The planning minister’s golden opportunity

The sight of a certain Gozitan construction developer being carried shoulder-high,  while ostensibly celebrating scoring a penalty kick for the Nadur Youngsters FC, inadvertently gave me the impression that his laughter was our undoing.

How else can one explain that hardly has the ink on the election results dried that our country is once again subjected to his shenanigans with large swathes of ODZ land?

This man, who boasts of Malta’s need for another century of overdevelopment, has gotten his fingers into every pie, registered as a player in one football team while presiding as president over another.

It is no wonder that any language pretending to “balance” sustainability with development is taken as a joke, when the Nationalist Party’s infamous rationalisation exercise has not been the peak of folly but merely serves as one of many disastrous chapters in our country’s history.

As compromised as our planning rules already are, it seems they are not riddled with enough holes because antics at the Planning Authority often see policies bent entirely.

Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi definitely has a mammoth task ahead given his remit overseeing the Planning Authority. Is it possible that he may reform the system and cut the strings being pulled in favour of construction magnates? Is there any hope for what is supposedly defended in our Constitution, which lays down that “the state shall safeguard the landscape and the historical and artistic patrimony of the nation”?

The local plans, approved more than 15 years ago, are no longer valid today. Moreover, when these plans were laid out, there had been no proper analysis of the cumulative effect of the proposed development and their impacts on people, localities and the ecology.

If this had been undertaken, many of the proposals – such as a yacht marina destroying Marsascala – would never have made it into those plans. At the very least, we need policies which mitigate the damage of the rationalisation exercise.

There are still swathes of land untouched by development which must be safeguarded. We think of the short-term economic benefits of exploiting them but think nothing of the damage to mental and physical health, to wellbeing, to quality of life, our tourist product or any other considerations which have an economic dimension as well.

It is most certainly not about building enough homes for everyone, either, given that public land is transferred to build hotels and luxury developments which serve only to fuel speculation.

Let us not kid ourselves otherwise. The sharks went for St George’s Bay and now they are planning to commercialise and sacrifice untouched Ramla l-Ħamra too. Who will continue to pay the price of these externalities if not the long-suffering citizens of Malta and Gozo?

Speaking of luxury: as more exorbitantly priced empty apartments sprout up across the country, one asks: who is actually buying them?

Many of these developments are certainly out of reach of the locals and, yet, we use the economy as an excuse to keep building.

And what about the objections raised by the people? Are these being put in File 13, the place which we at the bank jokingly used as a euphemism for the trash can?

What about the quality of the buildings we are making, given that, by 2030, the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive requires all new buildings to be zero-emission?

The minister has his work cut out to ensure we do not have a continuation of the past lost decade. He has a golden opportunity.

He is off to a good start calling for a skyline policy and an aesthetics policy, so long as it is not used as an excuse to incentivise modern monstrosities atop heritage buildings. If it incentivises the survival of Maltese character, it might help set us off in the right direction. 

I believe the minister is up to it and that he can succeed if he sides with the people instead of with the usual lobbied interests. He can certainly rally the people behind him if he turns over a new leaf for our country.

Honorary minister, we are counting on you.

Brian Decelis
ADPD Public Relations Officer
Published in The Times of Malta – Tuesday 10 May 2022