Our research

photo credit: Valletta 2018 Foundation

Sarah Scheiber

The need to strive for sustainable development and mitigate or adapt to climate change are increasingly at the forefront when planning for and managing urban concentrations. Urban design is a key player and the planning and design of urban open spaces is one area within the dimensions of urban form which is increasingly recognised for its importance in improving the sustainability and resilience of built environments. In fact, if urban open spaces function as green infrastructure they have the potential to addresses a broad range of urban challenges.

A review of Maltese policy and publications reveals the poor quality of urban open spaces in Malta. Additionally, various trends such as: Malta's particular scale; development pressures; policy orientation; governance; climatic conditions; and mobility challenges, support the need to develop research in relation to Malta’s urban open spaces. The suggestion is made that a ´gap´ exists in relation to their planning and design. The aim of the research is therefore to investigate planning policy and the design of urban open spaces in Malta and use the outcomes to develop proposals for improving their contribution to sustainable development. The research adopts a mixed methods approach using both quantitative and qualitative data collection techniques.

An adapted version of the 'Mixed Method Exploratory Sequential Approach' using Malta's urban conurbation as a case study is selected. The methodology is developed in two phases. The first utilises: physical survey; user survey; local council interviews; case study project reviews; and policy review to gather the initial data. The second phase develops proposals in response to the results and attempts to identify potential barriers to implementation using focus groups.

The results of phase one identify that the design of existing urban open spaces in Malta are lacking in their potential to act as green infrastructure. Gaps emerge in spatial planning systems and policy as well as governance issues, which are also contributing to current trends. Following a comparison with international literature, a set of proposals are developed. These are elaborated on and refined using the input from the focus groups. In conclusion, the research presents and discusses the planning and governance proposals which should be considered so as to facilitate the potential for Malta´s urban open spaces to act as green infrastructure.

The pressures on water resources in Malta have long been recognised when reliance on natural freshwater resources was deemed insufficient and alternative water production methods in the form of distillation and subsequently desalination had to be resorted to. The share of desalinated water in potable water production has been on the rise, reinforcing in a quantitative manner, the dependency Malta has on alternative water resources. Interestingly, of the billed water consumption, over 65% is attributed to households. Billed water consumption is that water consumption which is accounted for by the WSC’s billing system and which refer to the actual consumption recorded by meter readers. It does not include illegal abstraction which might take place.

The extraction of groundwater has reached levels which exceed sustainable extraction. The amount of recharge is insufficient to make up drawdown volumes. Malta’s degree of urbanisation has led to the increase in runoff volumes which are often lost to the sea or to evaporation. Urban spaces and buildings need to factor in water centric design as part of the design concept such that stormwater generated therefrom can be utilised as close as possible to such source. Moreover, Malta requires a developmental framework that integrates green infrastructure across the rest of our infrastructure. For existing infrastructural development, sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) can be retrofitted whilst new infrastructural projects should cater for the integration of this type of infrastructure. Buildings need to be more water centric, redefining the size of wells but ensuring that all stormwater generated from buildings can be used. Other modern ideas could be the use of communal SUDS to accommodate runoff from buildings that cannot realistically factor in the construction of cisterns. The dual supply system of potable and second class water needs to be thoroughly enforced for buildings to become truly water centric.

The most significant body of legislation governing water resources is the Water Policy Framework Regulations which transposes the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) into Maltese legislation. The Directive provides for the long-term sustainable management of water resources on the basis of a high level of protection of the aquatic environment. With regard to groundwater, the main aims of the legislation can be outlined as follows:

  • prevention of deterioration in the status of groundwater bodies
  • protection, enhancement and restoration of all groundwater bodies
  • achievement of good groundwater qualitative and quantitative status by 2015
  • prevention of and limiting the input of pollutants in groundwater
  • reversing any significant, upward trend of pollutants in groundwater
  • achievement of standards and objectives set for protected areas in other National and Community Legislation.

The Faculty for the Built Environment, through our Department, is keen to work with local entities such as the Energy and Water Agency, the Planning Authority, the Environment and Resources Authority and the Building and Construction Agency, amongst others, with a view to put forward proposals to ensure water centricity across the Maltese Islands.