The Malta Independent 25 June 2024, Tuesday
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TMIS Editorial: What next? A swimming pool at Hagar Qim?

Sunday, 19 November 2023, 10:30 Last update: about 8 months ago

All eyes were on Mosta this past week, as public and media pressure ultimately forced the locality’s Labour-led council to withdraw its decision to remove ficus trees which in the last 50 years provided shade and comfort in a highly-congested area.

This happened not without damage, as by the time protestors turned up in the square and public outcry had reached way up high, forcing also the Prime Minister to intervene, the thick branches which formed the upper parts of the trees had been unceremoniously chopped off, leaving only stumps and depriving hundreds of birds of their home. It is unlikely that the trees will recover and return to being what they were until last Sunday. So the repercussions of the council’s decision will remain.

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Calls have been made for the Mosta mayor and local council to resign after such a debacle. If they don’t, residents should keep what happened in mind when in June they vote to elect their representatives on the council for the following five years. All the Mosta local council had to do was ask around to see whether Mosta residents agreed with the move, and the answer would have been a resounding “no”. As things happened, the Mosta council ended up with egg on its face. Now it should pay the price.

The Environment and Resources Authority has also let the people of Mosta – and many others – down by giving the green light for the trees’ removal. Questions are raised on the purpose of having an authority which takes decisions that go against the environment it is bound to protect.

Thankfully, on this occasion public and media pressure led to a change of heart.

There is another situation which also deserves public attention, and this is equally serious, as a decision that was taken a few days ago, if implemented, will have irreversible consequences.

The Planning Authority approved an application for a permit to build 22 apartments and 20 garages in Xaghra, less than 200 metres away from the Ggantija Temples, one of the oldest standing structures in the world. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980, the megalithic temples were built in the Neolithic era, which makes them around 5,500 years old.

The decision, which was picked up by The Times of London (its headline, “Horror at luxury flats overshadowing world’s oldest building” speaks volumes), has attracted much less attention than the Mosta trees, but it should certainly not be ignored, given the implications and the possibility that this is just the start of further development in the vicinity of the temples.

After vehemently opposing it throughout the process leading to the application’s approval, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar is raising funds to be able to mount one final challenge against the project. The NGO, in a statement, said that after the green light was given to this particular development, other plans are already in hand for another project which is “even closer” to the Ggantija temples.

It is shameful that the Planning Authority has chosen to give its go-ahead. Like ERA in the case of the Mosta trees, the PA is letting the people down, taking the side of the developers rather than understand the harm and damage that such a project will cause. Having this building towering over the archaeological site reduces its (Ggantija’s) value. The thousands of visitors who go there every year will wonder why Malta’s authorities allowed it to be defaced by permitting the block of flats to be built so close to it.

We have been degrading our natural environment for years, in particular in the last decade; the development near Ggantija will now degrade our historic and archaeological value too.

What will be next? The approval of a swimming pool at Hagar Qim? (We hope everyone understands that this is a hyperbole, and not intended to give any ideas.)

And then the president of the Malta Developers Association, Michael Stivala, has the audacity to say that Malta is more beautiful now than it was 20 years ago.

But there’s still hope.

The way that public uproar, led by Moviment Graffitti, managed to push the Mosta council into making a gigantic U-turn should be taken as an example that, with perseverance and determination, things could change.

Earlier this year, we had another example of what public pressure can do. The Prime Minister first spearheaded his government into voting against a parliamentary motion to set up a public inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia, only to change his mind as hundreds of protestors were gathering outside his office in Valletta to express their dissent.

It is time for people to make their voice heard against the Ggantija development too.

Hopefully things will change there too.

 

 

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