[WATCH] The call of justified anger: demonstrators demand radical planning reform in Valletta

Graffitti leads civil action groups and resident activists in protest in Valletta calling for radical changes to Malta’s planning policies

The protest kicked off in-front of the law courts in Valletta
The protest kicked off in-front of the law courts in Valletta
Valletta heaves with the sound of protest

It was a beautiful day to say ‘enough is enough’ – so began an hour-long display of righteous anger at Malta’s planning regime and a class of developers so many accuse of having taken control of government policy on construction and planning.

Some 60 environmental NGOs, resident action groups and a multitude of activists were led by Moviment Graffitti in a protest which marched from the law courts at around 10:30am, to Merchants Street and then up to the House of Representatives to the beat of drums, bongos, and chants of ‘You’re dancing to the beat of the developers’ – a cry addressed at MPs, who were strictly not invited to the protest.

Apart from Alternattiva Demokratika representatives, independent politicians, and Partit Demokratiku’s Martin Cauchi Inglott, no active members of either major party seemed to be present.

People who have had their homes collapse due to adjacent construction sites in recent months led the march, including Janet Walker and Raymond Brincat (Photo: Zak Farrugia/MediaToday)
People who have had their homes collapse due to adjacent construction sites in recent months led the march, including Janet Walker and Raymond Brincat (Photo: Zak Farrugia/MediaToday)

Protestors brought their own placards fashioned from discarded cereal boxes and pieces of cardboard. Whole families with improvised signs and banners joined the NGOs and activists and some were seen picking up rubbish from the side of Republic Street. A police presence walked along with the protestors as hundreds of bystanders took footage of the crowd.

Some 1,000 people finally gathered outside the parliament square where speeches came from Graffitti’s Andre Callus and Wayne Flask, Ingram Bondin of the Ramblers’ Association, BirdLife CEO Mark Sultana, Jeanette Borg of the Malta Youth In Agriculture Foundation, Zebbug independent councillor Steve Zammit Lupi, and residents whose houses collapsed in Gwardamangia.

“Gasan, Tumas and all the big developers have had their way for far too long, but this will not continue anymore. We are standing up to them,” Andre Callus told protestors. "Back in June, a protest in Pietà garnered a few hundred people. A month later in Attard, a thousand people joined in to save the trees. Today, we are more than 3,000 saying ‘enough is enough’.”

Photo: Zak Farrugia/MediaToday
Photo: Zak Farrugia/MediaToday

“The demands we have brought today are the fruit of meetings with residents and organisations, demands that no PLPN politician would ever dream of making, because they will not raise a finger to the people who are financing this dirty political system,” Flask said.

“Nobody from the PLPN will ask for a revision of planning policies, which favour mindless construction and the destruction of our quality of life. None of them will ask for resignations from this junta that is sitting on the PA board, whose performance bonus it is to hand out death sentences for decency and honesty. None of them will create authorities staffed by people who truly respect our right for a decent life.”

In a protest that was against unbridled construction and environmental degradation, Ingram Bondin called for a radical change in planning policies that would respect the interests of future generations and the true majority.

Children armed with recycling bags collected rubbish from the sides of the capital city's streets (Photo: Zak Farrugia/MediaToday)
Children armed with recycling bags collected rubbish from the sides of the capital city's streets (Photo: Zak Farrugia/MediaToday)

He railed against a system he said was purposely “rigged” to allow politicians leeway to accommodate the class of businesses and developers to whom it was wedded, and that even in cast-iron cases, the rules were being disregarded at the expense of the environment.

“Both political parties are propagating a situation where policies are deliberately designed to be problematic to appease powerful developers. In our country, there are some who are introducing the idea that if there’s a developer who manages to get hold of a piece of land, he can do whatever he wants with it. This behaviour isn’t a reality in any other civilised country because there are planning systems and planning boards whose job it is to regularise and control developers, like those in Malta who are allowed to destroy our common patrimony, our identity.”

Photo: Zak Farrugia/MediaToday
Photo: Zak Farrugia/MediaToday

A spirit of comradeship was in the air, as Graffitti activist Wayne Flask called for unity between the various groups demanding justice and change.

“The 7 September should be remembered as the day a new movement was born, the day we united against those who think they can do whatever they want,” he said.

“Neither [PL nor PN] have asked for a change of planning policy, neither fixed the Planning Authority and neither could stand up to [MDA developer] Sandro Chetcuti,” Flask said, referring to both major parties’ stance to the Malta Developers Association president.”

Photo: Zak Farrugia/MediaToday
Photo: Zak Farrugia/MediaToday

Independent Zebbug councillor Steve Zammit Lupi took to the stage to say that his locality had drastically changed since his childhood, and delivered a heartfelt speech about the importance of green areas in the heart of localities. “People ask ‘where were you?’ when they talk about the past, to condemn us into partisanship. I was too young to be anywhere then, but to whoever asks ‘where were you’, I ask you: ‘where are you now?’

“It’s good that trees are planted in Comino, Ta’ Qali, but we want them where we live, on our roads, our squares, where people live every day,” Zammit Lupi said, reminding protestors of a planned 13-storey tower for Zebbug and a supermarket on land outside development zones.

BirdLife CEO Mark Sultana said Malta was disadvantaged because neither party had the backbone to take one single decision that might disgruntle the very wealthy.

He said that BirdLife was currently organising therapy sessions for people with anxiety alongside the Richmond Foundation. “These people simply spend some time in nature. Therapy is not something out of this world… all people need is a little de-stressing, to combat anxiety. When we go in nature, we are trying to find balance in our life. I appeal to the government give us time to find this balance and to put the people’s health at the centre of every decision that it takes,” he said.

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