[WATCH] Prime Minister against ‘straitjacket’ development policies

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says stopping development is not the way forward

Prime minister Joseph Muscat says stopping development is not the way forward
Prime minister Joseph Muscat says stopping development is not the way forward
Prime Minister against 'straight jacket' development policies

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said he is against straitjacket development policies that are ultimately destined to be broken for important national developments and projects.

Speaking after a press conference, Muscat said that he did not think suspending the development of big projects until the master plan of the area in question is developed, is the way forward.

“Stopping developments altogether is not an option in the local context, particularly because we have taken a hard stance to limit if not eliminate completely developments in ODZs,” Muscat said, defending planned high-rise projects.

Muscat explained that he agreed with the argument that “sprawl” should be avoided, but he added that as a result, building vertically was the only viable option.

Independent MP Marlene Farrugia presented a motion in parliament calling for a moratorium on high-rise projects located on both public and private land, until a masterplan regulating such developments is approved.

Presently, the Planning Authority is considering a 38-storey residential block and a 40-storey hotel in Sliema, a new 24 storey tower in Gzira and a financial centre proposed by the Gasan and Tumas Groups comprising 16, 18, 20 and 14 storeys in Mriehel. Moreover, a number of high-rise towers are being proposed in Paceville, including two residential towers proposed on the site occupied by the Institute of Tourism Studies, which is being given as a concession to the SeaBank group. 

Farrugia’s motion calls for a national masterplan formulated after public consultation and the publication of studies, which assess the country’s present and future needs. The masterplan would also consider not just the aesthetic and environmental impact but also the economic impact and long term sustainability of such projects

“Parliament has already approved a national masterplan,” Muscat said referring to the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED). “We will also be developing a master plan for the Paceville area, given the concentration of development in the coming years.”

Muscat explained that the masterplan would be created to reflect the challenges and needs of the area. He added that the onus was currently on the government to look at issues like parking and infrastructural developments that ought to take place to accommodate these developments.

“Current infrastructure is not sufficiently strong, but the answer is not to stop developments entirely, as things have a tendency to collapse in their own natural way anyway,” Muscat said.

Muscat added that discussions about how future developments and projects should be carried out would continue to take place.

“As a government we are not in favour of wholly restrictive policies that are ultimately only destined to be broken,” he said, referring to the previous government’s decision to break a number of policies for the creation of important projects like the Renzo Piano parliament in Valletta.

“The government is in favour of a system of spatial planning that is more flexible and that is more in line with the current needs of the island.”

Muscat not aware of progress of Konrad Mizzi audit

Muscat has said that he is unaware of the progress of the independent audit into Konrad Mizzi’s affairs.

He reiterated that the results of the audit would be made public once it was completed, but that he was not informed of its progress, particularly given that it was being carried out by an international firm.

Muscat also denied any knowledge of meetings between the former health minister and the director of the Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH), prior to tenders being issued for the regeneration of the Gozo General Hospital.

“We meet with a lot of individuals and entities intent on proposing projects to us, but I am in no position to know whether Mizzi met with him,” he said, adding that in any case, the tender had been open to all companies interested.

VGH was chosen as the preferred bidder for the €200 million investment at St Luke’s Hospital, Karen Grech Rehabilitation Centre and the Gozo hospital, and it was one of three which bid for the redevelopment, management and operation of the three hospitals.

Muscat says there was nothing irregular in Michael Falzon’s appointment

Former parliamentary secretary Michael Falzon confirmed to local media yesterday that he has been employed on a full time basis with a State corporation (Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation) after resigning political office last January in the wake of the Gaffarena scandal.

Following his dismissal from the secretariat, Falzon had the option of returning to his former job at Bank of Valletta’s legal office, which would have meant reimbursing the bank part of the early retirement payment he had received when he became parliamentary secretary in 2014.

“Falzon was employed using the same methods used during the previous legislature, “ Muscat said, but he chose not to answer ulterior questions about Falzon’s pay in his new position.

Muscat was also asked about MFSA head Joe Bannister and Minister Evarist Bartolo’s comments and attacks on due to his potential involvement with a company registered in the Cayman Islands which is also considered a tax haven.

He reiterated his full confidence in Bannister and added that he and Bartolo have 'converging points' of concern on the MFSA's head.