SLIEMA UNDER SIEGE
Residents protest against over-development
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