Monday, October 31, 2016

The people and the car

Michael Briguglio - Times of Malta 31 October 2016

A few days ago, the United Nations environment agency spoke about the need to put people before cars. The UN said that governments should invest at least 20 per cent of their transport budgets in infrastructure that promotes walking and cycling, to save lives, curb pollution and cut climate-changing emissions from vehicles.
Incidentally, on the same day I participated in a local councillors’ meeting in Rome on green mobility for healthy cities. The main speakers presented successful and inspirational examples in different European cities. It was clear that policymaking can make a difference if implemented well.
For example, it was shown that congestion charges in Milan have reduced traffic and helped provide funding for a clean transport system. The implementation of the charge was tweaked in agreement with the business community.
There was resistance from certain car park owners, certain political forces and some residents, but the eventual positive results are there for everyone to see. Indeed the local council administration wasreconfirmed in a subsequent election.In the meantime, the vast majority ofworkers have continued using public transport, and various economic sectors are reaping advantages.
Malta’s small size provides an opportunity for a modal shift towards cleaner transport
During the conference, those present also learned about improvements made in the transport system of Naples. A congested southern city with a fair share of crises and a financially challenged poor local council is now investing in pedestrianisation, bicycle lanes, bicycle sharing, car sharing and collective taxis. To top it all, Naples has developed a state-of-the art underground station.
In some other localities across Italy, public transport is more accessible, new tram networks have been created and cycling mobility has increased.
Policies are also being adopted to replace older vehicles for merchandise distribution with smaller, cleaner vehicles. And moves are being made for better usage of smart technology which provides holistic information on buses, bicycle use, parking and other matters which can make life much easier for commuters.
This type of policymaking is also being adopted in French cities such as Paris and Grenoble and Spanish cities such as Valencia. Again, public investment in public transport, bicycle lanes, car sharing and pedestrianisation is on the increase.
A lovely case study which was presented in the conference concerned Brussels. It was explained that car dependency has decreased through the ‘stop’ principle. Here, policymakers give successive priority to walking, riding, usage of public transport and finally, the car. The latter is only addressed in terms of policymaking when other methods are exhausted.
Consequently, Brussels has an abundance of bicycle lanes, a bicycle sharing system, strong investment in pedestrianisation, buses and trams, and a progressive reduction of car speed limits which will eventually cover all local roads.
Studies referred to in the conference show that from 50 per cent car usage in 1999, the usage of this mode of transport decreased to 33 per cent in 2010. Today, 37 per cent of commutes take place on foot, and usage of public transport has increased massively. This has taken place despite an increase in population of 250,000 and 60,000 more jobs during the same timeframe.
It was also explained that had Brussels adopted a business-as-usual approach in transport policy, there would have been a massive increase of cars. Yet, once again, sustainable policymaking is helping bring about a modal shift in transport.
Other positive examples were presented during the conference. Rather than hearing of usual acclaimed success stories such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, participants learned of successful transport policies in other cities which are less known for such approaches. Incidentally, even Amsterdam and Copenhagen were over dependent on cars years ago.
The benefits of such forward-looking policymaking are multifold. Apart from helping improve mobility and accessibility, they also help reduce air pollution and congestion. They help improve people’s well-being and help build a sense of community through open and safe spaces.
Such a sustainable transformation is possible through determined policymaking which is evidence based. Will Malta ever move towards this direction?
Will positive examples such as Valletta’s pedestrianisation be mainstreamed? I believe that Malta’s small size provides an opportunity for a modal shift towards cleaner transport. And before we resort to Malta’s car-culture narrative, let us keep in mind that other cities were car-dependent too.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

'Development proposals running against policies should be sent back to the drawing board'

