“Tell them,” she told me “They can’t do this to us. We have been swimming here all our lives. My parents used to swim here, we swim here, our children swim here. It’s the last good thing about living in this place.”

I didn’t know who the woman on the line was, just before the hearing of the appeal about the Balluta Bay case, but I could well understand her sense of utter desperation and incredulousness at the prospect of being ousted from a beloved bay – the geographical bank of so many happy memories, a place of recreation, a gathering place for all.

The recent Planning Authority approval of a ferry operating from the bay will put paid to all that – because it stands to reason that a hulking 33-metre vessel entering and exiting the narrow bay more than 20 times a day, will pose a danger to swimmers, divers, kayakers and other bay users.

Residents and long-time users are right to feel alarmed at the way a bay which is designated as an official bathing zone and the waters of which are constantly monitored to ensure water quality can suddenly be turned into a port – when all planning policies clearly militate against such a change.

There is not one plan, not one single map, not one single policy which designates Balluta Bay as a ferry landing place. On the contrary, the official plans clearly show that it is a swimming and diving zone.

The complete and utter disregard of the regulations and policies is what alarms citizens as we are adrift in a sea of lawlessness, where planning decisions are made in a completely arbitrary manner.

There’s another bitterly unfair and unjust aspect to the Balluta Bay decision and that is the way it breaches all notions of spatial justice. In a nutshell, the principle of spatial justice envisages a fair distribution of space where people can live, play, work and travel. Land and sea are finite resources but the man in the street should have some form of access to spaces where to exist, to live, to be. How are people expected to grow, flourish, and enjoy life if they are excluded from public spaces, squares, bays, beaches, pavements and the countryside?

What vision of society is it which has ordinary citizens restricted to an ever-diminishing area consisting of tiny, dense flats, and places of work or school without any meaningful enjoyment of their surroundings? In recent months we have seen an all-out assault on the notion of the commons to be enjoyed by all.

The hunters’ lobby wants to takeover vast swathes of woodland at Miżieb and l-Aħrax, tables and chairs hog our pavements and our roads making it an obstacle race for pedestrians, ever-expanding catering establishments squat on promenades obliterating sea views and now the sea – the ultimate public space around a crowded, congested island is to be taken from people and granted to the recipients of government largesse.

The pathetic justification of the ferry is an alternative transport necessity doesn’t wash. Ferry services are sited in ports and harbours not bang in the middle of bathing zones.

There’s a reason why the Grand Harbour is not a bathing zone and it’s related to safety and common sense. The land and sea giveaways are a socially unjust trend in an ugly, ugly country which despises its citizens and rewards the same old cronies. The battle for Balluta Bay is just one of the many battles to be fought to challenge this mindset. It’s a battle worth fighting.

Ferry services are sited in ports and harbours not bang in the middle of bathing zones- Claire Bonello

I used to catch sight of photographs of politicians hugging children and talking about how important their well-being was, and I used to dismiss it as par for the course. I thought that all the baby-kissing was something that every politician had to do – one of the staples of their repertoire.

These days I look at politicians gurning over children and bristle with anger. Because despite the spouting of political platitudes about the younger generation and the yammering about ‘well-being’ there is fairly little being done about improving children’s health and quality of life.

The prevailing view about ensuring children’s ‘well-being’ is to ensure that they have food on tap and a constant fix of digital opium. The rest can go hang. There is little provision for effective informal recreation. Children don’t have space places to play and socialise – and I’m talking about simple play not those ghastly regimented football drills.

I’m not waxing nostalgia for some over-idealised past where children would kick a rag ball around in the street.

However, a World Health Organization study about the health and behaviour of school-age children makes for very sad reading when it comes to Maltese children. According to the study which was carried out between 2017 and 2018, Maltese children top the obesity charts and are at the bottom of life satisfaction rankings.

That means we have the saddest, most overweight children across the 45 countries studied.

I can’t help feeling that this is linked to children’s lack of access to space and play opportunities – which were far more plentiful in the past.

It seems that I am not alone in thinking that children need space and play opportunities – oases of fun and opportunity.

The Welsh government’s anti-poverty agenda recognises that children can have a poverty of experience, opportunity and aspiration, and that this kind of poverty can affect children from all social, cultural and economic backgrounds.

So it passed a law for children’s play – the first country in the world to do so.

The ‘Play Sufficiency Duty’, as it has become known, tries to bring about real and meaningful changes that support children’s right to play as well as providing them with a wealth of opportunity and experience.

The Play Sufficiency Duty requires local authorities to assess the sufficiency of play opportunities for children in their areas, to secure sufficient play opportunities for children in their areas, as far is reasonable and practical, and to publish and keep up to date information about play opportunities for children in their area.

These are the kind of laws we should be implementing, instead of handing out the keys to the commons to the usual suspects and bunging children up inside only to be trundled out as politicians’ photographic props.

drcbonello@gmail.com

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