Bird Hunting
LETTERS | Sunday, 02 September 2007

The mind readers

Looking at recent events involving MEPA, developers and planners, I was struck by the methods being used for getting development permits through at all costs.
The spark was provided by Ramla il-Hamra. Objections to use of the notion of “disturbed land” drove MEPA to eloquent interpretations of the minds of the 1973 planners. It was said that these people were only concerned with the actual footprint of a planned building; areas relating to access roads, or the odd tool shed or store, were assumed to be there for the taking. In case of future problems, such areas would be declared “disturbed ground” and as such of no use to anybody except the developer of course. This defence of the Ramla development was shot down in flames by Lino Bianco. His report showed that the “disturbed land”, claimed to be part of the original development, was never covered by any permit. It was simply taken over.
Then last week we had another “interpretation” at the public hearing on Ta’ Cenc. This time it came from the EIA coordinator Paul Gauci (or is he Victor Borg’s attorney?), who insisted on telling the public what “vicinity” really meant in the UK planning school attended by the writer of the Structure Plan. The target was that part of Structure Plan policy which insisted that there should be no further development in the “vicinity” of the existing villas at Mgarr ix-Xini. The conundrum is unresolved at the time of writing, but I would not give a red cent for Paul Gauci’s “interpretation”.
There is then the multi-faceted MEPA EIA-waiver system, much used recently. One method starts off with a case officer declaring that a project is so way-out that it does not even merit an EIA. The case officer’s opinion is overruled by a MEPA board, but only up to the half-way mark — the proposal is declared acceptable. But that does not make it eligible for an EIA: that part is quietly forgotten. So the proposal goes through without one — vide the Nadur Cemetry. No suspicion of connivance between case officer, MEPA board and developer can exist, of course.
The Ramla il-Hamra EIA waiver involved variations of the above theme: MEPA board members advising the developer (and then very ethically abstaining from voting); “unsuspecting” archeologists drawing up reports variously described as “preliminary” and “thorough”; a dozing Superintendence of Heritage; and, the coup de (dis)grace, the Sylvana Debono guillotine on the auditor’s report.
A more refined method was used for the Fort Cambridge development. The lengthy defence of the EIA waiver by the MEPA director general ended with a comparison of EIA triggers for residential developments in various EU countries, all with greater land areas and much smaller population densities. The problem lay in the conclusion which suggested we should have at least the same value of trigger, while logic suggests that with our area and population, the trigger level needs to be rather low. The Director General’s conclusion rather resembles that of the FKNK, who have argued that as the countryside is getting smaller (sic), they should be allowed to shoot to within 100 metres of a built up area, and not 200 metres as at present.
With friends like these, our environment clearly does not need any enemies.

