Hondoq must be expropriated

The Labour Party must take it on itself to push for a permanent resolution to the Ħondoq issue and in the process, pressure the government to act accordingly

The Appeals Court decision to stop plans for the construction of a luxury village at Ħondoq ir-Rummien represents a watershed moment in this 20-year saga.

Undoubtedly, this victory was not possible had it not been for the perseverance of Qala’s Labour mayor Paul Buttigieg.

The court’s decision finally closes the door on this massive project that threatened Ħondoq and its immediate surroundings. But the proponents may still decide to resubmit a fresh application, kick-starting a new planning process from scratch.

This leader hopes that the project proponents see the light of day and abandon their megalomaniac dreams but to avoid having another saga, government must now step in and expropriate the site.

Just compensation must be given to the land owners and the area turned it into a natural park for the public’s enjoyment. In this way Ħondoq will be safeguarded for present and future generations.

This was a proposal made in the Nationalist Party manifesto last year and should be taken up by government without delay.

The expropriation of Ħondoq would fall squarely within government’s agenda to increase the number of green spaces. Government also has an electoral manifesto pledge to ensure the site remains undeveloped. Now is the time for the government to transform that pledge into concrete action.

Buttigieg’s name has become synonymous with Ħondoq over the years – the two were almost interchangeable. It is within this context that Prime Minister Robert Abela’s tweet yesterday welcoming the court decision left a sour taste when it did not make direct reference to the Labour mayor.

Buttigieg was later singled out for praise in a statement released by the Labour Party welcoming the court ruling.

Whether Buttigieg should have been mentioned by name or not is a fickle point within the greater scheme of things but it is symptomatic of the difficulties he faced over the years to convince the powers that be of his cause.

It has been a hard, long slog against the project for Buttigieg, during which he was ostracised, suffered retribution and criticism of all sorts, some of it coming from within his party.

But Buttigieg managed to rally environmentalists and other activists and finally after two decades of non-stop battles Ħondoq has been saved from ruin.

This is the second major environmental battle won by a Labour mayor after Gzira’s Conrad Borg Manche earlier this year managed to push back against a Lands Authority decision to slice off a section of a public garden for the construction of a fuel station.

The Labour Party has a big lesson to learn from its own mayors.

Interviewed last Sunday in MaltaToday, former Torċa editor and author Aleks Farrugia argued the PL can still be an agent of positive change, for Malta; but only if it reconsiders its current political roadmap. He insisted the PL’s fate cannot be tied to that of government, implying that the party should act independently of the government.

The Labour Party must take it on itself to push for a permanent resolution to the Ħondoq issue and in the process, pressure the government to act accordingly.

After leaving Buttigieg to battle on his own for all these years, the least the party can do now is involve itself in the final push for a lasting solution that saves Ħondoq for posterity.