Times of Malta, 8th June 2008


Last Thursday evening all eyes were glued to TV sets as viewers tried to figure out which contender in the Labour leadership race had garnered enough votes to head home with the crown. Online newspaper sites were buzzing as readers logged on for updates. The result of that contest is known to all and there will doubtlessly be wall-to-wall coverage of the winning candidate, so I won’t add to it.

In the hubbub that surrounded the leadership election, a newsworthy decision found itself pushed down the list of news items. The Malta Environment and Planning Authority board approved 868 residential units in blocks with a maximum of eight storeys at the highest point of Mistra ridge and 11 storeys down.

This was the same project that residents, Alternattiva Demokratika, and NGOs had objected to, citing its horrendous visual impact (take a look at the photomontage and shudder) as well as its effect on traffic congestion. These considerations were shrugged off by the Mepa board in much the same way as a stripper would throw off a G-string, and the permit was issued.

Comments started pouring in from readers who had not been mesmerised by the ballot box coverage over at the Red House. They expressed dismay and asked what “I-will-reform-Mepa” Prime Minister would do about it. Someone asked: “When will things change?” Well, from the way things are going, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be any time soon.

What I see is not the flower-power green Gonzi of pre-election days but an outgoing Mepa board which congratulates itself on “containing urban sprawl” (cue for loud guffaws). I see a Mepa board which decides controversial applications on a day when media attention is sure to be diverted elsewhere – reminding me of the British ministerial adviser who thought it would be a good idea to issue bad news hours after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

When a friend e-mailed asking what could be done about the monstrous Mistra high rise just up the road from where Spin Valley disco was going to blast away the peace of the valley, I felt I owed it to her to lay down the facts as plainly as possible. The world of pre-election promises and the world of post-election reality are two entirely different places. In the former you get to hear the pleasing prime ministerial rhetoric. In the latter, you get to see whether those promises were so much pie in the sky. In this case, it’s more high rises in the sky.