E.A. Mallia,

A golden opportunity not to be lost forever

I have been visiting Gozo for the past 33 years, twice and more recently three and four times a year. I love the island dearly and consider it as a home from home.
Gozo has changed in many ways over these years, especially more recently. The traffic congestion in Victoria, Mgarr, Marsalforn and Xlendi has increased dramatically. This, coupled with a great number of commercial outlets and flats popping up each year, has increased the urbanisation of this little island. The creation of open air leisure areas will surely prevent further urban sprawl and preserve the rural aspect of Gozo.
I think that unfortunately, tourism in Gozo has not developed according to any strategic plan but in a piecemeal manner, rather than with the long term objective of enhancement and sustainability.
With respect to the proposed establishment of a Heritage Park at the Ta’ Cenc , Gozo, I cannot understand why the authorities are not making the necessary decision to secure the future of this important site. It will create a sustainable tourist attraction which will enhance the Gozo visitor experience. It will contribute to the wellbeing of the locals and help school children piece together the history of their island.
Having just retired from my job as principal engineer at the Planning Department of Surrey County council where I worked for the past 26 years, my great interest in Gozo affairs caused me to go through the various studies of the environmental impact assessment on the proposed Ta’ Cenc Project.
Having said the above, I must admit that when I first read about this project in the various media, I was horrified and I could not believe that this could happen to Ta’ Cenc. However, I soon learnt that most of the media information was less then factual. There was a lot more to the proposed development than new villas and an extension to the hotel. The most positive side, the Heritage Park, was rarely, if ever, mentioned.
I can honestly say that it was a sigh of relief for me and I was exceedingly impressed with the extent and level of detail when I read through the Environmental Impact Statement. For these reports to have been prepared in the Maltese Islands is something of which to be proud.
To this end, I attended the public hearing held on 21 August, thinking that I will only find those who have been opposing this project and some media reporters who I think have been quite biased in their reports on this project.
I expected this since I have got to know the Gozitans quite well over the years and have found that they very rarely air their views openly.
I was really surprised when I got to the meeting to find the hall packed with Gozitans from all walks of life and even more surprised to see that the majority were expressing their full support to this project, openly and to be heard by everybody, something which I had never experienced in Gozo before.
Going through the history of this project I was amazed to find that it has been under discussion for a good number of years. Do the authorities now want to see it come to fruition? If the authorities still have issues they should be raised immediately, dealt with, and approval given before, God forbid, the owners change their mind and give up the whole idea.
In my work I dealt with many major planning applications. Together with other colleagues we would negotiate with developers in order to get what was referred to as “planning gain”. That is, the developer gets permission and the community gets a benefit.
Therefore in respect of this project, I was even more than pleased to find out that although this area is privately owned, as part of a larger scheme, the owners are offering to give up their rights to most of the land referred to as the Heritage Park. Furthermore the developer is then not only going to protect the site but also fund the works necessary to create the park, and also fund the maintenance thereafter.
It should be noted by the environmentalists in particular that the developer has already removed a considerable number of bird trappers and hunters from this previously very popular site.
Is it possible that the authorities cannot visualise what a great loss it would be – especially to the locals – if this project does not materialise? Apart from the ongoing deterioration, the owners could decide to block all access to the site – as has happened, I believe, in some such privately owned areas in Malta.
For the sake of my great love and affection towards this island, which has greatly contributed towards many enjoyable holidays for my family and myself and friends, I appeal to all concerned not to let this golden opportunity be lost forever.
During my years at the Planning Department it was deemed impossible to approve a major project without creating any impact. The aim was always to minimise the impact and maximize the community benefit. This involves trade-offs which, having assessed all the issues, sometimes even controversial ones and balancing conservation and development needs, result in net benefit.
Sustainable development does not stop development but seeks measures that integrate development with environmental and cultural protection.
Remember this site is unique and therefore consideration must be given to the fact that such a park cannot be created elsewhere in Gozo (or Malta for that matter). To find such a large site in single private ownership where the owner is willing to give it, restore it and manage it can never be repeated in the Maltese archipelago.
The whole nation of the Maltese islands stands to gain from this project and this is without the government having to provide any funding. On the contrary the government stands to gain, even financially in the long term.
I appeal to all concerned not to let this once in a lifetime opportunity be lost forever, it will surely be a great pity. – A great loss to Gozo.

Marshall Dixon

MEPA: one helluva problem

Further to the myriad complaints and concerns regarding how MEPA conduct their business please indulge me by allowing space to regale you with, what is perceived by MEPA, to be a perfectly acceptable modus operandi.
With regard to any enforcement notice of action issued by MEPA (a task incidentally delegated to a third party, i.e., contractor) against perpetrators of known contraventions and violations, this enforcement notice (in most cases issued for a task already completed or being undertaken) is then confined to the “back-burner”, provided the party issued with this then submits an application to MEPA within 16 days of receipt of enforcement notice. This absurd situation totally disregards the enforcement notice (and thereby absolves the violator). Moreover, it completely overlooks (exonerates, perhaps) the magnitude of the illegal act either already in place, or in the process of being completed. How can this ludicrous situation allowed to exist? Well it masquerades behind the grand ole dame known as “due process”, i.e. this being a given right! However, I venture to suggest that when a developer, or any individual for that matter, breaks the law, then not only should that right to object and lodge a planning application be rescinded, but moreover the perpetrators should not be allowed this application, nor any future one, and should face the full wrath of the appropriate authorities to bring them to heel.
For invariably an application is submitted retrospectively only when they have been found in contravention of standard procedures and, in most cases, for development which is already a fait accompli.
In summation, it is apparent that the current procedure deployed by MEPA is immensely facilitating to felonius acts and perpetrators of such, for it encourages, aids and abets such violations by virtue of its immensely flawed system. It would appear that law-breakers who blatantly fail to acknowledge or respect standard procedure can then call upon standard procedure to address this unilateral imbalance. I call upon MEPA to adopt and cultivate a more judicious and prudent approach to performing their duties, for if MEPA is truly in place to protect the general public – then the general public have a helluva problem!

