The Planning Authority has failed to rein in the development market, which is incapable of regulating itself, Malta Chamber of Planners president Bjorn Bonello said on Saturday. 

He was speaking during a joint press conference organised by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Moviment Graffitti, the Malta Planners' Association and the Malta Touristic Association in front of Sirdar House. 

The old townhouse, located within the St Julian’s urban conservation area, is currently facing demolition plans that seek to turn it into a three-star hotel. 

Saturday's event was held to highlight cases such as this and other similar ones in the area, which activists and lobby groups say are irredeemably ruining the area. 

“The PA used to carry out forward planning studies, but these are not happening as often as they should, maybe because they would uncover facts that show concretely that we are biting off more than we can chew,” he said. 

Bonello also warned that the current situation was displacing young people who are ending up with negative equity, meaning they are buying homes at higher prices than their actual value.  

“This could have a huge impact on the sustainability of our banks if we end up in a situation where homes need to be seized and the value of the property is much less than the bank approved a loan for,” he said. 

“This is what the industry is in desperate need of: controls. I urge our politicians to surround themselves with people who challenge them because they cannot tackle this problem by only listening to yes men in their echo chamber.” 

A KPMG study published this week noted a significant shortfall between the median price of property and the mortgage that a household earning the median income was able to afford. 

Even if mortgage terms were extended to 40 years, analysts noted, such families would still be unable to afford a median-priced property. 

Mayor: Yes, there are residents in St Julian's

Outgoing St Julian's mayor Albert Buttigieg meanwhile said it is "insulting and arrogant" for the Planning Authority to make decisions about the locality on the assumption that there are no more residents there.

“It is completely unacceptable to say there are no residents here,” Buttigieg said, joining the groups on his last day as the locality’s mayor before assuming a seat in parliament as an Opposition MP. 

Activists from Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar claim that the chair of one of the PA's committees argued during a recent hearing that there are no residents in St Julian's anymore, only tourists. 

The allegation drew Buttigieg's ire. 

“We residents are here, this is our home and we have no intention of leaving,” he said. 

FAA coordinator Astrid Vella speaks as (from left) Julian Zarb, Albert Buttigieg and Bjorn Bonello look on. Photo: Chris Sant FournierFAA coordinator Astrid Vella speaks as (from left) Julian Zarb, Albert Buttigieg and Bjorn Bonello look on. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

It was rich to see a PA representative make such a statement, he said, when it was the PA's lack of regulation and planning that had led residents to being priced out of their homes, with vacant buildings turned into construction sites. 

“In this street alone there are three or four planning applications to turn houses into hotels, even as studies show us that we have a surplus concentration of hotel rooms,” he said. 

“We are in a UCA and yet the authority insists that it will not protect our village core.” 

FAA coordinator Astrid Vella said that the PA is failing to protect both national heritage and residents’ quality of life. 

“We are seeing time and time again that the PA only takes action to preserve heritage when it is not harmful to developers’ interests,” she said. 

“We can see clearly that in a baroque townhouse in Cospicua, where the property cannot really be developed commercially, scheduling went ahead without issue, but in the case of Palazzino Vincenti, where the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has been insisting on the merits of the building, has dragged on for years, because a permit for a 200-bed hotel is still pending.” 

“We denounce this behaviour that constantly prioritises the interests of developers to the detriment of residents.”

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.