From Naxxar, an open letter to the Prime Minister

This development will dilute and crowd out the alternative waves of sociality that make up contemporary daily life in Naxxar

Facebook: Naxxar and SPTT residents against the Trade Fair Development
Facebook: Naxxar and SPTT residents against the Trade Fair Development

Less than six months ago I got to know that a massive development project was being planned at the former Trade Fair grounds in Naxxar.

At a meeting organised by the Naxxar Local Council, architect Ray Demicoli presented the project to us, Naxxar residents and other interested individuals, in much the same way he would have probably presented it to potential investors. He reported facts which we residents were already all too familiar with: that our village square has become a main road, highly polluted and congested by cars; that the traditional village way of life is being challenged by faster lives and different social expectations. Nothing of this is new to us.

What the architect failed to mention is that, just like in other towns, there are other contemporary waves of sociality in Naxxar.

A few things which come to mind just from standing on the main square of Naxxar are the Church with its wonderful choir, the two band clubs with a high percentage of active members, as can be seen during the festa and a couple of weeks during the Holy Week pageantry, the football club and the political party clubs, and the MUSEUM. Naxxar is a thriving village full of grocers, butchers, ironsmiths, ironmongers, and so on. This is not to mention the coffee shops and restaurants sprouting all over in clear evidence that Naxxar is not some ‘dying’ village, but is being fashioned on a daily basis by the people who live and work here.

We don’t all need to be the villagers that Boissevain found when he moved into his house on St Lucy Street in Naxxar in 1961 to have a sense of ownership and pride towards the place we inhabit. Interestingly Boissevain describes the Naxxar he moved into as follows:

“The Naxxar of 1961 was a more intimate community. Most residents were either sons and daughters of the parish or had married into it. Very few outsiders and virtually no foreigners lived there. The residential area was compact. Most shops were located in or near the pjazza or along St Lucy Street. There were many more small shops. The grocery shops were important meeting places for the women during the day. In the evening the men met in the wine shops and clubs.”

But in the same chapter published in a book edited by Paul Catania in 2000, he adds the following comment:

“…during the past thirty-odd years, Naxxar has become larger, more complex, and its population more diverse. Though its inhabitants are less dependent on one another now than when they were less well off, they still form a unity with a sense of local identity. The football and band clubs, the church-centred parish organisation, while less all-embracing than in the 1960s, together with the new town council to some extent help unite residents of Naxxar into a community. Holy Week, the festa of Il-Bambina, and the local council’s spring festival are also celebrating the solidarity and identity of Naxxar as a parish, a community and town.”

After showing us how daily life in Naxxar has been destroyed by the forces of modern life, architect Demicoli went on to show how this project will bring all this back into the picture – not in our village square, but on the former Trade Fair grounds. The project is being touted as an update on the Maltese village. The outline plan that was submitted to the Planning Authority is for 490 residential units of up to eight storeys, 5,000sq.m of offices and 3,000sq.m of retail outlets spread over 47 blocks with just over 1,000 parking bays. All, of course, surrounded by ‘typical Naxxar’ narrow roads and a pjazza.

The crucial difference that was overlooked is that this project will not be developed on public land, but on private land; it is not done out of the love and nostalgia he recalled in his introduction, but for profit-making purposes. Naxxar, he went on, needs his project to develop into a ‘modern’ town. As though without it, Naxxar would remain the backward village of yesteryear.

Naxxar residents have been meeting on a regular basis since the public meeting with the architect commissioned with this project. A core group has been set up and the publicly-known details of the project have been discussed. This land is privately owned by the descendants of the late Marquis Scicluna, a figure much loved and respected by the Naxxarin. The land is being developed according to the Local Area Plan approved in 2006, which allows the land to be developed for ‘high quality’ residential units in the case of a cessation of trade fair activity in the area. This policy lays down a range of conditions, including provisions that a local centre must be also developed, that there be a height limitation of four floors and that the development consists “of small built volumes with inter-connected, well landscaped terraces and passageways that will, in time, soften the mass of the blocks” (and excludes monolithic or high building blocks).

For to be clear, this is not the typical plot of land on which the pervasive model of garages, maisonette, two flats and penthouse are being built.

Nor is this development one that is envisaging heights of four/five storeys (with penthouse): the current application under ‘consideration’ by the Planning Authority is of five storeys including penthouse (previously it was eight!).

We are speaking of a development of massive proportions with around 500 apartments, not to mention the 5000sq.m of office space and shops, and few villas. Considering that the population of Naxxar (not including daily workers) currently stands at over 13,000 people, this project will increase the population by almost 10%. It will have an immediate and negative impact on our lives, both during the long construction phase and afterwards, not least because of the strain on infrastructure, increase in car congestion and the exacerbation of a lack of open and green spaces in Naxxar.

This development will certainly not give back to Naxxar its lost centre. Rather, it will serve to further dilute and crowd out the alternative waves of sociality that make up contemporary daily life in Naxxar. In the long run, this would cause huge problems, as the only thing that can offset the negative impact of excessive urbanisation, traffic congestion and reduction in open space, is social cohesion.

My appeal is to you Prime Minister. It is our Government’s responsibility to ensure that where rights are in conflict, a solution is found. It is our Government’s responsibility to make sure that our wellbeing is safeguarded.

This can be done in either of two ways. One option would be for the Government to purchase the area and develop it into a public park. Alternatively, given the very different urban scenario to 2006, changes could be made to the Local Area Plan in such a manner that first, there would be no ‘special’ height allowances for this development (today or in the future!) and it would include large-scale open spaces with a guarantee that they can be used by the public. This would benefit the people of Naxxar and also the surrounding areas, not least, the burgeoning urban sprawl of Mosta. Alternatives exist but they require the authorities to be on the side of us citizens.

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