by Stanley Farrugia Randon
To all those who ask ‘Where were you during the previous Governments’? I invite you to read this sequence of events and judge for yourself. It is true that Din l-Art Ħelwa is normally associated with the restoration of historical buildings or monuments (with environmental issues normally the domain of other non-governmental organisations) but its watch-dog role continues to grow as our natural environment continues to be eaten away while environmental conscience continues to increase among our members.
The points mentioned below are only the major ones. For more I invite you to read past editions of our magazine, Vigilo. Quotes below are mostly taken from this magazine. If by the end of the article you still ask the above question, then where were you in the past protests? Join us and help us continue our mission, whoever is in Government!
Din l-Art Ħelwa was founded in 1965 a year after independence when the government at the time was encouraging a rapid growth in all industries. Din l-Art Ħelwa condemned the over-development of many areas such as Għajn Żejtuna, Kordin, Sliema and many valleys and the coastline. Din l-Art Ħelwa was often accused of being a threat to the development of Independent Malta. Din l-Art Ħelwa vehemently opposed the building of the Excelsior Hotel which tore a hole in our fortifications and the Dolmen Hotel which totally engulfed a Neolithic temple.
In 1967 Din l-Art Ħelwa organised a public lecture at the Manoel Theatre to condemn the Government to stop ‘the destruction of our island heritage’ and the various Ministries who ‘ threaten to destroy most of our beauty spots’.
The haphazard build-up places like Sliema and Buġibba as well as the encroachment of various lidos and restaurants too close to the coast was a bad example for everyone to see. Hotels and villas built in sensitive locations, high buildings, and the uncontrolled and unplanned mixture of styles and architecture in village cores is still happening today. Modern-design buildings were built along-side others of Maltese vernacular architecture, and many times the modern construction totally dominated the old in style or height. Traditional buildings were also transformed so that little of the original remained. Despite earning much criticism for his verbal lashings at the destruction of these places, and referred to as ‘Public Enemy Number One’, Founder President Judge Maurice Caruana Curran, together with the committees he led, continued to oppose senseless development.
In 1995 Din l-Art Ħelwa protested against the proposed Gozo Airstrip. Official letters of protests were sent together with 5 other NGOs.
Din l-Art Ħelwa welcomed the formation of the Planning Authority, Structure Plans, Urban Conservation Area Plans and the Development Planning Act of 1992 with the aim of controlling development but the association often protested that regulations were not up to standard and enforcement was generally weak or even non-existent. It protested and gave its recommendations on projects such as Tigne` development, Fort Chambray, Tuna Penning close to our shores, and buildings adjacent to Fort St Angelo. This is just to mention a few.
A Heritage protection Sub-Committee of Din l-Art Ħelwa was purposely set up in the year 2000. Meetings with the Planning Authority and letters in newspapers were the order of the week.
The Cultural Heritage Act of 2002 was also welcomed by the association but abuses from political influence continued to occur. Pleas were sent to all political parties prior to the elections to include within their campaigns the need to protect more our natural environment. The Verdala Golf Course proposal in Tal-Virtu` was strongly opposed by Din l-Art Ħelwa which formed part of a coalition of more than 20 organisations forming the ‘Front Kontra l-Golf Kors’.
Following the vandalism on the Mnajdra Temple on 13 April 2001, Din l-Art Ħelwa, together with other non-governmental organisations, went to the streets in a public march towards the President’s palace. Din l-Art Ħelwa protested that the government had to take more care of our historical patrimony. In 2003 Din l-Art Ħelwa also condemned political attitudes for not taking seriously ‘the paramount challenge we face of creating a sustainable policy to halt the rampant construction development and land abuse of the last forty years … We must drive home to our politicians – of all parties – that these are issues that matter to us, their constituents’.
The proposed developments at Ramla l-Ħamra prompted a national ‘Save Gozo’ rally in Valletta in 2007.
Repeated applications sent to MEPA since 1996 to develop a large area of ecologically and historically sensitive land at Ta’ Ċenċ led Din l-Art Ħelwa to launch a national petition in 2006 entitled Save Ta’ Ċenċ Campaign. 10,000 signatures were collected in a couple of months. This petition was also addressed to the EU Commissioner for the Environment and the President of the European Parliament. So far Ta’ Ċenċ has been saved from development.
The proposed developments at Ramla l-Ħamra and Ħondoq ir-Rummien in Gozo led the association to protest by organising campaigns together with other NGOs. The proposed golf course at Ix-Xagħra l-Ħamra in the scenic North West of Malta was greatly opposed by the association who demanded that the area be converted into a nature Park. Eventually the Majjistral Nature and History Park was established by Act of Parliament in 2007.
In 2006 another national protest was organised against the state of Malta’s environment, prompted by the government’s gratuitous plans to extend Malta’s development zones, and arrogantly going ahead with its plans despite overwhelming public concern at what was being proposed.
In 2008 MEPA received a proposal for the re-development of Mistra village granting up to 11 floors on a ridge which was designated by the same Authority as an Area of High Landscape value. The association again objected to this when in 2013 the final application came up before Mepa’s main Board for formal approval but although the association put forward strong objections and participated in a protest march by environmental NGOs in Valletta at the end of 2013 the Planning Authority still found in favour of the developers. Our placards claimed the following ‘Mistra – Shame of Two Governments’. Repeated appeals from Din l-Art Ħelwa for the governments to issue a policy on high rise buildings were unsuccessful.
In June 2015 Din l-Art Ħelwa, together with a number of other non-governmental organisations, participated in a other national protest in Vallettta urging the government to protect our natural environment following a proposal to build a University at Żonqor Point.
Din l-Art Ħelwa does not only protest but we give examples by restoring properties. Din l-Art Ħelwa has already saved 42 sites ’monuments till now. Help us continue our mission.
We environmentalists also have a vote!