The Times, Wednesday, 27th May 2009
Over the past weeks, the government decided to make life easier for building contractors by removing tariffs on the placement of scaffolding around construction projects. Thus, contractors will now be further encouraged to install hoarding for long periods of time, blocking roads and pavements and creating difficulties to pedestrians, especially the elderly, disabled and people with pushchairs.
Clear examples of such hoarding in Sliema include a tower crane in St Paul's Street, which has been occupying the street for ages, and the scaffolding in front of the small chapel in High Street, which is dangerously prohibiting people from using the pavement. With Mepa's poor track-record in enforcement, we can only expect more cases of hoarding and more inconveniences for Sliema residents.
Besides, councils can only impose a daily charge of €2.33 for the placement of cranes! Sliema council is being prohibited from charging contractors realistic rates for the damages many of them are doing to Sliema's infrastructure and to the daily inconveniences faced by residents. The government's lack of sensitivity towards residents in the crane-permit issue is one example out of many that are resulting in increased frustration among residents.
The Malta Transport Authority, for example, has not yet approved Sliema council's proposals for a fair residential parking scheme. The local council has carried out all necessary work over the past six years and, yet, for some reason or another, the ADT keeps procrastinating.
Another example is the wardens' scheme, which has become a bad example of privatisation. Instead of having a proper service that educates citizens and instils necessary discipline, what we now have is a system that penalises easy targets and is blind to daily abuses.
The mother of insensitivity towards residents is Mepa. Big developers are more often than not the net winners of Mepa's decision-making process. The red-carpet treatment given to the developers of the MIDI monstrosity is a case in point.
The development is not only an ugly metamorphosis of what existed previously in Tignè but is also a far cry from the developers' original plans!
Just a few metres up the road, the Fort Cambridge 23-storey high overdevelopment is taking place. Originally, Mepa did not ask the developers to carry out an environment impact assessment but was forced to change its position following EU intervention, which, in turn, was prompted by protests from the Greens, NGOs and residents.
Unfortunately, however, Mepa found a way to make things easier for the developers by not obliging them to carry out a social impact assessment, thus totally ignoring recommendations from the Sliema council.
The local council is appealing against Mepa's approval of the development, yet in the meantime, the development is being carried out while we are all waiting for the appeal to be heard by Mepa!
Mepa is also acting strangely in the Villa Bonici case, where developers are proposing about 23 blocks of apartments in one of Sliema's last green areas.
Sliema's local plan makes it clear that any development on this site requires a development brief, which to date does not exist... And, yet, Mepa has not refused the proposed development!
Notwithstanding such cases of disrespect by such authorities, Sliema council made various achievements for Sliema residents in the past years. Apart from blocking certain developments such as the Chalet and Pjazzetta, the council is now objecting to various unsustainable development proposals and is frequently consulting with residents.
The two most recent achievements made by the council are the achievement of funds for the installation of solar panels on top of the council premises and Wi-Fi access at Independence Gardens. In the case of the former, this will help the council be more efficient in its energy use, in addition to other methods it is already using. In the case of the latter, Sliema council is further empowering residents through internet access, in addition to current Wi-Fi access in the council premises and library.
Empowerment of residents and empowerment of local councils are two vital goals for democratisation. In this regard, may I invite readers of The Times to check out my proposals for Sliema at http://sliema-malta.blogspot.com/2009/05/ad-manifesto-2009-sliema-local-council.html
Mr Briguglio, a sociologist, is a Sliema local councillor for Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party.