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Just as President George Vella was calling for radical change, MDA president Michael Stivala was saying the real problem is too much red tape

Sleepwalking into an overdevelopment disaster – Alex Torpiano

  • Post category:News & Press
  • Reading time:5 mins read

It was surreal to read the recent heartfelt speech, (from which this title was borrowed), given by the President about over-development and uglification, the need to immediately undertake radical changes in our development policies and cancel the short-termism that pervades our current economic model, at the same time as the interview given by the President of the Malta Developers’ Association.

It was almost as if Michael Stivala was referring to a country different to the one we are seeing with our own eyes.

At the same time as he decries this “bureaucracy” – which most of us perceive as a complete lack of control – he fails to realise that the real increase in prices is the result of the other suicidal policy, namely that of basing our economic growth on an ever-increasing population, foreign workers, and more tourists.

The population of Malta increased by 25% over the same period, excluding the 3.2 million annual tourists registered in 2018 (admittedly hit by the later COVID-19 years, but now recovering), which translates roughly to an additional 60,000 people at any one time, assuming week-long stays.

When assessing this figure, keep in mind that the biggest town in Malta, St. Paul’s Bay, has a resident population of half that amount. And yet, Stivala claims that if we solve the traffic problem, Malta could take up to 5 million tourists a year!

Of course, if what tourists want is to be ferried around quickly to beaches, where they wait in a queue to be scammed for an umbrella and deck chair, or in a queue to jump into the sea, I suppose that this could be a solution.

It is unbelievable that a leader of an important lobby could make such thoughtless claims, unbacked by any research; it is more unbelievable that our political leaders are inclined to believe such economic nonsense.

Why nonsense? Because in his vision of perpetual growth of the economy, based on the perpetual, unshackled, growth of the construction industry, he fails to realise that this model not only makes our quality of life more miserable, but is intrinsically unsustainable.

Why unsustainable? Even developers recognise that  Malta is small, and therefore there must be some limit to its capacity. Let us say that the capacity for tourists is not 2 million, but rather 5. So, we will continue building and building, until we reach the limit of 5 million; and then what? What will our economic model depend on then?

At the same time, as we “grow” to accommodate more and more people, this same density will make our islands less and less attractive, not least for us and our young people, but also to the people we wish would want to come to visit. To whom will the gullible investors rent their apartments then?

This is what the President was referring to when he warned that overdevelopment would have a negative effect on our tourism and on small communities. This simple, obvious, consequence of current policies seems to escape the leading developers of our islands. 

Two other howlers characterized the Stivala interview.

The first refers to the long-standing proposal to make development rights a negotiable asset. The fly in the ointment is that no development rights exist independently of local plans, which, as the courts have repeatedly declared, are supreme and cannot be breached, not by any interpretation guideline, nor by any acquisition of “development rights”. Indeed, the only inalienable right that exists is when a specific development permit is issued.

The statement is however effectively libellous towards the hundreds of volunteers who give their time, energy and efforts, the countless concerned people (thousands) who send in their small contributions, and the many professionals who give their services pro bono, who actually make NGOs work.

It is the second time that I have heard Stivala make this allegation. It is the second time I am challenging him to come up with names, and evidence, or shut up.

We do understand that it is difficult for developers like him to understand why so many people put in so much effort into their campaigning, without doing it for the money. But the public understands it and supports it.

Article source: Times of Malta