The Malta Independent 21 April 2019, Sunday

‘Construction industry eating away at heart of social fabric’ – Faculty for Social Wellbeing Dean

Saturday, 28 July 2018, 09:02 Last update: about 10 months ago

 Professor Andrew Azzopardi, Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, has called for all stakeholders to reflect on the importance of safeguarding the environment, stating that it is not just financial success that makes us triumph.

“Social wellbeing is about ensuring that people have an adequate quality of life at all levels and not only when it comes to economic wealth.  It is indeed not just financial success that makes us triumph.  Our accomplishment is measured by our ability to live together and to avoid that current and future generations struggle with pollution and low air quality, toxic waste, uncontrollable litter and contamination of our seas, to name just a few.”

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 “A major concern creeping in is that law abiding citizens are being faced with a dilemma, brought about by a neoliberal approach of ‘individual’ versus ‘community rights’.  If we are taken over by the ‘everyone is doing it, why shouldn’t I’ forma mentis, it will essentially mean the beginning of the end of the values that have distinguished our society,” he said in a statement.

 “Ensuring a legacy based on communities of comfort and happiness, of healthy air and solace should be our prime objective.”

He went on to highlight his concerns. “We are witnessing a built-up environment that is leading to a potentially gigantic problem, because the construction industry is eating away at the heart of our social fabric.  The negative effects of the infamous 2006 rationalisation exercise still haunt us.  Relaxing height limitation regulations are leaving an impact on our neighbourhoods.”

He highlighted that “we are endorsing a lack of open spaces. Because maximization of profit has become a priority, we are getting rid of back gardens, porches, and the like to make smaller cubicle sized accommodation. The irony is the fact that we’re going smaller is not reducing the pressures on land uptake because we are right in the middle of a frenzy to build every possible piece of land, one reason being the ever increasing population of imported workers to keep our over-heating economy going. Add to this the trend of tables and chairs taking up open spaces such as piazzas and pedestrianised areas.”

He highlighted that people are authenticating properties that are being put up for rent in an effort to lure foreign people to work in the lucrative and well paid I-gaming sector.  This results in the inflation of rent prices, “that are driving lower and medium income people to struggle to make ends meet.”

“We are experiencing an onslaught on the countryside.  Less countryside means fewer areas for water to be absorbed which in turn means water tables are not being replenished.”

“We are noting a new phenomenon, namely that of the removal of mature trees to make room for traffic, another scourge which we have to endure. The chopping down of these trees is robbing people of their collective memories whilst changing landscapes beyond recognition.  It also robs people of green, which not only provides much needed shade but also better air quality.”

“Spaces both for recreation and leisure that used to bring children and young people together are vanishing.  The street in yesteryear was a place where children and young people from the neighbourhood could congregate and now these spaces have been severely compromised.”

He said that since the MEPA demerger Malta has witnessed two new entities (ERA and PA) that are vying for space. “It appears to me that the PA (Planning Authority) has the upper hand in decision making whilst ERA (Environment and Resources Authority) simply serves as a consultative body to the same PA.  This concerns me.  ERA needs to focus on developing policy and implementing strategy.”

He encouraged politicians, policy makers and the general public to ask a number of questions, including whether the concept of sustainability will only be addressed seriously after the current building boom subsides. He asked: “Where have the environment NGOs gone? Am I wrong in assuming that they became part of the entire process and lost their mission to critique as they slowly became part of the funding system and partake in management projects with the risk of becoming hostage to the same situation they were set up to watch? Do the PA and ERA realise that there is a need to draft ethical approaches to sustainability, growth and wellbeing so that we link the physical-social-thematic matrices of the environment?”

“It is the right time to ensure the level headedness of politicians, policy makers, academics and all stakeholders when debating ‘the environment’ and they need to be vigilant on the collateral impact of the decisions that are made and taken.  It is the right time for the State to assume responsibility when common sense does not prevail.  It is the right time for all the citizens to stand up against the impending obliteration of our communities.”

 

 

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