Palumbo’s polluting industry

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 May, 2023 at 10:58 am by Andre Camilleri

Today week, I attended a public consultation event in Cospicua hosted by the Agency Project Green in relation to an infrastructure project designated to replace the 2019 original plans of a dormitory for an open green space. Back then, I criticised the plans and the proposed hideous structure at the entrance of a medieval city.

Clearly, proposing an open green space for the residents of Cospicua is highly commendable. In 2019, my criticism was quite constructive and in line with what we professed in the Political and Security Committee. Basically, I appealed to engage with UNESCO for the preservation and protection of our country’s own cultural heritage. In fact, I proposed on my social media page, that the three cities must be elevated to a UNESCO world heritage protection.

Correspondingly, the reasons why I attended last week’s public consultation were primarily to learn what the proposal involved, and to commend the revised plans that would see an open green space for the citizens of Cospicua. Obviously, Cospicua is my DNA, and it would have been a dereliction of duty to miss this public consultation. It is where I grew up and where my relatives, including my mother still reside. Indeed, I went to visit my mum before the event, and walked all the way down to the venue from St. Margaret to fuq San Pawl.

When I arrived, I bumped into a few photographers and videographers. A transparent tent structure was placed where the project is being proposed including the set-up of rows of serried chairs for the attendees. I must say that the set-up was quite sleek, made up of an elevated platform and white leather sofas against a purple colour scheme backdrop. The panel consisted of the CEO of Project Green and the agency’s sustainable architect, as well as one of our best architects for the Urban Conservation Areas, Perit Edwin Mintoff. An LED screen was placed on the right-hand side of the elevated platform, and it was used to depict the main elements of the project.

The plan consists of the digging up of a three-storey underground carpark that would accommodate around 220 parking spaces. Indeed, the idea is quite telling, and it would certainly regenerate the area. Perit Edwin Mintoff outlined a brief history of the area and recounted that before World War 2, it was used as a market better known as is-Suq. We ta’ Bormla, all knew about it, as we still find the area as is-Suq. Sadly, it was all lost during World War 2. However, the project is proposing to rebuild the medieval structure serving also as a buffer between the new garden and the main road. The project is also proposing a water reservoir to be used as a main source to maintain the garden, as well as an over roof garden on the arched structure which won’t be accessible for the public.

The concept is excellent but requires additional improvements if we are to integrate sustainability. Firstly, the area currently hosts around 100 parking spaces. It is already a problem for the community of Cospicua to park, as non-residents leave their vehicles in the area to catch the ferry to Valletta in the morning. Clearly, we must promote the ferry, but we also need better planning to alleviate additional pressure on locals, including the provision of additional parking spaces. Unquestionably, if the project will be financed by the private sector, we must ensure that a minimum of 100 parking spaces are reserved for the local community without bearing any fees. In this regard, I intervened during the public consultation, and besides the free parking spaces for the residents, I proposed that over the new arched structure a number of solar panels are placed to generate renewable clean source of energy for the lighting up of the surrounding garden. Architect Beverly Costa replied that the area over the roof garden is quite small to generate electricity. Needless to say, I stand to differ because we must use each and every space to generate cleaner source of energy, including the pedestrian pavements just like Minister Dr Ian Borg proposed in Rabat. Clearly, if the project caters for renewable source of energy, it will satisfy one of the climate objectives that of climate mitigation under the EU taxonomy.

Needless to say, the carpark would require a number of parking spaces with a charging station. Certainly, we cannot accommodate all charging stations overground and underground carparks, with all the required safety, must provide a few charging spaces. Importantly, the parking area will be hosting a water reservoir for the catchment of fresh water, to be used for the watering of trees and shrubs overground. Needless to say, when one examines the researched book “The History of Water Conservation on the Maltese Islands” by Steven Mallia, it transpires that there are other water reservoirs in the vicinity of the proposed project, fuq San Pawl, that were dug by our forefathers, and which are abandoned and can otherwise be restored for the watering of the overground green spaces.

During my intervention, I asked whether authorities would be ready to engage with Palumbo to provide additional spaces and enlarge the parking area. It would make more sense from an economic and profitability point of view. Palumbo is just across the hideous boundary wall. The area requires an uplift. Plainly, I always imagined the witnessing of the demolishing of that dreadful boundary wall. It is obstructing the views from street level, while Palumbo is irresponsibly generating environmental and social costs for the residents of the Cottonera and Marsa area. The problem with our country is that we are unable to internalise these environmental and social costs. There is no concept of polluter pay principle. The world changed since Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi awarded the contract to Palumbo, and currently the EU is pushing for sustainability.

My proposal is that Palumbo partially pays for that parking area, and they must also provide spots to host renewable energy structures. The saved money would then be used for other projects by the new green agency in other areas in Cospicua. Hitherto, I did not understand why this rundown industry, made up of foreigners polluting our cities, is still standing. Palumbo is not generating anything for Malta and the three cities other than inconveniences and pollution that are negatively borne by the residents. The industry is not even producing skilled labour like the Malta Drydocks did over the span of several decades. Noticeably, I still encounter highly skilled welders and blacksmiths who worked and acquired the skill at the Malta Drydocks. Indeed, they are able to perfectly craft wrought iron for our beautiful townhouses and Maltese heritage. Certainly, they do not work for Palumbo, these days.   

Nowadays, Palumbo subcontracts and generates quite significant inconveniences for the three cities. They must pay for the pollution that they generate, and the government must impose a hefty environmental tax to recover funds and reallocate them to create additional environmental green projects. Palumbo is too close to the perimeter of residents to carry on polluting the area without contributing anything. And our authorities must do what it takes to recover the massive area that would otherwise be used for cleaner, and more sustainable practices.  

When I was at the public consultation, I saw Yana Mintoff the daughter of former Prime Minister Duminku Mintoff, who was seated in the crowd to relay her message. The first time that Yana Mintoff and I encountered each other was when my husband, Ray Azzopardi was assigned by the Labour Party to liaise with her family and the government of former Prime Minster Gonzi for the organisation of her dad’s state funeral. Indeed, I was so happy to see her, as the last time we saw each other, was back in 2013 on the Gozo Channel ferry.

And to conclude, as il-Perit Mintoff once said, “we survived without the British”, let alone without Palumbo. Just push them out of the market with a justifiable environmental tax by integrating sustainability practices.

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