Gov­ern­ment’s worst rating 72% be­lieve – en­vi­ron­ment is not safe­guarded

63% of PL vot­ers con­demn gov­ern­ment on en­vi­ron­ment

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - He­lena Grech

A stag­ger­ing 71.9% of re­spon­dents be­lieve that Malta’s en­vi­ron­ment is not be­ing safe­guarded, the Novem­ber edi­tion of the iSur­vey com­mis­sioned by The Malta In­de­pen­dent shows.

Re­spon­dents were asked: Do you feel that Malta’s en­vi­ron­ment is be­ing safe­guarded? A pro­por­tion of 21.8% agree that it is, 71.9% dis­agree and 6.24% are un­de­cided.

En­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues first made head­lines under the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion fol­low­ing the gov­ern­ment’s an­nounce­ment in May 2015 that it planned to site the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Malta on vir­gin Out­side Devel­op­ment Zone land, tak­ing up 90,000 square me­tres in Zon­qor. The agree­ment was made be­tween Sadeen Group and the gov­ern­ment.

Two suc­cess­ful protests where held, one out­side Par­lia­ment in Val­letta and the other on the pro­posed site. Af­ter weeks of pres­sure from a num­ber of NGOs, stake­hold­ers, civil so­ci­ety and the gen­eral public the gov­ern­ment an­nounced a “com­pro­mise” and split the cam­pus in two. The cur­rent agree­ment sees the pro­por­tion of land taken up re­duced to 18,000 square me­tres of ODZ land, with the sec­ond cam­pus hosted at Dock Num­ber 1 area in Cospicua.

As part of a prom­ise to pro­tect the area sur­round­ing Zon­qor point, a le­gal no­tice to es­tab­lish the long-awaited na­tional park around the site in ques­tion has been pub­lished, with 955,000 square me­tres hav­ing been de­clared a pro­tected area.

The gov­ern­ment’s en­vi­ron­men­tal woes did not stop there, fol­low­ing public out­cry at a num­ber of high-rise tow­ers pro­posed in Mriehel, Sliema, St Ju­lian’s and Gzira. A num­ber have al­ready been ap­proved by the Plan­ning Author­ity, de­ci­sions which have been ap­pealed by a num­ber of eNGOs and groups com­ing from civil so­ci­ety.

With re­gards to the Mriehel four tower devel­op­ment, by Tu­mas and Gasan Hold­ings, a num­ber of or­gan­i­sa­tions ar­gued that the lo­cal­ity was placed on the list ear­marked for such de­vel­op­ments by “stealth”, af­ter the public con­sul­ta­tion pe­riod ended.

The Sliema high-rise tower, known as Town­square, has been vo­cif­er­ously op­posed due to, what crit­ics say, is a lack of fun­da­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment re­ports, the fact that Sliema has a se­ri­ous drainage and waste man­age­ment prob­lem as it is, the visual im­pact of the area and lastly that not enough park­ing bays have been pro­vided for the added cars that the pro­ject would bring to the area. In ad­di­tion to this, the al­ready heav­ily con­gested Sliema is feared to not be able to take the added ve­hi­cles pass­ing through, cre­at­ing even fur­ther grid­lock.

On last Thurs­day’s edi­tion of IN­DEPTH, a cur­rent af­fairs pro­gramme pro­duced by this newsroom, the gov­ern­ment’s very own for­eign min­is­ter Ge­orge Vella said that he is un­com­fort­able with high-rise build­ings, adding that Malta is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “over-devel­op­ment”. He also said that he is not against devel­op­ment, but called for bet­ter equi­lib­rium be­tween the ur­ban and the ru­ral el­e­ments.

This gov­ern­ment de­merged the for­mer Malta En­vi­ron­ment and Plan­ning Author­ity, into the Plan­ning Author­ity and the En­vi­ron­ment and Re­sources Author­ity, with par­lia­men­tary dis­cus­sions con­clud­ing in De­cem­ber 2015. The gov­ern­ment claimed that the de­merger would strengthen the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of each en­tity, giv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment a stronger voice.

Roughly a year on since the ERA was set up, it ap­pears as though Mal­tese and Goz­i­tans are more concerned than ever before about the en­vi­ron­ment.

