Malta is a small archipelago, overpopulated, overdeve­loped and has only a few green open spaces. All these variables not only put our environment in a precarious state but also pose a threat to our own mental health and well-being. A number of studies show that there is a clear correlation between overdevelopment, lack of open spaces and mental health.

One only has to glance around to witness the systematic demolition of our heritage and patrimony, the alarming increase in urban overdevelopment, mega unsustainable projects, frenetic chopping down of trees, the destruction of gardens, the turning of bays into ports, the restriction of open spaces such as Aħrax/Miżieb and the cementation of our island.

No location is spared. Residents’ objections are rarely given any weight. While not so long ago, domes and other aestheti­cally pleasing edifices used to distinguish our national skyline, nowadays tower cranes and ugly high-rises overshadow our skyline. All this is rapidly changing our architectural landscape, turning our island into one big favela!

I am not against development per se. I acknowledge that sustainable development has a role in facilitating economic growth. My firm objection is against unsustainable developments, the obsessive dependency on construction at all costs, the absence of aesthetics and the lack of proper social/physical infrastructure to sustain such development.

We cannot continue taking a piecemeal approach to planning. Both the Planning Authority and the ERA are doing a great disservice to our environment. Thus, we urgently need not only to revisit current building policies but to draw up a holistic national building master plan, prioritising the environment over development, and patrimony over the commercialisation of our core villages and green areas. But a prerequisite to such a bold goal is to have an assertive political commitment. I have no qualms in stating that our political class has badly failed our environment. Sadly, a number of politicians, past and present, placed votes before the environment.

We cannot continue taking a piecemeal approach to planning

The current administration is a classic example. All their pre-electoral environmental promises were a scam. Pointing fingers to past administrations will not absolve Labour’s environmental cardinal sins. The Labour Party was handsomely elected to government not to repeat past mistakes but to amend what was wrong.

The government is not only accommodating, discrediting and side-lining objectors, NGOs and other critics but is also acting as an efficient enabler/minder. The government has ended up as a ‘masseur’, massaging the greed of particu­lar fat cats with little or no consideration for the common good.

The Nationalist Party needs to decide on which side of the fence the party is going to sit. Although Bernard Grech’s recently stated that the environment is a priority to the party, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The party needs to walk the talk by openly and assertively supporting the environment lobby’s agenda, while cutting ties with particular fat cats whose agenda is self-advancement.

The environment lobby cannot remain just a lobby exerting pressure by organising sit-down protests. Environmental groups ought to realise that change can only be attained through political alliances.

Just as the developers and the hunting lobby groups reached their desired goals by forging alliances with the Labour Party, environmentalists have a choice. They either set up their own political green party or else support the Nationalist Party or PD/AD. Currently, the Nationalist Party is the only political force that is able to challenge the Labour Party.

Consequently, it is in the mutual interest of both to go beyond any possible past misunderstandings and/or divergences and seek common ground. Personally speaking, I have a very healthy working relationship with a number of environmental groups, in particular with the FAA and Graffitti. Thanks to them I am not a lonely wolf in my endeavour as mayor in objecting to a number of hideous development applications that are making St Julian’s unrecognisable.

Environmentalists and those politicians who love their country before their party need to forge a robust common front. Our environment is our common home. Failing our environment is failing us all.

The time is now. Tomorrow can be too late.

Albert Buttigieg, mayor of St Julian’s 

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