Our toxic dependence on construction needs a public response

We calculate success on how much money people make in money terms or how many assets they own, but we all know that does not translate into contentment and quality of life

File photo
File photo

I had no doubt in my mind that Malta’s local plans and the policy changes in planning since 2006’s massive development boundaries expansion have had an impact on innumerable communities.

For years on end, this newspaper has championed the concerns and worries of residents, and focused on the way our countryside and urban centres have been decimated and disfigured. It is a community service in itself that MaltaToday’s journalists, chiefly James Debono, deliver to brigde that information gulf between the community and the planning bosses and class of landowners and developers who seek out profit at the expense of our townscapes, agriculture and heritage.

Who are the culprits? Sure enough, it is those who introduced the new boundaries as well as all the policymakers who enabled them and sustain continued development. And while it is easy to simply point the finger at the former minister himself, George Pullicino, and the PN’s then secretary-general Joe Saliba for what happened in 2006, the reality is that the entire political class since then upheld the expansion of development. They kowtowed to the wishes of Malta’s industry of developers by giving them more and more every year.

It’s not some invisible law that has dictated Malta’s hunger for development. It’s been a complex of politicians and construction developers that have served each other solely for the furtherance of profit. 

And one cannot look askance at allegations of a system of kickbacks, that allows the titles of dormant lands to be included in the planning policies and schemes.

My personal experience is that throughout all my adult life, I tried my best not to live away from communities but inside their historical centres. Today, after years of living in the same town’s urban conservation area, a block of flats towering over our house has become a reality and a threat. Like many others, we are losing our privacy, we live in a constant state of noise, we are losing our views, our natural sunlight, and the value of our property is nosediving.

Feeling helpless is truly an understatement. It just hits your there and then: ordinary citizens have to face burly contractors who think they own the world and the coldness of faceless bureacrats.

The thing is that the residents who object to development have everything against them.  The policies, the law, the enforcement and the belief that construction is a necessary evil that supersedes all the moral and emotional damage posed by greedy individuals, who want to make money from box-like apartments that tower over other traditional Maltese homes.

We talk of the construction industry as the heart and lung of our economy, but it is also the tonic for greed and the death sentence for our cultural and natural heritage.

There is an omertà when it comes to pointing fingers at this interminable problem. One needs to gather the public’s forces and galvanise public opinion to push government to come to its senses.

Like Clyde Caruana’s surprise announcement on Friday that Malta would overhaul its corporate tax regime to calibrate its positioning with the consequences on the financial industry, we address the consequence of the construction industry, which is fed because there seems to be no alternative to feeding the hunger of economic growth.

When in years to come economic growth will be measured by the quality of one’s life and the serenity and happiness quotients, the construction industry will be seen like tobacco and alcohol to a frail and infirm body – a thing not to do.

We calculate success on how much money people make in money terms or how many assets they own, but we all know that does not translate into contentment and quality of life.

When we slaughter the chicken that lays the golden egg, only then will we settle down together as a bunch of greedy bastards to discuss the crisis we live in.

It will be too late