A crucial government decision – national political decision on the use of caravans

During the last days we have assisted to a very important decision taken by the central government towards the suspension of an application by Infrastructure Malta for a temporary caravan site despite the various comments on the rights and obligations of caravan owners. On the contrary one would also listen to various residents’ rights towards a free access to our beaches. Many are those caravan owners who during the summer period would occupy our beaches without leaving any foreshore access. For the general benefit and interest there should be various open discussions with different stakeholders the outcome of which could lead to better solutions in the interest of everybody.

 

Introduction

One needs to kick off from the point that not each locality has the benefit of open recreational spaces for its residents.  Moreover, there are a large number of families who live in apartments without an adequate balcony, yard or garden for their children to recreate themselves; therefore, the number of recreational zones is somehow imperative. We need to understand and take care of the social and recreative aspects of our residents; it transpires that a number of families can’t afford  a decent residence and would instead publicly occupy caravan sites, with the latter being their only shelter.

One has to exercise caution and adopt a wider approach to avoid conflicts amongst those with different priorities for the use of the same land including farmers.

Rural zones with lesser population, agricultural zones and natural resources are very scarce in Malta hence we should focus more on our priorities.

In order to avoid conflict, there should be a holistic plan in place when dealing with protected land, camping, hiking and picnic sites.  There needs to a clear distinction between open country spaces and coastal area spaces to avoid undue pressure on the latter.

This is considered to be a seasonal pressure; coastal areas might bear higher undue pressure during the summer months and could be the cause of conflict amongst those occupying the space with caravans and other residents who would visit the area for a couple of hours for recreational purposes. It would be unfair that the same individuals would hijack public zones and grounds for long periods.

One has to distinguish between structures that are trailer driven and electric camper vans.

 

Priorities

Undoubtedly, many believe that there has to be particular spaces allocated for this type of hobby. If this would be the case, there has to be an understanding of what is best for our country, especially for localities which are designated to host this recreational concept. Are we opting for smaller spaces in a larger number of sites or are we going for fewer but larger sites? Would we be seeking and understanding the impact this would have on the tourism industry? Are we seeing to the fact how these coastal sites could create conflict with the use of slipways not just because these would be obstructed, but also because of the additional issues of boat trailers’ owners who would want to take their boats to and from the sea through the boat ramps. Are we planning law enforcement?  This should be the point for a holistic discussion which the government has wisely decided upon.

Undoubtedly, smaller spaces scattered around the island create less impact than larger ones which are however fewer. This consideration is not just about the visual impact but also about the impact on the infrastructure, the overall upkeep, drainage system, water supply etc. I believe that in larger sites one needs to carry out an environmental impact assessment.  On the other hand, smaller sites scattered around the island are more difficult to be managed by the authorities.

 

The Local Council’s involvement

As like other matters happening in our localities, we have to understand the involvement of our Local Councils. It is a fact that caravan sites do create certain issues and very often police forces would need to be called in to take over situations which at times would go beyond control.

We, as a nation and society, are barely disciplined to protect the heritage that we own and which we are our bound to pass on to our future generations.

It is highly important that the Local Councils are to be involved in the making of such policies.  This is due to the fact that the Local Councils are the closest from all entities to the residents and their locality; elected members can easily understand the challenges of their residents since they reside with them round the clock. These situations are to be used to our advantage thus, because whatever is implemented can then be rarely opposed.

Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, Salini, Żonqor and Żejtun are some of the few challenging zones that come to mind. We have to carefully keep in mind other camping and picnic zones where in most of the situations one finds illegal structures that were meant to be temporary however ended up being permanent. These situations create conflict with the daily temporary users of the area.  This brings us back to the argument on the importance of law enforcement for the right balance of land usage.

 

Land permits and usage

One must clearly differentiate between temporary and short-term permits.  According to my current understanding, nowadays, there are only temporary permits without a clear indication of their expiry.  When considering a national policy will we be delving upon the issuance of daily, weekly or monthly permits? Should granted permits be automatically renewed following their expiry? Is it just that a caravan owner would leave his own car parked in the caravan space so that same would self-reserve his own space upon his return the following weekend? Is it fair that there isn’t better use of such public spaces with a fair chance of the same space being enjoyed by the public at large? Is it fair and just that some may choose to literally hijack the coastal area for the summer period leaving no proper access to the residents and hotel guests? Should there be an effective alternating system in the issue of permits, with a proper and organized waiting list for each indicated caravan site?

Each site has to be managed by an appointed site manager who will ensure that such abuse won’t happen. This role will be the communication link between the Local Council, the authorities and the caravan owners themselves. The latter should appoint an Administrator from amongst themselves for the sake of a faster and more efficient level of communication. I strongly believe that the Administrator and the site Manager can very efficiently coordinate a booking system that allocates booking slots and thus avoid over-crowding; this is beneficial both for the caravan owners and for the same site to be publicly enjoyed.

One should consider how this model could be jointly developed with the private sector where the government would appoint private companies to administer these sites.

I believe that these questions could stir a sound and interesting discussion for the proper identification of the most suitable mechanism for the running of similar sites.

