Two weights and many towers

This would mean revisiting the shameful policies which are allowing owners of land or derelict dwellings to construct new lavish homes in the countryside

I have a rather outdated mariner book, which provides an illustration of all the islands in the Mediterranean, of course including Malta.
I revisited the book and there it was, Malta, when approaching from the North. It offers a sight of the country for sailors who had no GPS at the time, to make it clear that this was in fact Malta. It is a very revealing illustration.  

The Farsons brewery edifice can be seen from the coast, a church in Hamrun and other architectural ‘gems’ are seen to confirm that this was in fact Malta. Fast forward to now and these sights have long been blocked by buildings which simply sprouted up from the late sixties on.  
The construction industry has been the pillar of the Maltese economy and politicians have done little to reverse the trend. They have, in fact, helped it all along.

The buildings seen in this mariner’s book are dwarfed by the development that has changed the face of Malta and converted it into a concrete and franka jungle that no matter what, still serves as a home for hundreds of thousands of relatively happy Maltese, who have got used to living in this kind of environment.

More importantly, it generates serious revenue to construction firms and countless services that have grown exponentially with it. People have become obscenely rich on its spoils. It started off decades ago, with peaks in the fifties, sixties, mid-eighties, nineties and of course now. It is at present the thing that is pushing the economy to new heights and is proof of Joseph Muscat’s neoliberal policies.
It is a free market economy at its best (or is it its worst?) and has nothing to do with vision.

I read that some environmentalists were superimposing images of the towers and indicating how they blocked the view of say Mdina from Valletta, or Valletta from Mdina. I really had to laugh.

Many normal folk do not even give a hoot about the towers or the vista they block because they live in boxes without a view. Most people live with no view at all. They also do not turn up every morning on the Mdina bastions or at Hastings gardens to see the view. Most people either get stuck in the office with some very not at all inspiring scenes, or in a traffic jam behind some unsightly concrete mixer, which often make a concrete mess of our roads. Most people have lived all their lives in apartments or maisonettes where there is no talk of a view other than the broken pavement, potholed road, and unsightly utility wiring.

Indeed, I would add that many find the argument that the towers will block the view of Valletta and Mdina alien to say the least.   
However, the consideration of parking and increased pressure on public utilities is something which really should concern the Planning Authority. It has nothing to do with environmental criteria. And in this department the then Malta Environment and Planning Authority failed miserably. For years now they have been collecting hefty fees from developers or people who run offices to make up for the parking problem. But there have been few initiatives from MEPA to create parking solutions.  

The green groups of course argue that there should be no cars at all but there is no realism in this argument. The solutions should be to provide more city based underground parking and alternative traffic modules.  

In this department we are fire fighting and most of the time, responding only when it is too late. There is no forward planning.
Today if you take a boat out of Marsamxett you would not be blamed for only looking to the starboard side and forgetting about the hideous creation on the Tigne front.  Valletta is the place to look at, as the boat makes its way out of the port. Tigne point is an appalling piece of planning that was sanctioned years ago by a Nationalist administration. Anyone wanting to live there today, is invited to do so at a hefty price.  If they have the money they can have a view of Valletta and savour the capital city. They do not, from where they stand, view the unsightliness of where they are. On the other hand, those living in Valletta have to be content with looking at the repugnant and ghastly set of lego bricks plonked together on the point, confirming what great planners we are.

But if I were sailing or rowing in Marsamxett around 1565, I would have said the same about the way Mount Sciberras was being ravaged by the Knights of St John, that crooked bunch of heroic Christian zealots who pressured peasants back in France and Italy with unnecessary taxes to construct shockingly expensive high ramparts and awe-inspiring buildings.

I still cannot understand what makes development that occurred 50, 100, 200 and 400 years ago acceptable but modern towers something to be shunned. It is perhaps a human trait: we want to preserve the past because it appears to have been more appropriate and pretty, and question the present because it is inherently wrong and ugly.

Of course, 500 years ago the Knights had no media to worry about, nor did they have a Planning Authority to process their application.  
The truth is that I love this country and I would like it to remain as it is. However the vision for our architectural and planning development cannot be left to the present generation of environmentalists or the present team of politicians.

The present team of leaders are overtaken completely by this obsession to grow the economy at all costs. It is to repeat the mistake the Irish made when the Celtic Tiger was roaring in the nineties and noughties.

As people talk of towers, many wonder why there were no environmentalists to talk about the level of noise pollution in Birzebbugia, about the unsightly cranes, the conflagration of the energy plant at Delimara, the sprawling industrial estate at Hal-Far and Kordin and the development around the airport, with cement factories and other construction facilities. Why did no one speak when the villages in the South were being pillaged by policies that were simply immoral?

The truth is that environmentalists need to be led by people who are not parochial and who are focused. Who are not only English-speaking and spoilt.  

The towers in Mriehel and Sliema herald a new age. I am not quite sure it is a golden age. It is one where the culture of towers has been unleashed. It is the final blow to the townscape of our country as we know it.

But it is also an opportunity for environmentalists to regroup and trade for something in return. That something is zero tolerance to all development in the dwindling countryside and green areas. To preserve every green area, every city garden, every green space, open space, valley, garigue and cliff face. It is time to demand that if planning policy is looking to the sky to expand its footprint then the cost for all this is to say stop to all development in the countryside. And stop means f*****g stop.

And this would mean that we revisit the shameful policies which are allowing owners of land or derelict dwellings to construct new lavish homes in the countryside.

We need green groups in this country, but ones that originate from the people. Groups that talk eloquently about the need to preserve land as an asset for future generations, groups that are led by normal people. We need these groups to be led by people who do not confuse the issues and do not have political agendas like Marlene Farrugia, who have an axe to grind and are not credible. They need to be individuals who know their subject and have no personal baggage.

You cannot, as is the case today, have certain green groups led by people who preach about the need to stop this rampant construction when they themselves live in opulent villas with extensive grounds and footprints. They also need to be real and to be grounded. The very fact that apart from Front ODZ and BirdLife Malta, most of the green groups only transmit their message in English is perhaps telling us where the problem lies.

It is like me campaigning for people to use public transport when I prefer and use my private car.

Unless someone out there understands that the messenger is as important as the message, we are doomed and this country could very well be on the road to becoming simply horrid and more unliveable. Because our politicians have no vision, have no empathy for what this country should look like. And more worrying, they think that a tower is what makes a country, not the countryside and cultural heritage which are what make Malta unique.

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