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Every breath she takes

Construction invading space around sick artist's home

Closing in... Artist Isabelle Borg is confined to her bedroom, and the construction of a building in the yard it overlooks could further secure her prison. Photo: Jason Borg

Closing in... Artist Isabelle Borg is confined to her bedroom, and the construction of a building in the yard it overlooks could further secure her prison. Photo: Jason Borg

Artist Isabelle Borg is confined to her bedroom, permanently wired up to an oxygen concentrator and gasping for breath.

And soon, her imprisonment could be even more strongly felt when construction in the yard beyond her window blocks out the light and air that enters her Floriana home.

The university lecturer suffers from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a degenerative lung disease that can only be exacerbated by the dust and pollutants that result from demolition, excavation and construction.

That scenario is even closer to home - now that a permit for the building across the enclosed yard has been issued and it is expected to be torn down only to loom larger and less than 20 feet away from Ms Borg's window, practically burying her in her house.

It would mean she would have to seal off her windows and live in artificial light - an added expense, she manages to joke in between catching her breath and struggling to string a couple of sentences together due the exhaustion it causes.

Ms Borg's air quality would be diminished - and in her condition, it could only make things worse.

Though her illness is not related to the development around her, her partner believes any more construction would "probably kill her, or hasten the end".

But Ms Borg is a fighter. She has been living in Triq is-Suq since 1998 and has no intention of leaving her home.

"I believe I have a right to stay here and I should not be forced to move out due to construction works."

Moreover, the value of her property has been affected: "Who would buy a house knowing development permits are looming over it?"

She has already had to withstand the construction works adjacent to her property, blocking off the surrounding open views by a towering wall and reducing her only source of light to that from the yard.

The encroachment would mean she would be looking into a shaft, but Ms Borg's battle is not so much about herself and her health.

She is also concerned about the destruction of the historical building, the area dating back to the 18th century. In fact, environmental NGOs, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Floriana local council have all backed the case, she points out.

The issue dates back to 1995 and Ms Borg was initially encouraged by the chorus of opposition to the building's demolition, including from Mepa's own Heritage Advisory Committee.

"That is the frustrating part: the strong opposition did not yield a positive outcome and the heritage aspect has been overlooked.

"Everything pointed in favour of preserving the building, but everything has fallen apart - just like the building."

The saddest part is that even though Ms Borg knows she has the right to appeal, she considers it "crazy" to attempt to fight the planning authority's whole legal system. "Would anyone take it on?"

She has written to the authority's auditor for a proper inquiry into how what was considered a protected site, worth preserving from the historical point of view, has been overlooked.

But Ms Borg doubts whether third-party rights are actually considered, pointing out that, as the most affected resident, she was never consulted if an environment impact assessment was ever carried out.

"The least I can ask for is complete protection from and monitoring of the works carried out; they should not cause any danger.

"This is a battle that has left me really exhausted," Ms Borg says as she chokes, gasping for another breath of air through the tubes that lead out of her bedroom to her only oxygen source. The stress does not help either...

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