Kevin Schembri Orland - The Malta Independent 27 October 2016

Sliema local councillor and Front Harsien ODZ representative Michael Briguglio told The Malta Independent yesterday that development proposals clearly running contrary to policy should be sent right back to the developers by the Planning Authority, rather than having the applications published straight away.
The Sliema local council is being inundated with development applications, and there is just not enough time to thoroughly look through them, he said.
Dr Briguglio was asked to comment on an opinion piece by Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar Coordinator Astrid Vella, where she said the Planning Authority should be disbanded and spoke about a controversial application on the Sliema front.
Dr Briguglio chose to speak about the area in general rather than the specific development proposal: “The whole issue is that we are being overwhelmed by development applications with a very short time to comment on them, and this is very time consuming. If you just look at the number of applications per week published on the government gazette, it is near to impossible to analyse all of them.
“We are finding that many applications are non-starters and run contrary to various policies. If an application runs contrary to policy it should simply be refused”. Such objections could be made by the PA themselves,” he said.
“One thing we see in Sliema is that there are many applications not providing enough parking spaces. This is a non-starter. If you have a block of 12 apartments and not enough parking is created, it would add pressure to Sliema’s transport infrastructure. Most of our objections quote policies which applications violate. We don’t think the authority should just pass on and publish applications, it should have a more proactive role. In my opinion, if an application runs contrary to policy it shouldn’t even be considered”.
Of course there is a difference between certain policies, he explained. “If we are speaking about a 30 cm difference between something, that is one thing, but about a residential complex without enough parking it should simply be sent back to the developers.”
Dr Briguglio explained that the council has a committee which looks into all applications, but it is impossible to analyse them thoroughly. “To make matters worse, government is sponsoring big development”.
As an example, he mentioned the Paceville master plan. “It seems to be that government is not acting according to a national master plan or evidence based policy making. My hunch is that government is satisfying the needs of certain developers and designed the Paceville plan accordingly.  In fact, Front Harsien ODZ has appealed to government and the Planning Authority to publish all correspondence related to the Paceville plan. 
“The PA should not just be there to rubberstamp, they should engage with development proposals”. Looking at the Townsquare development, he said that the PA practically published the impact statements carried out without engaging with them. 
Dr Briguglio added, “The PA has experts should engage on these things, not present them as though they are some truth which nobody could question.
“I looked into the project’s social impact assessment. The social impact assessment was 10 years old, how come they didn’t comment on this? You don’t even need to be a sociologist to know that a 10-year-old social impact assessment has certain problems and limitations. Why do they present it as gospel truth? They should engage on these issues.”
Asked yesterday to elaborate on her opinion piece, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar Coordinator Astrid Vella said that in the face of the MEPA’s glaring shortcomings, various improvements had been made to planning procedures as a result of their lobbying between 2007 and 2013, “The most important of which was making information accessible to the public and reducing conflicts of interest by establishing that practicing architects should no longer be appointed to MEPA boards. 
“All this is now changing, by limiting information to the public, since applications can no longer be seen on national newspapers as they have been shifted to the Government Gazette, while the ‘summary proceedings’ that has been introduced at the PA means that some applications are being processed without a public hearing, which we maintain is illegal. Furthermore, the two EPC boards which were composed of 10 members including non-practicing architects, planners and members of civil society, have now been reduced to one board, usually three people including a practicing architect and no members of the public.
“Turning to the Paceville master plan, Ms Vella said that it is perfectly clear to all members of the public that government is leaning towards developers. This had publicly been promised in the run up to the elections, which is why FAA came down so heavily against PL proposals prior to the 2013 elections.” 
Asked whether she believes the PA is a puppet of government, or whether they do their job, she said: “I believe this question was clearly answered by the Chamber of Planners when they stated ‘The Chamber is not privy to the way the master plans and such are formulated,…Unfortunately, there exists a misconception that the Planning Authority, its actions and decisions are always motivated by planning theory and principles or driven by planners. Regrettably, this is not the case.’” 
Questions following Astrid Vella’s opinion article have been sent to the Planning Authority.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Townsquare developers are sending leaflets to residents

The Townsquare developers are posting leaflets to Tigne' and Qui-si-sana residents, informing them that an office will be open near Union Club for any queries and information on the 'approved' project.

This type of public relations campaign is uncalled for, especially when the project is subject to an appeal after submissions by Sliema Local Council, the Environment and Resources Authority, Din l-Art Helwa, FAA and associated ENGOs. Coincidentally, the first hearing of the appeal will take place on Thursday 10 November, 2pm at the EPRT in Floriana.

