As our country gradually emerges from the COVID-19 crisis with a stark focus on fixing the economy, our natural environment takes the shorter end of the stick.

Malta is evidently experiencing an environmental crisis and the necessity to make sustainable decisions has never been more urgent and has never been ignored at a more obnoxious rate. The ignorance is best visible in the overdevelopment of our island that transpires for the convenience of a few and at the cost of many.

Among the abundant development projects erupting on our already overdeveloped island, the valley of Wied Għomor is to suffer yet another blow of degradation through excessive construction.

The Planning Authority intends to permit the construction of a hotel overlooking this significantly threatened valley despite clear objections from the Environment and Resource Authority, the Swieqi council and several NGOs.

The PA’s argument rests on the assumption that another construction project will not make much of a detrimental difference in this already highly degraded natural area, an argument representative of the abusive attitude it has towards our natural environment. What’s more, the PA is crudely ignoring the hard work and expert opinions of local scientists and conservationists as well as the protests of residents in the area, who are already suffocated by continuous construction.

Wied Għomor is the only green stretch within one of the most overdeveloped areas of our island and, together with its tributary Wied Il-Kbir, also the last ‘green lung’ in the North Harbour region.

Valleys generally accommodate a variety of Maltese flora and fauna, many of which can only be found on our tiny archipelago. Several of our valleys are therefore listed as priority habitats by the EU Habitats Directive, which demands active protection of these areas through effective management and regulatory measures.

These commitments are accompanied by helpful instruments from the EU that should assist member states in achieving biodiversity goals. Apart from their ecological value, valleys are also green zones which represent important natural retreats for the citizens of countries experiencing severe urban sprawl like Malta. Green zones and natural retreats along the coastline are even gaining increased value, as the Maltese scramble for some quiet time while our tiny island suffocates in development projects.

A responsible approach would be to promote the exact opposite of what is currently happening. Rather than further compromising the valley of Wied Għomor, the area should be preserved and maintained through proper regulatory measures.

This ‘pick and choose’ attitude towards natural heritage is abusive and outrageous- David Thake

It can serve as a ‘green retreat’ for all residents in the area who would surely welcome the possibility of safe walks in a valley as opposed to crowded pavements near busy streets. Encouraging the establishment and maintenance of green zones wouldn’t only benefit residents but would also attract tourists.

Tourism, the long-lived backbone of our island’s economy, relies on the preservation of our heritage as an island, on what makes us unique. This heritage includes historical sites like Valletta and the megalithic temples but also encompasses our natural environment; tourists are more likely to value clean waters on well-managed beaches and walks through green valleys than witness this outrageous scale of overdevelopment.

Natural spaces in Malta should be preserved and cannot be subject to further development. Rather than embracing our natural heritage, the government is encouraging a green depression and is doing so in a manner that is completely void of principle. While the PA downplays the effects of development on already degraded land, infrastructure minister Ian Borg gets permission to build his pool in a sensitive rural area.

This ‘pick and choose’ attitude towards the natural heritage and democratic rights of the Maltese people is abusive and outrageous.

The abuse is so evident that all the fairytales of this approach entailing some sort of benefit for the citizens of Malta simply don’t stick anymore but the Maltese are tired of screaming into a void. Feeling unhappy but incapable of stopping this mess is the sentiment conveyed by the actions of this government in its people and it is undemocratic.

We must all remember and consistently remind the government that our natural environment isn’t simply a backdrop for private business ventures or an obstacle in infrastructure improvements.

Its value isn’t fictitious, only woven around to conveniently mimic proper code of conduct in front of the European Union. The natural environment of Malta is part of our heritage, our identity as a country and its health is paramount for our well-being. We have the right to demand a healthier natural environment and oppose decisions that compromise our physical and mental health.

The Nationalist Party offers a Green New Deal to Malta where the priority we give to our open spaces and our environment becomes higher than that of the greed of the few.

David Thake is PN spokesperson on the environment and climate change.

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