Joseph Muscat has promised “a common sense” solution for the controversial Marsascala university but made no commitment there would be a change of site from Żonqor point.

The Prime Minister said the government had taken note of the message sent by the thousands who staged a protest against the proposed location on Saturday but insisted a compromise solution was possible.

“We have to respect the environment and we will take the message because we are not an arrogant government, but we also have to listen to those who ask us to continue to grow the economy,” Dr Muscat said in a telephone interview on One Radio yesterday.

However, he failed to say whether the Żonqor area would be dropped completely from government’s plans.

The protest, organised by Front Ħarsien ODZ, a coalition set up last month to oppose the development, called on the government to drop Żonqor Point as the location for the university.

We are confident the silent majority at home will support our solutions

The area is in an outside-development zone and was designated as a natural park in the 2006 local plan.

The Sadeen Group, a Jordanian construction company, wants to build a campus for 4,000 students on 90,000 square metres of pristine land at Żonqor and call it the American University of Malta.

Framing the university investment within the wider economic context, Dr Muscat said it was only now possible to speak of raising pensions because of decisions that had been taken which prompted economic growth.

“There are common sense compromise solutions, and we are confident the silent majority at home will support our solutions,” Dr Muscat said in his first comments after Saturday’s protest. He did not elaborate but insisted his was a decisive government.

Last week, the Central Bank of Malta revised upwards its GDP projections for this year, and EU finance ministers formally en-dorsed the European Commission’s recommendation to lift the excessive deficit procedure on Malta. Dr Muscat said these developments would not have been possible without decisions that encouraged investment to flourish.

The protest, described by its organisers as the largest pro-environment protest in Malta to date, was attended by more than 3,000 people. It was supported by 21 environmental groups, the Nationalist Party and Alternattiva Demokratika.

Labour MP Marlene Farrugia and Marsascala Labour deputy mayor Desiree Attard also joined the crowd, while Opposition leader Simon Busuttil attended as a private citizen.

kurt.sansone@timesofmalta.com