Marsascala is fast becoming a concrete jungle. Houses have been pulled down and redeveloped over the past years with blocks of flats and garages taking their place. This is the manner in which the building industry is proceeding, raping what’s left of our built environment with the assistance of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. The number of vacant dwellings in the meantime keeps increasing. It has surpassed the 54,000 mark established in the 2005 census.
The latest addition to this jungle is the massive development at Ta’ Monita. Dwarfing the Marsascala parish church it ruins the skyline.
A letter entitled Marsascala Ruined Once And For All was published on March 22, 2011 in The Times. The online comments it generated are indicative of the perceived links between politics and the building industry. The fact that the Ta’ Monita Mepa permit was issued in April 2004, two years before the present Marsascala mayor was first elected, does not in any way diminish the seriousness of the perceived contamination.
George Vella, elected as member of Parliament for many years from the electoral district of which Marsascala forms part, made a very passionate intervention on the matter in the House of Representatives on April 11, 2011. He lamented the fact that a local council that has been under the guidance of his party’s local councillors appears insensitive to the manner in which the Ta’ Monita development is engulfing the Marsascala community.
While subscribing to most of what Dr Vella stated on the matter, I noted that during his intervention he did not consider it appropriate to refer to the impacts which the financing of electoral campaigns could have on the behaviour of politicians. It is an issue the Labour Party should seriously examine in order to determine whether any of its representatives has risked being domesticated as a result of the financing of electoral campaigns.
Dr Vella used his observations on the Ta’ Monita development to launch a pre-emptive strike on what could be another potential bombshell.
St Anne public garden in Marsascala has been devolved to the local council since November 2010. Rumours have been circulating for some time as to what uses are being considered for the area. The said rumours would also have us believe as to who will be favoured by decisions yet to be taken.
On March 15, 2011 the Marsascala local council was informed by its mayor that a call for “an expression of interest” on St Anne public garden would be issued shortly. He said that, while embellishment works would be one of the objectives, these would be in addition to the construction of administrative offices, some shops, an underground car park and linkage to the Church parvis in order to develop what is, to date, a missing village square. In addition, according to the council’s published minutes, the Marsascala mayor deems it essential to carry out a traffic survey. He also considers that the opening up of Triq il-Qrempuċ could ease traffic pressures on the waterfront, thereby permitting more leisurely commercial activity.
I have had the opportunity to ask the mayor various questions about the project. He is envisaging public consultation and an involvement of the private sector. According to the published minutes, decisions are to be taken by the local council at some time in the future after considering submissions by the private sector and comments from the community.
While the minutes of the local council are in conflict with the rumours in circulation, one never knows what can crop up in the form of proposals to be submitted by the “private sector”.
The Marsascala mayor is on record as stating that “nothing will be done outside public scrutiny”. It is submitted that this is not sufficient because it makes little difference to the community if its assets are ruined openly or in an underhand manner.
An open discussion is urgently required on the very parameters of the project in order that it be ensured that the community is the real beneficiary.
Given that the Local Plan applicable to Marsascala defines the area as being a “public urban open space”, the starting point of the debate should be the compatibility of the project with the Local Plan.
This exercise, when carried out, would reveal that most of the elements of the project, which may be of interest to the private sector, are in conflict with the provisions of the Local Plan for the area (vide South Local Plan policy SMSE 04). The project is hence a non-starter.
So, for the time being, the only matter the public is sure of is that the concrete jungle in Marsascala keeps being extended. Change for the better at times seems to get more distant in time. That is until you realise that you cannot achieve change if you do not vote for it.
The author, an architect and civil engineer, is the spokesman on sustainable development and local government of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party.