Off with a whimper

Did the Prime Minister expect her to drag things to finalise her conclusions after 8 June? Would that not have been indirect political interference, by the same token with which she has been unfairly accused?

None of the main PL or PN spreakers on Labour Day spoke about the Maltese participation in the European Parliament
None of the main PL or PN spreakers on Labour Day spoke about the Maltese participation in the European Parliament

Both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party used the ‘celebration’ of Workers’ Day last Wednesday to launch their official campaign for the European Parliament and local council elections taking place on 8 June.

Both party leaders ignored the relevant issues of these particular elections and spoke in general terms as if we are having a general election while hardly referring to the elephant in the room. The elephant in the room is the conclusion of the magisterial inquiry into the multi-million contract that was ‘intended’ to privatise the running and management of part of our health system. The findings of this inquiry are at the Attorney General who must decide what will be done next in this sorry tale of iniquity.

The Prime Minister has insisted that the timing of the conclusion of the inquiry a few weeks before 8 June was no coincidence – thus directly accusing the magistrate of demonstrating a political bias in this timing. This is, of course, nonsense. The magistrate was duty bound to wind up the inquiry as soon as it was possible and that is what she did. Did the Prime Minister expect her to drag things to finalise her conclusions after 8 June? Would that not have been indirect political interference, by the same token with which she has been unfairly accused?

The government itself has been accused of doing exactly this with the timing of the wholesale pardon of those who were given undeserved social benefits and the transfer of residences to an unfinished Siggiewi block of government housing. The Prime Minister’s accusation towards the magistrate is nothing but a reflection of the same charge of timing things to coincide with the local elections that, in fact, have been levelled at his administration.

Back to the messages the two main political parties sent to launch their mini electoral campaigns, we find there were no real messages about the issues of these elections.

Except for the reference to Roberta Metsola, no one spoke about the Maltese participation in the European Parliament. While Alfred Sant’s decision not to contest the EP election is understandable considering his age, the reason why two of the other three Labour MEPs are not contesting the elections is not so clear. The result of this is the Labour Party having the weakest set of candidates ever since Malta started electing its own MEPs 20 years ago.

What has Malta achieved through its participation in the European Parliament? For both parties, this seems to be a non-issue, when this is exactly the main issue that should concern the Maltese voter.

The PN should concentrate on how Labour has used its local councillors to its end, rather than letting them work for their locality. The decision of the sitting Gzira mayor to contest as an independent, rather than on the Labour ticket – on which he was elected the last time around – is very significant in the sphere of local politics. Yet nobody mentions it.

The local councils being a bulwark in the defence of the local citizen – rather than an extension of the central government or of the Opposition – should be an important issue in local elections. Yet neither party refers to this important function.

Nobody mentions the number of times the so-called ‘central’ Labour government rode roughshod over local councils, even when they had a Labour majority. The obvious question springs to mind: Does Labour consider Labour led councils an extension of the central government? Does this mean that the interests of the locality are often sacrificed by Labour led councils who act as vassals of the ‘central’ administration?

But are they? Local councils have been accepted as the voice of the localities that elected them. This should be their real political significance.

So, what’s new?

Ealing Council has approved the construction of 412 student rooms near West Ealing station. The planning application received more than 550 objections from residents’ associations, businesses and campaigners due to its controversial 17-storey height. Ealing is a district of London run by its own council.

The council recently released its new 'emerging' local plan which is yet to be fully implemented. However, it does contain guidance on allowable heights in certain developments. According to this new local plan, the 17-storey construction would be in violation of its 13-storey limit.

Originally set to house 448 units and to be 21 storeys tall, the planning application drew the ire of many in the area who say that resident's privacy and access to sunlight will be affected. The approved amended development will see existing buildings on the site – including an old wine warehouse – demolished, and the erection of one central 17-storey building alongside two shoulder towers.

While presenting the proposal to the planning committee, an officer of the Council stressed that although new buildings were intended to have a 13-storey limit, they must be looked at from the perspective of their overall height. However, even with this taken into account the council's own mock-ups showed that the main building far exceeded the new local plan height limitations.

This was pointed out by Caroline Evans who represented objectors at the meeting. She said ‘This development makes a complete mockery of Ealing's new development plan which the council and thousands of local people spent several years working on’, adding that ‘If the council caves in to the first developer to challenge their plan it will mean Ealing's plan can be ignored by all developers.’

Ms Evans continued to argue that the site should be reserved for building more housing for residents rather than students and that the outsized scale of the development would overshadow the surrounding 2-3-storey houses. A representative of the construction company involved also spoke, reminding the committee of the project's delivery of 35% affordable student accommodation, the scheme's environmental credentials which include green landscaping, payment of £1m for various public works and the economic value of having students in the area.

One councillor pointed out that: ‘If we agree to this, we will be breaking our own plan’, before saying he would reject it.

The application was approved by a majority vote with eight approving, three rejecting and one abstaining.

As the Italians say: ‘Tutto il mondo e’ paese’. Or as William Shakespeare put it: ‘All the world’s a stage.’