Mired in controversy, the AuM’s plans for developing and extending its university campus by building a four-storey dormitory block and an underground parking facility in a public car park off the Senglea Gate, has seen groups of Cottonera residents and several NGOs vociferously and consistently oppose such a development. The Senglea Cultural Association (SCA) is one such entity, comprising of a number of local cultural and sports enthusiasts and educators. It has continually shown its concern on the new proposed buildings which, it claims that at the very least will have a visual impact on the fortified walls of Senglea and their dominance over the port. We spoke to Stephen Buttigieg from the same association to better understand the problems they envisage with the development of this latest AuM proposal.
The Senglea Cultural Association has already spoken out and put forward several objections to AUM’s proposed plans. How do you believe these plans will actually impact the area? “If nothing else, I believe these plans will definitely impact the area by the loss of commercial activity for restaurants and kiosks in the area,” Mr Buttigieg says.
It has been claimed by several local entities that the plans as proposed will increase the already existing parking problem in the locality. Just how great is this problem for Senglea residents? “One has to consider that besides parking for residents, which is already limited as it is, Senglea boasts several cultural and religious activities; the Good Friday procession, the Feast of Maria Bambina, the bi-annual procession of the Miraculous Redeemer and many more. Reducing parking availability will negatively impact the city’s cultural activities even further.”
How do you believe these plans will impact the cultural and historical heritage of Senglea and the Cottonera area as a whole? “These are fortified cities and their beauty lies in the uninterrupted vista of their fortifications. It is nonsensical to build a dormitory wedged in or in front of a Fortified City.”
Aside from parking problems, how do you believe the plans as they stand will cause inconvenience to residents? “There are plenty of inconveniences one could list but mainly this project will make inaccessible yachts, cabin cruisers, boats which are berthed at that part of the wharf, secondly, Senglea residents cannot use the Valletta cruise ferry since it can be assumed that this will be turned into a private zone and again, loss of parking for the nearby residents, which is already at a premium!”
Do you believe there is an alternative for AUM’s proposed dormitory and car park? “No, I don’t believe there is an alternative in the Cottonera area for the AUM dormitory and car park. To date, the Planning Authority has not yet approved the dormitory, but the parking area has already been transferred to the AUM. This was sprung suddenly upon the residents, prior to which we had only the bare minimum in terms of information regarding this issue,” Mr Buttigieg complained.
On several social media forums there seems to be the perception that Senglea residents and businesses, including restaurants, are somewhat quite indifferent to this issue, failing to voice their objections to this project. Is this truly the case? And if so, what do you believe can be done to raise awareness among the residents? “Senglea residents and businesses including restaurants were not being kept in the loop, but since Friday the majority are now more aware; complaining on Facebook and other social media outlets. It has come to our attention that many residents wish to organise a protest or demonstration but at the moment we are waiting for a call from the Local Council, which will clarify its position. We are at a point where till now, three out of five Councillors have failed to reveal their position on this controversial issue. We hope that their position is not dictated by political affiliations, they are after all, representatives of the Senglea residents, whose wellbeing and quality of life, we believe should be considered as top priority and beyond politics.”
Finally, what is the way forward for the Senglea Cultural Association regarding this issue? “The Senglea Cultural Association is looking to collaborate with the residents as well as organise a protest rally, a petition and we’ll strive to solicit the cooperation of relevant Maltese entities since this issue is one of national concern and will ultimately affect the whole country and not just Senglea and the neighbouring cities,” concludes Mr Buttigieg.