When mainstream political parties consistently fail to address citizens’ concerns, grassroots non-partisan movements usually crop up to fight for the cause and to pursue specific ideals.

One consistent concern of citizens over the last few years and decades has been the island’s overdevelopment. This phenomenon has already caused irreparable damage to Malta’s urban and rural landscape. Now, the same destiny awaits Gozo as political promises to curb this economic and social disorder remain no more than declarations of intent.

A coalition of stakeholders from a range of sectors in Gozo is taking action to nudge the government and the opposition to stop the islands’ uglification caused by widespread, insensitive and outright monstrous construction projects. The broad Għal Għawdex coalition comprises some of the NGOs working to protect the natural and urban environment, local government entities, business lobbies, the Gozo Tourism Association and Gozitan University students.

Ghal Għawdex has presented an eight-point plan to safeguard Gozo’s natural and built environment “in the face of rampant construction”. They demand that the authorities take immediate action to remedy the situation. Their recommendations include imposing a moratorium on new ODZ planning applications, extending the boundaries of the urban conservation areas (UCA), removing fiscal incentives on the sale of buildings and land to be developed into apartments and retaining incentives on the sale and purchase of property in the UCA.

This non-partisan coalition must be congratulated for their “coming together of minds”, as described by Godfrey Swain, a member of the Għal Għawdex group representing Din l-Art Ħelwa Għawdex.

Understandably, the diverse sectors included in the coalition will have different priorities for promoting sustainable economic growth. For instance, the desirability and feasibility of the proposed Gozo tunnel do not feature in its recommendations.

Prime Minister Robert Abela keeps promising to change the Planning Authority’s strategies, which are still the main culprit behind the destruction of the country’s rural and urban environment. Other enablers of this environmental deterioration in recent years are the tourism policymakers with a tunnel vision focused on promoting more mass tourism despite their rhetorical commitment to quality services.

The Gozo coalition’s proposals are all doable if the government and the opposition were to agree that the uglification of Gozo must be stopped and that concrete action must be taken that involves short-term pain but long-term gain for the island. Small-island tourism destinations face some formidable challenges. Mediterranean islands like Capri, Santorini and Minorca are magnets for quality tourism. But they are still all trying to protect their vulnerable environment and their residents’ quality of life by promoting sustainable strategies to add value to their tourism activities.

Gozo, no less than Malta, must resist the further exploitation of the environment brought about by shortsighted policymakers and the undue influence of well-connected developers on some politicians. Għal Għawdex has moved from a generic critique of economic policies to robust proposals that can be activated to stop Gozo becoming uglier still. Like the Sardines, Girotondi and the Purple People grassroots movements in Italy, they can bring about political change even if they officially declare themselves not linked to any party.

The preservation of our islands’ fragile environment must not become a partisan objective. Neither can it be addressed by the hollow rhetoric of sit-on-the-fence politicians whose interest stretches no farther than winning the next election.

This cause is of the utmost importance. It needs the support of all, including civil society and an even larger coalition of NGOs that represent a wide spectrum of interests in the community.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.