Prime Minister Robert Abela has called for a “discussion” about reforming planning laws to effectively freeze developments until appeals processes are exhausted. 

“Does it make sense, if it ever did, that planning law allows construction work to start when the permit is still being contested in front of the tribunal or the law courts?”Abela asked at a party activity to mark Workers’ Day. 

The planning law anomaly has allowed all sorts of developers – from construction moguls to Infrastructure Malta and even Minister Ian Borg – to press ahead with construction projects even while appeals against them were still pending. 

Abela said the time had come for “major reform” in the planning sector, though he stopped short of providing any detail about what he had in mind. 

Speaking at a Labour Party event outside parliament, Abela highlighted the environment, affordable housing and living standards as Labour government priorities.

Robert Abela addressing the crowd. Photo: Jonathan BorgRobert Abela addressing the crowd. Photo: Jonathan Borg

The meeting was held in Valletta, with Labour supporters many from an older demographic, packing the area between South Street and City Gate, waving Labour and Maltese flags.  The event was part of an entertainment programme which featured a number of leading singers and entertainers.

Affordable housing

When he spoke on housing, Abela said that while much had been done, the government was looking to make more affordable housing available to allow those who have been unable to buy a home to do so.

The government will be working on building a stock of affordable apartments, he said, and it will announce more incentives to help people own their homes.

Apart from ensuring there is an affordable stock of apartments, he said that the government would also be strengthening schemes, such as equity sharing, a scheme by which the government partners up with individuals to own the place they live in.  

“For us, the first of May has been and remains a manifestation of pride, pride in you (workers) and pride in those that came before you,” he said.  

Abela said that because of the country’s economic progress, priorities were changing. 

“Now the priority is the improvement of the environment around us,” he said.

He said that a consultation on the creation of a new open space in Cospicua will start on Thursday and that 15 projects will be announced later this month under Project Green in association with local councils.

The Cospicua project seeks to transform a car park previously earmarked for the American University of Malta into a public open space. It will be led by government agency Project Green. 

Changes to the development planning law

Abela also alluded to development planning reforms, asking rhetorically whether construction projects should be allowed to proceed while they were still being contested. 

“I believe this is another change we should not be afraid to discuss,” he said, adding that the changes had to be such as not to allow abuse and sabotage.

A section of the crowd in Valletta.A section of the crowd in Valletta.

He said that the government was not afraid to start licensing construction contractors for the first time, “something that never happened in many years in this industry, this government will do it,” he said.

“Our message is that if you are professional and serious, get licensed and work, if you are not serious your place is not in the industry,” he said.

While the government’s priority was the workers the opposition wanted to take from the many and give to the few, Abela said. 

€26 million in tax refunds next week

He said tax refunds will start being paid next week. “€26 million to workers and pensioners,” he said. 

“That’s the same tax refund cheque that the leader of the opposition wanted to remove in his electoral programme,” he said.

Labour supporters in front of parliament.Labour supporters in front of parliament.

He said the government would continue to support economic growth as it had done in the past months.

Only the first of five years in the government’s legislature has passed, he said

“We have four years left to keep sustaining pensioners, strengthening jobs, creating opportunities for youths, and giving guarantees to children,” he said. The future is bright he said, ending his address with former Labour leader Dom Mintoff's signature Malta L-ewwel u qabel kollox.

Labour supporters listen to Robert Abela (Photo Jonathan Borg)Labour supporters listen to Robert Abela (Photo Jonathan Borg)

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