A handful of students, lecturers and members of the public answered a call by the University Student Council (KSU) on Wednesday to protest against the construction of an 11-storey hotel outside the University.

The hotel is set to be built on the site that used to host the Mireva bookshop, which sold textbooks and academic literature to students and university staff and photocopied millions of papers for years before shutting down some years ago.

Over 80 people, made up of lecturers, students and members of NGOs gathered at the university's main square, known as the quadrangle. 

Photo: Jonathan Borg.Photo: Jonathan Borg.

Developer Mark Agius, known in his native Gozo as 'Ta’ Dirjanu’ and who has previously partnered with Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli, is asking the PA (through application 05079/22) for a permit to add another floor to the building, despite having already secured an additional two floors over-and-above the permitted maximum for the area in his original planning application.

The proposed development is located just outside the gates of the University of Malta campus, which is a residential area designed as a Student Housing Area by local plans.

No bookshop left on campus

Speaking during the protest, university lecturer Kurt Borg said Mireva, back when it was open, was more than just a bookshop.

"It was a place to explore new publications and new ideas, and discuss such ideas with friends and strangers," he said.

"It is a tragedy that our own university is left without one bookshop."

There is now not a single shop at the University of Malta campus which sells books, after the last bookshop in the area, an Agenda Bookstore outlet, closed down last November. 

A University of Malta spokesperson told Times of Malta last week that most students "have other options" nowadays to buy books, saying many opted to do so on online bookstore Book Depository. 

No bookstore is planned for campus in the foreseeable future, the spokesperson added. 

When the news of the development broke out, Borg stuck a section of a popular Maltese poem, with his own personal twist.

Borg hung a section of Immanuel Mifsud’s environmental poem, Aqta’ Fjura u Ibni Kamra [pick a flower and build aroom], next to the PA application permit, and apologised to the poet for adding a different line. 

The Mireva bookshop, just outside the university grounds, is set to become a hotel. Photo: Jonathan Borg.The Mireva bookshop, just outside the university grounds, is set to become a hotel. Photo: Jonathan Borg.

He said the news of the development came shortly after the University's budget will be reduced by €1.1 million, as part of the government's spending review. 

"All this is unacceptable and as lecturers and academics we must make our voices heard and be more active against partisan and overdevelopment."

He appealed to students, lecturers and all to use their voices to speak out against the overdevelopment of the island. 

Are students the priority?

KSU President Alex Gaglione spoke out about the proposed development and also took a dig at the Campus Hub, the student village located just outside the Gateway building. 

The hub features student accommodation, some lecturing rooms and retail and food outlets.  

“Let’s look across the road and admit the fact that initially, we all looked at Campus Hub with a sense of awe, myself very much included," she said.

"But between €5 coffees, €800 rents, high-end food establishments: are students truly the target audience?”, she asked. 

She said it is abnormal that Malta’s tertiary educational institution does not have a bookshop in proximity. 

“In a nation of parrot-like thinkers, are students coming to university with a thirst to think, to learn, to challenge? Yet are students’ surroundings inspiring them to do so? I think not.”

'Nothing changes'

KSU Social Policy Officer Jeremy Mifsud called out how the “obscenity” in planning and development is a national problem and accused politicians of prioritising developers' interests.

"History, culture and aesthetic are given secondary priority," he said.

He said that he had spoken to a number of students and asked why they would not protest. 

“Because nothing changes,” was their reply, he said.

“I want this to be printed everywhere for politicians to see, this is the importance you have given to young people, young voters. These are the same people who gave you your chair of power.”

He said the culture of impunity and attitude of "business as usual" needs to change.

He appealed to the government and opposition to arrange the planning laws, to remove the "large loopholes" developers use to get what they want.

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