Integrated Urban and Transport Plan?

Michael Mallia

The relentless issuing of development permits without an integrated urban and transport plan is counter-productive to effective infrastructure planning and operation.  Prof. Maria Attard – Why do we need sustainable mobility?

I had in fact just finished examining a long list of applications for ODZ developments which made me realise that this “relentless issuing of development permits” was widespread, so widespread in fact that even where it concerned relatively “minor” developments it could only make our ‘transport’ problems worse.

Part of the “new” rules for developments in ODZ allow the “rehabilitation” of old structures originally with an “agricultural” function. Of course except for the “detached” aspect, the “rehabilitation” does not take them back to their original “vocation”   but to villas, swimming pools and of course accessibility by and shelter for private cars. Numbers of applications? A static pool of 20-25, with more dripping in as others go out: yet more land-use by the private car, one more straw to break the camel’s back.

There is another demand, perhaps more insidious as it carries a veneer of commendable “social purpose” with it.  In the last three months a total of 5 applications for old people’s homes have been made, all on ODZ land.  Two are in the Naxxar area, and the others are in Fgura (Wied Blandun), in S. Lucija (Wied Garnaw), and in Vittoriosa (tal-Hawli).  These are all localities that are afflicted by heavy traffic but this was not “noticed” in any of the applications, though in the case of one of the Naxxar homes, a petition by locals did mention air pollution and increased congestion. Incidentally, both groups of applications invoke the new SPED rules to “justify” the proposal.

There are of course other much greater developments which are currently in the public eye. The Gzira-Manoel Island-Tigne area is simply saturated with wheeled vehicles: cars moving and static, delivery vehicles and public buses, all locked in a slow dance. The dominant element is the private car, with its insatiable demands on road, garage and parking space.  The bus lane along the Strand is mostly “observed” in the breach. The Gzira-Tower Road stretch has developed into a choke point.

What are the prospects for improvement? Actually in the making on the fringe of this area is the Kappara flyover; but in the heart of the area, there are a number of forthcoming “attractions”: the Gzira Metropolis tower and the Manoel Island development.  At the other end Town Square is asserting its right to set its own parameters without any regard for any high-rise neighbours.  And its “parameters” are the attraction of some 3000 cars daily in an already congested area and the “generous” provision of 730 parking spaces underground.  What the nearby Fort Cambridge highrise – mooted but not yet applied for – will demand is Fort Cambridge’s and the PA’s “concern”, we have been told.  The other high-rise areas – Mriehel and now a resurrected Jerma Hotel – will have similar “solutions” to the same “problems”.

And now we have the Paceville Master Plan (PMP), alias a wish list (with small modifications) of big developers and speculators. An important aspect of the PMP deals with movement inside the area, incidentally by its temporary occupants as residents are not mentioned in the PMP. The first is a “Sustainable Option”, where foot and bicycle dominate and external connections are a 4-minute walk from the centre.  The second is a Car Option, where pedestrian and cycle paths get squeezed while cars rule the roost. External connections remain the same. The third, a “Balanced Option”, is a mix of 1 & 2, and by definition “not sustainable”; but it is the “solution”, close to a ‘business as usual’ one favoured by the “writers” of the PMP. The magnitude and extent of impact on the Tigne-Sliema conurbation is not considered but there is a promise of a Strategic Impact Assessment of the PMP.  But there is no sign of any attempt at a real sustainable mobility plan.