Malta isn’t like most other places. The rich and significant history of other countries is usually spread over hundreds of miles of their land and cities.
But Malta is different because not only do we possess an incredible cultural heritage dating back thousands of years that many other nations don’t have but it’s all squished into a tiny few rocks that make up our archipelago.
This means there’s often a clash between the greed and avarice of contractors and developers, whose personal wealth will never be enough, and the physical remnants of history found all over Malta, which are often uncovered as soon as a spade breaks the earth.
This means important parts of Malta’s history, such as the Għajn Rażul Fountain, a protected monument since 1932 and a scheduled Grade 1 monument since 2009, often suffer.
This significant memorial, said to be the place where St Paul caused water to flow (although the fountain has been moved in the past), is to be drowned by a seven-story development.
This was somehow granted permission by the Planning Authority despite the building not meeting minimum criteria, the case officer recommending refusal and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage expressing serious concerns about it.
The inner workings of the PA remain a mystery to most of us.
What’s also concerning is that this development went unnoticed at first, only receiving wider attention via the Din l-Art Ħelwa NGO after one person just happened to spot the application.
The current system for a planning application which can result in a national monument being scarred forever is not fit for purpose. Our heritage is under constant attack from the Kings of Concrete and, as such, we need better safeguards.
Why should volunteers from NGOs be the ones scouring huge numbers of planning applications, looking for the next assault on something beautiful by those who embrace ugliness?
Why aren’t the authorities flagging up developments proposed for within a certain radius of protected buildings and monuments and in the countryside?
If a landscape in a sensitive area is going to be changed forever, then this should not be as easy a process as it is now.
You can currently do the bare minimum and maybe not even display the planning application for long enough, as recently happened in Gozo with a proposed development in Qala. Then, once you’ve successfully flown under the radar, the bulldozers can just roll in.
Let’s stop doing this. Let’s have a specific website set up where projects that are automatically flagged by the authorities as being in a sensitive area, or potentially affecting important sites of cultural and historical value, are published.
This is urgently needed because neither the Planning Authority nor contractors nor developers can be trusted to look after the nation’s heritage. So let’s have a better system of notification to make it more obvious when the things that make Malta so special are about to be destroyed.
Let’s not stifle development but let’s force the greedy, who don’t think about Malta’s history, heritage or culture, to behave differently. Instead of just looking for an easy way to throw up a shoebox made from concrete, let’s force them into thinking about ways of actually preserving and restoring Malta’s heritage and, fine, at the same time making money from doing so.
Better than pulling our heritage down or drowning it with concrete so that it’s effectively ruined.
Greed might attempt to erase our history but it should not happen on our watch.