It’s about decency, not just planning | Andre Callus

Will the City Centre project approval prove a tipping-point for Malta’s traditionally out-muscled environmental lobby? Moviment Graffitti ANDRE CALLUS is hopeful that popular resistance to such developments will eventually lead to a much-needed overhaul of Malta’s planning regime

Andre Callus
Andre Callus

Last week’s vote to approve the City Centre project in Pembroke has underscored an uncomfortable reality. On the one hand, you have a very powerful and well-organised construction lobby; and on the other you have activists and NGOs who often seem divided and rudderless, and who don’t have anywhere near the same political clout. Do you ever feel helpless confronted with a situation like that?

No, I don’t feel ‘helpless’ as such. First of all, I don’t really agree that NGOs are ‘divided’: we do work together; more so today, in fact, than probably ever before. But my point of departure is that I understand that the situation is in itself dire, and I have no illusions whatsoever about what we are up against. Big business interests in Malta are very, very strong.

In the case of the db project, the fact that there was such a concerted resistance is already something. To me, it is a significant step forward that there was such a strong resistance when it came to the vote taken last week – including three different local councils headed by mayors from different parties, people from different political backgrounds, the local residents… in fact nobody outside the PA Board really defended this project at all.

You might tell me that’s meagre consolation, given how the vote went. But I like to take a long-term view. First of all, the fight against this project does not stop here. The broad coalition that has been formed, between the residents, the local councils, and practically all Malta’s environmental NGOs, is still holding regular meetings: among other things, to discuss our approach to the appeal. We know, of course, that the db Group has access to the best professionals in the field; it has the resources to pay for consultants, and so on. We, too, need to step up our efforts in that sense. But we’re still meeting, we’re still working together to see how to take the fight all the way to the end. But still, it changes nothing about the fact that the situation is alarming…

It is one thing to protest against an individual project; quite another to tackle ‘defective’ planning policies, which require a certain level of expertise and political engagement. Are any efforts being made to challenge the current planning regime in Malta?

One of the things we are currently discussing between the various NGOs – but we’re still at a very early stage – is a campaign to demand a reform of the Planning Authority. Actually, ‘reform’ might not even be the right word. It’s more like a radical overhaul...

Read the full interview on the MaltaToday Digital Edition.