SLIEMA UN­DER SIEGE

Res­i­dents protest against over-de­vel­op­ment

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Gabriel Schem­bri

Sliema res­i­dents and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists joined forces yes­ter­day to voice their con­cerns that Sliema, like many other ar­eas in Malta, is un­der siege and suf­fer­ing from the abu­sive ‘cow­boy at­ti­tude’ of de­vel­op­ers.

A large crowd gath­ered at Dingli Cir­cus in Sliema protest­ing against the rampant over-de­vel­op­ment in var­i­ous parts of Malta. The protest had as its theme ‘Sliema Un­der Siege’ and res­i­dents were call­ing on the au­thor­i­ties to put an end to ‘the rampant overde­vel­op­ment, lack of plan­ning, lack of con­sid­er­a­tion for res­i­dents’ health and well-be­ing and the ru­ina­tion of the ar­chi­tec­tural and his­tor­i­cal her­itage’ of Sliema.

En­vi­ron­men­tal NGOs such as Flimkien Ghal Am­b­jent Ah­jar, Ram­blers As­so­ci­a­tion and Friends of the Earth joined an­gry res­i­dents to sup­port their cause. A num­ber of politi­cians, in­clud­ing in­de­pen­dent MP Mar­lene Far­ru­gia, PN MPs Robert Ar­rigo, Kristy De­bono and Karl Gouder and AD chair­man Arnold Cas­sola at­tended the event.

The size­able crowd car­ried var­i­ous plac­ards show­ing Plan­ning Author­ity CEO Jo­hann But­tigieg with captions such as ‘The Saint of the En­vi­ron­ment’ and ‘No con­flict of in­ter­est?’ writ­ten on them. Speaking to The Malta In­de­pen­dent, Par­tit Demokratiku leader Mar­lene Far­ru­gia said that be­yond the eye­sore that is caused by the ex­ces­sive de­vel­op­ment, the gov­ern­ment must also con­sider the health is­sues re­lated to the fact that this tiny coun­try has very lit­tle nat­u­ral space left.

“We are here protest­ing be­cause piece-meal de­vel­op­ment is not ef­fec­tive. What we need is a na­tional, holis­tic plan. The ques­tion is, with all this de­vel­op­ment, will the pub­lic live in a bet­ter place or not? Will they be more happy, or health­ier?”

PD Deputy Leader An­thony But­tigieg, who works in Sliema, said that the area has changed not for the bet­ter, but into a sorry state. “The coun­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing eco­nomic growth, but the qual­ity of life is not im-

prov­ing,” he said, adding that the large num­ber of peo­ple at­tend­ing the protest was a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the peo­ple’s anger.

Pro­fes­sor Arnold Cas­sola told this news­pa­per that the idea to es­tab­lish a mas­ter plan is a wel­come ini­tia­tive, but it needs to be re­vised and sent back to the draw­ing board if nec­es­sary. “We need a mas­ter plan for all of Malta, not only Paceville, a mas­ter plan which ad­dresses the high-rise poli­cies, for in­stance, is also needed.”

The protest was or­gan­ised by en­vi­ron­men­tal NGO Flimkien Ghal Am­b­jent Ah­jar with the sup­port of Sliema lo­cal coun­cil.

Ad­dress­ing the crowd, PN Lo­cal Coun­cil­lor Paul Rad­milli re­ferred to an anal­y­sis that re­veals that the Plan­ning Author­ity had re­ceived a stag­ger­ing 177 no­ti­fi­ca­tions for de­vel­op­ment in Sliema alone over a pe­riod of three weeks. He lam­basted the lack of ac­tion by the En­vi­ron­men­tal and Re­sources Author­ity (ERA) for its lack of pres­ence at im­por­tant hear­ings. “The gov­ern­ment promised us that the ERA will serve as an en­vi­ron­ment watch­dog, but how can you be a watch­dog if you don’t at­tend the hear­ings?”

Sliema Lo­cal Coun­cil­lor Michael Briguglio said there were valu­able peo­ple at the Plan­ning Author­ity, but for some rea­son the gov­ern­ment chooses to leave them on the side-line in­stead of us­ing their tal­ent. He thanked every­one for at­tend­ing the protest and en­cour­aged the pub­lic to voice its con­cern. “This is a gov­ern­ment of vox-pops. When we stand to­gether, the au­thor­i­ties take no­tice.”

Ar­chi­tect Ed­ward Said said that Sliema has a great deal of her­itage value and the au­thor­i­ties should do their best to pro­tect it. He said that those who say that Sliema is a lost cause, are ei­ther ig­no­rant or have a clear vested in­ter­est.

In the mean­time the or­gan­is­ers an­nounced that they had in­vited Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat, En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Jose Her­rera, Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for Plan­ning Deb­o­rah Schem­bri and the Di­rec­tor of the Su­per­in­ten­dence of Cul­tural Her­itage to a walk­a­bout in Sliema, to see the sit­u­a­tion with their own eyes.

Dr Mus­cat has ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion, although a date has not yet been set.

Speaking to The Malta In­de­pen­dent yes­ter­day, FAA Pres­i­dent Astrid Vella said that this over-de­vel­op­ment is not only af­fect­ing Sliema, but other lo­cal­i­ties such as Swieqi and St Ju­lian’s. “We are protest­ing against th­ese cowboys who do what they want and don’t care about the au­thor­i­ties. What’s worse is that the po­lice are do­ing noth­ing,” she said.

Astrid Vella at yes­ter­day’s protest Pho­tos: Michael Camil­leri

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