Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Why Malta needs a clean-up

(This article originally appeared as 'Summer Rain Brings Relief')
Times of Malta 24 August 2015

The rain in the past days might have spoilt some summer events, yet it also brought some relief in other quarters. Indeed, public discourse that featured quite prominently referred to the rain’s cleaning of the streets, pavements, beaches and promenades.

Malta does not seem to be coping with the increased volume of waste littering every corner of the island, albeit being more pronounced in certain areas. The summer season, where tourism numbers increase, makes matters much worse.

All sort of rubbish is accumulating. Dog pooh, plastic bottles, loose construction bricks, garbage bags galore, odd household appliances, you name it. No wonder Facebook pages dedicated to rubbish are being set up, powered by mobile and smartphone technology.

The accumulation of rubbish adds up to the lot of vacant buildings, including those in a dilapidated state, which have unfortunately become a permanent eyesore in Malta. The same can be said of industrial areas, from Mrieħel to Ħal-Far, parts of which are suitable for film scenes of ruin. Maybe it wasn’t a surprise that Malta was recently chosen for the filming of scenes for a film in war-torn Libya.

The accumulation of rubbish and dilapidation is not only adding up to the uglification of Malta but has other negative impacts too. Think of persons with disability, those with pushchairs and elderly people whose access is impaired due to the occupation of walking spaces by rubbish.

Think of the impact on tourism, a pillar of the Maltese economy. It is true that, quite often, some tourists themselves add to the mess but, if anything, this only means that the problem requires even more attention.

The current state of policymaking and implementation does not help things. Local councils tend to spend a substantial amount of their limited budgets to waste management but the battle is draining their resources. The fact that councils cannot generate revenue and remain dependent on minsters’ priorities for various services does not help.

Green wardens come at a high expense to local councils, thus making use of their services prohibitive. Such wardens do impose fines on offenders, and rightly so, but enforcement is the exception, not the rule. The upcoming centralisation of wardens within a government entity will not improve matters in terms of local council management.

It would make much more sense to have a decentralised warden system managed by councils, whereby a substantial amount of revenue from fines is used for the benefit of the locality rather than to feed an expanding bureaucracy. Unfortunately, however, subsidiarity does not seem to be on government’s agenda.

The waste problem reveals another challenge for Maltese society: that of having stronger communities.

When people litter public space one notes a lack of civic pride. Dutch anthropologist Jeremy Boissevain had referred to this as “amoral familism” when referring to Malta and I would imagine American sociologist Robert Putnam would relate this to the breakdown of social capital.

In the case of the latter, social networks are threatened by an ever-increasing rise of individualism and unconnected individ-uals. A striking example that many can relate to is having neighbours in apartment blocks putting out garbage bags at untimely hours despite having clear signs in the condominium with rubbish collection times. Or having dog pooh on pavements in front of schools.

The increase in food waste, from milkshakes to half-bitten burgers, from pizza boxes to cans and bottles, is also a main reason why pigeons are increasing at a level almost similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Many people complain about their presence and even about rats roaming the streets at night but what about human behaviour, which is actually attracting such animals?

Hence, investing in education and social capital is just as important as enforcement. The former can have a cultural effect whereas the latter is more immediate, provided that it is not tarnished by political patronage.

The fact that such policy-making is so low on Malta’s national agenda reveals that quality of life is second fiddle to other concerns. I can only sigh when I hear ministers speaking of Malta as a hub of excellence, high worth and what have you.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Beading Course at Sliema Local Council

Course is free and commences on 7 October
Lessons will be held every Wednesday at 830-1030am and 1030-1230.
There will be 10 lessons of 2 hours each.
Places are available for first 20 applicants - Please email to apply

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Road maps and roads

Michael Briguglio
Times of Malta, 3rd August 2015

The mismanagement of the Coast Road development hit the headlines these past days. This is not a surprise, given that public concern on traffic has increased. This has much to do with the government’s underperformance in terms of policymaking and policy implementation in this field.

The hefty increase in traffic is due to various reasons. Among others, these include one’s ‘freedom’ when driving a car and the fact that the public transport system keeps failing to deliver.

When Transport Minister Joe Mizzi demonised everything Arriva, he raised public expectations on the new public transport operator. Government subsidy to private operators and bus fares increased too. Ultimately, this is backfiring because it does not seem that the increases have been matched by a better service.

The increase in traffic has also got to do with the government’s lack of awareness on the need for holistic planning and on the perils of overdeveloping. The proposed 38- and 40-storey towers just a few metres away from each other in Tigné, Sliema is a case in point.

The area is already over-congested with cars, yet, thousands more will result due to these developments and new parking spaces will only cover a small fraction of the resultant demand.

One can also refer to the situation faced by many local councils, which do not have enough financial means to carry out urgently-needed roadworks. Instead of resorting to a decentralised system, which enables the council to generate revenue to cover such costs, the government is over-centralising, thus reducing local councils to beggars at ministers’ whims. Such methods are more common in less democratic societies.

Bus lanes, commendable as they are, also fall in the category of mismanagement. A bus lane is not simply about painting markings on a road and fixing some signs. It is much more about proper education, implementation and enforcement.

Taking the Sliema-Gżira bus lane as an example, one can unfortunately predict tragic accidents waiting to happen. At every time of the day, many irresponsible cowboy drivers speed along the bus lane to the dismay of pedestrians and bicycle users and to the anger of other drivers who observe traffic regulations.

