Public not given chance to express views on Gozo tunnel – DLH members
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Din l-Art Helwa has said that members have been “unanimously vociferous” in expressing their concerns about the” rapid escalation in damage to heritage and environment that is arising from the crass mistreatment of our built and natural resources.” They also discussed the proposed Gozo-Malta tunnel project.
Speaking during the recent Annual General Meeting, DLH members said that they were “particularly concerned that the Gozo-Malta permanent link, while deemed necessary, had not been adequately studied by government, nor has any attempt been made by the authorities to give the public a chance to understand the project or express its views.”
It was the opinion of Din l-Art Helwa’s members present at their 54th annual assembly that a “permanent link should be studied at length so that it can be of benefit to all Maltese and Gozitan citizens and visitors to the island too.”
They also pointed out that “plans and proposals should be communicated to the civic society in a forthright and transparent manner.”
The same was true of land reclamation schemes, they said, “the news of which is randomly thrown at the public without any adequate studies supporting them.”
Members felt that the “rapid escalation in damage to heritage and environment” was due to a “lack of adequate and careful planning, and inopportune ad hoc decisions taken on matters of national importance which civil society has not had the chance to understand or study and which are rapidly eroding our quality of life.”
In another resolution DLH members expressed grave concerns about the “massive degeneration in our urban environment and the continual erosion of our natural areas coming about by inappropriate planning.”
They asked the Planning Authority to review its tools and regulations urgently so that it could better fulfil the purpose for which it was created.
The assembly also said that they felt that planning and permitting is currently being carried out as “a reaction to developers’ needs, without reflecting a holistic and strategic vision for the whole island.”
“If Malta is to create the urban heritage of the future and protect open space, it needed good and intelligent planning now, and not simply a vote for or against developers’ proposals,” the assembly said.
Din l-Art Helwa called on the Planning Authority, in line with the main thrusts of both the Structure Plan for Environment and Development and Policy DC15, to issue “a generic adoption of concentric buffer zones around scheduled buildings and urban conservation areas as it was greatly concerned about the ruination of the context of historic buildings by the lack of sensitive planning and by development in the immediate precincts of such buildings.”
The assembly argued that “the increasing pace in construction, in tandem with an ever growing population also impacted on public health and our well being.”
Members noted that whilst the islands are experiencing economic growth, “this is accompanied by a marked reduction in the quality of life and general health of citizens due to surges in car emissions, dust and air pollution causing unprecedented increases in illnesses such as asthma, rhinitis, and even more serious illnesses brought about by pollution.”
Din l-Art Helwa urged the authorities to take responsibility for this increasingly worrying situation and “recognise that the well-being of the islands’ inhabitants and their quality of life, based on a healthy environment, should be given priority over economic growth.”
DLH members also said they felt strongly that, whereas a revision of the Constitution of Malta is currently being discussed, Civil Society should be consulted on the concept of the inter-generational right of enjoyment of the nation’s cultural and natural heritage assets, its artistic patrimony and its landscape.
They felt that this concept could be enshrined as an enforceable obligation within the new Constitution which could be supported by strict planning legislation that follows from this obligation so that a sustainable balance between development and our environment could be reached.
Without this, the assembly concluded that the right of both current and future generations to an equitable enjoyment of our natural and built assets cannot be safeguarded.
Maria Grazia Cassar, Executive President of Din l-Art Helwa, in her concluding address took members through the events of 2018, and the many challenges and achievements of the organisation during the year, saying that “ironically, many losses to heritage and natural spaces were occurring right during the European Year of Cultural Heritage.”
She explained that the organisation continues to put up opposition to projects which it deems unsuitable for the country such as the large scale DB developments at the former ITS site.
Ms Cassar argued that “the erosion of the character of our towns and villages were also of equal importance as shown by the objections raised by the organisation against the destruction of gardens, period and vernacular houses.”
She said she was happy to see some advances made, such as with the new proposals for the Townsquare development which would, now with reduced heights, be respectful of the skyline of Valletta from the Three Cities.
Maria Grazia Cassar reiterated, however, the indignation of the whole organisation at the refusal of the Planning Authority to schedule the historic Villa St Ignatius in Balluta as a listed property.
“The preservation of heritage,” concluded Ms Cassar, the outgoing Executive President of DLH, “is not just a matter of public interest. It is, of visceral importance to the wellbeing of society.”
Photograph by Alain Salvary