There is only one way forward. The solution is one. It lies in forward planning – planning based on a vision that is attainable.

We are increasingly hearing about the ‘uglification of Malta’ and the MDA shares this sentiment. Uglification does not happen overnight but is the result of decades of non-homogenic policies and a piecemeal uncoordinated approach. Today, we are seeing the cumulative impact of all this.

Very few might remember the building development areas way back in the 1980s. Back then, anyone could build anything as long as it was within 300 feet (about 90 metres) from the built-up area. At that time, the value of open space, the appreciation of agricultural land, the preservation of our village cores, the unique natural fabric of our islands, were not given importance.

We are increasingly hearing about the ‘uglification of Malta’ and the MDA shares this sentiment- Sandro Chetcuti

At the time, little did it occur to the policymaker what and how this sporadic development and uncontrolled sprawl would translate into over the years. Within a couple of years, the need for a proper structure plan and proper local plans was visibly felt.

The 1988 temporary provisions scheme was the first attempt at trying to curtail some of the harm that had already been done. This scheme tried to contain the further take-up of agricultural land for development. Naturally, land within scheme increased in value and so did the cost of property.

In fact, various entities had raised their concerns on the increase in property prices and that first-time buyers were finding it difficult to buy their own homes, repeatedly calling on the government of the day to find a solution to make housing more affordable. There were two ways to go about it, either by heavily incentivising first-time buyers or by increasing supply.

The political decision made back then was to increase supply. In fact, the 2006 rationalisation exercise saw an extensive take-up of agricultural land and consolidated the increase in height limitation all over the country. Whereas the first option would have contained development, the second option opened the doors for lower quality.

Certain green lungs suddenly became developable. Also, people started selling their two-storey houses for a quick gain. Permits for higher buildings were being granted immediately outside the village cores.

Given the benefit of hindsight, today’s policymaker would probably agree that the decisions made back then were not the best that could have been made in terms of long-term and forward planning. Proper intelligent planning is no easy feat. We are at a critical juncture. The country needs to decide where it wants to go. Personally, I believe that we should have long gone for quality rather than quantity. But, in order to have quality, an upgrade across the board is required, be it infrastructure, maintenance, cleanliness or the immediate surroundings.

Finding the right formula will not be easy. Promoting quality while also ensuring equity is an arduous task. A rational, reasonable and intelligent approach is a must, while also bearing in mind the rights of whoever owns land or property.

Malta needs long-term planning based on a well thought out vision that is realistically attainable. Planning is not a rubber band that can be stretched and contracted as dictated by particular moments in time.

By way of example, Madliena was originally intended as a high-end villa area, with a mandatory requirement of a minimum tumolo of land per villa with only 25 per cent of the area developable and the remaining 75 per cent as a garden.

By time, somehow, this policy changed from one fully detached villa to two or more on the same tumolo of land and the 25 per cent developable area went up to 40 per cent and even more, leading to developments like Busietta Gardens and others. I saw residential priority areas like Santa Marija Estate in Mellieħa, Marsascala, Marsaxlokk and other areas morphing into the hotchpotch that we have today.

Are we already too late? Hope is last to die. Bold decisions need to be made and politicians need to decide and stick to their decisions. Equally important is that every citizen needs to appreciate that every inch of space has a value, whether it is air space, open space or developable space.

Are we, as a country, ready to pay the price tag for all the different categories of space? Or are we after good planning at the expense of others?

As I said, hope is the last to die. The MDA believes that, given the right environment, developers and architects, together, can be key drivers to bring about this change.

Not all is doom and gloom. But we must act before it is too late, before the damage is irremediable. This administration has also failed to address forward planning. While experiencing a lot of property investment in our country, one also needs to note that a holistic approach for forward planning is a must.

Sandro Chetcuti is president of the Malta Developers’ Association.

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