NGOs are urging President George Vella to take a national stand against overdevelopment, after he expressed “shock and disappointment” at plans for a new apartment block in his own street in Żejtun’s historic centre.

Vella took to Facebook to decry an application for a five-storey apartment block in Triq San Girgor, 15 metres away from the Grade 1 scheduled Church of Jesus of Nazareth. He appealed for the permit to be reconsidered as the town “deserves better”.

While expressing satisfaction that the president was aware of overdevelopment issues, NGOs hoped it would translate into a nationwide stand.

“We are very pleased to see that the president is realising what damage we are doing to our country, some of it which will never go away,” a spokesperson for Din l-Art Ħelwa said.

“But we call on him to take a stand on a national level, because such developments are not one-off cases but are happening all over the island.”

The president has been criticised for his “not in my backyard” approach, but Moviment Graffiti said it was not the first time he had alluded to the issue.

His comments echoed the “horror” of thousands of residents across Malta who have had enough of overdevelopment, it said. It was sad to see that the public’s cries of disgust only gained traction when somebody like the president spoke up.

“We believe this attitude has been hugely detrimental to communities around Malta, who have found little support against overdevelopment from outside their own town or village.

Graffitti said this was yet another sign that institutions in charge of planning, environment and cultural heritage were completely dysfunctional “and melt very quickly at the sight of developers with bags of money”.

Nobody in politics seemed to be willing to put an end to this “dirty system”.

The sentiment was echoed by eNGO Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, which said that real political pressure must be applied by all politicians.

Speaking out against destruction in Żejtun or Qormi “rubbed salt in the wound” when so many questionable permits had been granted over the years.

The FAA said the “business friendly” Planning Authority was led by puppet appointees who consistently placed short-term financial gain and political loyalty before  sustainability, quality of life and heritage.

To save what is left, the president and politicians of both sides must call for an immediate moratorium on the increased heights allowed in the 2013 ‘Flexibility Policy’, the FAA contended.

This policy allowed the “summary processing” of applications to abusively side-step public consultation. Justification should be required for every new development, while promoting the reno-vation of heritage architecture.

“Bemoaning individual permits needs to be accompanied by determination to change matters through the above measures which would greatly benefit Malta’s economy, heritage and quality of life,” FAA said.

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