Thousands protest in Valletta against environmental rape, demand planning reform

Thousands of people responded to a national protest held in Valletta by several environmental groups, demanding reforms in the planning system

Updated at 13:45 with speeches

A national protest in Valletta on Saturday morning has drawn thousands of people demanding planning reform and an end to environmental destruction.

The protest was organised by multiple environmental organisations and started off at around 10:30am at the Triton square.

Chants of “xebbajtuna” (we’ve had enough), which was also the official slogan of the protests, echoed around the streets of Valletta, as the crowd made its way to Castille square and eventually in front of the law courts.

The warm and clear weather attracted thousands of people, but also activists, and also politicians from both sides of the aisle.

The protest was called by Moviment Graffitti, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, BirdLife Malta, Għawdix, Ramblers Association Malta, Nature Trust – FEE Malta and Friends of the Earth Malta.

It was subsequently endorsed by over 70 groups, including students’, social, cultural, heritage and residents’ organisations.

Organisers said the country is in a “state of emergency” and that the quality of life and natural environmental are deteriorating rapidly due to a “frenzy of reckless buildings” enabled by a “web of politicians and developers who have created a system that serves the profit of the few instead of the common good.”

“There is no justice in losing our country to the rule of greed. We are facing an environmental situation that is rapidly getting worse and requires genuine action, not empty words and cosmetic changes,” the organisers said.

The protesters demanded a reform in the planning policies, to stop buildings on ODZ, the height and intensity of buildings, the height of hotels, and the scheduling of sites of historic interest and value.

They also called for a “radical” reform for all institutions responsible for the environment, planning and lands, so that they start functioning in a serious and transparent manner and independently from politicians and businesses.

The third demand was for an economic model that seeks a better quality of life for everyone and not endless economic growth based on the profits of the few.

Speakers demand change

Jacqueline Rotin, a senior lecturer at Junior College who was an active participant in the successful campaign against the Marsaskala marina, said that the Maltese are witnessing the “destruction of their country”.

“We want a change in the administration of public land. This should be in the best interest of our children and future generations,” Rotin said.

She said it was ironic that youths were often told that land is expensive because it’s scarce, but it is then given away to developers for “free”.

“Developers always know that they will get their way, despite the protests and backlash, and they proceed with the works despite the appeals.”

She said that construction waste should not be utilised for land reclamation projects but there should be an effort to reduce it and reuse it wisely.

Mark Sultana, the CEO of BirdLife Malta said that he was emotional and angry before the protest, but thanked the protestors for filling him with hope.

He critiqued the recent legal notice, that proposes the regularisation of properties that are partially outside the development zones, which he said asked developers to pay a few thousands to get pardoned for their “mistake”.

“This is a pardon for the friends of friends of friends, that are not my friends or your friends

“The main issue is that the main parties are financed by developers, who think of donations as an investment,” Sultana said.

He did not mince his words on president of the Malta Developers Association, Michael Stivala, for his accusation that environmental NGOs were in the pockets of big business.

The protestors were eager to boo Stivala, as soon his name was mentioned by Sultana.

“In my 50 years of life, I have never seen these crowds and NGOs so united for a common cause […] We are here to remind politicians that they are there to serve us,” Sultana said.

The Labour Mayor of Gżira Conrad Borg Manché was also impressed with the turnout and said that this showed that the Maltese were truly “fed up”.

He said that he attended the protest as a citizen and a father of two children, and called for political maturity that fought for the common good.

“Aren't we mature enough now to correct the wrong that had been done when redesigning the local plans in 2006?” Borg Mache asked.

Fresh from the legal battle win to block the Lands Authority’s decision to relocate a petrol station in Gżira’s public garden, the mayor said that the original decision had not safeguarded the common good.

He called out the CEO of the Lands Authority for ignoring his message, when he asked for a follow up on this ruling.

“We need a master plan for the whole country that includes all local councils. We are the ones that have the best interest of our localities at heart. I would have loved to see more mayors attending this protest, as I know they are hurting as well,” Borg Manche said.