It takes 20 minutes for a whole street of law-abiding citizens to have their lives turned upside down, and the same amount of time for an iconic viewof a major landmark to be stolen from the public gaze forever.
This is what happens when an eight-storey hotel is given the green light in a ‘residential buffer zone’.
This is what happens when the border of one area called ‘Paceville’ is confused with another called ‘Swieqi’.
This is when policies which allow ‘existing hotels’ to increase their height by two (or three) floors, do not mention the word ‘existing hotels’ in another part of the document, and are therefore taken to apply to new ones too.
This is when ‘entertainment’ is allowed ‘on the ground floor’ of buildings in the residential buffer zone, and a 104-bed hotel is considered to be a ‘small scale’ activity.
It is sickening to see this lack of sensitivity for people’s lives, and one wonders where the justice in the planning laws and regulations of this country lies.
Obviously, it is justice only for the developer, it is incentives and motivation to demolish and build, and it will not stop as it is the only way money can be spent in order to get a good return pretty fast.
In Swieqi, which was until the 1970s almost open countryside, some developments have been built and dropped for up to three times over.
Families have had to contend with a continuous building site and ever-increasing traffic and over-crowding. The families in the ‘buffer zone’ between the commercial and entertainment hub of Paceville have fared even worse; their dwelling place has undergone the most frightening of metamorphoses from detached and semi-detached villas on an idyllic slope looking out on the prettiest of bays, to homes sandwiched by hotels, shopping complexes, language schools, restaurants, and nightclubs.
Even the monastery of St Rita’s has had its side garden given up to a car park, with the steps leading to it hanging precariously in mid-air.
It is a sorrowful sight.
The one redeeming factor in this cacophony was the view of the Villa Rosa; a romantic expression of one rich man’s idea of what to do with money. This was the beginning of the 20th century, when building was about leaving a lasting legacy and not making a quick buck.
Luckily for us, his love of the Italianate art nouveau style has enriched us with the most fairy-tale palace, surrounded by equally astonishing gardens which delight all who look on them. It is a landmark of considerable importance, and one which informed the recent controversial Paceville master plan prepared for the Planning Authority by a British architectural firm.
In this master plan, ‘corridors’ or viewpoints going down to the sea were created, in order to have a better vision of the landmarks and the sea.
Indeed, the open turret which is the crowning glory of this palazzo, was the first thing which caught the eye as one approached Paceville from the Regional Road.
It probably was the only truly outstandingly beautiful building left.
I am talking in the past tense, because soon this will be gone from everyone’s view as one approaches Paceville; gone behind the silhouette of an eight-storey massive hotel, and instead there will be an ugly blank party wall to look at, or a huge hotel name sign.
This is planning in Malta for you.
This is developer-driven, insensitive and unfair. Until such time as good planning by impartial professionals, as was seen in the past, where industrial estates catered for the factories they housed, and no mixed-uses, or other traffic was allowed to pass through them, when properties by the seashore were the lowest lying in order to allow the ones behind to also have a view, as was once in Qawra and St Thomas Bay, until such time as the common good is sought when decisions are made on paper which will affect families and real people, Malta will continue its course towards becoming an environmental hell-hole.
There is much beauty left to preserve, but without good planning this is an impossible task.
Maria Grazia Cassar is executive president of Din l-Art Ħelwa
28 June 2017