Building mad: Record-breaking 13,000 permits issued by PA

Newly-approved dwellings up by 376% since 2013

2018 was a record year for permits approved by the Planning Authority
2018 was a record year for permits approved by the Planning Authority

Just one year after Labour won re-election by one of the highest-ever margins, the national planning machine was busy churning out more permits than ever for development in overbuilt Malta.

2018 saw the Planning Authority approving nothing less than 12,885 dwellings – the highest-ever number, surpassing the previous record of 2007 when the PA approved 11,343 dwellings.

Annual statistics published by the Planning Authority show that this was the fifth consecutive increase in the number of dwellings approved by the PA since 2013, when only 2,707 permits for new dwellings were issued.

Since 2013 the number of newly-approved dwellings has shot up by a staggering 376% – an average of 74% every year.

In total, 119,886 new dwellings have been approved since 2000, of which 24.5% were approved in just three years between 2016 and 2018 during which the PA approved 29,339 permits.

The number of new dwellings has now reached the same level as that approved in the property boom between 2005 and 2007, when 30,833 dwellings were approved in three years.

Statistics show that permits for new dwellings shot up from 3,970 in 2000 to peak at 11,343 in 2007. Subsequently the number of permits declined to just 2,707 in 2013 to rise to 7,508 in 2016.

The surge in approval of new dwellings between 2005 and 2007 coincided with a relaxation of building heights in urban areas. It also coincided with Malta gearing up for adoption of the single European currency, when more people started channelling their undeclared money into property development, fuelling a property boom.

The surge in permits after 2015 coincided with a relaxation in planning regulation through design guidelines which effectively superseded height limitations enshrined in local plans, and higher rates of economic growth, which contrast with the economic downturn between 2008 and 2013.

Only 1% of new dwellings are ODZ

But while the PA is approving more dwellings, the percentage of new dwellings approved outside development zones (ODZ) has fallen to just 1.1% of the total, down from 1.5% last year and from 3.8% in 2016. The percentage of ODZ dwellings approved by the PA was the lowest ever since 2000.

Despite the percentage decrease, the actual number of new ODZ dwellings remains higher than that approved in any single year since 2010, except for 2016. In 2018 the PA issued permits for 139 ODZ dwellings, three more than in the previous year but down from 283 in 2016.

A total of 778 ODZ dwellings was approved between 2013 and 2018 under Labour, compared to 601 approved between 2008 and 2012. A far larger number of ODZ dwellings was approved between 2003 and 2008 when 1,113 ODZ dwellings were approved.

Moreover, most dwellings are now being developed on previously developed land. Only 13% were developed on virgin land compared to 35% in 2017. The percentage of new dwellings developed on virgin land was the lowest ever since 2000. The percentage of dwellings on virgin land has decreased from 70% in 2000 to 13% in 2018.

More demolitions than conversions

While 6,166 dwellings approved in 2018 were the result of the demolition of older buildings 2,409 were the result of the conversion of existing properties.

Conversions remained relatively stable between 2000 and 2004; 2005 experienced an increase, followed by a decline in 2006 and an increase in 2007 and 2008. This was followed by a decline between 2009 and 2013 and a sustained increase since 2014. The number of conversions in 2018 was the highest ever but so was the number of units replacing demolished buildings.

In 2019, PA approved the highest number of maisonettes (1,166) and apartments (11,211) ever. The number of approved terraced houses (396) was also the highest since 2003.