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Mounting opposition to use of ODZ land

Residents, local councillors, farmers and academics living in the south have joined those opposing the development of a new university in an outside development zone, noting it could not be compared to Smart City, which was not built on pristine land.

As Prime Minister Joseph Muscat insists the new university has to be built in the south as part of plans to revive the area through new investment, residents there are resisting Mepa’s suggestion to use ODZ land.

The “most suitable” location chosen by the planning authority was 90,000 square metres of ODZ land close to the Marsascala waterpolo pitch. It would be located next to a 615,000-square-metre area allocated to a nature park, according to the government. This is being regarded as compensation for the uptake of ODZ land.

The site that would be given to the university investors – the Sadeen Group – through a concession on temporary emphyteusis would be on land that had already been allocated for a nature park in 2006, meaning the development would, in fact, make the planned nature park smaller, as indicated in the local plans.

Countering opposition, Dr Muscat said on Monday the land used for Smart City was “far more pristine” than the Marsascala site identified for the university. However, Smart City was mostly built on the former Ricasoli industrial estate, as described in the environmental impact assessment for Smart City.

Why are we looking to take ODZ to satisfy a few private pockets? This is a disgrace and, as a citizen, I feel disempowered, disrespected, hurt and betrayed by the government

The Marsascala land was described as “a jewel in its natural state” by Nationalist Party councillor and South Consultative Committee member Charlot Cassar.

“Our duty is to protect it for public enjoyment and for future generations. It is time we raise our voices against this environmental ruin,” he said.

His views were echoed by Labour Party deputy mayor Desiree Attard: “Interest in our area is welcomed and highly encouraged but building on a pristine ODZ area is out of the question”.

Żonqor Point resident and environmental health doctor John Paul Cauchi also countered the government’s declaration that the planned location consisted of mostly abandoned land.

“Why are we looking to take ODZ to satisfy a few private pockets? This is a disgrace and, as a citizen, I feel disempowered, disrespected, hurt and betrayed by the government. They speak of giving a ‘lung to the south’ with a park but that lung has always been there. It is being snatched away from us,” Dr Cauchi said.

Professional environmental researcher Anna Spiteri, who lives in the south, told Times of Malta she was very concerned agricultural land was being considered as nothing more than abandoned land.

“It serves a purpose. Soil purifies the air (soil acts as a carbon filter) and it is considered to be one of the climate change mitigation measures. Especially with the heavy industry in the south, we need open land not manicured gardens,” she said.

Farmers have expressed concern about the loss of the land they depend on for a living. This newspaper reported last week the government had not yet spoken to any of those who will be impacted by the project, saying only they would be given an alternative.

Groups and alliances are being formed to step up resistance to the project, with individuals wanting to raise their own voice rather than depend on NGOs to oppose the scheme.

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