Unwanted development

One usually associates the word ‘development’ with an improvement in a situation for the better. However, this word in Malta has now become only the byword for the unwanted destruction of the remaining few green spaces and heritage buildings in Malta. Indeed, not even the pandemic, which wrought such havoc on most sectors of our economy, was able to put some brakes on overdevelopment.

Must we stop all development that can result in economic benefits for the country? Of course not. As a councillor in Fgura local council, I had been presented with the plans for the project that eventually became the Galleria complex. A cinema which had been abandoned for many years was developed into an opportunity for employment and entertainment.

Would not have Fgura been poorer had this site instead been turned into cheaply built, tasteless flats? It is not just a question of where we build but it is a question of what we build. Developers fought to destroy the farmhouse from which Fgura got its name when it could have been the cultural heart of the town.

Nowadays, we find that local councils are not even consulted on matters that are going to leave a direct impact on the citizens they represent. Often, they get to know about development proposals from third parties. It is time that local councils are empowered to stop projects which infringe upon the quality of life of their localities, particularly to protect the last green lungs and enclaves inside our towns and villages. These spaces are priceless.

Close to Marsascala, where I live, an area of over 5,000 square metres of rural land in Żonqor has been slated for a mega-development with 135 residential units and 180 basement garages spread over 10 different levels. Is this the kind of quality of life we are going to hand down to future generations? Surely, we can plan more intelligently to create suitable housing, even if it cuts into the profit margins of the already obscenely wealthy.

Politicians love to state the hollow words that there must be a balance between sustainability and construction when we have long since abandoned any kind of balance or planning. We are so unbalanced that it is necessary to dispel the illusion now that what we have is development; it is overdevelopment and it is not an investment in the country’s future.

There are hidden costs, not least to our tourism sector. The government has stated that we must push for quality tourism over quantity but all signs indicate that the reality on the ground is different. Are we promoting Maltese character and investing in our uniqueness? What is the experience a tourist gets once leaving the airport?

Tourists immediately encounter endless traffic congestion, thanks also to the incessant road-widening, flyover-building and tunnelling that is not addressing the main issue. We must encourage alternative means of transportation, particularly investing in ride sharing solutions and micromobility.

With such a combination of solutions, and renovating instead of demolishing, we can create a less dense and more refreshing place to live and provide a better tourist product for our guests.

Commercial interests should not take precedence over the quality of life that each one of us merits. Any development should be carried out in a sustainable manner that does not only look at the short-term gains for the few. We must safeguard what we have today for the enjoyment of future generations. What is lost today is lost forever.

We need to empower local councils with far more power over developments which take place in our localities, raise the minimum standards for buildings, introduce an aesthetics policy, and start to plan properly. To do so it will take political will and courage, above all.

The electorate has the power to prioritise these issues and send a clear message. It is the only way to guarantee a desperately needed change.

Brian Decelis
ADPD Public Relations Officer
Published in The Times of Malta – Monday 4 July