Saturday, 26 June 2010

Msida Valley Walk Saturday 26th June 2010

Thirty ramblers turned up for this early-morning walk.

After passing near the old parish church of Msida & l-Ghajn tal-Hasselin, we headed towards il-Wied ta’ Birkirkara, and Wied Balzan (actually a road) till we reached Hal Lija cemetery. Here, we could pass through il-Wied ta’ Hal Lija till we reached the area known as Hal Mann (between Mosta & Hal Lija). On our way back we passed through the village core of Hal Lija and Hal Balzan ( visiting their old parish churches – is-Salvatur l-Antika & il-Lunzjata, where there are three adjacent chapels, it-Tlett Knejjes ).

Before having a rest at il-Gnien tal-Istazzjon (B’Kara), we could observe the baroque façade of the old parish church of Santa Marija, known as il-Knisja l-Qadima. We returned to our starting point through Misrah il-Barrieri.

Walk Leader: Simon

Duration: 3 ½ hours including break (0500-0830)

Distance: about 14 km

Some photos below, courtesy of Alfred Camilleri.

Kuncizzjoni Church at Msida

Ghajn tal-Hasselin, Msida

Il-Wied ta' Birkirkara

Birkirkara Valley - water tunnel beneath street

Hal Lija- Kappella tal-Kuncizzjoni

Hal-Lija- Is Salvatur l-Antika

Hal-Lija- The Wedding Cake

Birkirkara-Santa Marija

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Delimara Walk Thu 24th June 2010

Afternoon walk led by Mario Farrugia.

Photos Courtesy of Alfred Camilleri

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Ramblers oppose development in ODZ sites at Ta’ Cenc

From TMIS 20th June 2010

Ramblers oppose development in ODZ sites at Ta’ Cenc
I refer to the article entitled “NGOs give tentative approval to new Ta’ Cenc proposals” (TMIS, 13 June).

This article may have erroneously given the impression that the Ramblers’ Association of Malta (RAM) has come out in favour of the proposed development. This is not the case.

As an organisation that has consistently upheld legality and adherence to the Structure Plan, the RAM cannot agree to any development in an ODZ area or within a Special Area of Conservation, except as permitted by law.

Although the RAM has acknowledged that the last proposal improved considerably on the previous plans, my association will continue to uphold this stance. While acknowledging the anomalous circumstances of the existing villas and the ongoing court case of the developer, my association will not support any creative interpretation of the planning laws, which envisages the construction of new residential units outside the development zone, even more so in the absence of any watertight guarantees.

Finally, my organisation will continue to insist on the public’s right of access to national cultural heritage sites and to the cliff edge – a right exercised since time immemorial and which is recognised by law and the Structure Plan.

Alex Vella
Ramblers’ Association of Malta

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A litmus test for eco-Gozo

A litmus test for eco-Gozo

Sacrificing Ħondoq ir-Rummien, which consistently ranks at the top of bathing water quality charts, would be clearly communicating the message that no place is too sacred for development.

The Ħondoq ir-Rummien saga has been hogging the headlines for some time now. Many will be vaguely familiar with the issue but few had the privilege to witness the charade that unfolded during the first public hearing for the application.

As has become the norm in recent years, dubious techniques were utilised by the developer to gain ascendency at the hearing. Most notably, those sympathetic to the developer's cause packed the small hall quite some before the hearing was meant to start.

The grapevine has it that a notorious developer from Malta happened to visit Gozo the day before the hearing, presumably to whip up support mainly among construction workers to turn up in numbers for the hearing - a typical 'bring-your-own-crowd' stunt. A close associate of the developer was present at the hearing, giving credence to such hearsay.

The hearing was mismanaged from the very beginning, with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority officials who were meant to regulate proceedings completely hapless to prevent the degeneration and mayhem which ensued.

The proposed development seeks to attract investment in local properties by foreigners, and a considerable number of Qala residents are foreign. Despite this, translation of the hearing proceedings for the benefit of foreigners was not permitted, and all attempts at even a partial translation were shouted down.

