Updated | Civil society in strong support for protest against Zonqor university

Front Harsien ODZ to organise public protest in Valletta against Zonqor University on 20 June

Front Harsien ODZ outside Parliament.
Front Harsien ODZ outside Parliament.
Front Harsien ODZ to protest against Zonqor University. Video: Chris Mangion

The Front Harsien ODZ will hold a public protest in Valletta on Saturday 20 June, urging the government not to allow the construction of a private university at Zonqor Point.

The protest will start outside the new parliament building at 10am.

"We will call on the government to abide by the 2006 local plan for the south of Malta," sociologist and FHO spokesperson Michael Briguglio told a press conference outside Parliament. "In the plan, the entire Zonqor area was designated as a national park, with no development allowed and the livelihood of farmers safeguarded.

"The protest will be a non-partisan one and we invite civil society to join us."

Front Harsien ODZ was set up last month in retaliation to the proposed construction of the ‘American University of Malta’ at Zonqor Point, that will take over 90,000 square metres of pristine land.

Only a few hours after their protest was announced, seven environmental NGOs- Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth, Ramblers’ Association, Birdlife, Greenhouse, and Nature Trust- declared that they will be participating in it.

“Development that increases the urbanisation of ODZ areas is unacceptable, and compromising on this point has caused untold damage to the nation’s countryside over the past years,” the NGOs said in a statement. “Any new investment should take place within the development boundaries. We condemn any attempt to once again alter the development boundaries, as well as the attitude being taken that investment is only viable if located on ‘cheap’ ODZ land.

“The remaining ODZ land serves as an invaluable public benefit and should not be sacrificed to the advantage of private investors just because its location outside the development zone makes its market price artifically cheap.”

They “deplored” attempts to reduce the planned national park as provided by the 2006 local plan, and insisted that the park’s implementation should not interfere with the farmers’ livelihoods and that the area should be cleaned of debris systematically dumped on this site.

“We encourage all Maltese proud of their country to stand and be counted in defence of the little that remains of our over-exploited natural environment,” the NGOs said. “A strong but peaceful national protest will send a strong message to the authorities, and to all politicians, that non-agricultural development in ODZ areas can never be regarded as a sustainable in the long term, nor justifiable to future generations. Indeed, all efforts in the future need to be instead focused on the regeneration of under-utilised sites within the development zone.”

The green party Alternattiva Demokratika praised the Front for the “sterling work they are doing to safeguard the few open spaces left in our country for present and future generations”.

They declared their support for the farmers whose land will be built up on if the Zonqor university proposal goes through, and for the Marsaskala residents who will be deprived of a public open space.

Moviment Graffiti also urged everyone who has the environment at heart to attend the protest.

“We must show that we will not accept yet another project involving environmental destruction for the interests and profits of the few,” the movement said. “It’s time for all those who care about the environment, regardless of the political party they support, to make their voices heard loud and clear.”

‘No compromise if university takes up any ODZ land’

The government has said that it is willing to seek a "compromise" if the government and its critics act “flexibly”. However, Briguglio insisted that the Front will not be satisfied if the compromise includes even the partial construction of the university on land that is outside development zones.

“That will not be a true compromise, but simply playing around with words,” Briguglio said. “If the government is truly after a compromise, it must stick with the 2006 local plan and find an alternative site that isn’t located in ODZ land.

“If there truly is a need for such educational investment, then that will be a win-win situation.”

However, he warned that a proper analysis of a feasible alternative site would be time-consuming.

“Potential alternative sites should be studied properly,” he said when asked to comment on four recent proposals by the National Independent Forum for Sustainability- that the university be spread out across three forts around Kalkara, within the Inner Grand Harbour, at a quarry near Marsaskala, or at the ex-Malta International Airport in Luqa.

“A full analysis of a possible alternative will require an environmental impact assessment, a social impact assessment and a transport impact assessment,” he said. “The government cannot rush through locating an alternative site.”  

Also present at the protest was Marsaskala’s deputy mayor Desiree Attard, who was elected on the Labour ticket and who has publicly criticised the siting of the university at Zonqor. 

She said that residents she has spoken to were shocked by declarations by mayor Mario Calleja that the majority of Marsaskala residents were in favour of the project.

“Many residents I have spoken to disagree with the siting of a university at Zonqor,” she said, a claim that was backed up by PN councillor Charlot Cassar.