Peter Murrray
Mosta MST 04

PBS Editorial Board in Limbo

With the resignation of Mr John Camilleri from the chairmanship, the PBS Editorial Board seems to have withdrawn to Limbo.
I strongly believe that the outgoing chairman did the right thing, if he believes that the station’s board of directors was not respecting the regulations it had established in its Public Statement of Intent.
In my opinion he should have resigned his post much earlier, since his defeat on the issue of who has the last word at PBS has long been written on the wall. What Mr Camilleri and the other members of his board did not seem to realize was the fact that Mr Joe Fenech Conti had the full backing of Minister Austin Gatt from the moment the conflict erupted.
What puzzles many is the fact that the two other members on the Editorial Board, both of whom claim to back John Camilleri to the hilt on the stand he took, failed to take the plunge and join him (Camilleri) by tendering their resignation as well. Both believe that it was the Board of Directors which went against the National Broadcasting Policy and that it was the Board of Directors which ought to resign.
Like John Camilleri, they believe that the board of directors brought the state broadcasting station into a miserable situation, and that it was the Board of Directors which showed gross disrespect towards the Editorial Board. For the sake of correctness, the state station had been in disrepute for years on end, well before the current board of directors took over the administration of the national station.
Having said this Mr Fenech Conti and his board could have only sunk it deeper into the mud. The establishment of the editorial board was the idea of some media wise guy, in a string of attempts to upgrade the poor level of our public broadcasting. Like all other restructuring attempts before it, this experiment misfired also.
Now that the Investment Minister have spoken, and fully supported the stand taken by the Board of Directors of the national station, it is abundantly clear that the Editorial Board has been left with only a consultative role to play, whether the remaining two members of the board like it or not.
I had publicly condemned the setting up of the Editorial Board in the first instance, as I did in the case of the many restructuring/reorganisations/reforms that had taken place in the past, and time has proved me right once again. If the board of directors, together with the senior staff of PBS is truly worth of their salt, there is no room for an “outside” editorial board.
Dr Austin Gatt would be wasting the people’s money, and asking for more trouble if he persists with his view of retaining the editorial board. In the light of Minister Gatt’s recent statement on the conflict between the two boards’ chairmen, there are no further battles to fight. Notwithstanding what one says, the battle for power by the editorial board has been lost. This leaves the two remaining editorial board members with very little to contribute, if any at all, other then to bow down to defeat, and resign.
It is also disturbing that Minister Zammit Dimech, who is also responsible for public broadcasting, and his adviser Fr Joe Borg, former chairman of the said editorial board, remained silent on the issue. Why? It is not normally in their nature to run away from the limelight. Are they lost for words? Don’t they agree with Mr John Camilleri’s interpretation of his role as chairman of the Editorial Board? Why haven’t they supported the Editorial Board?
It would be most interesting for the former Editorial Board’s chairman, the very reverend Fr. Joe Borg, to publicly express his view on the situation.

John G. Borg-Bartolo.

Muscat and Calleja should both resign

I wish to refer to the ongoing debate on Marsascala, in particular the disputes between Dr Josie Muscat and the Mayor Mr Mario Calleja.
I wish to say a few things. How come Dr Josie Muscat only realised that there was a problem with the re-cycling plant/fish farms, etc, only a few weeks before the local council election, when he formed an “independent” group to contest these elections and won himself a seat, despite never having taken the slightest interest in our locality after having lived in it for over 30 years?
Secondly: how can a person who professes to be an “independent” councillor at the same time be the leader of a drastically leftist political party? When before the council elections, the same Dr Muscat was attacking both the PN and the MLP for contesting the council elections officially as a party? Can a person exist as an “independent” and a political party leader at the same time? I think not. Dr Muscat is a has-been who is creating issues out of nothing to get his name in the papers. He also uses the gullible PN councillors for his own ends, so I will not waste too much time on him.
Then we have our mayor, Mr Mario Calleja of the free pasti fame before the local council elections: another person who had never shown any interest in our village before deciding to contest, and being seen suddenly everywhere. Our mayor runs the show his own way without even the decency of informing his fellow MLP councillors of what he is doing. He has also sidelined the hardworking committee against the recycling plant.
It is small wonder that the Marsascala council is in this mess, despite having a very valid deputy mayor who is also an excellent lawyer. The mayor totally sidelines him in favour of paying for a private lawyer to give him advice! This charismatic and hard-working youngster would have made an excellent mayor without preening in the limelight all the time.
The mayor also decided arbitrarily, without a council-approved decision, to install a hawkers’ market on the public promenade, occupying valuable promenade space for the hundreds of pedestrians in the area… without  consulting the residents, who by the way should have a bigger say what goes on in the village than the dozen business owners in the area. If these business want to attract people to their establishments they can start by offering decent fare at reasonable prices. I paid Lm 16 for four plates of pasta and four beers at one of them – when the cost of it cooked and served at home would have been at less than a fiver for the four of us!
It should be pointed out that there is already a succesful car boot sale which includes hawkers at the Park of Friendship on Sunday mornings and that is held in a private area and does not obstruct pedestrians.
The solution is simple - Dr Muscat should resign because he is no longer to be considered an “independent” and Mr Calleja should resign as he acts without abiding by Council decisions. Then, perhaps, with a couple of new faces the council would manage to operate in harmony for the good of Marsascala.

Frans Abela

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