The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: DB Project - City Centre’s approval goes beyond the PA

Saturday, 12 June 2021, 09:07 Last update: about 3 months ago

Thursday saw the approval of one of the most controversial planning projects in modern times, with db’s City Centre mega-development in Pembroke given the thumbs up by a reduced planning board.

The project – which will see the construction of two 17-storey towers and a hotel on the former ITS site – drew some 17,000 objections from the public and the objections of three local councils and countless NGOs.

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All of those objections were for nought, however, as the project was approved by four votes to three. 

It’s perhaps a tale of irony that the approval came on the same day that Prime Minister Robert Abela said, while announcing the government’s economic vision for the next decade, that the economy will definitely not play second fiddle to the environment.

This is a perfect example of this: with the decision to approve the City Centre project, the economy has beaten the environment.  The economy has beaten the quality of life of the residents in the area, who will now live in the shadow of this behemoth.  The economy has beaten the voices of some 17,000 people.

The four people who voted in favour of the project – Martin Camilleri, Duncan Mifsud, Sean Mangion, and Saviour Debono Grech – will be remembered, not in any good light, for their decision: but to simply stop here when discussing this matter would be seeing to the tip of one’s nose.

After all, these members are only voting in line with currently existing planning policies and regulations.

This project should serve as clear proof that Malta’s planning policies need a complete reset. 

How can a planning board render the objections of 17,000 people and the councils of three whole localities (which represent far more than 17,000 people) null?  We’ve heard so much talk about improving people’s quality of life – and yet we have planning policies and systems wherein a person’s objections are totally ignored.

This country needs planning policies and systems which have the residents at their heart, not the pockets of some big-shot developer.

For that to happen though, there has to be political will. Political will from two parties which time and time again have proven down the years that they are more intent on seeing developments in the name of progress than protecting the environment.

The PN, for instance, could only muster an official statement which called for the resignation of five board members who recused themselves from the vote – a poorly researched and, quite frankly, completely absurd demand considering that the board members had to recuse themselves on the order of the court which rescinded the first City Centre permit.

The PL, meanwhile, has been totally silent on the development, with their party media reporting the project’s approval, stating that the building height had been halved – as if that’s something justifiable.  Their article fails to mention the massive opposition against the project, and even that a local council led by a member of their own party had voted against it.  So much for wanting to promote the interest of the people, right?

This not to mention that the National Audit Office has questioned the regularity of the transfer of the site, which was public land, by the Labour government to db Group in the first place – a matter which is still yet to be resolved.

Ultimately though, deep down, not many people are probably all that surprised that the City Centre project was approved, such are the lengths that the Planning Authority has gone to permit rampant development across the island.

Will that ever change? Will people ever have faith in authorities when it comes to the environment and to conserving their quality of life? At this point, it doesn’t look like it.

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