The Malta Independent 21 March 2019, Thursday

Let’s all thank the government for these morsels

Victor Calleja Sunday, 10 March 2019, 10:12 Last update: about 12 days ago

A Brit who lives in Malta phoned me to celebrate the fact that a most enlightened decision was taken by the Planning Authority in relation to the db tower in Pembroke. More open spaces and fewer storeys were ordered, and Transport Malta must decide if the project is possible in view of the extra traffic that will be created.

Taken at face value I agreed with my friend. For once – at least in the recent past – the authorities have listened to the thinking public and taken heed. For once, they put on the brakes to slow down the relentless depredation of our country.

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My friend loves this land with all his heart but regrets that, even in the few years he has been here, he has seen changes which will negatively affect our quality of life in the long term. To his mind any victory, however small, gives hope to the NGOs and individuals fighting to save what remains of our environment.

Should we be singing its praises for this decision? Should we see it as a step in the right direction by a usually toothless, gormless authority that rubberstamps all projects – especially colossal ones that make us look more and more like a budding Dubai?

The tower itself and the deal between Joseph Muscat’s government and the developers are inherently wrong. Wrong in perception, wrong in design, wrong in the way land – that scarce commodity of our country – was passed on to the people who are developing it for a pittance when they stand to make mega millions

All that has been forgotten, or almost. NGOs alone have come out still united in their fight and in their disapproval of the project. Sadly the blot on our landscape is not just environmental but also a blot on transparency and anything which comes close to fairness.

The prized parcel of land – the old ITS school– was a done deal between a group of businessmen and the government. No public tendering, no public consultation, no public scrutiny. It was bestowed like a gift to enrich the few at the expense of the many.

If at least after it was gifted the developers (can rapists of the land ever rightly be called developers?) had designed a truly beautiful piece of architecture which took into consideration the landscape and the surrounding area, maybe it would have been grudgingly accepted. But the thing that smells the nastiest in this saga of development greed is that by demanding a few tweaks here and there, the PA is now sounding and seeming like the great shield it should be. It should be nixing all mega developments until a good national development plan is established.

The country’s air is bad enough; the view from everywhere is of an over-built, over-developed jungle of towers and cranes vying for some space to make more buildings happen.

The plan we need is not just for our built-up areas but also for all the land – taking into consideration our quality of life, our streetscapes, our future, our transport and our infrastructure.

The end result of the tweaking of the db development will be a few minor changes and a Pyrrhic victory for our environmentalists.

When we, the lookers on, cry hurrah the government and the PA – and the silent but satisfied developers – know that they have yet again succeeded in dictating the narrative on this land. The whole db project should not have been given the green light because of all its horrors.

Now that the authorities have demanded traffic impact studies and some minor changes in the project’s size they are seen as saviours, and guarantors of a better environment than it could have been if the initial design had been accepted.

What the authorities have managed is to make us all take for granted that the project will – and must – happen.

These morsels thrown at us by the government and the authorities it has hijacked make some of us, Brits included, cry out in celebration. They should make us cry in humiliation that we have let them hoodwink us into silly oblivion.

 

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