Urban planners were last week urged by their chamber to focus on the common good of society.

It speaks volumes about the state of planning in Malta that the very same appeal will be made today by several NGOs, dozens of academics and hundreds of citizens at a national protest targeted at planners, policymakers and politicians – those who have the power to save or destroy Malta’s rural and urban environments.

It is correct to state that the construction industry contributes to the economy. It boosts consumption through the sale of property, it provides jobs and the supply of business to ancillary companies, among other factors. But the common good is not defined by how much money is going into people’s pockets. It is clear to the majority by now that our infatuation with building is deeply impacting our quality of life.

Unspoilt nature, quiet neighbourhoods, open spaces, beautiful buildings, harmonious streetscapes, pedestrian safety, clean air and trees are aspects of the external environment that contribute towards the general feeling of well-being. They help engender a sense of peace, rest, happiness, beauty.

And it’s when they start to disappear that their value starts to be truly appreciated. Instead, the implicit message coming down from most political leaders is that well-being is all about financial prosperity.

As a result of their lust for power, egged on by the greed of the construction moguls, the other factors of well-being have been crushed under concrete, trampled underfoot by the behemoth of the building industry.

Two elements have been missing from the frenzy of construction that the island has now experienced for decades.

The first is balance. The second is respect. In their mad rush for gold, the developer corps and the greedy citizens who have been given the all-clear by politicians and regulators, generally don’t give a damn that they have torn down yet another lovely old house to build yet another non-descript block of flats that despoils yet another traditional streetscape.

They are largely indifferent to the inconvenience and suffering they cause the neighbours with their noise, dust and frightening vibrations during the endless months of demolition and construction. They feel entitled to engulf neighbouring houses with their high-rise, blocking the neighbours’ views and sunlight.

They convince themselves that the patch of unspoilt countryside they have invaded – legally or otherwise – does not figure in the larger scheme of things: there’s plenty more countryside to go around, isn’t there? Well, there isn’t.

No wonder people are fed up. Ordinary people who want to live a calm life, who don’t own property they can knock down and develop, who like living on a quiet street of quaint terraced houses, who are proud of their town or village because it can still be identified as Maltese, or who simply enjoy an occasional trip into the beauty of nature… are absolutely sick of the development mania.

And they want it to stop. They don’t agree with the message coming from the political class that “Everyone has a right to make money while they can”.

They want so-called planners in decision-making positions to stop issuing planning permits that flout sound planning principles and send the community to hell. They want the government to reverse the insane planning laws which have uglified Malta, especially in the last decade. 

They want the common good to prevail again. If you’re one of these people, then you should be in Valletta this morning to attend the national protest against construction greed. It’s about time we fight for our rights.

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