Ten organisations and a group of Cottonera residents are calling on the Planning Authority to refuse an application for further development by the American University of Malta at Dock number one in Cospicua. 

The proposal includes the construction of a new block in a public open space which was only inaugurated a few years ago through EU funds. The AUM is also seeking a permit to convert the dilapidated but historic Knights Building into an academic building, constructing an additional floor on top of it, and adding a new block adjacent to it on the Senglea side.

A decision on this controversial proposal which is being recommended for approval is scheduled for Thursday morning. 

Addressing a news conference on the stairs between the existing AUM headquarters and the adjacent Knights building, residents who have formed a coalition named Azzjoni: Tuna Artna Lura (Action: Give us back our land) and organisations which have joined their cause said they had nothing against the rehabilitation of the area, as long as this was done in the interest of the community rather than private enterprises.

What would the extension look like?

Swipe to see how the extension to the Knights Building, as proposed by the AUM, and recommended for approval, would look like.

What are the residents' objections?

From a cultural perspective they expressed concern that this development would deface the historic Senglea bastions, while the proposed alterations to the Knights Building were deemed as being too invasive with a “destructive effect” on this heritage site. 

Objections were also raised from a sociological perspective on the grounds that this project would wipe out two public open spaces on either side of the Knights Buildings, one of which was only inaugurated a few years ago as part of an EU funded project during the 2007-2013 budget. 

The coalitions remarked that this project was also meant to provide better accessibility to the seafront as it incorporated a lift. Developing this area would make no sense as it would also result in public funds going down the drain, they said.

A resident explains why she is opposed to the American University of Malta plans. Video: Matthew Mirabelli

From an environmental perspective it was pointed out that the development made no sense for such a densely-populated area lacking public recreational facilities.

They also claimed that this would be in breach of various planning policies including the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development. 

The coalition also objected to the project on architectural merits, saying the design was not congruent with an urban conservation area. They pointed out that concerns raised by the Superintendency for Cultural Heritage had been seemingly ignored by the PA.

A tourism project by stealth?

Apart from these considerations, the organisations questioned the need for such project in the wake of the fact that the AUM has only attracted a handful of students.

In this respect they expressed concern that the long-term objective of constructing a dormitory was to convert it to a hotel in a few years’ time. 

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They added that they were four square behind the restoration of the Knights Building, as long as this would be part of a plan from which the entire Cottonera community would benefit. 

The coalition is made up of Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Forum Komunita Bormliza, Futur Ambjent Wiehed, International Tree Foundation (Malta), Moviment Graffitti, The Archaeological Society Malta, Ramblers Association of Malta and Zminijietna - Voice of the Left. 

Correction September 24: Azzjoni: Tuna Artna Lura is a coalition made up of Cottonera residents, not NGOs which oppose the proposed development.