The Siege of Attard… and the whole of Malta – Ralph Cassar

As soon as you read the title, you might ask why Attard and not somewhere else? Why not the Siege of Pembroke, or why not mention the proposal for a yacht marina in Marsaskala, making the sea unsuitable for swimming? What about fortifications such as Ricasoli going to ruins? Or trees chopped down to make way for traffic? The answer is simple: what’s been happening in Attard is emblematic of what’s happened and what’s happening all over Malta and Gozo. The causes and the effects are the same. The mindset behind the ‘siege’ is one: greed, shortsightedness and a huge lack of policy foresight.

The siege, even though some opportunists and political prostitutes try to make us forget, started quite some time ago. When things had seemingly settled along came the 2006 Nationalist Cabinet and at a stroke of a pen declared 2 million square metres of land all over the country land for development. They called it ‘rationalisation’. They also allowed whole zones of already existing buildings to be torn down and turned into flats. Three storeys plus penthouse. Not to be outdone, and when things had started settling down again, the new Labour government, increased building heights once again. Those who donated hundreds of thousands of Euros to the Nationalists are now in bed with Muscat. One can imagine the effects on infrastructure and traffic of such decisions designed to please their masters. Since Attard is my example, I’ll just mention dug up streets, and the explosion in traffic and cars, not to mention increased flooding since there isn’t even the political will to ensure that all buildings collect rainwater from their roofs.

A new phase of the siege is the crazy, shortsighted and frankly grossly irresponsible idea to build and widen roads. The Buqana – Attard Central Link road is a case in point. A whole chunk of Attard will become a huge roundabout. A high speed road will pass a few feet from residences. More roads will induce more and more traffic. The reality is that Minister Ian Borg and his coterie are taking the easy way out. They like their predecessors do not want to grab the bull by the horns. Ian Borg is ignoring government’s own strategy on transport. Decreasing and discouraging the use of private cars is the only policy option that makes sense. For all the pollution brought about by cruise liners and ships, which can and should be solved, the elephant in the room is the amount of cars in this country which makes them the principle source of pollution. Government is leaving the public transport operator alone, trying to offer a service in traffic clogged streets. As for alternative means of transport, we are light years away it seems, from making roads people friendly and encouraging a shift to clean transport options. If Borg wants something maybe less controversial he should implement the park-and-ride schemes mentioned in the Transport Strategy. Or maybe he can start by making government employees working in Valletta use public transport, or government organised mass transport. However, the only thing Ian Borg is interested in is increasing traffic, increasing pollution and avoiding courageous policy initiatives. The result is a siege of traffic and pollution.

The third stage of the siege of Attard is the promised car race track in Ta’ Qali. Labour promised Ta’ Qali, and the Nationalists, not to be outdone promised Ħal Far. Given the small size of the island, the Nationalists promised to disturb a predominantly Labour area, while Labour, a predominantly Nationalist area – tribalism at its very best. Here again, PL and PN do not have the proverbial balls to explain that there are limits to what can be done in such a small country. While others have the luxury of distance, we do not. Obviously the plans for a race track come with a hotel and a conference centre, the usual ‘viability’ argument. Should the track go ahead, the distances are so small there that residents of Attard, Mosta and parts of Rabat will have to bear the noise. Not to mention turning a relatively tranquil Ta’ Qali into another urbanised site. Children playing in Ta’ Qali will be relegated to a ‘roundabout’ around which cars whizz round. Leave Ta’ Qali alone for heavens sake. But probably Prime Minister Muscat has to keep his promises – make to a few at the expense of everyone else.

This siege of Attard is emblematic of the siege of the whole country. The raving and ranting about Malta as some kind of Dubai, or more recently Monaco is what is driving these short sighted policies. Policies based on the now and with no view of the future. Policies which are a continuation of the development frenzy and car-centred transport policies of the past 30 years or so. In the meantime we are expected to shut up and bear it all, because the economy is doing oh so bloody well. Forget people being priced out of their homes, the market rules!

Ralph Cassar
AD Secretary General and Green local councillor in Attard