Residents, local councillors, Graffitti, call on MTA to shut down Marsaskala design contest

Local councillor alleges manoeuvers between Infrastructure Malta and regeneration subcommittee behind local council's back

Attendees at the meeting in Marsaskala on Saturday
Attendees at the meeting in Marsaskala on Saturday

Local councillors and residents of Marsaskala, together with Moviment Graffitti, have called on the MTA to shut down a so-called design contest aimed at making Marsaskala more attractive to visitors, claiming secret meetings and ulterior motives on the part of developers and Infrastructure Malta.

Recently, Architects, engineers, urban and town planners were invited to take part in an “urban design contest” to propose ways in which the seaside town could be made more attractive to tourists. The Marsaskala Regeneration Design Contest, launched on Tuesday by the Malta Tourism Authority, is open to submissions until September 9. 

But this has angered residents and regular visitors to the town, which so far has been relatively unscathed by Malta’s construction boom.

Movment Graffitti activist Andre Callus called on the MTA to immediately shut down this “pretend design contest,” saying it was a cover up of plans which were already made behind the backs of residents.

Lifetime Marsaskala resident and local councillor of long standing, John Baptist Camilleri, told a press conference this morning that a proposed waterpolo pitch in the area – which would be the third such pitch in Marsakala – had been approved in secret without consultation with the residents.

He asked why a subcommittee for the regeneration of the area had no terms of reference. “Why was this subcommittee created?” Camilleri asked.

He alleged that there were ‘manoeuvres’ between this subcommittee and Infrastructure Malta behind the council’s back to allow substantial changes to Pjazza Sant Anna, changes of berthing sites and similar actions without consultation. The council would be informed after the projects were finalised, Camilleri said, “but that’s not the way things should happen.” The subcommittee had discarded suggestions and input from experts and had refused to meet with them.

When MTA Chairman Gavin Gulia announced the design contest, this was simply a continuation of what had been started behind its back, he said.

Camilleri pointed to the controversial Jerma Palace project and the Zonqor point development, begging the powers that be “not to trash Marsaskala.”

A number of residents also spoke at the press conference. The regeneration of Marsaskala was welcome but had ignored its residents, said one. Development was aimed at tourists, not residents and was ironically resulting in the destruction of the identity and image of the town as a destination.

“Marsaskala doesn’t need development. The residents and tourists like it just the way it is,” Marsaskala resident Theresa Hoban told the press conference. She said residents feared the replication of the chaos that has beset Sliema in their town.

Other residents complained of parking nightmares, open spaces being built up and lamented the lack of sensitivity towards the elderly and other vulnerable residents.

“Residents are ignored and then every now and then Big Brother pops up to tell us what to do,” said a resident, describing yesterday’s Facebook call for ideas from residents by the local council as “another joke.”

Sociologist Prof. Godfrey Baldacchino pointed out that the Prime Minister himself is a resident of Marsaskala, but that this had not protected the locality for “death by a thousand cuts.”

“Piece by piece, not by a single mortal blow, they are destroying the quality of our life... From Zonqor Point to the Jerma there are plans for individuals to make gain at the expense of the common man.”

“Not every bay should become a marina, not every beach should become a place for a permanent mobile kiosk” Baldacchino said, to applause.

Why is this happening?

"Almost a year ago, the Marsacala mayor announced a sub-committee for the regeneration of Marsascala. The people forming this sub-committee were chosen by the mayor himself, and for over two years, had been meeting and working on a variety of proposals for Marsascala behind closed doors. This sub-committee was chaired by Mr Ray Abela. Other members included his cousin Mr Eric Abela, with business interests in the Marsascala square and surroundings, Mr Joseph Farrell, also with business interests in the Marsascala square, Ms Angele Abela, head of a Minister’s secretariat, and the mayor himself. This sub-committee was found to be functioning behind residents’ backs, with no terms of reference, and illegally headed by a chairperson who was not a member of the local council. Significantly, this sub-committee was liaising directly with other government agencies, including the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) and Infrastructure Malta," Graffitti said in a statement.

"Proposals discussed by this sub-committee included plans to pedestrianise the area in front of the proposed boutique hotel owned by Eric Abela near Ġnien Sant’ Anna. This would see the redirection of traffic into and out of Marsascala from Triq Santa Tereża, right beneath the public school and in front of the parish church, exposing this community area to high levels of traffic danger. Other plans included the taking over of the existing concrete hard-standing facility beneath the parish church currently used by boat owners during the winter season and by the general public and local clubs during the summer season. Under the guise of ‘embellishment’, take-up of this area would necessitate another concrete hard standing facility to be constructed on the other side of the bay, possibly involving land reclamation with unknown environmental consequences, and further take-up of Marsascala Bay. We think this is designed to satisfy the private interests of the few. The subcommittee was dissolved following residents’ pressure on the local council, with the mayor’s premise that these same people can still push their ideas through different channels."

"Not having achieved their plans through the subcommittee, we have strong reason to suspect that they are now choosing another channel – that of the MTA, currently headed by Johann Buttigieg, known for his strong links to business interests. On the 22nd May 2021, the MTA launched the Marsascala Regeneration Design Contest with a vision for the upgrade and urban regeneration of the areas mentioned above. Residents are concerned with direct references to words like ‘upgrades’ and ‘developments’ within this same proposal. In the past, such references meant mass-development plans that would forever ruin the character of our village."