In an interview last week, construction magnate Nazzareno Vassallo might have stated the obvious but in reality, he stunned many readers since he was highly critical of the sector he’s operated in for decades. He said Malta’s “uglification” has reached the “point of no return” and the island is now “oversupplied” with buildings. He also blamed developers and the planning authorities for the mess we’re in.

While the developers and authorities have a lot to answer for, in reality it is the greed of many of us which has led to the fact that Malta is now akin to a concrete jungle.

Construction covers a quarter of Malta’s territory, that’s significantly more than the five per cent average in Europe. Less than two per cent of our territory is covered with trees. Meanwhile, more agricultural land is being eaten up by new apartment blocks and road-widening projects to placate more traffic. We now learn that Malta lost the equivalent of around 250 football pitches of soil and rural land between 2017 and 2020.

Rampant urbanisation has disrupted the life of communities in most localities. While Malta’s building spree started in the 1990s, the hysteria to build every nook and cranny was exacerbated in recent years as the government relaxed planning parameters and deliberately diluted planning laws.

While many have resigned themselves to accept the fact that the building/old house with garden/maisonette/villa next door will soon be gutted to make way for yet another pencil building of apartments with underlying garages, it is high time to take stock of the situation.

It is terrible to acknowledge that you need to go abroad to get some respite from the perpetual dust cloud

We are experiencing a massive strain on the infrastructure disrupting our daily lives. We simply cannot go anywhere without hearing the sound of pounding machinery. Our island’s rich historical monuments are fast being eclipsed by tasteless white cement blocks. Our church steeples are jockeying for space in a skyline dominated by tower cranes. More importantly, the choking dust in the air is contributing in a big way to the worrying asthma rates.

That is not the quality of life that many of us taxpayers aspire to. It is terrible to acknowledge that you need to go abroad to get some respite from the perpetual dust cloud.

While the government might have been partially successful in using construction to drive the economy, it totally ignored something more basic – our quality of life.

In an interview published today, the Planning Authority executive chairperson said the country cannot just discard projects of economic value because it “depends on them”.

Martin Saliba admitted that the PA is facing huge pressure from thousands of individuals “who are not happy with what they have and want more”.

He added: “Some beautiful houses were sacrificed along the way. But are we going to keep on looking back with nostalgia?... The country is moving into a more modern era, good or bad, and we have to accept it.”

And this is where the problem lies. We do not have to accept it and in a small island like ours, we should fight the “modern era” building exploitation, especially in a post-pandemic scenario.

COVID-19 has changed our economic landscape, with many foreigners forced to leave and many organisations acknowledging the fact that work can be done remotely so there will be less demand for office space. Couple that with falling birth rates and the hundreds of pending applications for more cement blocks, and the result is inevitable – a glut of vacant properties! There is a white elephant in the room and very few of us acknowledge it.

This is not a matter of “nostalgia”. It’s a matter of being guided by common sense and of realising that our quality of life is more important than our inherent quest to turn our property/plot into a money-making machine. The writing’s on the (concrete) wall.

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