[WATCH] Pembroke up in arms as residents march to protest DB group hotel development

'Do not bury us alive': Pembroke residents rally against the proposed development on the ITS site 

Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Pembroke up in arms as residents march to protest DB group hotel development

Hundreds of people gathered in Pembroke to protest the proposal of a high-rise hotel development at the site of the former Institute for Tourism Studies, which residents say will turn the residential area of Pembroke into a touristic area and an extension of Paceville. 

Residents told this newspaper they were concerned about their children's future, saying the City Centre development, proposed by the DB Group of hotelier Silvio Debono, would degrade the quality of the air and disrupt the environment of the town.

Before the march began, protestors laid a black cloth on the ground, presumably an image for the shade that the towers would cast on Pembroke. "We don't want this monster," the crowd chanted as they carried the cloth and marched towards the ITS site.

Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi

The project – proposed over 35,000 square metres – will include a hotel, shopping mall, residences and restaurants among other facilities.

Having met and spoken to Pembroke residents, Andre Callus of Moviment Graffitti said that it was clear that they were concerned that the project would ‘bury them alive’ – a fear which Callus said is justified. “Just a few metres from this residential area, [the project] would give rise to a monstrosity,” he said, explaining that the proposed development would cast a shade on the residential area, create air pollution, and increase traffic to the area. “What do the residents stand to gain from this?”

Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party, said the City Centre project was a classic case of a government giveaway of public land burdening the nation with health and environment problems for the sake of a single investor.

"The project is objectionable on a number of grounds. Public land is being given away for peanuts. It was stated in Court that the hotel area of the site was assigned to the db Group for €50 per square metre. This is shocking. The City Centre deal has all the characteristics of irregular state aid whereby the State has provided inordinately advantageous conditions to a specific operator," AD secretary-general Ralph Cassar said.

Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi
Photo: James Bianchi

One resident said the DB Group needed a dictionary to look up the word "respect" - a reference to what the developers said during their public meeting with residents - "because you don't know what respect is... Life in Pembroke is not luxurious but decent, but Debono is disrespecting the children who live here. Cranes, trucks, and pollution.. where's the respect?"

"The group views itself as a member of the community, according to their proposal. We, the residents, don't consider you to be one of us, nor do we want you near us. To you and your project - we say no."

The leasing of the ITS land deal was not subject to public tendering rules and instead reached by a hybrid mechanism called a Request For Tender Proposals - which is generic and not subject to tender rules.

The project is expected to generate 7,000 daily additional car trips, however a proposed tunnel connecting the main thoroughfare to the site does not form part of the application, and its environmental impact has not been assessed.

"The City Centre Project depends on the tunnel - the impacts and viability of which have not been assessed in any way," Ralph Cassar said.

Pembroke mayor Dean Hili said that the building is disproportionately large for the proposed site. “The site surrounded by residences which for many years served as people's homes, in which they invested, and didn't know that such development would take place, ” Hili told this newspaper, adding that the existing infrastructure cannot accommodate such a massive project, as accessibility issues already exist around the zone. 

"Don't let Pembroke become St Julians," Guido Dalli, St.Julians mayor, told the crowd, adding that the project is "the beginning of the end for Pembroke." Dalli confirmed that the St.Julian's local council is unanimously opposed to the project.

The protest against the proposed development was organised by residents, with the support of NGOs including Moviment Graffitti, Kamp Emergenza Ambjent, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Din l-Art Helwa, Nature Trust (Malta), and Friends of the Earth (Malta).

Former PN leader simon busuttil and former AD chairman Arnold cassola also attended the protest.

The crowd met at Pietru D’Armenia Street in Pembroke and marched towards the ITS site, where speeches by representatives of local councils and NGOs, as well as residents, were delivered.

The public can formally object to the project with the Planning Authority until Friday 25 May. So far, over 3,000 objections were collected.

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