Quo Vadis, Malta?

By Robert Louis Fenech

Writing this piece the morning after the Planning Authority has given the green light to two monster developments – the Mrieħel high-rise blocks and the TownSquare tower (both projects being pushed by Gasan) – I cannot help but feel powerless and desperate.

I will admit – I did not believe they would pass. Mrieħel was included as a high-rise designated area only after the public consultation ended. Perhaps naively, I thought that an application on an illegally zoned area – that goes directly against national law and the Aarhus convention – would make its refusal the obvious decision. The Planning Authority thought otherwise.

Meanwhile, the TownSquare development, set to tower over the congested Sliema peninsula, was justified by the Planning Authority on an outdated social impact assessment from 2007 that the author freely admitted to being insufficient 9 years ago; a traffic impact assessment that leaves much to be desired; no consideration of the effect of this development on the infrastructure in the area despite evidence of sewage overflows; and absolutely no analysis of the impact of this development on the protected Valletta skyline from the Grand Harbour and the three cities.

So I don’t think I was being in any way overly optimistic in assuming that the Planning Authority would see sense and do accordingly.

I was wrong.

With 20 or so other high-rise projects in the pipeline (which are almost guaranteed to pass, considering yesterday’s events), the Malta we know will soon be no more.

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The betrayal of Malta by our country’s elites continues. When I was a child, brave environmentalists took drastic measures against Fenech’s Portomaso development. This year, some of those same environmentalists are fighting, and losing, more battles against the same class of wealthy developers.

It would look like there is no hope for this country.

Thankfully, Malta’s environmentalists are made of sterner stuff than I am, and they do not give up so easily. There are some defeats, but there are also victories, and it would be a disservice to those who hold our country at heart to be defeatist.

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I would just like to make it very clear that any guarantees government and developers give are not worth the paper they are printed on. The very concept of the FAR policy, the policy allowing high-rise developments, was to allow more open space around them. Where are we seeing these open spaces?

Portomaso actually takes up and closes off more land as it continues growing. Tigne’s, and now TownSquare’s, open spaces are mere accessories to their commercial areas. Fort Cambridge’s open space is akin to a canyon – a crack between two towers. Metropolis’ open space is planned, in contravention of the PA’s own regulations, some 30 floors above ground level.

Again, these open spaces are the very reason for this policy, but there is not yet a single case where this has been truly respected.

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The sale of citizenship and other legislative measures have fuelled a construction boom. There is now a perceived need for luxury apartments, for people who will not be living in them, creating ghost towns of empty homes held fortax and investment purposes.

These ghost towns will need to be supported by improved infrastructure, presumably paid for out of the public pocket.

There is foreign investment, and then there is selling off chunks of our country with a subsidy attached. Let us not confuse the two.

Selling off what makes Malta special for 30 pieces of silver is a betrayal of this and future generations.


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