Maltese Banter on anything Environmentally or Culturally interesting!
Maltese Environment

Let the systematic rape and pillaging of the Maltese Environment begin!

“Development permit fees were cut by an average of 25 per cent yesterday, in a move planning parliamentary secretary Michael Farrugia said would “do justice” to developers and breathe new life into the economy”.

This statement has been lifted off a recent article published in The Times of Malta. I rarely make candid public statements, but this press release is infuriating, disgusting and just plain insulting.

‘Do Justice to developers’ – ex-f******-cuse me? Are these people for real? So the new government wants to promote development in the most densely populated country in the EU? I am just aghast at how outright ridiculous and brazen this new administration is treating the environment, and this only after a month of its premiership.

Let me just paint a clear picture of what is potentially going to happen with this new change, by using Gozo as an example. The following map illustrates land use changes on the island of Gozo from 1990 to 2012, which I constructed using GIS software and CORINE Land Cover Data (data from the European Environment Agency) and aerial photographic imagery of Gozo from 2012 obtained from Google Maps. Mind you, these are very reliable datasets which allow the user to perform a rigorous analysis of land use change.

CLC

CORINE Land Cover for Gozo. The 1990 dataset was cross referenced with maps due to inconsistencies in the original data, the 2012 map was constructed by superimposing the 2000 map on the digitized Google Maps aerial photograph. (Map for 2000 dataset not shown, but can be obtained from the EEA website)

The following table represents the percentage change of land use as extracted from the above map. I only included the land use types which are of interest to this discussion.

Land Use Type

1990 Area (km2)

2000 Area (km2)

2012 Area (km2)

Change 1990-2000 (%)

Change 2000-2012 (%)

Overall Change 1990-2012 (%)

Discontinuous urban fabric

11.89

14.78

14.99

24.31

1.42

26.07

Sparsely vegetated areas

0.71

0.59

0.59

-16.90

0

-16.90

Sclerophyllous vegetation

14.19

11.96

11.61

-15.72

-2.93

-18.18

It is quite obvious that urbanisation has a negative impact on natural areas, with the greatest amount of construction occurring in the 90s. While development is still on the increase in Gozo (and I am sure it is the same for Malta), people should not underestimate the fact that it is happening at a slower pace. We have reached a critical point in the Maltese Islands, where construction is quite nearing its saturation point. It is quite clear that we cannot afford to promote more construction in Malta, as this would most probably come at the expense of protected or vital natural areas. In a country that has been marred with developmental controversies from the previous administration (Ċaqnu, Dwejra, Wied il-Għasel, Wied Għollieqa to name a few), all this happening under the harsh permitting fees, what does this new government expect if he lowers these said development fees?

The development at Wied il-Ghasel, one of the numerous environmental fiascos of the previous administration (Photo credit: Jason Borg/Times of Malta)

In a 2011 article, MEPA indicated that planning permits dropped by a staggering 40% (much to the detriment of developers). In this article Astrid Vella from Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA – Together for a better environment), argued how:

“the environmental impact and the side effects of over-development on tourism, the development glut had the potential to do economic damage, as pointed out recently by the Central Bank, which warned that banks were facing heightened credit risks in view of the declining property market.”

Why are Maltese NGOs so scared to speak up to such blatant abuse? Issuing a public statement that shows disagreement to this new change will not do much. If NGOs continuously argue that they feel powerless to bring about a change in the environmental sphere, they need to stop sitting pretty and start mobilizing the masses.

 Oh, and have a read at this gem of a statement:

“According to Dr Farrugia, the across the board reductions will give entrepreneurs a new lease of life after years of overly high fees.

Another proposed change will fast-track planning applications which adhere to local plans and planning policies, without the need of Environment and Planning Commission approval or case officer intervention.”

How embarrassing is this? Not only are we going to have developers going on a frenzy with lowered permit fees, but now they will be able to start construction without the input of the environmental commission. All this so we boost a (seemingly) crippled economy which so far has withstood the recession.

Puerto Rico just announced that they will be protecting a huge span of area from development. While the developers argue that they would boost the country’s economy and create jobs (do you see a pattern here?), the government wants to preserve this Nature Reserve and instead rely on eco-tourism ventures to provide income. So while the rest of the world gets its act straight, Malta wants to keep on dragging its feet and favour a small elite group of developers as opposed to listening to the public’s concern.

The Northeast Ecological Corridor in Puerto Rico, finally protected under law. Even though developers argued that developing this area into hotels, luxury homes and golf courses would boost the Puerto Rican economy, the government has listened to green activists. Will Malta ever learn from other countries? (Photo credit: Luis Villanueva-Cubero)

Dear Dr Farrugia, if we ever end up with a bad economy it may take decades for it to recover, but it eventually will. Once you develop a natural area, the changes done to it are irreversible. Enacting such a change with the ruse of improving the economy is an outright lie. It is quite obvious that this decision transcends economical reasoning, and is probably deep-rooted in some ‘behind closed doors’ agreement – much similar to what happened with the hunters.

The management of the Maltese environment is comparable to a crappy restaurant, headed by people with heads buried in the sand who are running it into the ground. We desperately need an expert to come in and wake them up before it is too late (much like how Gordon Ramsay delivers a healthy dose of ‘reality check’ to hopeless restaurant owners on his TV show Kitchen Nightmares).

But while it is amusing to see Chef Ramsay have a go at half-witted restaurateurs, this new change in MEPA’s administration is not at all funny.

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