Those skyscrapers going up in the middle of the island are worse than a row of sore thumbs. I will not comment about their appearance, the congestion, the alteration to the skyline and the landscape, the traffic, or even the case for or against economic need. I’ll leave that to the experts.
But the Mrieħel towers are clearly there as a result of a direct ministerial order issued by Michael Farrugia. A change of zoning like that should be backed by planning research. That’s why they call it ‘planning’. Because the building of towns is part of an ecosystem that impacts on our enjoyment of the environment, the quality of air, the time spent in travelling, the use of our resources, the sustainability of an economic activity, the consumption of energy and water, the generation and treatment of waste and on and on and on.
Such complexity cannot be measured by a minister and ruled upon in a 10-word letter. It should not be possible for this discretionary method of wielding power to be used to build a tool-shed in a field. But it has been used to permit massive structures in a location never planned for that purpose.
Most people will at some point or another have beaten their chests in bewildered horror when they were told by faceless planners they could not widen their windows, roof over a bit of their courtyard, build a wall the height of their chins around a field, or even use their property as collateral for a loan because of some minor infraction in a house they bought from other builders.
Yet, somehow, skyscrapers mushroom over an area that for everyone else had a hobbit’s height limit.
We learnt some time ago that Michael Farrugia’s order came minutes after a visit Yorgen Fenech paid him. Yorgen Fenech is the scion of the Tumas family that is building the Mrieħel towers together with their Electrogas partners, the Gasans.
And from testimony in court we learn the Mrieħel towers were issued a permit thanks to the vote of their third partner in Electrogas Paul Apap Bologna, appointed to the planning authority on the back of what he himself described as “zero” competence in planning. Who appointed Paul Apap Bologna to the board? Minister Michael Farrugia, that’s who.
Think about it. Never mind the fact that the party in government calls itself ‘Labour’ and that before that became too embarrassing they used to say they were ‘socialist’. They appointed to the board that decides on planning applications someone who, by his own admission in court, is utterly nonchalant about collecting a fee of over €6 million. He was so blazé about it, that he could not recall with any precision while testifying at the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry what deliverables he was expected to achieve in exchange for more than €6 million.
I don’t know about you but that sort of money is entirely alien to me. I hazard to think it is alien to most people living in this country. We have planning boards so that normal people like us can live in a country that is planned around their needs: the needs of the greatest possible number. We have planning boards to design a country where most people can own a modest home, or can afford to rent one, they can take children out for a safe walk, they can take pictures by the sea, they can go shopping and eat out, and live our humdrum lower upper middle middle class lives.
But it’s Paul Apap Bologna who gets to plan that for us. The unblinking six-million-euro man. And he sat on the board that decided we need towers in Mrieħel that his mates Tumas and Gasan are building. On the front of things he declared his interest on this matter. But he’s there casting a shadow as tall as the buildings that are coming up. And Michael Farrugia, whom lower upper middle middle class people elected to office works for Tumas and Gasan instead of working for us.
Stop those towers. Start an independent external review of the process do determine how and why something which was illegal one day was permitted the next day. And by “something” I mean the largest building project this side of Mater Dei. Bring in the police. There’s a reasonable suspicion of a crime here. And Michael Farrugia must be removed from office while this mess is cleared up. I doubt very much he’ll ever be allowed back.
An earlier version of this post did not clarify that Paul Apap Bologna declared his interest in the Mrieħel development before the board approved the permit.