Malta Developers’ Association president Sandro Chetcuti insisted yesterday that Malta did not have a serious problem with vacant properties as half of the 55,000 listed as vacant were actually summer residences or second homes.

Intervening in a conference discussing the sustainability of property prices, Mr Chetcuti fended off concerns about the ever-increasing number of vacant properties in Malta, which according to the 2011 census was in the region of 70,000.

“Just drop this about vacant properties. There is no problem with this. There are around 55,000 properties and more than half of these are second homes or summer residences while half of the remainder are either dilapidated or being fought over by heirs. The rest are on the market but they are simply overpriced and cannot sell.”

The majority of the audience at yesterday’s debate organised by audit firm EY found that property prices were unsustainable.

There is no problem with this. There are around 55,000 properties and more than half of these are second homes or summer residences

But Mr Chetcuti defended the sector, describing property as “the most solid investment in Malta” with all other investment opportunity “just gambling”.

He blamed “the previous administration” for introducing schemes, such as the rationalisation scheme and the height limitation schemes which “flooded the market” and spelt the end to “affordable housing”. This administration, he added, had addressed this through schemes such as that for first-time buyers.

The Czech Republic, for example, had six vacant properties for every square kilometre, Greece had seven while Malta had a staggering 226.- Marie Briguglio

During the debate, Marie Briguglio from the university’s Department of Economics, warned that Malta’s property market could not maintain its current price rises and that the government ought to invest in educating investors to put their money elsewhere.

She argued that the property market was leaving in its wake “considerable social and environmental impact”.

On the number of vacant properties, she quoted statistics on vacant properties in other European countries. The Czech Republic, for example, had six vacant properties for every square kilometre, Greece had seven while Malta had a staggering 226.

On the other hand, economist Chris Meilak, who was arguing in favour of sustainability in a bid to stir a debate, said that the number of foreign workers who came to Malta to work was bound to continuing increasing, creating a market for available properties. He insisted that the property market would maintain its current trend due to stable low-interest loans, low unemployment, high GDP growth and high demand.