Malta Developers Association president Sandro Chetcuti said on Thursday that the country had “failed at planning” and warned colleagues that the public’s frustration at the construction industry was borne out of this failure.

Addressing the lobby’s annual general meeting, Mr Chetcuti said: “We need to incentivise people to ensure better forward planning. We cannot afford to have all of Malta become Bugibba and Qawra.”

Highlighting the industry’s strength and growth, Mr Chetcuti said that while the last few years had seen the sector move from a recession to an unprecedented boom, growth needed to be sustained or the industry would slip backwards.

He said Maltese developers were ready to compete with anyone but needed to be guaranteed a level playing field. They could not afford to be bogged down in bureaucracy while foreign investors received the red-carpet treatment.

Mr Chetcuti also stressed ongoing frustrations over the “total collapse” of the cultural heritage monitoring system, where developers were enduring long delays because of understaffing at the heritage watchdog.

“You cannot have this amount of construction and still require monitoring to build a washroom on the roof,” he said.

We have to be flexible and realistic. Authorities need to operate efficiently if we want the economy to keep growing- Chetcuti

“We have to be flexible and realistic. Authorities need to operate efficiently if we want the economy to keep growing.”

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told the meeting that while the issue of planning was a crucial one, he could not agree with an approach to planning that attempted to predict the needs of the country 25 years from now - as had been suggested just moments earlier by Opposition leader Adrian Delia – but rather one flexible enough to respond to an ever-changing scenario.

“Our government is not afraid of masterplans to guide development, but that means we must be ready to take hard decisions on what developers can and cannot do, and that some may have to concede,” he said.

This, he added, extended to controversial national issues such as land reclamation, which he said was inevitable given the industry’s growth and the drive towards new infrastructure like the Gozo tunnel or an eventual underground mass transit system.

Addressing bureaucratic delays, Dr Muscat said his preference was for minimal government involvement in the industry – with authorities relying on professionals’ judgement – but that for that to happen, everyone involved needed to shoulder responsibility.

“If we want to have a system of trust, we cannot have operators pushing the rules or chancing it,” he said.

Land reclamation not for speculation

Meanwhile, Opposition leader Adrian Delia praised the MDA for its insistence that land reclamation should not be used for speculation. He said that public land needed to be administered in a way that would not create a competitive advantage for anyone.

Calling for a long-term development plan, he stressed the need for all stakeholders to work together to ensure adequate housing provision, and to work towards a system where the environment and green initiatives could serve as a motor for development.

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