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A Maltese favela? - Albert Buttigieg

“How can one single person/enterprise take over public land and turn it into a private enterprise while the government sheepishly agrees to be paid a pittance?”  Photo: Steve Zammit Lupi

“How can one single person/enterprise take over public land and turn it into a private enterprise while the government sheepishly agrees to be paid a pittance?”  Photo: Steve Zammit Lupi

The term ‘favela’ originated in Brazil.  It is a name used to describe shanty towns. The most notorious of these areas are around Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo. 

Is St Julian’s turning out to be our local version of a favela, an expensive one some may sneer, but still a favela?

Over the years St Julian’s has transformed itself from a quiet fishermen village to a cosmopolitan centre. 

But St Julian’s has its own shady side too.

On a daily basis, residents have to make up for the irresponsibility of the many rowdy and unrestrained visitors who throng the streets screaming till the early hours of the morning. Residents also have to live with the sheer arrogance of particular businessmen who are only concerned with making hay while the sun shines.

Vandalism, graffiti and theft are on the increase. Driving and parking is problematic. Several parking spaces are being taken up for outside catering venues. Our shoreline has become one whole private beach concession. Open spaces are limited, except for the promenade.

Garbage is put out outside collection hours, in particular by short-term tenants. Lewd and drunken behaviour is a common occurrence too. Our elderly are increasingly feeling insecure, ending up barricaded in their own homes. Public enforcement is still much to be desired, especially when dealing with certain commercial outlets that play their loud music till morning breaks.

To add insult to injury, mega-building developments are taking place.  From Balluta to Birkirkara to Spinola to Paceville, St Julian’s is turning into one big construction site. The construction frenzy didn’t start yesterday. But what was bad then, is still bad now. So what has the  current government been doing to contain the situation? Instead of taking the bull by the horns, the government opted not only to accommodate but to be a fine enabler.

I and many others are not against development per se. We are against unsustainable mega development. We are against greed at our expense. We are in favour of a holistic all-inclusive master plan.

Policies cannot be taken in isolation. One must go beyond policies and ask if the end result isfor the common good or not

The Paceville master plan was supposed to address sustainable development. It turned out to be a wish-list exercise. Although the master plan was shelved after a public outcry, the government stubbornly and slyly continued taking a piecemeal approach and act as a benevolent enabler. Two mega developments (which were proposed in the master plan), Mercury house and Villa Rosa complex, were approved to the dismay of our local council, residents and NGOs.

Now, the db mega development on the former ITS site (another development proposed in the master plan) is being recommended. At this rate, all proposed blueprints found in the master plan are going to be approved.  Crafty Joseph!

The case officer’s report reads that the development proposes an overall gross floor area of 109,919 square metres set into the following main buildings: an 18-storey hotel, a 38-storey building with retail and residential areas; a shopping mall, offices and entertainment area. 

The case officer confirmed that all is within the existent building policies. And this is the crux of the matter.

I firmly hold that policies ought to be set within a wider context. Policies cannot be taken in isolation. One must go beyond policies and ask if the end result is good for the common good or not. 

Will this mega development contribute to the well-being and quality of life of our residents? What will the cumulative effects be when taking into consideration other mega projects approved? Who will benefit from this project, the few or the many? Do the existing policies justify this overkill?

Policies change, as often as they do, and can also be modified to accommodate generous donors, as often as they do.  On the contrary, principles are set in stone. Principles are not conditioned by public opinion, financial constraints and self-gratification.

Although I whole-heartedly share the concerns of many regarding the massive visual impact, height limitations, lack of sound infrastructure, environmental impact, traffic management, air quality, sound pollution and other inconveniences, my firm reservation is mainly based on two basic principles.

First, how can one single person/enterprise take over public land and turn it into a private enterprise while the government sheepishly agrees to be paid a pittance? The Nationalist Party had asked the Auditor General to investigate this dubious deal. So it stands to reason that the government should never have allowed the continuation of this project since the AG still has to complete the investigation.

To add insult to injury, it is reported that the government is required to construct a mega tunnel and a sewage pump station at its own expense, which means our expense. This is a classic example where the ‘I’ overcomes the ‘we’, at our own detriment. It is a horrendous monument symbolising sheer greed.

Secondly, not only did the ITS have to relocate at the cost of €74 million, but due to its proximity to the residential area, residents will suffer, as well as having to live in long periods of shade, which will be a huge blow to their quality of life.  Is this social justice?

It is for this reason that the St Julian’s, Pembroke and Swieqi local councils – representing approximately 30,000 residents – have all objected. How come one single person overcomes the interests of 30,000 residents? People are becoming angry for being sidelined and ignored so that particular developers are served.

I firmly cannot uphold the greed of the few over the rights and interests of the many.

St. Julian’s ought not become a Maltese favela.

I stand by our residents. Hopefully, the Planning Authority board members will do the same.

Albert Buttigieg is deputy mayor of St Julian’s.

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