Malta as grey as ever

There is nothing wrong with rehabilitating Wied Fulija, in Żurrieq. But it is rather easy to avoid rocking the boat – and the ‘economy’ – and limit open spaces and ‘ecosystems’ to former landfills and relegate urban open spaces to roofs and walls.

Rehabilitation of derelict land and green walls and roofs should complement and not replace proper conservation of ecological areas, new woodlands – using locally-sourced plants and trees – and proper green urban planning.

Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia, in his article ‘Going from grey to green’ (July 20), mentions Ħamrun, Qormi, Żabbar and Mosta as densely populated urban areas. I would add Birkirkara, Pietà, Msida, Gżira and, basically, everywhere else.

The problem in all these areas is that, to avoid stepping on well-connected toes, successive governments promoted a free-for-all, weakly-planned building spree.

The 2006 Gonzi/Pullicino/Chris Ciantar rationalisation scheme, together with the infamous blanket three-storeys-plus-penthouse changes in the schemes, released an out-of-control roller coaster.

Although the then Labour parliamentary opposition voted against the scheme in parliament, it not only failed to slam the brakes on this madness but allowed further increases in building heights, failed to at least revisit or control the density of development in the ‘rationalisation’ zones and, in addition, allowed the same type of savage development all over again.

Once again, we have new developments with the usual tiny pavements, no space for proper street tree planting, no open spaces whatsoever and traffic allowed to take over. In other words: business as usual to please developers and let them maximise their profits at the expense of our communities.

Indeed, Farrugia emphasises “convenient parking” as some kind of noble political ideal. In the meantime, the government has declared a war on e-scooters, makes life difficult for commuters who selflessly and indeed courageously choose an electric or conventional bicycle to run errands or go to work and resurrects the barmy Gozo runway. Not to mention the lack of planning when it comes to tree and shrub planting – most of these seem to be imported rather than grown from local stock, which is a basic tenet of real and proper conservation.

The only spaces suitable for families to enjoy seem to be former landfills with concrete paths, which are trumpeted as ‘natural ecosystems’ (sic), a new promenade in Marsalforn with not a tree pit in sight and a car-centric new design for Ta’ Qali were families can enjoy their picnic sitting in their car in a car park.

The problem is the usual one: a race to the bottom between the usual suspects, the copy-and-paste parties, PL and PN.

They use the concepts of environment and well-being as buzzwords, perverting ecological thought to suit the needs of their narrow and provincial politics and catch-all bandwagon. So, while speaking about the issues of traffic, they compete on building new roads and parking areas and make token gestures such as asking for the ‘embellishment’ of these with a few potted plants and trees rather than working towards proper sustainable and clean mobility.

They repeat their eco-Gozo slogans while competing on white elephant tunnels and allowing the rampant destruction of the island.

Farrugia goes on to repeat the traditional socialist and conservative ideological mantra, in which the environment (the term ecology is better, but anyway) is a servant of ‘sustained economic growth’.

It is time to have the economy turned into the servant of our environment, our quality of life and well-being. It is time to turn the tables. The projects Farrugia mentions as “proof that the environment is truly at the core of our agenda”, the Wied Fulija one in particular, are just necessary solutions to the carelessness of the past. At this very moment, the government is objecting to difficult but necessary obligations of the European Green Deal. Agricultural land is being asphalted. Urban roads remain polluted, tree-less and scorching hot, and parking spaces are being promised in exchange for votes.

Farrugia’s words about ‘greening’ ring rather hollow. Malta and Gozo are as grey as ever.

Ralph Cassar
ADPD Secretary General
Published in The Time of Malta – Sunday 25 July 2021