The Malta Independent 23 June 2024, Sunday
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TMID Editorial: The San Gwann example

Thursday, 23 May 2024, 10:07 Last update: about 30 days ago

It took a couple of days of public outcry for an application for the development of a huge supermarket in San Gwann to be withdrawn.

We need more of these instances.

Last Saturday, it was reported that an application had been filed for a mega supermarket on ODZ (outside development zone) land on the outskirts of San Gwann, close to a private school, and just off an important thoroughfare that links the locality to Naxxar and Gharghur.

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The public’s reaction was one of immediate disgust at the idea. The San Gwann mayor, Trevor Fenech, was also quick to respond, saying that he would fight against such a development. Prime Minister Robert Abela also expressed himself against the project. He is right on this one.

By Monday, just 48 hours after the initial media report, the application was withdrawn. Thankfully, the applicant saw sense and pulled out. Kudos to him for not prolonging the issue, and rather than embark on a full frontal confrontation with NGOs and the public, and possibly also realising that the opposition to the project had already grown too much for him to handle, he rightfully chose a way out.

There are a number of points that need to be made.

The first is that public pressure worked. The immediate uproar against the idea evidently left its mark on the applicant. When, for the right reasons, the people protest, they should be heard. And this is what happened this time. The people should be heard more often.

The second is about supermarkets. So many have sprouted around the islands in the past few years, effectively swallowing up the smaller groceries and other outlets that served residents in the vicinity. In the past, each town and village had a number of such shops; very few of them remain, seeing that they cannot compete with the bigger fish. And yet, even these bigger fish are sometimes in difficulty – it was only a few months ago that some big supermarkets joined forces under one name to be able to survive against even bigger supermarkets. Nowadays, huge supermarkets have opened in almost every strategic position on the island. The question is: do we need more of them?

The third point is ODZ land. Over the past years, we have seen a huge growth of the construction industry, with many older buildings being pulled down to make way for higher blocks of apartments. The demand for accommodation has increased as Malta’s population grew by more than 100,000 in the past decade. But the size of our land has remained the same, and some developers set their sights on areas which are supposedly not earmarked for development – as was this case. Thankfully, this time the idea was killed, but what will happen when other, similar applications are put forward is anyone’s guess. The Planning Authority has a duty and a responsibility to protect what is left of our countryside and open space. Too often, it has been found wanting, and served as a rubber-stamp rather than an entity which safeguards the public’s interests.

So many lessons can be learnt from what happened over the past few days with regard to the planned supermarket in San Gwann. It is hoped that they will be remembered when similar situations will be faced in the years to come.

 

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