Newsbook.com.mt’s webinar on environment discusses important developments

The webinar organised by Newsbook.com.mt entitled “How are we planning to live?” touched on various aspects of our dealings with the environment. From Water to transport, from planning to pollution the panellists discussed these themes with the numerous attendees. Here is a summary of what was said.

Awareness on water scarcity exists – Manuel Sapiano, Energy and Water Agency

Manuel Sapiano, CEO for the Agency for Energy and water said that The Maltese have an innate sense of the scarcity o water. Speaking at the webinar organised by Newsbook.com.mt “Are we planning to live?” Sapiano said that water most important and vital for survival. Water is scarce in Malta and planning needs to start from that premise: nature is not bountiful with us in that aspect. Because of this, said Sapiano, we can relate immediately to the parts of the Apostolic Exhortation Laudato Si which deal with water poverty. He said that Laudato Si looks at the lack of access to watersheds and drought. Sapiano said that over the decades, Malta has invested in water-management systems. This has overcome the lack of this vital resource making water a supply which is available to all in Malta. The baseline in Malta is that water is limited. Policies need to be directed to the ‘creation’ of water, but we need to have policies on its use and waste.

In Malta, the use is about 110l per capita daily when compared to an average of 200l per capita daily in the EU. Sapiano said that this is quite a low figure when compared to other countries. He added that the way we use water in our life shows that we are aware of the scarcity of water in Malta when we recall the days, in the ’80s when taps were dry.

Sapiano said that the changes to increase water conservation need not be drastic: fix a dripping tap, do not let the water run unnecessarily, introducing an aerator, having a smaller toilet flushing. All these help towards conservation on a family scale. From a national perspective, Sapiano said that the battle against leakages has been ongoing since the 1990s and the current production of water has decreased because the amount of water wastage through leakages has decreased.

We need to plan – Sebastian Ripard, Bolt

Sebastian Ripard CEO of Bolt said that the way we plan transport needs to be relevant to the lives people live. At the moment, said Ripard, public spaces are being used for roads rather than recreation. He said that transport systems planned by Bolt are all planned within the clean air system. Bolt, he said, is a stakeholder in society and feels it incumbent to play a positive role. He said that the company is introducing e-scooters which substitute the use of cars for smaller distances. Ripard said that a multifaceted approach needs to be implemented and this helps make incremental gains in clean air.

In the forthcoming budget, Ripard suggested that the government should look to greening the economy. He proposed incentives for free forms of public transport to accelerate a multi-modal transport system.

Planning is abdicating its responsibility – Alex Torpiano

Prof Alex Torpiano, Dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment asked: Is our vision for the future a good one? Speaking at the webinar from an environmental perspective, Torpiano took Minister Farrugia to task over earlier statement. He questioned the advice given to the minister that Malta is too densely populated. Paris, he observed, has 15 times more density but has managed to include in its planning a plethora of parks and open spaces. Rationalisation areas need proper planning but Torpiano said that PA shrugged off this responsibility to the developer. He said that the PA expects proposals from the developers for these areas, losing an opportunity to make the areas greener.  He also challenged the concept that vested rights are halloed ground. “Have we ever tried challenging these rights? Have we gone to Strasbourg on this? Vested rights are not fundamental rights and are given by society,” said Torpiano, adding that as society gives, it may also withdraw for the common good.

Quoting the Apostolic exhortation Laudato Si Torpiano said that the Pope raises a series of questions to check whether a development proposal truly is toward the common good. Malta’s model, insisted the university don, serves developers, not the community. As an example, he quoted the re-development of the former Jerma Palace Hotel where a 30,000sqm has been arbitrarily doubled. Torpiano claimed that there is no Planning for ODZ and the PA is throwing away the opportunity to plan the new areas in a greener and more balanced manner. Replying to a question, Torpiano agreed with the appointment of an Aesthetics board but stressed that this does not solve fundamental problems.

Our surroundings should be our common home – Vella Lenicker

Perit Simone Vella Lenicker, President of the Kamra tal-Periti expressed the opinion that if there will not be a common drive towards a sustainable environment with common ownership, we will not move forward.  In addressing the webinar, Vella Lenicker said that it is useless to draw up fancy designs if then the clients are not prepared or have the means to construct them. Construction needs to be a quality good, said Vella Lenicker, which also provides safety to those who work on the construction site as well as the neighbours.

Perit Vella Lenicker said that in the construction industry many things are tied together: issues like fire and ventilation, safety, waste and water management. She said that both the professionals, the consumers and the politicians are in a crucial stage where brave steps need to be taken if this industry is to move into a more environmental frame of mind.

Perit Vella Lenicker called for conversion into a more communal frame of mind where the individuals look at their surroundings as their common home. This, said Vella Lenicker, is the essence of Laudato Si. She recalled the environmental protests of a year ago and said that the KTP had decided not to attend as it considered the profession as part of the problem. She concluded that it is shameful to say that this sector is so unregulated that the architect ends up carrying the can.

People want a better quality of life – Michelle Piccinino

Environment and Resources Authority Executive Director Perit Michelle Piccinino said that ERA policies are based on the safeguarding and development of the environment. Speaking during the webinar organised by Newsbook.com.mt, Piccinino referred to Pope Francis’ Laudato Si and said this is integral in aspiring to a better quality of life. People, she said, are more aware that it is not just the economy and the money which count but also the quality of life. Role of the policymaker said Piccinino, is to look strategically towards a better future and this means that all aspects need to be considered in the planning for the use of the land. Land use planning, concluded Perit Piccinino, is to the benefit of all and responsible citizenship and polluter pays principle are important.

We have to invest in things other than stone – Michelle Borg

Michelle Borg from the Planning Authority said that at the outset, the PA started out well but over time the way seems to have been diverted. Several policies, she said, have been formulated but the holistic context of the country needs to be considered. We are responsible for our choices observed Borg, adding that the plans are there and it is a question on how to implement them. Development she said, has increased exponentially but all permits have been approved according to policy and in a concentrated place. “We seem not to have learnt to invest in other than the stone not even in ourselves” concluded Michelle Borg.