Next weekend, 60 groups are coming together for a citizens protest against a construction industry which they argue has spiralled out of control and is having a substantial effect on Malta’s environment and quality of life.
However, Malta has proven time and time again, that even if they’re truly pissed off over an issue, it takes a lot for them to take to the streets and force through change.
With the current state of play touching each of our lives, whether you’re from Marsaxlokk or Għarb. Here are five of Moviment Graffiti’s reasons why you should attend Saturday’s protest and tell the government “enough is enough”:
1. After years of promises, the environment must finally become a priority
As summer draws to a close, once thing should be clear to all people on the island, this country is hot. Make no mistake about it, the country’s CO2 levels and determinism to see every blade of grass to be covered by concrete is having a real effect on the environment.
Grass fires have become a common feature this summer, while significant drops in rainfall are doing unseeable damage to the country’s water table.
Trees, valleys, and open spaces are crucial to alleviate these concerns. However, rather than embark on an expedition to “truly make the environment a priority”, the PA seems more determined to sideline it for the sake of progress.
We all seemingly care about the effects on other climate change is having on different parts of the world accept our own. I mean, what’s the point of sharing ‘Pray for Amazon’ statuses if we’re not even bothered enough to protect our own land?
“Malta’s natural resources are considered only in so far as they can turn a profit,” as Grafitti put it.
2. The current issues are a direct result of the PA’s policies
Whether it’s a decrepit room, a fuel station, a building of architectural value, or the infamous 5+1 rule, the PA’s policies appear to be geared towards the developer’s plans rather than the community.
Developers seemingly manage to skirt around every issue, finding loophole after loophole to get their plans off the ground.
“Most planning policies are designed around the interests of the few, instead of public wellbeing and environmental protection,” Grafitti said in a statement ahead of next week’s protest.
A recent piece by Din L-Art Helwa Chairperson Alex Torpiano even detailed how a controversial seaside St Julian’s development was able to get his project approved by filing a series of different permits at different stages.
The PA’s lacklustre regulations are unfortunately reflective of an industry that is out of control. After passing off people’s concerns as “negative” for the better part of five years, the government and MDA were forced into action after three buildings collapsed in under three months.
Promises have been made that massive reform will take place, while the government rushed in legislation to ease concerns. Their moves are undoubtedly laudable. However, they do ring somewhat hollow from the people who have a had a crucial hand in the current predicament.
To remedy the situation in the short term, Grafitti is calling for policies allowing construction of villas, fuel stations or hotels in ODZ to be revoked, as well as the high-rise policy.
Boards crucial to the construction industry like the PA, ERA, and BRO should also be reformed, the group said.
3. Malta’s worsening air quality is affecting all our health
Malta’s air quality is having a devastating effect on our public health, accounting for five deaths every single week. Meanwhile, the country also has a worryingly high rate of chronic respiratory diseases, with close to 15% suffering from a condition.
With trees being chopped down and cars slowly outnumbering the entire population, people are making their voice heard on social media in calling for a radical shift in the country’s transport system.
However, armchair activism is not enough. A thousand people attended the Central Link protest last July, a positive number, but still far short of the plethora of commenters who voiced their dissent to the project.
4. Large-scale projects continue to be approved with absolutely no plan
The debate over whether large-scale high-rise projects are necessary for a small country hampered by constant population growth is long-winded. However, one thing most would agree on is that it is simply illogical to approve such development without any indication for a holistic plan.
The once-heralded Paceville masterplan was dead on arrival, yet developments at Villa Rosa and Mercury House were still approved, while DB’s ITS plans were only stopped over a conflict of interest issue.
The groups are calling for a moratorium on these large-scale projects until a comprehensive and serious plan for
development in Malta is introduced.
5. Over-development is making Malta burst at its seams
2018 saw the Planning Authority issue a record-high 12,885 permits for new developments, that’s about 35 every single day. To put the figure into perspective, just 2,707 permits for new dwellings were issued in 2013.
The spillover is for all to see. Regardless of which corner of the island you live on, every person seems to share one commonality. Dust, noise, waste, and now deaths have become a daily reality of Malta’s localities.
“We want a system whereby developers and authorities are truly responsible for the work that is being carried out in construction sites so as to ensure that this doesn’t endanger or disturb people’s lives.”
“This can only be achieved if the authorities stop issuing permits carelessly, and by capping the number of permits to be issued every year,” the group said.
The constant construction is not just harming our health and quality of life, but also doing real damage to the country’s tourism product, which is arguably the most crucial component of Malta’s economy.
With some many cranes in the sky, maybe a second protest movement should start to see them become Malta’s national bird?
Bonus: Protest movements with small minorities are proven to work
Whether it’s the Philippines, Georgia, Sudan, or Algeria, protests movements, even by a small minority, have been proven to work and yield massive results.
Looking at hundreds of campaigns over the last century, one study found it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in the protests to ensure serious political change.
That’s around 15,000 people for tiny Malta. A number that seems out of reach for the at often times apathetic population shouldn’t be so.
With Maltese people regularly airing their disgust at the country’s environmental and planning policies, maybe it’s time to take decisions into their own hands and show the government that “enough is enough”.