It is good news for the environment to hear the Prime Minister say that one lesson he learnt from 2014 is that more dialogue is needed with environmentalists. This is a good New Year’s resolution and better late than never from a government who promises to listen. Din l-Art Helwa will work to encourage this dialogue and starts by asking him to clarify exactly what his government and its planners intend doing to uphold Article 9 of Malta’s constitution which specifies that the State must safeguard the cultural and natural patrimony of the nation and specifically the landscape. I ask him not to wait to tell us till Parliament clads his planners’ half-baked Structure Plan with self-respect. Developers know exactly how and where they are going to build, which views, coastline, countryside and trees they are going to pour concrete on. It is they who are writing the rules street by street and field by field. So those of us who believe the environment does not belong to this minority, but indeed to all, now want some guarantees from government as to what exactly is to be saved of Malta’s traditional characteristic townscapes, its countryside and its coastline. We too want this, street by street and field by field. There is little left and the turning point to total anonymity has now come, and a very ugly one at that.
Dialogue is good but there is a lot to discuss before the planners allow all to be thrown away in the name of progress, jobs, quick return and material gain. After that it is too late, and this is a vast agenda. Now that government has recanted on its promise not to extend building further into Out of Development zones, which parts of the countryside are to be spared? Will we have to live without blue sky when more tall buildings go up losing us that bright clear Mediterranean light that is our heritage? We already have in many places. Changes to Local Plans are being drawn up with neighbours losing rights to vocalize objections. So which of our traditional streetscapes will be spared more demolition or tasteless interventions that have been the result of senseless, schizophrenic planning? Then what are the planners doing to prevent the graceful interiors of Valletta, our World Heritage City, taking on the look of a garish cruise liner? This is happening in the rush to turn our baroque city into one large boutique hotel, perhaps a good thing if done with taste. However, with very little determination or appreciation on the part of our planners to save internal architectural features, we risk losing the heart of our most precious jewel.
Despite the developer’s obvious hold on government, I am optimistic that this New Year’s Resolution by our Prime Minister is sincerely meant. After nearly two years of the environment being conspicuous in the government agenda because of its total absence, and with nobody except a handful of NGOs championing it, the Prime Minister has conceded that there needs to be a better understanding between environmentalists and presumably, hopefully, himself as head of Cabinet and of Sustainable Development, a portfolio that has been somewhat mislaid.
More questions for this dialogue. Do the Prime Minister and his planners truly know the beauty of this island? Do they feel deeply in their heart the need and responsibility to protect it? Do they realize that Malta without views of the sea will become a floating city without any island character? That Malta without green open spaces and the natural life these contain will be a sad and sterile place? That by extending construction zones, nature is now so far away that nobody can face the traffic to go out and look for it?
We need to know that our traditional architecture and our beautiful natural spaces are important to the Prime Minister. It is here that dialogue needs to start. Din l-Art Helwa is determined to make this dialogue possible and fast, before the planners allow more concrete into our countryside and sacrifice our traditional streetscapes for the inevitable unimaginative three-floor-plus-penthouse blocks built with not one tree in sight. It would be a good start to 2015 if the Prime Minister visited Din l-Art Helwa’s Facebook/ Save the Countryside and places a ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ on the magnificent images within, with a written pledge to save the beauty of this land. Promises of jobs and material gain are the drivers of most governments, but a positive dialogue can truly start if we can be shown that these are not sought at the expense of the beauty that remains. Reverse the obscene Rural Guidelines policy and stop the Tweaking of building zones. Do not condemn us to live in ugliness, Prime Minister. Let’s give Malta’s beauty a chance.