Marsaskala council all out against Projects Malta plan for St Anne garden car park

Marsaskala mayor Mario Calleja insisted that the council is unanimously against the proposed development, as it would impact negatively on residents

Marsaskala mayor Mario Calleja (left) has performed a volte-face on developing the garden as a car park. Nationalist councillor Charlot Cassar (right) said it was “very disturbing” that Projects Malta was even considering to develop the garden at the heart of Marsaskala
Marsaskala mayor Mario Calleja (left) has performed a volte-face on developing the garden as a car park. Nationalist councillor Charlot Cassar (right) said it was “very disturbing” that Projects Malta was even considering to develop the garden at the heart of Marsaskala

Marsaskala councillors have been informed by the government’s public-private partnership arm, Projects Malta, that Gnien Sant Anna was the only viable option for the development of a car park for the town.

But mayor Mario Calleja, who in 2011 had proposed a similar project in the same garden, insisted with MaltaToday that the council is unanimously against the proposed development, as it would impact negatively on residents.

“We can’t be in favour of something to which residents are opposed,” Calleja told MaltaToday, adding that the locality badly needs a car park but so far no ideal place has been found for it.

The mayor was absent from the meeting convoked by Transport Malta, due to work reasons. The meeting was attended by Ronald Mizzi, Permanent Secretary for Energy and Projects within the Office of the Prime Minister.

Councillors were informed that all sites identified by the council had been unsuitable and that Projects Malta was of the opinion that Gnien Sant Anna was the most feasible option. 

The St Anne Garden in Marsaskala
The St Anne Garden in Marsaskala

The reason given was that the land is publicly-owned, and strategically located to serve the parking needs of the business community. The proposed Public-Private Partnership would see a commercial car park coupled with commercial amenities.

A few months ago, the Marsaskala council was asked to submit ideas on sites that can be developed into a car park. Nationalist councillor Charlot Cassar told MaltaToday that he finds it “very disturbing” that Projects Malta was even considering to develop this old public garden at the heart of Marsaskala.

He noted that according to the South Local Plan, the site is listed as a public urban open space.  “I will not speak about the potential impact of such a senseless project because to me this is simply a non-starter and the idea should be discarded without further discussion.”

A proposed car park in St Anne’s garden had been discarded under the previous administration. Replying to a parliamentary question by Labour MP Owen Bonnici in 2011, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had replied that the council had abandoned its plans for a car park on the same site “because the project was not well received by residents.” 

But when contacted in 2011 by MaltaToday, mayor Mario Calleja gave other reasons why the project was stopped. “We decided to put the project on hold because for the moment we have too much on our plate as our energies are absorbed in a number of other ongoing major projects.” 

Calleja insisted that it was always the council’s intention to consult residents. “In fact, that was the whole point of issuing a call for expressions of interest which was to be followed by public consultation.”

Council minutes showed that during a meeting on 7 September, 2011 the mayor acknowledged that the project was “not so well received by nearby residents.”

He said an “orchestrated email campaign”, opposition to his “genuine” proposal to develop a car park on the same site, and lack of understanding of a public-private project were to blame. The mayor added that the expressions of interest call was withdrawn because the council was there to accommodate and not to antagonise residents. 

Plans to develop the garden were also shot down in parliament by former Labour deputy leader George Vella, in a hard-hitting speech he delivered in parliament in April 2011. Describing the garden as “the only green space along the coast under the church,” Vella denounced the absence of tenders or any public information.

“Some people are already saying what is going to take place there. I hope that we will not see another concrete jungle there by witnessing four or five storeys rise up, with the excuse of enlarging the church parvis, and accommodating a few shops.”

Calleja had insisted that Vella was “misinformed” and later announced a call for expressions of interest for the proposed development. On that occasion, the mayor promised that none of the public areas of the garden was to be touched by the development, but confirmed the council was considering an underground car park, and a “small elevation for four shops”.

The council had originally asked the government to devolve part of the land for a new administrative office. But following the local council reforms allowing councils to enter into public-private partnerships, the council asked for the devolution of the entire garden, to which the government acceded.

More in Townscapes