let’s say that these are two promising steps.”

He said that, in the past, the environment ministry was not being provided with the necessary resources. “One case in point is the influence carried by the PA as opposed to the ERA. One hopes that  they will now find themselves on equal footing and be run by competent individuals with environmental and planning backgrounds, not individuals driven by self-interest and/or politically allegiances.”

“One way of making sure that future generations will enjoy whatever is left of our open spaces is by entrenching the protection of the environment into Malta’s Constitution – all citizens to be given right of action to sue the government for implementation and enforcement of laws/actions to protect environment and air quality and also by clearly protecting ODZ/Public Domain Sites by stating clearly that no new applications will be accepted on such land. Here one questions the current state of the Fuel Service Station Policy review 764 days later.”

FoE Malta has also been campaigning towards having a national strategy or action plan for bees and pollinators linked to biodiversity and climate change actions, food security and farming initiatives and rural and urban development plans. “This is already available in other European countries including the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Wales, all Ireland, France and Norway.”

He said that, considering that climate change and biodiversity collapse are threatening the entire planet, “one also hopes that the Minister will see beyond the parochial and the demagogue vote-seeking measures which go against current scientific and planning reasoning – one case in point being the outdated demand induced road-building madness being steamrolled by the current infrastructure minister. He would do well to leaf through Malta’s Climate Change bill in order to make sure that it is being implemented according.”

Following the latest news about more land being taken up by WasteServ at Mghatab, the new minister needs to give waste-related issues the importance they deserve – specifically by making sure that the Beverage Container Refund Scheme (BCRS) is introduced successfully as promised in 2020, he said.

“Finally, I expect Aaron Farrugia to be open to clear and honest dialogue with environmental NGOs – and not run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. If the wellbeing of communities living in harmony with nature is at the core of his agenda, he will find our support, in the interest of all those living on the Maltese Islands.”

 

Futur Ghal Ambjent Wiehed

Futur Ghal Ambjent Wiehed representative Claire Bonello said that transport, traffic, and the car-centric mentality are major issues.

“We need to find a way to combat this car-centric mentality where people who do not travel by car do not have any status or laws to protect them and then the whole nation suffers because of deteriorating air quality, ever-decreasing green areas, and all the health hazards which derive from such a car-centric approach. Unfortunately, the environment minister will have quite a hard task in this regard as it is the whole thrust of other government agencies.”

“This and the waste issue have become extremely important. There are indications that Wasteserv will ask for around 268,000 m2 of agricultural land to be expropriated around Gharghur and Maghtab, either for an extension of their site there or for some sort of waste disposal site. This is shocking and runs in parallel with the car issue.”

“The car-centric mode of thinking means that we have less green land and afforested areas, and the ever increasing waste issue and the fact that we are not reducing the amount of waste and construction waste means that we are cannibalising ourselves.”

 

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