President George Vella has pushed back against social media criticism about his recent stance against a proposed development in his hometown, saying his calls for environmental sensitivity date back to the late 1970s. 

He was backed by Archbishop Charles Scicluna who in a tweet said that he joined the President in his heartfelt appeal for all and sundry to stop the uglification of our islands. "Beauty is the result of harmony and respect. It has a value that is not measurable in price. It is the best tribute to the human spirit," he wrote.

In a defensively-worded statement that included a document listing various speeches the president had made in favour of the environment, Vella reiterated that his concern that existing planning policies were inadequate in practice and desperately require revision. 

“However good and academically justified such rules and regulations appear on the statute book, the end result is dreadful for anyone, even the common man in the street, to see,” the president said. 

“The appeal was, and still is, for the responsible authorities to have a good critical look at the end results of their planning and permit policies,” he added. 

Writing in his personal capacity on Facebook last Saturday, Vella had expressed dismay at plans to build a five-storey apartment block in Żejtun’s historic centre and urged the Planning Authority to reconsider its decision. 

The President's Facebook post.The President's Facebook post.

Vella’s public criticism drew headlines and attention from environmental NGOs, with activists urging the president to “take a stand on a national level, because such developments are not one-off cases but are happening all over the island.”

On Tuesday, Vella’s office responded by listing instances when the president – a former minister – had campaigned for environmental awareness.

“President Vella was probably among the very first to use the word ‘uglification’ of Malta when referring to the distasteful buildings that were popping up all over the islands and wreaking havoc on the much-cherished texture of our urban centres,” the statement said. 

The Office of the President said that Vella was “one of the pioneers talking and writing about environmental awareness” in the late 1970s and early 1980s and had, as environment minister between 1996 and 1998, taken “several actions” to make the Planning Authority “more respectable and authoritative”.  
 
Vella noted that he had called for better environmental controls during his inaugural speech as president in 2019 and had repeated this call in various speeches, meetings and courtesy calls. 

“Over the last months, the President’s calls became more strident when addressing professionals in the field, as he did when addressing the winners of the Malta Spatial Planning Awards,” the statement read. 

A document attached with the statement (see PDF below) provided links to 13 speeches in which Vella had spoken out to express concern about excessive development and environmental sustainability. 

The president said that while urban development was inevitable, a balance had to be achieved between the built-up and natural environment. 

“President Vella joins all well-intentioned citizens in launching a sincere, heartfelt appeal to the authorities that be to have a serious review of existing planning and building regulations, in order to avoid allowing more unsightly and obtrusive structures to rise all over Malta and Gozo,” the statement concluded. 

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