Strict enforcement at random throughout all days of the week is required, together with more effective street lighting to enhance visibility.

Another area that is characterised by very poor enforcement is the pedestrians’ rights on pavements, especially along promenades. The number of vendors who are mushrooming, especially in tourist zones, is resulting in lack of walking space.

Apart from stalls, trailers, make-do rooms and so forth, pedestrians have to contend with signs, A-frames and other obstacles, sometimes even on ramps, which were designed for the access of persons with disability, parents with push chairs and the elderly.

Once again, it seems that centralisation is becoming the order of the day, wherein orders from ‘above’ are required to take concrete action.

I hope that the lack of enforcement in this matter is not related to some Malta tagħna lkoll electoral obligation.

The cherry on the cake on Malta’s transport matters must be the emissions from cars. I had the opportunity to write about this earlier this year, in the Times of Malta, on February 9, when I commented on the ridiculous under-enforcement with regard to emissions, according to official government statistics.

I do not envy Mizzi who is responsible for such a challenging ministry and I do empathise with the fact that problem solving takes time. However, I am sure that the minister can show some signs of hands-on implementation in various matters falling under his responsibility.

To begin with, enforcement should be stepped up in many areas. How about beginning by giving a genuine push to the SMS system where civic-minded citizens report cars thatg are over-emitting?

In a country which has one of the oldest car fleets and one of the highest number of cars per person in the EU, but which also happens to be the smallest member State, effective governance on transport is more urgent than ever.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Townsquare 38 Storey Tower Block: Sliema Local Council submits objection to MEPA


To whom it may concern,

Sliema Local Council is putting forward the following considerations in regard to PA/01191/05 – Townsquare development.

1. In view of material changes to the proposal the tas-Sliema Local Council wishes to register as an objector;

2. The Council acknowledges that such a prime site has to be developed and acknowledges the trade-off between open spaces and building heights. It congratulates the developer for efforts to bring back Villa Drago to its former glory and to protect the mature trees in the Villa Drago soft areas. The Council encourages the Developer to maximise the planting of trees in the public open spaces as a mitigation from the urban sprawl being created by the development;

3. The Local Council notes that the original plans for the highrise tower have been changed more than once, and the tower is now proposed to be 38 storeys high. EIA studies commissioned by the developer in 2010 (when the proposal was for 23 storeys) acknowledge that the project will increase the shadowing on the public open spaces along the Qui-Si-Sana sea-front. “The scheme will extend this impact further over the sea. It will also impact additional areas of the rocky foreshore at noon insofar as there will no longer be patches of sunshine.” (p.11) The proposed highrise development requires an updated wind impact assessment and a shading assessment. These studies should also take into consideration the upcoming proposal for a 40-storey tower a few metres away, which is currently being screened by MEPA.

4. The EPS conducted by the developer found that the number of daily car traffic will increase from 23,386 to 27,627, an 18% increase which is based on a flawed study. An updated Traffic Impact Statement needs to be conducted - the A Planning Policy Guide on the Use and Applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) states that a tall building needs to ‘embrace principles of sustainability’ (5.6). One major aspect of sustainability is traffic management. The EPS conducted by the developer to monitor on-site car emissions and dust particles was undertaken for a period of only six weeks between the 9th of August and the 20th of September of 2011. During the same period an automatic traffic counter was installed that collected data on the volume, speed and classification of passing traffic. Traffic varies according to the time of the year. The summer period chosen would not have accounted for the traffic congestion resulting from schools, which is significant. Another major cause of traffic at the Qui-Si-Sana Seafront was omitted in that the Tigne Car Park entrance from Qui-Si-Sana Sea Front was opened a month after the traffic counter stopped counting, ie on the 26th of October, 2011. There are other traffic variables which were not assessed in the EPS such as the opening of a popular beach club, the increased popularity of the shopping mall and the coming onto the market of various apartments. Furthermore the drafters of the EPS state that there is no mathematical basis for the conversion to AADT, therefore how could projections be made for 2017 and beyond?;

5. A ‘Green Travel Plan’ needs to be submitted in conformity with the A Planning Policy Guide on the Use and Applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR). Has a Green Travel Plan been submitted?;

6. A new EPS needs to be submitted in view of the proposed development at Fort Cambridge. The A Planning Policy Guide on the Use and Applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) states ‘Where there are concurrent proposals for other tall buildings, or where others are likely to follow, the implications of these should be addressed as well’ (6.6). The Fort Cambridge development is not contemplated in the 2011 EPS;

7. The need for more assessments, particularly the Social Impact Assessment - the 2011 EPS does not fully address the requirement to provide an Urban Design Study, the Visual Impact Assessment, the Transport Assessment, the Social Impact Assessment and the Design Statement in view that it predates the 2014 A Planning Policy Guide on the Use and Applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR). The EPS now needs to come in line with this 2014 policy;

8. While not referring in particular to this Townsquare development, the Council alerts Government with the help of the Planning Authority and Environment Authority, of the need to monitor the risk of a construction bubble in order to avoid a situation similar to the crisis which happened in Spain.

9. The Council was susprised to learn from Transport Malta that there is no plan to have a Sliema Transport Plan. The Council invites Government to study a traffic management plan for the whole Tigne peninsula and the rest of Sliema with the possibility of looking at new solutions for Malta, such as a metro.


Matthew Dimech

B.Com (Hons.) Pub. Pol. (First Class), M.Sc PPM (Lond.)

Executive Secretary

Tas-Sliema Local Council