23rd October 2013
The Government is driving the country towards another building bonanza with fast-fisted fury. Several proposals are set to impact piecemeal on all areas of Malta and Gozo and without an overall strategy in place. New policies to permit all sorts of building in the countryside are imminent as well as a revision in local plans. An increase in heights for hotels is encouraged while regulations for tall buildings are being launched. Malta has not yet shaken off the turmoil brought about by the 2006 relaxation of heights and building boundaries yet new environmental upheaval is on its way.
In the country side, that no-go area called ODZ, new policies are being introduced that will permit petrol stations, fireworks factories, stables, agricultural stores, farm shops and visitor accommodation. While these may be worthy projects, there has been no study or inventory made to prove why they are necessary. So while government has categorically reiterated it will not break the boundaries of out of development zones, it is set to build within them. Din l-Art Helwa urges the public to take part in the consultation process and send in objections to Mepa immediately.
Within development zones, the truth is out. Traditional town centres that enjoy some measure of protection under the much abused definition of urban conservation areas, (UCAs), are under attack from speculators. Such areas are not fit for modern living standards, they say, as their bulldozers edge closer to penetrate those fine facades whose elegance no modern building has come close to emulating in the last 40 years. A Mepa spokesman is quoted to have said that buildings that cannot offer hygiene and safety standards justify demolition. If this were the case, places like Venice and Valletta would soon no longer exist. We are confident that the technical expertise of today’s engineers and architects can be called upon to give our traditional centres state-of-the-art conversions and bring about their regeneration without loss of character.
On our coast, that magic line which gives our island identity, 23 land reclamation expressions of interest are being considered for a variety of uses including residences of which we have a glut. Although our foreshore is protected, several micro development proposals are set to finish off those small as yet natural stretches of rock as more cemented lidos are envisaged.
Old gardens are fast being destroyed as is to happen at Villa Rosa. Ta’ Mirakli and Targa Gap ridge are being cleared for building engulfing beautiful wayside chapels, old wells and rubble walls in process. At Ta’ Hagrat’s neolithic Temple, a World Heritage Site, building continues to close in, in a most insensitive delineation of boundaries.
Although the impending high rise policy dictates that no tall buildings are to be built on ridges, in Xemxija another 774 apartments requiring some 1200 car spaces on 12 floors are to ruin what is left of one of Malta’s most picturesque areas. Owners of the newly developed Mistra Village will enjoy privileged views that are to be spoilt for everybody else as they blot the important stretch down from Mellieha to St Pauls Bay. Sanity should prevail so a major landscape such as this is not ruined. It is all too easy to turn money by selling off our beauty spots as one administration continues to perpetrate the mistakes of the other.
A new concept emerges. In the hotel industry, stakeholders become judge and jury as a ‘sky is the limit’ approach is to be permitted for increased building heights. Two floors are not enough and buildings can go higher providing the proposal is deemed of ‘interesting design’. This applies to Gozo too. We are happy to hear that there is a promise to reinstate that much missed institution, the Aesthetics Board. However, submission of designs to this board, should it come about, will not be compulsory. So in the absence of this Style committee, who is going to decide which design is ‘interesting’ enough to permit height? Furthermore have the hoteliers thought about the consequences to their own business when the sun no longer reaches swimming zones at 3 p.m?
Continuing on the trail of desecration, a plan for Marsaxlokk has been launched inviting investors to submit ideas to develop this quaint fishing village for tourism purposes.
The energy to refresh the building industry is commendable but I am worried for Malta. The tension between environmental protection and development inevitably imposes compromise. However, while the needs of human activity on land are infinite, our environment is not. In the struggle for sustainability, it is always the environment that loses. We call on Mepa and its Board to use their grave responsibility wisely in the decisions that are to come. We appeal to them to stop making Malta unpleasant, unlivable and just plain ugly.
Simone Mizzi is Executive President Din l-Art Helwa