The planned Chiswick House School in Pembroke is a testimony to the lack of social and environmental justice.
Way back in August a group of residents in Pembroke got together and organised what can be considered a truly grassroots resistance to a new development that literary loomed over their horizon.
Unfortunately, this type of resistance is normally hampered by the usual party rivalry which tends to infantilise national discussions, though in this case the conditions were such that little partisan involvement and manoeuvring, at least at a visible level, was shown.
This group of residents, mainly represented by a number of vocal women living in the area, sprang into action as soon as they heard that the open space that surrounds their town was under threat by yet another school.
One would generally expect that a school would be accepted with open arms by people living in the neighbourhood – new opportunities for their kids, perhaps an odd job or two and a few other carrots which are normally dangled around in order to gain the support of the communities. Not so in this case, and this goes to show that this was not simply a case of “not-in-my-back-yard” but of complete lack of equity which goes beyond the neighbourhood level.
As soon as pictures of the futuristic looking building appeared in the media, it was evident that this was not a school for the benefit of the Pembroke community, nor the average citizen. The site, surrounded by open spaces and the sea, is just the perfect location if one wants to cater the future (planned) dwellers of the glitzy towers emerging in Sliema and Paceville. It’s also a convenient solution to export the congestion and noise problems currently being faced by the leafy upmarket Kappara neighbourhood, where the Chiswick School is located at present, onto the less affluent Pembroke.
One has to remember that Pembroke already hosts an abnormally high concentration of schools and educational institutions for a population of 3645. These include the St Clare Primary and Secondary State Schools; Verdala International School; Framingham State College; Sprachcaffe; St Catherine’s High School; the Institute of Tourism Studies (being turned into another mega hotel); St Michael’s Foundation; STC Training; Sir Adrian Dingli Junior Lyceum / St Clare College Girls’ Junior Lyceum Pembroke; Institute of Management (MIM) and San Miguel School.
Adding another school will lead to significant increase in traffic thus topping up air and noise pollution and will also affect the safety of the neighbourhood.
Although the site is not an outside development zone (ODZ), it borders such a designated area which also falls under the Pembroke Natura 2000 site of ecological importance. This project will take away a large patch of nature and a wide open space from the residents and everyone else who visits the area.
We all need nature in our lives. Contact with nature is beneficial for children’s development, hence the school in this location would certainly enrich its (already privileged) pupils’ daily experiences. It will, however, simultaneously rob these benefits from the residents and the rest of the population. Experiencing vibrant nature is crucial for everybody’s health and well-being and, thus, ought to be regarded as a fundamental right for everyone, regardless of their social standing.
One fails to see any shreds of the equity being sought by the Chiswick House School Ltd’s director as quoted in the media. The social and environmental injustices, brought about by this planned project, only lead to one question: who will benefit from this (over) development? Surely not the communities and nature.