This has, how­ever, been a cul­mi­na­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tally ill­con­ceived de­ci­sions taken dur­ing past Na­tion­al­ist Party ad­min­is­tra­tions. Crit­i­cism against the for­mer gov­ern­ment in­cluded the De­li­mara power sta­tion and the use of Heavy Fuel Oil, al­low­ing the il­le­gal boathouses in St Thomas Bay, Marsas­cala, in Ar­mier (how­ever both ma­jor par­ties have en­tered into agree­ments with the Ar­mier lobby to fore­see the re­con­struc­tion of the vil­lage so long as no agri­cul­tural dam­age takes place) and in Gne­jna Bay. The Plan­ning Author­ity has just de­mol­ished il­le­gal struc­tures and a kiosk in De­li­mara, how­ever me­dia re­ports state that Ene­malta, the state power sta­tion, has en­tered into an agree­ment to place the il­le­gal struc­tures on the elec­tric­ity grid.

The PN is cur­rently no longer bound to any agree­ments with the Ar­mier boat house lobby how­ever the PL signed as re­cently as 2013. Calls have been is­sued to an­nul this agree­ment.

Other crit­i­cisms against PN on their en­vi­ron­men­tal po­lices in­clude the mis­man­age­ment of Smart City, the in­de­ci­sion sur­round­ing White Rocks. PN has been heav­ily crit­i­cised for the state of Pem­broke and also for in­vest­ing in the North of Malta but ig­nor­ing the South.

Peo­ple got so tired of the way Malta’s most lim­ited resource was be­ing treated, that the en­vi­ron­ment was a prom­i­nent is­sue fea­tured on the PL pre 2013 gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign.

The treat­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues have long been car­ried out as a po­lit­i­cal football, as can be il­lus­trated above. Both par­ties have a his­tory of tak­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal de­ci­sions, in favour or against, for the pur­poses of ap­peas­ing one par­tic­u­lar group or an­other, be they de­vel­op­ers or eNGOs.

While this sur­vey shows rapidly growing con­cern for Malta’s en­vi­ron­ment, PA ap­pli­ca­tions seen by this newsroom show that back in the first six months of 2012, a to­tal of 196 ap­pli­ca­tions were filed to build on ODZ land, ris­ing to 253 in the first six months of 2013. These do not re­fer to ap­pli­ca­tions that have been ap­proved or re­jected, but have been filed and are pend­ing ini­tial re­view.

PL and PN voter spread

Ac­cord­ing to the way re­spon­dents voted in the 2013 gen­eral elec­tion, 30.5% of PL vot­ers feel that the en­vi­ron­ment is be­ing safe­guarded, 63.1% feel that it is not with a mi­nor­ity of 6.4% un­de­cided.

Of PN vot­ers, 11.52% feel that the en­vi­ron­ment is be­ing pro­tected, 83% dis­agree and a pal­try 5.4% could not say ei­ther way.

Out of those who were not el­i­gi­ble to vote in the last gen­eral elec­tion, pri­mar­ily be­cause they had not yet reached 18, 91% feel that the en­vi­ron­ment is not be­ing safe­guarded. This is a strong in­di­ca­tion that to­day’s youth are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly en­vi­ron­men­tally aware.

When break­ing down re­spon­dents by gen­der, males and fe­males are al­most evenly split on the mat­ter. A pro­por­tion of 22.4% and 21,2% of men and women re­spec­tively feel that the en­vi­ron­ment is be­ing safe­guarded. Con­versely, 71.1% and 72.3% of men and women re­spec­tively feel that it is not. A mi­nor­ity of each rep­re­sent­ing 6.3% and 6.2% could not give an an­swer.

All age co­horts are rel­a­tively evenly split on their be­lief that the en­vi­ron­ment is be­ing safe­guarded or oth­er­wise, apart from the old­est, 65+ co­hort. From 18 up to 55 the split ranges from 25% agree­ing with the ques­tion and 72.2% dis­agree­ing in the youngest co­hort, and 20.8% of 5564 year olds be­liev­ing that it is safe­guarded vs 74.5% who do not. For the 65+ co­hort how­ever, 27.7% think it is, 59.7% think it is not, while a sig­nif­i­cant 12.6% are un­de­cided.

The Novem­ber 2016 iSur­vey – the sixth of its kind – was com­mis­sioned to Busi­ness Lead­ers Malta on be­half of The Malta In­de­pen­dent. A to­tal of 600 re­spon­dents were used, rep­re­sen­ta­tive of age, gen­der and spread of lo­cal­i­ties. With such a sam­ple size, the mar­gin of er­ror is +/- 4%.

Ac­cord­ing to the way re­spon­dents voted in the 2013 gen­eral elec­tion, 30.5% of PL vot­ers feel that the en­vi­ron­ment is be­ing safe­guarded, 63.1% feel that it is not with a mi­nor­ity of 6.4% un­de­cided.

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