In the run up to the PA board meeting on the proposed development, the Townsquare developers never took up the Sliema Local Council proposal to hold a public meeting with residents and with the participation of the local council.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Common appeal of Green local councillors: together for clean air and sustainable mobility

Michael Briguglio, Sliema Local Councillor of Alternattiva Demokratika - The Green Party, joined a delegation of other Green local councillors in Europe in the conference “Moving Ahead: Green Mobility for Healthy Cities” on 22 October in Rome, Italy.
The councillors present signed the following declaration: 
Mobility is considered the number one priority for improving the attractiveness of cities, as well as quality of life and the health of our citizens. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change (as was agreed upon in the COP21 Paris Agreement), we need energy conversion policies that address low-carbon transport, as 25% of emissions that cause climate change in Europe stem from transport, in particular, road transport. Reducing traffic congestion and air pollution means improving the economic competitiveness of our cities and the well-being of our citizens. 
We all know how Dieselgate shocked the European public only one year ago: after Volkswagen admitted it had cheated on NOx emission tests, national and European inquiries showed that most of the cars on our roads emit much higher emissions than is allowed by EU law. Consumers are fooled both ways: they drive much dirtier cars than they thought and they breathe more polluted air in their cities. Politicians all over Europe promised better and reliable tests, cleaner cars, less pollution.  But one year later we have clearly been let down.
For these reasons, it is fundamental and urgent to develop and implement low carbon transport policies.
Therefore, local government representatives of the Green Parties attending the Rome meeting of 22 October 2016 send out a CALL:
    • We want to reduce the number of journeys made by personal motorised transport by rethinking the urban environment to give more space and prominence to inhabitants and users of low carbon transport;
    • We want to promote “active” moving, in particular through cycling and pedestrian policy, regarding both moving itself and the infrastructure provided;
    • We want to rethink the accessibility of all places for persons with reduced mobility;
    • We want to enhance citizen participation in the planning of urban mobility and to put into place transparent governance at all levels;
    • We want robust financing schemes for urban transport;
    • We want an EU-wide recall of all dirty cars on our roads that violate EU legislation and emit more NOx and/or CO2 emissions than permitted. The car manufacturers have to fix this problem as soon as possible. We have already lost precious time, at the cost of the health of our citizens;
    • It is unacceptable that car manufacturers obtained even more leeway to put highly polluting cars on the market after 2021. The so-called “conformity factors” that were introduced just after the VW scandal should be revised as soon as possible to make sure that the cars on our roads do not emit higher emissions than was already prescribed by EU law ten years ago. This is the only way cities will be able to meet the EU's air quality standards.
    • We want to promote close coordination and cooperation between cities to foster exchanges of experiences.
    • We want the approval of new European directives on urban air quality, with wider parameters and stricter limitations, in order to improve the health of citizens.
    • We want the adoption of policies on urban logistics for the transport of goods in order for it to be efficient and sustainable and to ensure the use of low-emissions vehicles.
    • We want policies on urban planning that take into consideration the mobility of citizens and companies in order to reduce travelling distances and soil consumption.
    • We want to promote shared mobility (car sharing, bike sharing and scooter sharing) to overcome the culture of ownership and to move towards integrated mobility.
We propose the development of sustainable technological innovation for transportation to improve both its quality and the service that is provided to citizens. We want clean air for our citizens and urge Member State governments, the European Commission and the European Parliament to take action. Now.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

NEW DATE - SATURDAY 12 NOVEMBER - Information Session: Green Roofs in Urban Areas


The lecture will look at the benefits of green infrastructure and how wildlife can be introduced within urban areas, with special reference to green roofs.  It will make reference to the LifeMedGreenRoof project being run at the University of Malta.

Antoine Gatt is a professional landscape architect.  He is currently managing the LifeMedGreenRoof Project, an EU funded project, with the aim of creating a baseline study on green roofs in Malta and assess the benefits of such technology in terms of insulation and flood mitigation.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sliema council wants to reintroduce residents' parking scheme

Times of Malta, 13 October 2016

The Sliema council has filed a judicial protest calling for the reintroduction of the locality’s residents parking scheme.
The scheme, introduced by the council in May 2013, was short-lived as it had to be halted with the publication of a legal notice a month later restricting it to just The Strand and Manwel Dimech Street.
In its protest, against the Transport Ministry, the Prime Minister and Transport Malta, the council called on the authorities to immediately take all opportune and necessary measures to address the parking problem in the locality, revoke the legal notice and take tangible and concrete steps without delay to issue a comprehensive parking policy.
Back when the legal notice was issued, the council said, it had been promised that this policy was to be implemented shortly.
In its protest, the council noted that a survey it had commissioned from Misco showed that the majority of residents were in favour of such a scheme.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ferries car park should be devolved to Sliema Local Council

In the upcoming Sliema Local Council meeting on 27 October, I will be proposing that the Council formally asks the Government to devolve the car park at the Strand to the council.

