The American University of Malta is so far the only direct foreign investment ever to come to Cospicua. It has become an important event in the history of our beloved Three Cities – those historic harbour communities that have been longing for a facelift and a brighter future ever since the Second World War.

Finally, we have a government that has given Cottonera real priority and I feel privileged to be leading an exciting project to regenerate the Three Cities, together with neighbouring Kalkara, according to the government’s vision.

When Jordanian investors Sadeen Group came to Cottonera, they changed Cospicua’s townscape significantly.

Thanks to them, Dock 1 has become one of the most beautiful spots on the Maltese islands. This has required heavy investment in an infrastructure blending perfectly with the historical surroundings. So far, €25 million have been invested.

The building dating back to the British has been brilliantly refurbished, while the Knights building is next. But at the same time, AUM wants to build a large adjoining dormitory in the only open space remaining between the sister cities of Cospicua and Senglea, and here is where I disagree.

The site in question is an area of 2,129 m2 and lies behind the AUM’s main campus. In the distant past, it served as a marketplace but was later turned into a car park for dockyard workers, residents and others attending events in Senglea by private cars and in coaches for special occasions. It is in fact the only car park within reach of Senglea.

Recently, with the introduction of the ferry service to Valletta, many commuters between Cospicua and Valletta use the same car park on a daily basis.

I am beginning to doubt whether they will ever be able to attract the 4,000 students in the promised timeframe

The Grand Harbour ferry service was used by no less than 1.6 million people in 2018, a large number of whom embarked from Cospicua. Reducing public car parking spaces in the city will create more problems, not to mention compound the already unbearable traffic situation in and out of Cospicua.

With the ever-increasing number of cars on the roads of these small islands, parking is an issue everywhere and Cottonera is no exception.

The problem, however, is that there is little room for new car parks in the area, especially for Senglea which is a peninsula only reached through Cospicua.

The problem of parking is not the only reason why I am against building development on this open space, the other issue being that we are going to lose yet another open space. An open space such as the one behind the AUM actually gives us the opportunity to turn the situation to our advantage.

There certainly are alternative sites for the AUM dormitory – and existing buildings, even in and around Cottonera. These could be turned into the aforementioned – and yes, there could be a rooftop swimming pool too!

I reiterate my position that the authorities and AUM should rethink the site of the dormitory.

A stocktake of buildings in and around Cottonera might yield other ideas besides the ones I already referred to, namely l-Palazz tal-Kaptan tal-Galjuni on the Vittoriosa Waterfront, the Armoury in Vittoriosa and the Fortizza tas-Salvatur in Kalkara. If these buildings pose difficulties, I am sure others can be found.

The American University has a corporate social responsibility towards the surrounding area. That might include landscaping the land in question and the construction of an underground car park for AUM staff and students as well as neighbouring residents.

This would in fact be in keeping with the original plans, and I would have no problem at all agreeing with that project. It is not the car park I object to, per se, but the monstrous building.

I have listened to the residents and people of Cospicua. What they are saying, quite simply is this: give us back our land!

The Cospicua and Senglea local councils have also objected to the dormitory plans. The Planning Authority has so far postponed the decision, giving the AUM time to amend its plans.

Unfortunately, the numbers of students are what they are at the Cospicua campus, and, to be honest, I am beginning to doubt whether they will ever be able to attract the 4,000 students in the promised timeframe. I hope they prove me wrong!

I am not against the project itself, because I believe it has made a huge difference to the area and will continue to do so for many years to come. But I do join the people in saying, ‘Give us back our land!’

Glenn Bedingfield is a Labour MP and the executive coordinator of the Cottonera Rehabilitation Committee.

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