A new apartment block in the centre of a social housing estate in Gozo will not rob residents of their "last" open space - rather, it will embellish it and even enlarge a part of it, the Gozo Minister has said.
Minister Clint Camilleri took to Facebook to defend the project after residents signed a petition last week urging the government to ditch the plans and save their "last open space".
Camilleri said the project will modernise the public space, add extensive landscaping, enlarge an existing football pitch, construct a new playing field, install outdoor gym equipment and create a recreational area with water features while also adding eight new social accommodation apartments.
The project, which has been approved by the Planning Authority and will be constructed in an area located on the outskirts of Victoria known as Taċ-Ċawla, has become a hot potato since residents signed a petition last week urging the government to ditch the new apartment block, saying it will take away the "last open space" in the housing estate where families could relax and children could play.
But Camilleri insisted the new apartment block will take under 10% of the existing open space and embellish the rest of it, keeping it open to the public.
"The project will cover 3,750 square metres of land, only 330 square metres of which - less than 9% of the existing space - will be dedicated for social accommodation," he said.
The rest of the space will be turned into a playing field, outdoor gyms, a recreational area with water features and extensive landscaping, he said, adding that the existent football pitch will be enlarged by 150 square metres.
"This project complements the government's vision to create more recreational spaces," he said.
But some residents who spoke to Times of Malta hit back, saying that while the block will not spread over the entire existing footprint, it will still destroy the open space.
The block will be built right in the middle of the existing open space, and the proposed public facilities will be built around it on different pockets of smaller open spaces, with public pathways in between each one, they said.
Nobody will be able to see the entire open space anymore because the new block will be obstructing them, wherever they are, they complained. People will have to be content enjoying a small pocket of open space with blocks towering over them on both sides, and they have to walk around the new block to access the next pocket of open space.
A bone of contention in a Labour stronghold
The Planning Authority approved the project in 2019 but residents in the traditionally staunch Labour neighbourhood signed the petition over the last two weeks, as workers began to erect fencing and hoarding around the site, bring in concrete bricks and remove playing field equipment.
But Camilleri explained that the playing field equipment was only removed to prevent it from damage during the construction works and it will be put back once the regeneration project nears the end.
He also said the government has submitted plans to the Planning Authority to turn another, dilapidated open space further down the road into a 775 square metre public open space.
Camilleri noted there had been no objections to the housing estate project when it was submitted to the Planning Authority.
Ministry sources who spoke to Times of Malta also said they believe not that many residents are truly against the project anyway, because many signatories of the petition are not residents of the housing estate.
Meanwhile, PN MP Alex Borg, the opposition’s spokesperson for Gozo who is spearheading the efforts to stop the project, said the government's calculations are misleading residents and the open space will be drastically reduced, not just because of the new apartment block, but also because of the access pathways that must be constructed around it.