Mum’s the word from V18 ministers over gentrification assault on Valletta

V18 minister Deo Debattista shut down debate and says Valletta legacy ‘no longer my remit’

Deo Debattista: V18 no longer my remit
Deo Debattista: V18 no longer my remit

The parliamentary secretary under whom Valletta 2018 fell has refused to take ownership of complaints by Valletta residents that the capital had become overrun by boutique hotels.

An anthropological study from V18’s Evaluation and Monitoring Steering Committee featured the opinions of several disgruntled city residents who said that they “felt pressured” to leave their home.

They complained of rising property prices and renting costs, and said that after Valletta 2018, the capital city was at risk of losing its “soul.”
But Deo Debattista has failed to acknowledge these complaints even as his current role is parliamentary secretary for support for Valletta.

“Valletta 2018 is no longer under this Parliamentary Secretariat’s remit,” a spokesperson for Debattista, whose constituency includes Valletta, said in reply to a set of questions sent by MaltaToday.

On the other hand, attempts to reach Jason Micallef, former chairman of the Valletta 2018 Foundation proved futile. Micallef did not return calls, texts, emails and messages on his social media.

Calls to the Valletta Cultural Agency, of which Micallef is now a chairman, were also not returned. Attempts to reach the Ministry for Culture for a response likewise proved futile.

Alexiei Dingli, the former Valletta mayor who occupied his office when Valletta enjoyed the title of ECOC, said that the report published by the V18’s Evaluation and Monitoring Steering Committee only confirmed what he had been saying for a long time.

“I have expressed myself publicly about the impending dangers of unmanaged gentrification several times. I spoke with NGOs, organised meetings with shop-owners and residents, raised this issue at various levels and always advocated a healthy balance, which ultimately protects the residents,” he said.

Dingli said that he had spoken to various residents who had been concerned but that the “concern of residents was being side-lined in favour of commercial interests.”

The former mayor said that the complaints on the over-commercialisation of the capital were “legitimate.”

He claimed that he was not aware of the V18 report before it was published and that he never saw it himself.

In fact, MaltaToday is informed that the report was never presented to the public by the V18 administration, and was only uploaded to the V18 website by a member of the evaluation team.

One of the MPs who boycotted the V18 opening ceremony, Nationalist MP Claudio Grech, agreed that the report’s excerpts on Valletta residents was a reflection of the reality the city’s residents have been facing over the last years.

“The city’s agenda was taken over by the commercialisation of open spaces,” Grech, who also is elected from Valletta, said. “V18 has now passed and many millions of Euros after, the residents remain on the losing end with practically not even a single material project aimed at the community’s interest being implemented, rapidly suffocating their already waning quality of life,” Grech said.

He added that residents across the political spectrum had a right to ask why they had to pay such a hefty price for V18 to take place.

“They ask themselves what’s next in the step-plan of gentrification, pushing them to make way for the next boutique hotel or for the café next door to erect the semi-permanent marquee on their doorstep. It’s a clear and extremely well-executed attack on the quality of life of residents, irking them as much as is possible for them to let go of their properties,” Grech said.

The PN MP said irrespective of the commendable architecture, Valletta was being turned into a soulless city, colonised by businesses that were not conducive to real people.

Grech argued that V18 was, in fact, a missed opportunity to bridge the gaps with the underprivileged and the struggling households in Valletta.

“V18 ended up in yet another nail in the coffin of residential life in Valletta. Is encroaching on any available inch of open public space to place tables and chairs a cultural achievement? Is eroding every single playing area for Valletta families and kids integral to the cultural agenda for the city?  Is passing legislation for all-night entertainment in the direct proximity of residential neighbourhoods the cultural legacy all were yearning for? Is the continued absence of a decent sports facility for Valletta children the result of a cultural agenda?” he asked.

READ MORE: Stuff your boutique hotels: The pissed-off residents of Valletta’s capital of culture