When it comes to big development projects, the Labour government is gambling excessively on the big developers’ card.
Rather than relying on evidence-based policymaking, the government assumes that big developers have some magic power to cater for Malta’s social, economic and environmental needs.
This is a far cry from having a national master plan which would verify opportunities, risks and alternatives. Instead, Malta is experiencing a series of development proposals which simply ignore the respective cumulative impacts on Maltese society.
Gasan’s Townsquare project in Sliema is a case in point. One of Malta’s most congested areas will have a 38-storey high-rise, 159 residential units and various commercial outlets, unless the approved project is reversed in the upcoming appeal process.
Townsquare has a shortfall of 234 parking spaces and will result in an estimated increase of 3,500 cars daily in the area. The Sliema local council has been left in the dark about a required ‘green transport plan’ and waste management, and there is no sewage impact assessment.
The project’s social impact assessment is incomplete, outdated (it was carried out almost a decade ago) and says nothing on mitigation measures.
Save for some exceptions, the assessment of the project practically ignored the 40-storey development proposal at Fort Cambridge, just a few metres up the road. Not to mention new high-rise development at The Point in Tignè.
The Planning Authority approval of high-rise at Mrieħel also has clear shortcomings. This joint project by the Gasan and Tumas groups was approved without a master plan for the area. It comprises a lack of 498 parking spaces, and will result in an estimated daily increase of 2,700 cars in the vicinity. As in the case of Townsquare, the PA decision on this project could be reversed through an upcoming appeal process.
The government assumes that big developers have some magic power to cater for Malta’s social, economic and environmental needs
In the past days Maltese society learned of further proposed mega-projects, including land reclamation and high-rise at the ex-Jerma site in Marsascala and the government-sponsored Paceville plan.
The latter is currently undergoing a public consultation process. Here, new high-rise development is being proposed in what seems to be a wish list of certain big developers.
Perhaps the most controversial project in the Paceville plan is the land reclamation project by and for the Tumas group. When the original Portomaso development was proposed, residents and other stakeholders were promised that no further development will take place, but this condition was already broken once through the approval of further development, so what the hell?
Now, what is being proposed is the reclamation of land next to a marine special area for conservation, which, incidentally, was already damaged by Portomaso development some years ago. The land reclamation will mostly comprise residential and hotel development, and a 15-storey building height of Preluna dimensions.
The Planning Authority has said the Paceville plan will be subject to a strategic environmental assessment. But this inevitably raises a question. How come strategic environmental assessments are not being carried out elsewhere? And this, in turn, raises a more pertinent question which the government refuses to reply: why is the government not carrying out a national master plan on high-rise, land reclamation and other mega projects?
Given Malta’s small size, it is only reasonable to have national studies on ecological, social, economic, traffic, waste and other impacts before accelerating the auction of development proposals.
Such studies could estimate Malta’s carrying capacity for such projects, the economic risks and opportunities of relying on such a development model, and the impact on our road arteries, which, in many instances, are already clogged.
Such studies could also show how necessary financing of public infrastructure is going to be carried out, and whether such financing is really a priority compared to other infrastructural needs in the country.
What is stopping the government from commissioning a national master plan?
Michael Briguglio is a sociologist.