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A good move by the PN on Zonqor

The motion calling on the government to revoke the deed transferring public land at Zonqor to Sadeen puts the Opposition in sync with popular concerns on the environment

The motion calling on government to revoke the deed transferring public land at Zonqor in Marsascala to Sadeen was a rare intelligent move by the Opposition.  On this issue, the PN has cornered the government with a positive move that is in sync with public aspirations, although it does have one major shortcoming.

Environmental protection is a growing concern of the Maltese population.  The latest Eurobarometer survey shows that at 22% environment has emerged as the third most important concern of the Maltese after crime (45%) and immigration (32%). Another European survey had exposed the environment as this government’s Achilles heel.

Over 60% think the government is not doing enough for the environment.  In a situation where the Opposition has little to say on the economy and where good governance, though of vital importance, has not sufficiently captured the popular imagination, the environment is emerging as one tangible issue that has a direct impact on people’s life.

With the university’s student intake so poor, downsizing the new AUM campus to Cottonera and possibly the space in Zonqor currently occupied by the national pool, does not seem such a drastic step. Minister Evarist Bartolo has already hinted that development in Zonqor would only start when an expansion was needed at the Cospicua campus. It may well be the case that the Opposition has in this case pre-empted the government in slowly moving away from the idea of developing Zonqor.

It will be difficult for the government to counter the Opposition’s motion without defending the possibility of ODZ development at Zonqor at some point in the future. This is not popular even with a number of Labour voters who care about the environment and would welcome the prospect of restricting the new campus to Cospicua and the national pool area of Zonqor point.

By taking on the government on Zonqor the Opposition is confronting a Jordanian construction firm so it is not exposed to the collateral damage of attacking a local business firm and possible donor. Neither does it risk alienating some powerful lobby group like hunters as was the case in the Majjistral hunting times issue. This may explain the party’s willingness to confront this issue head on.

The Zonqor point issue offers the Party the opportunity to close ranks while being in tune with environmental NGOs on an issue that resonates across the political divide.

The motion has one major shortcoming. By linking the decision to scrap the Zonqor ODZ campus to the failure of the AUM to attract the first year target of 300 students in its first year, the government can still plausibly argue that the Opposition’s motion is premature, as Zonqor will only be developed if this desired number of students is reached.

ODZ construction in Zonqor would remain objectionable irrespective of whether the AUM attracts the promised number of students, a point highlighted by Front Harsien ODZ in a statement issued yesterday.  The motion raises the question: would ODZ development in Zonqor become acceptable for the PN if the promised target is reached in the next years?

Yet it is government which risks most damage from the motion.  If it is willing to reconsider Zonqor in a few years’ time, would it not be wiser to kill the issue right now and take credit for listening to the public?   By opposing the motion the government risks sending the message that the eight dorms proposed in Zonqor are the most lucrative part of the project for the investors.

In this context it is to be expected that the government will put forward an amendment to the Opposition motion, which would accept the principle that Zonqor would only be developed if the target is reached.

What is being proposed at Zonqor?

The American University of Malta at Zonqor Point is set to include eight dormitory blocks that will rise from four to nine levels.  A planning application was presented to this effect by Sadeen in February, even if no public announcement was made at the time.

The dorms will be built in the area that was identified as a national park in the local plan approved back in 2006.

Two of the four-storey blocks will enjoy direct unobstructed views of the Zonqor shoreline. The two blocks behind will rise to seven and nine floors, also enjoying sea views.

The part of the project that lies in ODZ (18000 square metres) will have three multipurpose sports courts set upon a three level underground car park for nearly 500 cars. The site of the former national swimming pool which is within development zones, will be replaced by a seven-storey high administration building on which an even higher conical structure is planned.

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