The main reasons for the proposal are the following:

1. The car park is an unregulated site on public land. Revenue should be used for public purposes such as road and pavement infrastructure by the Sliema Local Council, thus replacing the current practice of private donations.

2. The car park is a shabby eyesore in the centre of a prime commercial, tourist and leisure centre. Sliema, it residents and its visitors deserve a more aesthetically pleasing and better managed site.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Master Plan in Reverse

Michael Briguglio
When it comes to big development projects, the Labour government is gambling excessively on the big developers’ card.
Rather than relying on evidence-based policymaking, the government assumes that big developers have some magic power to cater for Malta’s social, economic and environmental needs.
This is a far cry from having a national master plan which would verify opportunities, risks and alternatives. Instead, Malta is experiencing a series of development proposals which simply ignore the respective cumulative impacts on Maltese society.
Gasan’s Townsquare project in Sliema is a case in point. One of Malta’s most congested areas will have a 38-storey high-rise, 159 residential units and various commercial outlets, unless the approved project is reversed in the upcoming appeal process.
Townsquare has a shortfall of 234 parking spaces and will result in an estimated increase of 3,500 cars daily in the area. The Sliema local council has been left in the dark about a required ‘green transport plan’ and waste management, and there is no sewage impact assessment.
The project’s social impact assessment is incomplete, outdated (it was carried out almost a decade ago) and says nothing on mitigation measures.
Save for some exceptions, the assessment of the project practically ignored the 40-storey development proposal at Fort Cambridge, just a few metres up the road. Not to mention new high-rise development at The Point in Tignè.
The Planning Authority approval of high-rise at Mrieħel also has clear shortcomings. This joint project by the Gasan and Tumas groups was approved without a master plan for the area. It comprises a lack of 498 parking spaces, and will result in an estimated daily increase of 2,700 cars in the vicinity. As in the case of Townsquare, the PA decision on this project could be reversed through an upcoming appeal process.
The government assumes that big developers have some magic power to cater for Malta’s social, economic and environmental needs
In the past days Maltese society learned of further proposed mega-projects, including land reclamation and high-rise at the ex-Jerma site in Marsascala and the government-sponsored Paceville plan.
The latter is currently undergoing a public consultation process. Here, new high-rise development is being proposed in what seems to be a wish list of certain big developers.
Perhaps the most controversial project in the Paceville plan is the land reclamation project by and for the Tumas group. When the original Portomaso development was proposed, residents and other stakeholders were promised that no further development will take place, but this condition was already broken once through the approval of further development, so what the hell?
Now, what is being proposed is the reclamation of land next to a marine special area for conservation, which, incidentally, was already damaged by Portomaso development some years ago. The land reclamation will mostly comprise residential and hotel development, and a 15-storey building height of Preluna dimensions.
The Planning Authority has said the Paceville plan will be subject to a strategic environmental assessment. But this inevitably raises a question. How come strategic environmental assessments are not being carried out elsewhere? And this, in turn, raises a more pertinent question which the government refuses to reply: why is the government not carrying out a national master plan on high-rise, land reclamation and other mega projects?
Given Malta’s small size, it is only reasonable to have national studies on ecological, social, economic, traffic, waste and other impacts before accelerating the auction of development proposals.
Such studies could estimate Malta’s carrying capacity for such projects, the economic risks and opportunities of relying on such a development model, and the impact on our road arteries, which, in many instances, are already clogged.
Such studies could also show how necessary financing of public infrastructure is going to be carried out, and whether such financing is really a priority compared to other infrastructural needs in the country.
What is stopping the government from commissioning a national master plan?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Amber Traffic Lights: Sliema and Gzira Councils meet Traffic Management Committee

Following the controversy regarding pedestrians' safety along the Sliema-Gzira Strand, a meeting was held between the respective local councils and Government's Traffic Management Committee chaired by Minister Joe Mizzi.
The Ministry committed itself to ensure that all lighting is fully-functioning and will soon be deciding on three-colour traffic lights in the evening, following compilation of evidence.
The Local Councils were represented by Mayor Anthony Chircop, Mayor Conrad Borg Manché and myself, whilst the Traffic Committee comprised  Minister Mizzi, Transport Malta CEO James Piscopo as well as other committee members including experts and various stakeholders.

In the meantime, in view of the ongoing works at Kappara, the bus lane across the Strand has been suspended.