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Why Muscat’s land reclamation idea is such a bad idea
After his excursion in hyper-capitalist Dubai, Joseph Muscat has rediscovered the bright idea floated by Lawrence Gonzi in 2005 but dumped after all studies showed how unfeasible it was: land reclamation.
18 June 2012, 12:00am
But the transformation seems to go deeper than blue ties - Muscat is a late convert to the pro-development ideology which has driven post-1987 Nationalist governments and he does so at the very moment the Nationalists themselves have realised that we have to move away from dependence on real estate, and re-channel this industry to the restoration of old buildings. On this aspect so far we have seen lots of words, a few tokens, but little action.
Let's face it. All studies show that the only way an artificial island can be feasible is through a massive real estate project on the scale of Smart City. This would be the only way developers will be able to recoup the considerable costs of "dumping" construction waste in to the sea to reclaim land.
And this would mean that in a country were 25% of all dwellings are empty we would be building even more properties on new land.
Apart from the impact on our coastal landscape, the loss of habitat and the risks to our marine environment, the major danger of such a project is economic. It will perpetuate our dependence on construction and re-inflate the property bubble, which one day could burst in our face.
This is exactly what happened in Spain when the socialist government of Josè Zapatero had chosen to continue with the pro-development obsession of previous governments. The rest is now history.
Despite the writing on the wall, Labour's enthusiasm for turning Malta into a Dubai in the Mediterranean (the party had led a similar delegation with its developer chums to the emirate a few years back) seems to know no bounds. After endorsing the uglification of Fort Chambray (which could include a high-rise tower too if a current MEPA application is approved) Muscat has taken a leaf out of Gonzi's book.
Superficially, land reclamation is easy to sell because small islands will have no angry neighbours except for the fish and posedonia meadows. It also rides on the delusions of grandeur of those obsessed with Malta's smallness.
Moreover, it exploits tensions and cracks in the PN's hegemonic block: but rather than trying to lure new middle-class, environmentally conscious people, Muscat feels more at home with developers. Probably they are convenient allies, having the financial capital to oil the electoral machine, but lacking the cultural capital to see through contradictory policies.
Once in government like GonziPN, MuscatPL will probably discover that the project is not feasible. The problem is that once again Labour would have whetted unsustainable appetites. Once in power it will have to satisfy them, probably on land in your neighbourhood and not far out at sea.
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...