 

New niche in the tourism industry

A holistic plan for this sector in the long run could create a new niche for the tourism industry. For this to be operationalised there needs to be a sight energy plan which should preferably be derived from clean and alternative sources, an infrastructure of rapid charging pillars, new drainage systems, water supply and other sanitary services including strong internet connections and other daily necessities for individuals to avoid unnecessary daily commuting.  It would be ideal should these camping sites be promoting local produce; this would give higher visibility and promotion to the local culture and traditions.  Such authentic promotion would give Maltese sites added advantage over European ones.

Should Malta be looking towards such concept we have to ensure a safe and sound transport connectivity between the airport, the caravan sites and Malta’s main attractions including Ċirkewwa, Valletta, Mdina and Kottonera.

These sites should bear sufficient information on pathways and rural cycling routes leading to certain areas of interest like Rabat, Dingli, Qrendi/Żurrieq, Siġġiewi/Għar Lapsi, Marsaxlokk/Tas-Silġ and others.

In such zones one could possibly consider the cultivation of fresh herbs for self-consumption.

All of these initiatives give our sites a local particular identity which would eventually attract tourists who would be specifically looking for these types of surroundings for their vacation.

 

Conclusion

These sites could provide a twofold experience to the tourists and local travellers; it’s either an unforgettable positive experience or otherwise a totally negative experience even to those who would not make use of such space.

Therefore, in each intervention one has to ensure that spaces which are designed to specifically cater for caravans should ensure higher standards of hygiene, protection of the environment, security and accessibility.

I believe that everyone should be given the opportunity to hobby caravan enthusiasts to be out and about, however this hobby has to be in conformity with the natural surroundings and those living in the area.

In all this there has to be total synergy and communication between the government entities and agencies for works to be carried out during the most appropriate periods. It would not make sense at all that structural works and sites identification are carried out during peak months when such sites would be high in demand and full of people as this could unnecessarily leave a negative impact.

I must say that political commitment coupled with proper planning and total synergy between all parties involved, towards this ever-growing sector could undoubtedly expand and generate public revenues.

 

 

Mario Fava
President

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What do the residents think about their Local Councils?

What do you, as a reader think about your Local Council? How comfortable are you with the way matters are being conducted in your locality? In line with the Local Government’s financing, how much do you think is your Local Council giving back to the community in which it operates? Do you feel well informed about what is happening within your Local Council?

These are the typical self-questions one should be making when casting the vote to elect the Local Council representatives every five years. But more than getting an answer for one’s own questions, it is crucial that your respective Local Council would be sensitive enough to your replies. This is the only way forward how Local Councils would improve their existing services while introducing new ones and transfer their financial allocation from one fund to another according to their residents’ needs The way the resident feels on how much informed is he about what is happening in their locality though their Local Council is automatically reflected on the level of trust the resident would have on the same Local Council and it’s elected members. Keeping the residents informed and involved makes the resident feel part and parcel of what is going on. No matter the hard work of the Local Councils, residents who are not kept up to date about what is going on would automatically relay the wrong message of a  non-performing Local Council.

Some of the councillors might reason out that negative comments are only a perception; this is undoubtedly a wrong attitude. There are mechanisms in place which a Local Council could adopt from time to time to gauge the resident’s perception about the work being carried out within their Local Council.  Should we remain insensitive to our residents’ needs and keep on assuming that this is just a perception, this attitude would eventually result in a lack of trust vote when the residents would be casting their vote

The time has come for Local Councils to adapt to change and current times and be more accountable towards the electorate who elected them and to the Local Government who each year would dish out millions of euros for an effective decentralisation process.

For this transition to happen, Local Councils need to have in place a comprehensive evaluation model which could gauge their work objectively. For this to be achieved, one needs to have in place a scientific model based on an Empirical research.  This model should initially lead to a better understanding of the citizens in each locality along with a better and solid understanding of how much the Local Council would be diligently affecting its duties in line with the Government’s strategic objectives.

If we really need to elevate the role of the Local Councils, this research should help us understand what the residents actually think and feel about their respective Councils. This actually establishes what the residents really want, what is important for them and what actually makes a difference in their lives and those of their families. However, this is not enough, as it is useless to just know what people think or want.

It is somehow very important to establish the limitations of the Local Councils their functions and whether they could actually carry out their duties without hindrance and excessive bureaucracy. Following this evaluation, one needs to understand the difference between what the residents actually believe versus what is achievable from the Local Council’s side.

We need to understand what is actually hindering the Local Councils from actually achieving their residents’ expectations. One needs to ask what are their financial and legislative restrictions?What are the shortcomings when it comes to human resources? How come no one applies for any vacancies within the Local Council? Is a career within the Local Council considered as a ride in the park or shall one actually give more value to this role which could be more considered as a mission rather than just an employment?

This exercise does not only shed light on the residents’ perception about the Local Councils, does not only establish the limits and restrictions of the Local Councils and the lack of uniformity that exist within the Local Councils themselves but actually defines the characteristics which create these differences.

