The proposal for the setting up of an American University at Marsaskala as presented by the government is not one that is sustainable. DePaul University of Chicago has denied involvement in the selection of the site: it is a responsibility that has to be shouldered exclusively by the government and its advisors. Whilst the proposal itself may be beneficial, the selected site should be discarded and replaced.
At the time of writing we are aware from media reports that the site at iż-Żonqor in Marsaskala, outside the development zone, was selected by MEPA on the basis of parameters identified by the government. We have been informed that the government opted for an ODZ site in order to reduce the financial outlay for the project. In fact, 89% of the land is government-owned whilst the remaining 11% belongs to private individuals, a number of whom are well known for their activities in previous years.
This points to a serious shortfall in the reasoning of the government which apparently considers that the costs that need to be taken into consideration are limited to those of a financial nature. Environmental costs do not seem to be factored in at this stage – except in the form of a nature park sweetener accompanying the proposed destruction of agricultural land. On the other hand, by identifying the site in the political south, the government thinks that it is addressing social considerations as it is trying to imply that this will lead to the generation of employment opportunities in the area.
Employment opportunities will definitely be created both directly by the academic activity of the University and through the presence on the islands of the foreign students who will be attracted here. These employment opportunities will certainly be a long term benefit for the Maltese economy.
Hopefully, other impacts on the local population will be considered in detail at a later stage when the detailed plans of the project are analysed. However, even at this point it is obvious that the generation of increased traffic will be problematic and will create considerable difficulties for the localities of Ħaż-Żabbar and Marsaskala.
Earlier this week, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party proposed to the government that instead of considering the site at Żonqor Point in Marsaskala it should look at Fort Ricasoli in Kalkara. This proposal was also reflected in separate comments made by environmental NGOs as well as by Labour MP Marlene Pullicino, who emphasised the need to make use of forts, coastal towers and buildings of huge historical significance which, if adequately restored, could provide much more space than is needed for the campus of this American University.
In addition to Fort Ricasoli, Dr Pullicino referred to Fort St Leonard, Fort St Rocco, The Cottonera Lines and Fort San Salvatore in Vittoriosa.
I understand that there is some reluctance regarding the Fort Ricasoli proposal – currently partly utilised by the film industry, which considers it as an essential backbone of its infrastructure. Whilst this may be the case, unfortunately this use of the Fort has not to date led to any visible improvement on the state of repair of this national treasure. I am informed that currently sections of the fort require immediate intervention as they are considered to be in a dangerous state. Information available also indicates that the film industry has been drawing the attention of the authorities for years on end to the state of Fort Ricasoli but unfortunately no action has been taken.
These proposals to utilise Malta’s historical heritage as an alternative to the planned destruction of 90,000 square metres of agricultural land is much more than a proposal to change the location of the American University in Malta. It aims to channel the available investment into regenerating our historical heritage by restoring it and identifying a use of relevance to the 21st century. Using restored buildings appropriately is the best way in which we can protect our historical heritage.
Other countries have been there before us with considerable success. Many Universities in Europe are situated on a campus consisting of immaculately preserved buildings, combined with state-of-the-art facilities for research, learning and recreation.
All the above Maltese historical buildings offer easy access to the infrastructural services which will be required on a university campus.
Why proceed with the destruction of agricultural land when the proposal for an American University in Malta can be achieved through creating a future for our past? This is a unique opportunity which should not be discarded.
published in The Independent on Sunday, 10 May 2015