The Malta Independent 4 October 2023, Wednesday
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Public protest to 'save Żonqor' being organised by Front Ħarsien ODZ on 20 June

John Cordina Saturday, 6 June 2015, 12:05 Last update: about 9 years ago

Front Ħarsien ODZ is inviting civil society and social and environmental NGOs to join it in a public protest on 20 June against the proposed development of a university in the Żonqor area on Marsascala.

At a press conference held outside the Parliament Building - where the protest is set to start at 10am - Front member Shaun Grech explained that the aim of the protest is to call on the government to abide by the South Malta Local Plan and reconfirm the designation of the entire area as a natural park where development is prohibited and the livelihood of farmers is protected. The government had proposed a reduced area for the natural park, accommodating the development of the planned American University of Malta.

Marsascala deputy mayor Desiree Attard - who broke ranks with her party to oppose the development - said that the protest was open to people from all walks of life and political beliefs, noting that the protest was being organised by citizens and not by political parties.

The locality's mayor, Mario Calleja, has declared that the vast majority of Marsascala residents favour the development of the university, but this claim was contradicted both by Ms Attard and by Nationalist Party councillor Charlot Cassar.

Ms Attard said that the residents she spoke to were shocked by the mayor's assertion and that most could not approve of such a project, while Mr Cassar also emphasised that the feedback he was receiving was that residents were worried about the project's impact, whilst pointing out that by his own admission, the mayor had actually spoken to few people before making that claim.

In the face of a public backlash, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has declared that a compromise was possible, although it appears that development in Żonqor is still being foreseen.

However, Front member Michael Briguglio insisted that true compromise would see the development of the university in an area where development can take place. Any plans which would involve construction in ODZ cannot be seen as a true compromise, he said, but a play with words.

Asked to comment on the possibility of alternative sites - the recently-founded National Independent Forum for Sustainability suggested four - Dr Briguglio welcomed such proposals, but stressed that the selection of a site required extensive assessments which took time. Ms Attard, on her part, remarked that one should not expect members of the public to provide alternatives.

NGOs back call for protest

In a joint statement, seven environmental NGOs - Ramblers' Association of Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Greenhouse Malta, Birdlife Malta and Nature Trust - confirmed that they would be participating in the protest march and encouraged the public to attend.

The NGOs said that they believed that any development which increased the urbanisation of ODZ areas was unacceptable, and maintained that compromising on this point "has caused untold damage to the nation's countryside over the past years."

"Any new investment should take place within the development boundaries," they said.

The NGOs specifically condemned any attempt to alter development boundaries, and the attitude being taken that investment is only viable if located on 'cheap' ODZ land.

"The remaining ODZ land serves as an invaluable public benefit and should not be sacrificed to the advantage of private investors just because its location outside the development zone makes its market price artificially cheap," they said.

The NGOs said that they encouraged "all Maltese proud of their country to stand and be counted in defence of the little that remains of our over-exploited natural environment. A strong but peaceful national protest will send a strong message to the authorities, and to all politicians, that non-agricultural development in ODZ areas can never be regarded as a sustainable in the long term, nor justifiable to future generations."

In a separate statement, leftist NGO Moviment Graffitti encouraged all those who cared about the environment to attend the protest.

"As one of the organizations supporting the Front Ħarsien ODZ we will actively participate in this national event expressing opposition to Żonqor development. We encourage everyone who has at heart the environment, and Żonqor in particular, to participate in the protest and show that we will not accept yet another project involving environmental destruction for the interests and profits of the few. It's time for all those who care about the environment, regardless of the political party they support, to make their voices heard loud and clear," the group said.

(Pictures by James Bianchi)

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