A sensible proposal which balances environmental protection with economic regeneration

Last Updated : 8/21/2015 3:44:03 PM


Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s final decision for the partial relocation of the American University of Malta. These plans severely reduce the amount of viable ODZ land to be allocated at Żonqor Point in Marsascala from that originally planned, while introducing a totally novel concept of a second campus at the former Dock 1 in Cospicua.

For the past few months, most of civil society has been engaged in an unprecedented conversation on the urgent need for environmental protection, and particularly the conservation of ODZ land. A movement was sparked with thousands of citizens expressing concern and putting forward alternative proposals to the Government for alternative solutions. Despite the environmental reservations, there was however a consensus on the economic and social significance of this foreign direct investment.

The decision announced by the Government yesterday seems to strike a sensible balance between safeguarding the virgin land at Żonqor and guaranteeing a new economic lease of life for the southern region, which for way too long has had to endure the crippling effects of post-industrialisation. To Pulse, this represents a logical solution and an acceptable compromise.

In its official position published in June, Pulse welcomed the idea of foreign direct investment being directed to large-scale projects in the southern part of Malta. With the announcement of two distinct campuses in Marsascala and Cospicua, the economic value of this project has been substantially amplified, creating two major hubs whose ripple effect will benefit the entire region. In particular, the Cospicua campus will mark an important transition for an area which has been in dire need of well-planned regeneration for years.

When it comes to the development at Żonqor Point, Pulse notes with great satisfaction that the Government’s new plans make use of already-existing infrastructure instead of untouched, private land. In fact, as announced yesterday, the plans do not require any expropriation and taking of privately-owned land as opposed to what was originally proposed. When compared to the ‘alternative’ which involved building on the ecologically-sensitive shoreline, the plans presented are the most reflective of the concerns voiced throughout the past weeks. It is troubling to discover that such area was not listed as ODZ. Indeed, Pulse appeals the Government and MEPA to immediately commence the process of listing the Żonqor shoreline as an area which cannot be developed in order to protect its sensitivity.

Now these final plans have been announced, Pulse appeals the Government to ensure the utmost transparency in the permit process, and continue engaging in discussions with civil society. The past months have proven that there is a renewed national consciousness on environmental issues. This must be acknowledged and respected. For the first time in recent memory, a government has consulted with the public on an investment project, and the result in a compromise which produces far better results than the initial, unilateral proposal. This openness to ideas should serve as a model for other future investments, which Pulse hopes will be announced soon, including the development of the former White Rocks and the Gozo Cruise Liner Terminal.

Finally, Pulse shall continue following the fruition of this project, especially with regard to the educational aspect of the investment. In the coming weeks, Pulse shall be putting forward proposals for enhanced cooperation between all tertiary institutions in order to strengthen coordinated efforts and ensure that students: Maltese and foreigners alike, benefit from the highest possible service and education.