GRTU director general Vince Farrugia resorted to histrionics and tenuous arguments to prop up the development. For instance, he said the developer had already commissioned one million euros' worth of reports and studies, as if financial prowess and commissioned reports can buy permits.

Mr Farrugia also said the area around Ħondoq was a shambles and that refusing such a development would scare off further investment in the island. Perhaps he regards the more opulent surroundings he is accustomed to, to be more civilised, but many Qala residents and Maltese and Gozitan families regard the simple beach and concrete jetty at Ħondoq as their home.

Developing a yacht marina there would be setting a dangerous precedent. So far, yacht marinas such as those at Msida Creek, Vittoriosa and Portomaso have been developed at sites where bathing water quality is far inferior to that in Ħondoq. Sacrificing a spot which consistently ranks at the top of bathing water quality charts would be clearly communicating the message that no place is too sacred for development.

The developer's architect, Edward Bencini, and the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) coordinator, Mariello Spiteri, made some far-fetched assertions at the hearing, which merit comment. At the hearing I attempted to rebut their claims but to no avail, since the public hearing system only allows the developer's representatives to reply to statements made by registered objectors, Qala council in this case.

Bencini claimed he has seen amberjacks swimming within yacht marinas. He even showed a photo of people diving into the sea from the concrete seawall around the Portomaso yacht marina. It is beyond me how Bencini can so confidently comment on matters outside his area of competence - namely marine biology - and how the presence of isolated fish can imply that the environmental impact of yacht marinas is insignificant.

At the hearing I also pointed out that the coordinated EIS report fails to refer to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which stipulates that all member states should achieve good quality status of their waters by 2021, to Mepa's Coastal Strategy Topic Paper (CSTP), and to the 2009 report by the Malta Maritime Authority report (downloadable from the OPM site) on the development of yachting facilities in Malta. The developers' technical representatives did not react at all. Tacit acknowledgement?

The latter report, which is the most recent on the current state of play of yacht marinas, clearly states that the CSTP provides the most up-to-date policy on coastal development. Yet the EIS coordinator failed to even mention it, despite having referred to at least two other Mepa topic papers.

The same MMA report includes a very telling flow diagram of the hierarchical criteria which should be used to assess potential sites for yacht marinas. The flow diagram, conveniently shunned by the project proponents, explictly recommends the discarding of sites where there is a high impact on the natural coastline and where there is a significant conflict with other users and a loss of amenity. Ħondoq fits both bills. It would be very sad indeed if we have reached the stage where concrete jetties and sea walls are considered on a par with natural rocky coastlines.

Incidentally, at the hearing, Spiteri asserted that environmental monitoring at Portomaso yacht marina was abruptly halted after three years in view of the improving water quality on site - this is incorrect, as revealed in communications I have had with Mepa officials acquainted with the case.

But perhaps the social impacts are as profound as the environmental ones. The eminent anthropologist Prof. Jeremy Boissevain made mincemeat of the social impact report within the EIS. In particular, Boissevain took exception to the bold assertions made in the report that the overall social impact of the project would definitely be positive and that the project was bound to be a win-win project for all Gozitans.

The only snag in the glamorous scenario depicted in the EIS social study is that an overwhelming majority of Qala residents (85 per cent) think otherwise and would not think twice about ditching the project. According to the author of the EIS social study, the Qala residents' opposition could be pinned down to lack of proper information and to an element of herd instinct typical of small societies.

Boissevain rightly quashes such hackneyed conclusions by pointing out that as more detail about the project was provided to Qala residents, the number of those against the development mushroomed.

As is customary for all Environmental Impact Assessments, Mepa submits its own comments on aspects of the reports submitted by the developer that need to be addressed. A total of 235 such comments were submitted by Mepa.

The first deserves specific mention in view of its relevance.

"Reference is made to the various instances whereby bias in favour of the project is indicated (such as the concluding chapter of the Non-Technical Summary). In this respect, I would bring to your attention Provision 24 (2) of the Environmental Impact Assessment regulations, 2007 (LN 114 of 2007), which states that the Director of Environment Protection shall consider whether the statement has been satisfactorily compiled, prepared in a professional manner, is without bias and adequately meets the terms of reference, following which, if he is satisfied, he shall certify it. Bias also goes contrary to Provision 29 (1) of LN 114/07 and contrary to EIA best practice. You are therefore required to remove all reference to the acceptability of the project as well as other bias in favour of the project."

Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco should be praised for his courageous stand on the issue a few weeks ago, whereby, in an indirect call to preserve Gozo's unique coastline, he questioned the proposed development's environmental credentials. His reasoning is all the more sound when making a few simple calculations.

For instance, Sicily and Tunisia currently host 14,000 and 3,000 yacht berths respectively, or a berth per 0.54 and 0.018 square kilometres, respectively. The corresponding figure for Malta, with its current total of about 1,500 berths, is a berth per 5.71 square kilometres.

In the end, it all boils down to a simple decision, one that either further desecrates Gozo's coastal resources and its unique tranquillity, or one that gives much-needed credence to the eco-Gozo concept. The Ħondoq issue is well and truly a litmus test for eco-Gozo, which can either soar or plummet.

Marina would ruin Ħondoq's unspoilt shoreline - Wirt Għawdex

Marina would ruin Ħondoq's unspoilt shoreline - Wirt Għawdex

Gozitan heritage NGO Wirt Għawdex has come out strongly against the proposed project to build a yacht marina, villas and apartments at Ħondoq ir-Rummien, Qala, and has submitted its objections to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa).

The society said marinas typically tend to pollute the surrounding waters and its biggest concern was that a marina would ruin Ħondoq's "unique shoreline and unspoilt area". It also questioned the need for another marina close the recently privatised one at Mġarr, which was planning to expand.

While it agreed the disturbed land of the disused quarry needed to be rehabilitated, Wirt Ghawdex said it had "grave reservations" about the project.

The NGO said building another massive complex of apartments and villas would not benefit Gozo which it said "already has too many empty dwellings".

The society said air pollution during construction would be very detrimental to residents and the environment in Qala, and while it would create some temporary employment, there was a high risk the project would not be sustainable.

Wirt Għawdex said that when judging the project Mepa was obliged to see whether it addressed the need to balance Gozo's need for prosperity with the need to protect the island's unique environment.

Contrary to the developer's Environment Impact Assessment, the NGO's opinion was that the project would have a significant negative impact on the island's environment and was not the type of development appropriate, sustainable or in line with eco-Gozo.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Rabat Walk 12th June 2010

Some 50 ramblers turned up for this relatively early walk.

Starting from St. Paul’s Parish Church, we passed through the part of Rabat which formed part of the Roman Town, and eventually headed towards Mtarfa after crossing Wied Gheriexem. Through a footpath we descended to Wied il-Qlejgha ( aka Chadwick Lakes ) and walked along two other valleys – Wied Bajjad & Wied Armla. After a longish rest, we headed towards Wied Ghomor, through tas-Salib, descended along the same valley and along Wied Ghemieri, crossed il-Pont tal-Fiddien and had another rest at Ghajn Klieb where the ramblers could observe a number of punic tombs.

On the way back to our starting point, some ramblers opted to see the medieval chapel of San Mikiel ta’ Sancir in the vicinity of Gnien is-Sultan.

Walk Leader: Simon

Duration: 4 ¼ hours including breaks (0730-1145)

Distance: about 14 km

Heading towards Mtarfa

A difficult stretch

A bucolic scene

A well deserved rest

Wied Ghomor

The "winery"

A milestone on the main road from Rabat to the north

Rock-cut tombs at Ghajn Klieb

The medieval chapel of San Mikiel ta' Sancir

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Giovanna Debono on eco Gozo

Talking Point

Flesh to the eco Gozo vision

This year's theme for World Environment Day is biodiversity and the consequences on our planet if we, people of the world, ignore the writing on the wall.

Many Species, One Planet, One Future is the chosen slogan to make us aware of the dangers of extinction of both known and unknown species that form the circle of life. The bottom line is that we're all in this together and we all have to pull our weight to safeguard our planet and reduce the pressures on its natural systems.

