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Marlene Farrugia rebels over university on ODZ land, fires warning

Labour MP Marlene Farrugia said she would not be supporting a parliamentary resolution to hand agricultural land to foreign investors for a university in the south of the island.

The government is obliged to protect land outside development zones if it wants to remain true to the commitments made in its electoral manifesto, Dr Farrugia told Times of Malta.

The Labour Party had said it would aim to ensure that economic growth gives due consideration to sustainable development and the environment.

“If the proposal to give agricultural land at Żonqor to foreign investors is presented in Parliament in its current form and approved by Labour MPs, the party in government will be breaking its promise to the electorate.

“I will be voting in favour of what the party promised in the electoral manifesto,” she said.

If the proposal to give agricultural land at Żonqor to foreign investors is presented in Parliament in its current form and approved by Labour MPs, the party in government will be breaking its promise to the electorate. I will be voting in favour of what the party promised in the electoral manifesto.

She insisted that otherwise, she would be deceiving the people, because the surest way to destroy the environment was to develop land in ODZ. The country could not afford to sacrifice more virgin land to development.

“When the PL was in Opposition, we said we were against expanding development zones. I stick to that position now that we are in government. It’s unacceptable to choose where and what to develop based on a ‘desktop study’. It’s also unacceptable to go through the motions of public consultation when the impression we are getting is that it’s a fait accompli,” she added.

Opposition is mounting against the so-called American University of Malta being conceived by a Jordanian hotel and tourism company and strongly promoted by the Prime Minister.

Dr Farrugia deplored the fact that the government was justifying building on virgin land in Marsascala by citing developments like Ta’ Barkat sewage treatment plant, built by the previous administration.

“Comparing Ta’ Barkat with a university campus that can obviously be sited elsewhere is misleading the public. It is deceitful.”

She also dismissed the promised nature park as compensation for the loss of pristine land, insisting that the park already existed. It was there, in its natural state, she said. All the government needed to do was a comprehensive clean-up, incentivise existing agricultural activity and preserve the historical buildings that enhance the uniqueness of the area.

Comparing Ta’ Barkat with a university campus that can obviously be sited elsewhere is misleading the public. It is deceitful

She countered criticism that she was against investment, saying she was for sustainable development:

“That is going to be the main challenge this government will face. If we don’t lead by example, we will have short-term benefits and long-term chaos”.

Dr Farrugia insisted the university should be built on land already allocated for development, including buildings or forts desperately needing restoration.

She referred to the Verdala International School in Fort Pembroke as an example of how this could be done.

Dr Farrugia is the chairwoman of the parliamentary committee on environment and development, which will on Monday be discussing the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED). This plan will determine the use of land, sea and space until 2020. But this was an impossible mission in the current scenario, she said.

“I think the government has to first enlighten the public on its real vision on land and space use.

“We can’t be taken seriously as a government if we keep bombarding the public with potential projects here and there without the back-up of established long-term planning based on credible studies which support the decisions ultimately taken.”

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