Knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing – Carmel Cacopardo

It was Oscar Wilde who over 100 years ago coined the expression on “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing”. Today matters are more sophisticated, with “cost benefit analysis” and impact studies of all sorts which seek to justify practically anything, as long as you can pay for the privilege.

Reducing everything to a monetary value seems to be the order of the day. When we speak of costs, we are only understood as having spoken about financial outlays. Environmental costs or social costs seem to be something out of this world: apparently, they are so difficult to comprehend.

The Malta Developers Association wants more. With advice from professionals, including former senior land use planning regulators, they are now sugar-coating their demands. Essentially, however they are still making the same point: they are seeking to maximise the fruits of greed.

Almost simultaneously, we get to know that the Malta Water Association has closed shop. It is always a sad day when an eNGO disbands, but the reality is that we have too few environmental activists and too many environmental organisations on this little rock. It is about time that all environmental NGOs come together, as the proliferation of eNGOs is not doing the environment lobby any good. Nor is it helpful to the environment cause to co-opt former advisors of mega-developers to lead eNGOs. Credibility may, in my view, be at stake.

Protecting the environment is a tough job because not many realise that our quality of life is dependent on it. The results of environment protection – or the lack of it – are generally only evident in the long term as they are not easily identifiable immediately. This inevitably leads to a lack of connection between cause and effect and consequently to a lack of interest in the issues which matter, until it is too late.

Today, many people are realising the considerable impacts of the rationalisation exercise on land use embarked upon by the Lawrence Gonzi administration in 2006, as a result of which around two million square metres of land spread around the Maltese islands became suitable for development overnight. Few remember that, at the time, the Labour Party had then taken a stand against the proposal, even voting against it in Parliament. Today, however, Labour leaves the rationalisation proposals in place because, when faced with rampant over-development, it is most convenient to be able to continuously shift the blame on your predecessors, sanctimoniously declaring that you cannot do anything about it, as, in the meantime, vested rights have taken root!

The latest MDA land use planning gimmick is a well-known strategy of playing the role of the victims. As explained by the former Director of Planning – now apparently a consultant to the Association, architect Stephen Farrugia – this MDA proposal will involve trading in airspaces in urban conservation areas in order to acquire more advantageous planning rights elsewhere instead. Basically, it is a request by the MDA for its members to be compensated for planning restrictions in Urban Conservation Areas as well as in respect of limitations on the potential development of protected buildings. The MDA seeks the possibility, as stated earlier in an article published this week by its President Sandro Chetcuti, to transfer the potential unused gross floor area from buildings whose development is restricted to areas where it is not. The details are not yet out but it is obvious that this proposal seeks to create a substantial amount of development rights which will further increase the unbridled development to which we have become so accustomed to.

The MRA proposal negates the very basics of land use planning as it assumes that every property owner has an equal right to develop, irrespective of the level of protection afforded to specific properties. In practise the MDA proposal will signify deregulation and the sooner it is shot down, the better.

What next?

Carmel Cacopardo
Published in the Malta Independent – Sunday 24 March 2019