South-east, not south, was first choice for American University

Residents complain of pressure on them for support

Johann Buttigieg
Johann Buttigieg

In a clear sign that the government wanted the new university campus to be located at Zonqor point, MEPA CEO Johann Buttigieg revealed that the authority’s original site selection exercise did not cover the entire “south” but only the “south east” region, which includes Marsaskala.

The South Malta local plan covers a wide area which includes Fgura, Ghaxaq, Gudja, Kirkop, Luqa, Mqabba, Safi, Siggiewi, Santa Lucija, Tarxien, Xghajra, Zabbar, Zebbug, Zejtun and Zurrieq. 

The revelation that only the south east was initially considered contradicts all previous declarations by MEPA and government officials that the only pre-condition made by the government was that the site had to be in the south. 

The original site selection exercise was carried out by MEPA on the instructions of the Office of the Prime Minister and was limited to sites of over 50,000 square metres. 

Asked by MaltaToday in May how the Zonqor site had been identified MEPA replied that “the government’s brief was that the site had to be located in the South of the Island, with a half of the required site to be in government ownership”. 

Only two sites fitted this description, namely San Anard and Zonqor, while an area at Ta’ Barkat was excluded due to its proximity to the sewage treatment plant.

Buttigieg now reveals that the site selection exercise has now been widened to include the entire southern region and all sites of over 25,000 square metres will be considered.  

But Buttigieg did not give a clear answer when asked whether the new site will complement a downsized campus at Zonqor or whether MEPA was seeking an alternative to Zonqor. 

Buttigieg also denied that the site selection report had deemed the Zonqor site acceptable, insisting that the report simply said that the site was preferable to the only other available site, San Anard.

But MEPA itself had deemed the site acceptable in a reply to questions sent by MaltaToday in May.

“A preliminary site assessment has been carried out and the proposed site was deemed as an acceptable site,” a MEPA spokesperson had told MaltaToday.

The Environment Protection Directorate was not involved in the original site selection because OPM had ordered the MEPA CEO to keep the exercise “confidential”.  For this reason the study was carried out by the CEO’s office and the report was not even signed by any of its authors.

MEPA will now shortlist a number of sites from 100 sites being considered and these will all be submitted for further assessment in an Environment Impact Assessment.

Significantly the MEPA CEO also revealed that he had discussed the Heads On agreement with Sadeen Group in a meeting with the Office of the Prime Minister, even if this agreement has not been published. This indicates that the agreement also has a bearing on the site selection. 


Pressure on residents

While the government is sending mixed messages on the issue by widening the search to find a site for the new university to the entire southern part of the island, MaltaToday has received reports of on the ground mobilisation in favour of the project.

Bloom Research, a company owned by businessman and property developer Jan Spiteri and former MISCO researcher Alida Buttigieg, has carried out a telephone survey exclusively among Marsaskala residents.

When contacted by MaltaToday the company refused to reveal who had commissioned the survey.  

Bloom specialises in  “tailored research” at all stages: from formulation of a client’s idea to assessing his or her product and service on an ongoing basis.

“We are focused on delivering quick and reliable results to help our clients make informed business decisions,” the company’s website says.

Marsaskala mayor Mario Calleja also denied commissioning the survey. 

Moreover Marsaskala residents are also being asked to sign a petition in favour of the university being located in the “south” by people who are knocking on their doors. 

One of the organisers of the petition, a certain Joe Salerno, also posted on INEWS that the petition can also be signed at the Summer Nights, which is on the receiving end of a MEPA enforcement order, and the Sensi hotel. Residents have complained with this newspaper on the level of pressure being exercised on them to support the project.

“They are selling it as something which is of vital importance to Marsaskala with the pitch of a teleshopping vendor,” a resident told MaltaToday.