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More than our skyline

Even as we wail (and rightly so) about the latest government mess up that will have Malta's skyline look like some dystopian nightmare, we forget that - as important as maintaining a balance in development is - the buck doesn't start and stop with the Mrieħel and Sliema high-rise. 

We have been losing our Malta, piece by piece, for years and we never even realised. 

The greed of property developers who think (in what is, clearly, not an unfounded belief) they can ride roughshod over those of us whose pockets do not reach deep enough, has been quietly working its way up the ladder of environmental sins very steadily over the years. 

Only - apart from the odd whimper here and there and the largely unappreciated efforts of various NGOs and pressure groups - no-one seemed quite willing to put his neck on the line. 

The roads that led to the current situation were many, and each contributed to the feeling of omnipotence clearly being enjoyed by the well-connected few. I will only mention some of them.

They stole our public beaches and we let them. Most sandy beaches are not ours anymore and haven't been for years. 

Feel like setting up your own towel and deckchair at one of the popular spots like Għadira or Paradise Bay? Ha! Good luck with that, and with persuading the deckchair touts that you have every right to enjoy a spot of sunning without being obliged to pay up for their services.

Seeing as I tend to avoid the super-crowded places everyone else loves,  I only realised how bad the situation has become after countless reports from acquaintances. 

The worst anecdote seen online this week: Arriving at Comino at 7.30am, setting up your towel on a deserted beach and being forced to remove everything an hour or so later so as to make space for... deckchairs!

What have we done through the years as the situation got more and more ridiculous? Sweet nothing, that's what. What we need is to pull another stunt similar to the one Graffiti and other NGOs pulled at Fekruna, otherwise goodbye notion of public beaches. 

And no, we can't sneer and call environmental NGOs 'tree-huggers' and then expect them to single-handedly sort out all of Malta's ills.

They stole our countryside and we let them. Not happy with making it impossible for us to enjoy a free sunning session on public land, they also made it (almost) impossible for us to take a hike through the little public countryside we have remaining.

They stole our countryside and we let them. Not happy with making it impossible for us to enjoy a free sunning session on public land, they also made it (almost) impossible for us to take a hike through the little public countryside we have remaining. 

The RTO signs have been present for decades; so has the intimidation, or worse, of trespassers. I tend to ignore these signs and keep walking on anyway. This might not be the brightest of ideas; just ask the scores of Birdlife members who have been pretty much assaulted on multiple occasions for doing precisely this. But I figure out that if I'm going to let fear condition my actions, I may as well give up now. 

When it concerns the safety of other people, however, I tend to be a tad more responsible. Such as this spring when, while walking through Wied Qirda I was stopped by a couple of tourists who asked whether they could walk across the valley from Siggiewi down to Qormi.

My first reaction: sure you can. Their faces broke into a smile: ah, so the man who told them they were breaking the law by trespassing into his property was wrong, one of them said gleefully.

Umm. Erm. Well, not quite, I replied full of blushes, faced with the prospect of explaining how it can be that the public countryside was actually not public at all. Well, not unless you were ready to put up with continuous insults and maybe a couple of warning potshots. I wound up advising them to turn back when they got to the huge boulder that said 'Private', while hating myself for it. 

So yeah. They stole our countryside and we let them. 

They stole our clean seas too, and are we going to let them get away with that as well? This week, some of Malta's waters were plagued by a sludgy film hanging on the surface.

The suspicion was that nearby fish farms were to blame. Finally, one of the owners manned up and conceded the possibility of his fish farm being to blame. An investigation has been launched. 

But, before breathing a sigh of relief that the issue is going to be resolved, spare a thought for all the inquiries that never seem to go anywhere. And, more specifically, a thought for the fact that a court case related to the allegedly unauthorised increase in the number of fish farm cages has been dragging on for the past two years.

So don't be too surprised if we are still swimming in sludge in a couple of summers' time.

Yes, the over-development on our islands, the ridiculously inappropriate high-rises, the systematic decimating of our green areas... it is nothing but the obvious culmination of a process that started years ago and that most were too complacent to do anything about. 

We've reached a stage where a couple of online petitions to show voters' displeasure just won't cut it.

Maybe it is time to stop being complacent and to remind the powers-that-be who exactly should be serving whom, here.

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