The Dubai-ification of Paceville

People seem to think that Malta should stop the clock and remain where it is as far as physical development is concerned – something that is impossible in a healthy economy

The proposed view for St George's Square: Photo taken from PA's Masterplan report
The proposed view for St George's Square: Photo taken from PA's Masterplan report

A week or so ago, the Planning Authority published for consultation purposes the draft of the Paceville Master Plan – technically called the Paceville Integrated Development Framework.

This fact alone marks an interesting first in the physical development planning history of Malta. I have not had the time to go through the details of the document and therefore I am not in a position to comment on the solutions that have been worked out for the area but I find this approach to the regeneration of Paceville to be both professional and innovative as far as Malta is concerned.

The Planning Authority (PA) appointed international consultants Mott MacDonald in association with Broadway Malyan to draw up this master plan to accommodate future development and act as a catalyst for the regeneration of the area and meet the requirements of existing and future residents and visitors. This means that all proposed developments in Paceville – of which there are a considerable number for such a small area – will not be considered piecemeal but rather as developments complementing each other within the master plan.

The traditional approach in Malta was, of course, the piecemeal approach with improvisation as we go along. It is evident that the end result of such an approach would be substantially negative. Look at Bugibba today and you will know what I mean.

Paceville was fast becoming a jungle of piecemeal development with significant traffic problems and any further development would tend to worsen the overal situation, turning the place into an uncontrolled concrete jungle of hotels, holiday flats, restaurants and entertainment outlets and misplaced residential areas.

The courage to take the bull by the horns and take the integrated development approach is to be commended. It is certainly not an easy task but the draft master plan is undoubtedly an innovative approach leading to a positive result. 

The PA says that it envisages Paceville becoming Malta’s prime coastal location and the master plan aims to enhance the three pillars of neighbourhood development – urban realm, transport, and infrastructure – while transforming Paceville beyond existing planning parameters. This is not a simple task and – as the PA itself states – key interventions are required to achieve this visionary transformation.

Naturally, the old Maltese chestnut of one developer being allowed to build buildings having different parameters from those allowed to another developer is bound to rise. Otherwise we could not have any master plan but simply a rule saying what everybody is allowed to build to a particular height in a particular area – certainly a visionless approach and hardly an integrated one.

A solution to adjust for such discrepancies will have to be a financial one. In fact the PA expects that a substantial share of the €300 million needed to realise this master plan will have to come from the developers that will have to pay a contribution with each developemnt permit issued for the area. Official sources say that this contribution will be related to the built-up area allowed in each permit and therefore this would be an attempt to have a level playing field – with developers having to pay more if the density allowed is more.

From a strategic viewpoint, I now understand why the PA preferred to process the applications for the high-rise devlopment proposals in Mriehel and Sliema and left all proposals for Paceville on the back burner. Some would say that these two developments should not have been permitted, but then the same people seem to think that Malta should stop the clock and remain where it is as far as physical development is concerned – something that is impossible in a healthy economy. In fact, such an approach would undoubtedly undermine the economy to the detriment of all. 

Having said that, I have a gut feeling that restricting high rise to the area of the Paceville master plan would have been preferable. Yet, one cannot dismiss easily the argument of the Sliema Townsquare Developers regarding the large area that will be left as an open public space. The developers insist that the area would otherwise have all been developed with adjacent monotonous squat blocks. The only real debatable argument is whether this development will impinge negatively on the charcter of Sliema as it is today.

No such thing will happen in Paceville: its character will be determined by the vision of the master plan. This, in itself is positive, considering that hitherto Paceville has developed piecemeal and has no character of significant note today – except its susceptibility to become an ever denser concrete jungle.

Armchair critics might just dismiss the Paceville master plan as an unnecessary fancy ‘Dubai-ification’ proposal. I happen to think it is a step in the right direction.

Paceville should not be unique. There are other important areas crying for a master plan, albeit with different objectives. This is the way to go.

The Hillary-Trump debate

I have followed – with avid interest – most of the first televised debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I would say that this debate between the contenders for the Presidency of the world’s most powerful nation was sometimes petty and does not shame in any way the political debates in puny Malta. Puny as in our size, which cannot be said of the US.

I agree with most media all over the world that gave a victory to Clinton. Whereupon Trump started dishing out puny excuses – his microphone was malfunctioning; he did not say what he actually said; and Hillary Clinton knew of the questions beforehand.

This last excuse is incredible. As a follower of the US political scene, I would have guessed what the big majority of the questions would be about. If Hillary and Trump did not realise what were most of the issues that were going to be raised and were not prepared for them, then they are downright stupid – which can’t be said about Hillary Clinton! 

The Trump camp even concocted polls showing that people think he won.

Call it puerile, puny or whatever. The US might be the most powerful country on earth but its electorate is certainly not the most intelligent if it is fooled by such ridiculous stances!

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