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MALTATODAY 27 February 2022

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 27 FEBRUARY 2022 NEWS ELECTION 2022 JAMES DEBONO IN May 2007, nine months before the 2008 election, the Gonzi administration an- nounced plans for the Majjis- tral nature park instead of a golf course proposed by gov- ernment on protected garigue. And in October that year, a permit for apartments facing the picturesque Ramla Bay in Gozo was withdrawn following protests by environmentalists. During the electoral campaign itself, Lawrence Gonzi repeat- edly committed himself to fol- low the "ODZ is ODZ" mantra – all happening after one of the most disastrous environmental decisions in Maltese history: the extension of development zones in 2006, which alienated a segment of pale blue voters who were toying with voting for Alternattiva Demokratika as they did in the 2004 MEP elections when 23,000 voted for Arnold Cassola. Gonzi's green conversion paid off in neutralising AD, helping to ensure a wafer-thin majority for the PN, even when endan- gered by a controversial ODZ disco permit for Mistra land owned by MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando. Gonzi's pledge did not stop planning controversies like the resignation of an entire plan- ning board which had issued a permit for an ODZ Lidl su- permarket. The silver lining was that the re-elected Gonzi administration embarked on a planning reform which includ- ed daily fines for illegalities, removing the PA's power to regularize illegal ODZ devel- opments... a power restored by Labour in its planning reform after 2013. Despite these concessions, major projects like Fort Cam- bridge and a high-rise in Mis- tra were still approved under Gonzi's watch. But by tighten- ing the screws, Gonzi may well have contributed to the devel- opers' lobby enduring flirtation with Joseph Muscat's Labour, now inherited by Robert Abela. The power to endanger a super-majority 14 years later it is now Robert Abela's turn to seek environ- mental redemption – not just from the excesses of his prede- cessor, which included the give- away of public land in Zonqor to a Jordanian construction group – but also plans devised under his watch for a marina in the middle of Marsaskala bay. And while Abela can be cred- ited for listening to voters' con- cerns, he is only to blame for pushing the marina project by issuing a tender for the priva- tisation of the bay. In this way like Gonzi before him, Abela is correcting his own mistakes. And like Gonzi before him, Ab- ela's commitment comes in the wake of planning policies which currently besiege Malta's towns and villages. These included design guidelines which facil- itated the approval of 5-storey apartment blocks in every nook and cranny. And while Labour has an- nounced ambitious plans for pedestrian zones and green urban projects like the one proposed in Saint Anne Street in Floriana, which bank on La- bour's reputation for getting things done, this is not matched by a commitment to withdraw the planning regulations which led to monstrosities like the Xlendi 'boathouse' develop- ment. What is most significant about Abela's conversion is that he is no longer taking his own voters for granted and that in its bid to retain its super-ma- jority, Labour is vulnerable to community campaigns led by non-partisan movements like Moviment Graffitti, who have the legitimacy to press on with their campaigns even in a polit- ical minefield. Crucial to this is that a seg- ment of critical Labour voters do not shut off to Graffitti and even rely on their militancy to counter-balance the power of big business interests in Labour itself. In this context by positioning himself against the yacht ma- rina, Bernard Grech also con- tributed to the demise of the project, as did the strong stance taken by John Baptist Camilleri, the party's minority leader in the council who worked hand in hand with Graffitti. But Abela may also have also feared abstention within La- bour's own ranks in the south's most cosmopolitan city. It is noteworthy that the decision comes in the wake of a survey in the locality in which residents were asked for their opinion on the proposed marina as well as on their voting intentions. In this sense Marsaskala could be emerging as the southern equivalent of Sliema, which al- though a PN fortress, also ex- hibits an independent streak. So Labour's obsession with a super-majority worked in fa- vour of residents whose threat to vote only for candidates op- posed to the marina, worked wonders. Unlike 2008, what is at stake is not a possible change of government thanks to a small shift of voters, but the possibility of Labour winning A segment of critical Labour voters now do not shut off to Graffitti and even rely on their militancy to counter- balance the power of big business interests in Labour itself Election eve brings green redemption on Marsaskala Redemption songs: Robert Abela's decision to abandon plans for a campus at Żonqor and a marina in Marsaskala's bay is reminiscent of a similar change of heart by Lawrence Gonzi before the 2008 election for a gold course at Xagħra l-Ħamra. But how deep is the greenwash?

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