Last week’s invitation by MP Glenn Bedingfield for all the ‘social’ stakeholders to discuss the social regeneration of Cottonera with the Prime Minister was a landmark in the history of Cottonera.

Joseph Muscat did attend, but he did not dwell on the real issues of the social regeneration of Cottonera, nor did he stay to listen, still less to discuss. 

The Prime Minister came to Cottonera and sealed its fate with two sentences.

He said that, now, the Cottonera region deserves attention for investment and glibly added that, sometimes, investment brings tensions with it! 

He went on to say that the government was doing the area a big favour by removing the tank-cleaning facilities of Rinella and taking them offshore, though, of course, that would necessitate the building of a platform next to the floating ships. 

He made no direct reference to the American University of Malta as everybody that came expected him to do.

For those present, these swooping remarks meant that the AUM will happen as it was planned, regardless of how residents think and feel about it! In two hours, only 25 minutes were available for ‘questions’ from the floor, but the Prime Minister was not there to answer any of them, having made his escape after his 15-minute speech. So much for the government that listens, so much for discussion! 

In reality, this type of ‘investment’ in the Cottonera is not aimed at improving the lives of the local communities at all. All the properties and land being ‘given’ to Sadeen through a parliamentary concession have made local residents very angry. 

Taking away spaces used as car parks and boatyards and proposing to build a towering dormitory in the only open space between Cospicua and Senglea spells only social and spatial degradation – certainly not social regeneration. The other investment that was mentioned, namely, the restoration of Fort Ricasoli and Fort Salvatur – both badly in need of investment – was welcomed, however, residents have become wary of whether these would really be renovated for the direct benefit of heritage with the local inhabitants in mind, or whether there is a hidden private agenda in the background.

AUM will happen as it was planned, regardless of how residents think and feel about it!

The presentation by Dr Rachel Scicluna was very relevant to social regeneration, but it painted a utopic vision that is very far from reality. She spoke of the importance of designing urban spaces that improve the lives of local families. This was the height of irony considering the AUM structures being imposed on Cottonera. Outrageously, the embellishment of the pedestrian area at St Anne’s Gate area in Senglea will remove the only children’s playground in Senglea.

Do our parliamentarians know and understand the EU laws that they pass through Parliament and their implications? No Environmental Impact Assessment was ever carried out for the AUM. This shameful situation reflects abysmally on the Environment Resources Authority giving the impression it has no professional leadership or standards. 

Furthermore, the EU Aarhus directive stipulates that no building project can be imposed on a locality without its impact being discussed with the local inhabitants, and the residents’ considerations being taken into account. 

The fact this has not happened reflects the Prime Minister’s words at a previous meeting about the AUM at Żonqor “I’m not too worried about the residents – residents make a fuss for a while, but then they get used to everything”.

Over the years, several meetings to discuss the social regeneration of Cottonera were organised by local residents, the churches, NGOs and other professionals who have a genuine interest to see the children of the Cottonera thrive. Sad to say, last Thursday’s event was quite the opposite. 

This government that historically grew out of a Cottonera power base, that even brought down one of its own leaders over residents’ rights to enjoy their land, has now descended to selling off its own people to the highest bidder. 

Malta Tagħna Lkoll has become a very bad joke as the residents’ battle-cry has become Tuna artna lura.

Anna Spiteri is a resident of Senglea and Astrid Vella is from Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar.

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