Bombing Balluta

Appealing to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal is like Anne Boleyn sending a written appeal to Henry VIII to spare her execution.

While Gaza and Ukraine suffer the destruction that modern warfare can inflict with one simple click on the digital dashboard, the Planning Authority, an obnoxious and irrational entity if there ever was one, is wreaking havoc on what used to be the quiet residential area buffering Sliema and St Julians: Balluta.

Its precision missiles have now reached the maximum meticulousness intended. Not only has it approved the building (now in progress for almost two years of urban madness) of two storeys with scores of new apartments on top of an already existing huge block immediately behind the beautiful Balluta Buildings from the 1920s, it has now approved the controversial Villa St Ignatius application. The approval on 19th June of the project will undoubtedly throw this non-commercial, strictly residential zone into further chaos and confusion. These bombs cause both death and destruction. Death of residents who simply cannot take more of the rush of mental illness, and the destruction of a historical villa believed to be the earliest building in the area.

What nonsense is this? Why and who contrived to have this project approved against the will of several national and local organisations, local councils, residents and well-wishers and despite the protests aimed at somehow hitting a nerve within the Planning Authority’s psyche? To no avail. Now there are only a few days, possibly weeks, left to bring back some sanity as the process of appeal against the decision gets under way. Not with much hope, one dares to say. Appealing to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) is like Anne Boleyn sending a written appeal to Henry VIII to spare her execution.

A second appeal in case of confirmation of the PA decision by the EPRT? Possible. Hope? Boleyn hoped a lot too. This the picture that results from what many have described as “blatant collusion” between the developer and governmental agencies, such the PA itself, Transport Malta, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage (SCH), the Tourism Authority, and ERA. Opponents to this hotel project in the midst of a crammed residential area have also insisted the PA hearing was a pure sham “with a board just ignoring its own planning rules and policies and neglecting to consider any argument from the objectors”. Will appeal judges have the courage to give serious consideration to these arguments and act according to the rule of law?

How Transport Malta could accept the building of a 60+ room hotel in an area already devastated by traffic and parking is beyond belief. Maybe the thought did not even cross their minds while they sipped their piña coladas by the pool.

The same has to be said of the SCH, on whose shoulders rests the preservation of our heritage, be it local or national, and on ERA, that makes a parody of its own mission statement – “to safeguard the environment for a sustainable quality of life”.

As for the tourism people, one hopes it is not the pocket-sized sandy beach nearby that made them give the nod to such a terrible development. Locals have already been more or less elbowed out of the few square feet of sand by tourists from the five-star hotel on the opposite side of Balluta. Quality of life my foot.

So can divine intervention, as happened in the cases of the swimming complex and yacht marina projects in Marsascala, the tarmac plant at Mqabba, and several others, at least be anticipated? Communities have sent their messages to all echelons of power through the ballot box, and promises have been instantly made. Let’s see if this horrible bombardment of Balluta can be, after all, neutralised before the steel monsters come in unison to that tense, demilitarised zone.

Unhappy triumverate

So, while the EU and its trombone players insist with member states, particularly those with hardly an influence in Brussels, on the need to uphold the rule of law and to quickly show the door to public figures with even a faded shade of suspicion, the next EU legislature will have an unhappy, unelected triumvirate of pivotal officials to run the three most important sectors.

Pending endoresement by the European Parliament, German ultra-conservative Ursula von der Leyen will get back her posh seat as President of the European Commission, ex-Portuguese Premier António Costa takes over as President of the Council, and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security.

Two of them, Von der Leyen and Costa, are under investigation over some very serious issues, but who cares? Kallas is a Russophobe who declared she wants to dissect Russia into a number of “nations” and whose father was, during the Soviet era, head of the state-owned Sberbank and later served as deputy editor-in-chief of a publication issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Estonia. Not exactly three unblemished representatives of an increasingly unpopular EU.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, and former Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, Photo: OLIVIER HOSLET/Pool via REUTERS

Rap on

I have never liked rap music. It could be age. It could be personal taste. But a recent coincidence had me thinking better. Three Irish-language rappers from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who go under the name of Kneecap drew what UK media described as a “headline-worthy” crowd at the Glastonbury festival.

The trio won public attention recently after taking legal action over a UK government decision to block funding they had been granted by the British Phonographic Industry.

Pride in one’s national language is an asset at a time when most small languages are slowly being suffocated by imperial attitudes of the past.

The coincidence? Only a day before, I had driven to cosmopolitan Sliema to enjoy an ice-cream from my favourite vendor. The young man was publicly piping rap music in, you’ve guessed it, Maltese. There were some sour faces around, but I thought it was fun listening to it among the assortment of languages one comes up with while strolling in not so peaceful Sliema.

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