What follows this process is the most critical and the most important. The next steps would be the setting up of a number of recommendations on the findings which would eventually lead to the neutralisation of such differences. The recommendations could vary and could include:

  • An educational campaign with the residents to help them better understand the role of the Local Councils
  • An educational campaign for the general public which clearly differentiates the roles of the Local Government and the Central Government
  • An adjustment to the mechanism of the financial allocation
  • Adjustment to the Local Councils’ functions
  • Improved overview of the subsidy and decentralisation principles
  • An overview of the Local Councils’ planning
  • A reform on the Local Government division
  • A reform in the administration of Local Councils
  • Discussion on the roles of the elected members within the Local Councils
  • Discussion which leads to a reform of the Mayor’s role and other members

This exercise should be the basis of a renewal and a reform within the Local Government.  Since 1993 there have been a series of amendments, updates, reforms and renewals however, these barely took place in line with the residents’ expectations.  These only happened based on the agenda of the leading politicians during that particular period.

If the resident is always at the centre of the Local Council’s work plan, how much more should the resident be at the centre of this renewal process?

Following thirty years of Local Government, I strongly believe in the next steps. We have to forget what happened, what we have and what we were used to; a thirty-year span seems quite lengthy but within the new structural framework of the Local Government, the length of this period is next to nothing; thirty years are not a generation.

For this to happen, the government has to be the catalyst to initiate a new thinking process and launch new models. As the reigning political party, the latter has to take the bull by the horns and ensure that the Local Councils will remain relevant and adapt themselves to the current situations.  Each reform has to be forward looking and should keep developing on the current framework.

Undoubtedly, it goes without saying that the time for a change has come. The Local Government has to be looked into more diligently; to date this process has always been compared to a patient who despite of being aware of his medical condition keeps on masking his pain by taking pain killers rather than treating the source of his illness.

Local Councils have always made an impact on their residents’ lives however there is much more to be achieved. Each reform which needs an implementation process and has to have the entire backing of the politicians, the administrative staff, mayors and councillors. Coupled with the positivity and transparency, this process needs efficiency. These three key ingredients would guarantee a fresh and must needed change to the local and regional councils.

The Association of the Local Councils coupled with the assistance from the Government is all set to be the catalyst of this reform; if this reform happens in an effective manner it would be paving the forthcoming three years for Local Councils.

 

Mario Fava
President

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The resident’s participation strengthens democracy – Għarb Local Council

This was the theme being discussed during the Conference which was organised in a leading Gozo hotel on Saturday 16 July.  The event also marked the 25th year of service the present Mayor David Apap Agius has given to the local council in his current role.

David – the people’s person

I have known David for quite a number of years and he is the type of character with whom you can tend to disagree on a lot of matters however, his outstanding trait is outstanding that one would know where he stands with him at all times. Besides, one can consider David to be a people’s person who would constantly know what is happening in his locality at all times. Along with other counsellors and Local Council staff he managed to uplevel Għarb to the extent of being the envy of other Gozitan and Maltese localities. This is due to the fact that they have managed to successfully participate in activities and initiatives which were beneficial to the residents of this picturesque locality; a locality which is yet unruined from the ‘progress’ of development.  David, wish you well and may you keep on pursuing with your work towards the Locality you believe so much in.

The Conference

The conference mentioned earlier on had the valid participation of various representatives from around Europe.  Participants from Poland, Serbia, Romania, Lithuania, Greece, Italy and Turkey participated in the conference which focused on the citizen’s participation in the strengthening of democracy.

Amongst the main speakers, there was the valid contribution of President Emeritus of Malta Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, Parliament Secretary for Local Government Onor. Alison Zerafa Civelli, regional president Dr. Samuel Azzopardi, Gozo speaker for the Opposition Hon. Alex Borg and Director for Local Government Marisa Pisani.

During my speech in this conference I spoke how the residents’ and citizens’ participation in decision taking situations constitute more vibrant democratic societies.  We can’t have a democratic society if there would not be the right and effective mechanisms of accountability; good local and regional governance are also of utmost importance. Good governance is key to the fundamental principles of local government leadership; it is the main pillar on which the local and regional European Council Charter of leadership is structured.

 

Nowadays, local governments are being faced with a number of challenges and hence the residents’ participation in decision taking is somehow crucial.  If the resident feels that he is not part of the decision taking mechanism and initial discussions and if he feels that the Local Council is not equipped to effectively implement change, he would eventually lose interest and the whole argument would fizzle down.

It is highly important that the resident is at the core of this decision taking mechanism; when there is enough subject knowledge and proper brainstorming then the consultation stage would be a somehow swift process and this would serve as a learning and improvement opportunity of the original proposals. With such a mechanism in place, the citizen and the resident would comfortably feel they pertain to their society and their region due to healthy discussions and consultations.  This is what constitutes democratic societies.

It is up to each council and region to find the best method of engaging their respective residents in any consultation process; this could take place in various ways and means including meetings, focus groups, conferences, referendums and others.  Practices which would work in certain councils and regions would not necessarily work in others.  The bottom-up approach is crucial and somehow very important.

Mario Fava
President

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