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NGOs urge publication of Sadeen deal for university

A meeting of the Parliamentary Planning Committee yesterday heard concerns about the American university project at Żonqor Point. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

A meeting of the Parliamentary Planning Committee yesterday heard concerns about the American university project at Żonqor Point. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Environmental NGOs yesterday again called on the government to publish the agreement entered into with the Sadeen Group for the development of an American University of Malta.

During a meeting of the Parliamentary Environment and Development Planning Committee held yesterday, Front Ħarsien ODZ and Alternattiva Demokratika representatives expressed concern that the Prime Minister’s inclusion of Żonqor Point, although on a smaller scale, may result from a condition by the project promoter.

Committee chairman Marlene Farrugia (PL) convened the committee following a meeting held last June.

In August, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that the government had chosen two sites, one within the development zone in Cospicua and a site in Żonqor which still included 18,000 square metres of ODZ land. Mepa CEO Johann Buttigieg said the chosen sites followed an analysis of 113 locations forwarded by the Government Property Division and 513 sites recommended by the public.

The assessment criteria were that the location had to be in the south, of which at least half had to be in government ownership. The site, that had to be serviced by existing infrastructure including roads, drainage, water and electricity, could not be located in a protected area.

The minimum land area of 75,000 square metres could be distributed on not more than three sites of 25,000 square metres each.

The shortlisted sites included 29,900 square metres within the development zone in Tarxien; Dock 1 in Cospicua, the forts of Ricasoli, Rinella, St Rocco and St Leonard and Delle Grazzie Battery (Cluster A of 217, 200 square metres); Fort Delimara, Wolseley Battery, Fort Tas-Silġ, St Paul’s Battery (Cluster B of 112,200 square metres) and the Żonqor pool site.

In this desktop study, the Żonqor pool was recommended as a “first priority” either on its own or in combination with Cluster A. Dr John Paul Cauchi, a Marsascala resident and a Front Ambjent Aħjar representative, said there was no logical progress between the report contents and the final result and compared it to “lipstick on a pit bull”.

A debate ensued about the agricultural value of the land at Żonqor. While the Mepa CEO claimed that the authority followed the Agriculture Department’s assessment, John Portelli from the Malta Organic Agricultural Movement said that the vicinity to the sea made the area ideal for organic agriculture. His movement was willing to turn the land into an organic agriculture showcase, he said.

A Din l-Art Ħelwa representative criticised the process whereby the Prime Minister announced the two sites before the conclusion of the environmental impact assessment. She claimed that one could identify the best site only after the conclusion of proper studies. Several participants criticised that, while the report highlighted the uncertainty and the lack of information about the potential impact of the project on the cultural value of the forts and on their surroundings, it still reached a conclusion on the preferred sites.

Questioned by James Debono, the Mepa CEO said the Environment Protection Department was not involved in the study. However, Mr Butigieg had met the developer with an OPM representative.

Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar said he was not involved in the process related to this project, following a question by Dr Farrugia as to why a public call for expressions of interest was not issued.

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