From words to action | Michael Stivala

Beyond words, only such actions will improve the quality of life for residents

Stepping into a new year, the Malta Development Association (MDA) has embarked on a journey to address the most critical challenges in the property sector. The main aim is to promote and lobby for strategies to elevate affordability, sustainability, quality, and to address the thorny issue of vacant properties. Taking into account today’s distinctive circumstances, we will be onboarding the current and future needs of the Maltese population and inviting their involvement in shaping our initiatives.

For starters, we acknowledge the various contributors to housing affordability challenges - inflation, bureaucratic bottlenecks, external factors like wars, and increased taxation on imports, amongst others. Consequently, the gateway to a fair and prosperous way forward is in recognising the need for more efficiency, transparency and the housing sector’s deep relevance to the national interest.

Clearly and inevitably, affordability is intricately linked to supply and demand. Given that a higher supply strongly contributes to more accessible prices, forward planning becomes imperative, particularly given the tiny size of our country. The focus should therefore be on building more housing on land which is already committed, ensuring optimal utilization of existing infrastructure and resources. By the same token, it would be sensible to leave Outside Development Zones and Urban Conservation Areas intact. With this two-pronged approach, we can strike a balance between the demand for affordable housing and the preservation of the unique character and environmental significance of pristine historically relevant areas.

To get there it is crucial to enhance the planning process. More effort is needed to minimize waiting times and reduce administrative costs. The swift issuance of building permits for residential and urban projects not only counters housing shortages but also promotes the creation of sustainable, energy-efficient homes at reduced costs. Administrative challenges often stem from misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the law, along with the unnecessary complexity brought about by the over-implementation of EU rules by the national government.

At present, the process is riddled with excessive red tape. To bolster efficiency, Malta needs to simplify and clarify regulations, creating a level playing field for all. To meet the challenges posed, administrative processes should remain in place if they add tangible value to the overall system.

Widening MDA’s vision, elevating the quality of buildings, with a particular focus on promoting greener structures, will be one of the MDA’s top priorities in 2024. Recently, the government embarked on this road by introducing licensing for contractors. Further steps are required to ensure that every worker on a construction site possesses the requisite skills and licensing. In addition, incentives to developers, homeowners and retro-fitting projects would drive eco-friendly practices more forcefully still.

Lowering taxes, particularly on capital duty transfer of properties by matching them with specific energy efficiency criteria, can also act as a compelling incentive. The same principle could be applied to rental properties, thereby promoting energy-efficient apartments. Taking it a notch higher, to excel in the standard of green buildings and retrofitting, government should prioritize quality over the cheapest bid in its call for tenders. By amalgamating upskilling measures, financial incentives, and a commitment to environmental sustainability, Malta can pave the way to high-quality, eco-friendly buildings that contribute to a sustainable and resilient future.

Linking the planning process with the quality of buildings requires attention to a third dimension - the aesthetics in design. This would be pivotal to create a more visually appealing environment, indeed a more attractive country.

Vacant properties pose a distinct challenge. While numbers bandied about in the media may not necessarily align with reality, the MDA recognizes that Malta is plagued by a substantial number of derelict vacant properties. Apart from being an eyesore, these spaces remain unused in a country in which space comes at a great premium. The MDA attributes a significant portion of such properties to prolonged legal battles. Accordingly, we propose immediate judicial reform to expedite legal processes and reduce the timeframe properties remain entangled in disputes.

This year and beyond, the Malta Development Association is determined to stand at the forefront of genuinely transformative initiatives in the property sector. By proposing and promoting these initiatives we aim to create a more inclusive, eco-friendly, and accessible housing market.

Beyond words, only such actions will improve the quality of life for residents.