Gozo, though a little island, is giving its share too. Two years ago, the Prime Minister entrusted me with the eco Gozo vision. Following a wide consultation exercise with all interested stakeholders, we coined a mission statement, which, on one hand, makes us proud to have grasped this challenge while, on the other, places on our shoulders the responsibility to turn this vision into stark reality.

We declared that "Gozo will become an eco island by 2020, supported by a keen and committed sustainable community. Gozo will strive to reduce its water and carbon footprints. We want to protect the Gozitan lifestyle, the island's environment, resources, culture and identity and see that all these play a significant part in attracting more visitors and investors to the island. We want to see quality of life in Gozo improving further through education, economic development and social progress".

We've prepared ourselves for the work needed to give flesh to our vision and managed to hit the ground running when, in October 2009, we launched an 80-point strategy for the short-term (2010-2012) reaching out on several aspects of the eco Gozo vision, essentially a sustainable development strategy for our island.

Some criticised our intentions and others still resist what we want to create. Others denigrate all this. Yet, the first signals of our work is proof of our determination to succeed. The eco island vision foresees a sustainable and, therefore, a secure future for the island of Gozo. It is a vision rooted in the island's potential and the capabilities of its people. This is why the government has secured an all-time record investment of €25 million over the next three years just for eco Gozo.

We've started implementing some of the proposed projects and are now building the foundations for other more ambitious initiatives within our proposal for action in the short-term. We want to be quick in our delivery but understand that any changes proposed must go through the normal channels and some projects necessitate interventions in zones that are of high environmental sensitivity. One particular case in point is the clean-up of valleys, which, over time, have fallen victims of neglect and repeated irresponsible acts from people who should have known better. We have now been granted permits to start cleaning Wied ta' Żejta, a picturesque valley where we will remove significant amounts of rubble while increasing the potential to retain larger volumes of rainwater for use in agriculture and for the recharge of our island's aquifers.

I wish to publicly thank the Malta Environment and Planning Authority for their support and keen interest in guiding us to the best way on how to implement this sensitive project.

Similar projects will be launched throughout the year following the groundwork required, among which will be new afforestation zones for families to enjoy and the park that will replace the Qortin landfill in Xagħra, under Wasteserv's leadership.

In the meantime, we are launching the second phase of a project to promote the restoration of wind pumps, while more government buildings in Gozo will be installing photovoltaic panels to cut dependence on fossil fuel energy.

Within our eco Gozo strategy we have plans to attract investment to generate more employment in Gozo. We're working hard to attract such companies and, thanks to Malta Enterprise, we will launch a one-stop shop for investors who want to start a business in Gozo or who want to set up a Gozo branch. We're also giving out incentives to those who come up with eco friendly business ventures. In this regard, we, as government, are leading by example. The proposed new aquatic sports centre in Victoria is a true example of an eco friendly investment, which will not only benefit all Gozitans in the sport, well-being and health sectors but will also be operating on environmental principals.

This is the way forward for Gozo. We need to give a mark of sustainability to whatever we do. If we heed those who want us to remain stagnant in front of the changes occurring around us, we'll be doomed. If we procrastinate in the difficult choices posed by the challenges that lie ahead, we'll fail in preparing our island for the generations to come who, rightfully, demand of us a better Gozo.

The author is Minister for Gozo.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Saturday - 12th June - Rabat Mystery Walk (Circular) - Scenic, historical, archeological

Saturday - 12th June - Rabat Mystery Walk (Circular)-Scenic, historical, archeological

The idea of this walk is to discover some of the lesser known valleys in this area. We shall also visit some remote punic tombs and a medieval chapel.
However, please note that there are some steep inclines. More details will be given during the walk.

Duration : about 4 hours
Rating : Moderate to hard, with some steep inclines
Meeting Place : Rabat Parish Church ( St.Paul´s Church )
Time : 0730 sharp

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Fort Pembroke Visit 3rd June 2010

Today's visit to Fort Pembroke, conducted by teacher Noel Buttigieg, and organised by member Godwin Darmanin.


Noel and Gunter

One of the gun emplacements

Another gun emplacement

The tunnel to the ditch

Group photo