[WATCH] Malta failed in construction planning, needs to look to the future, developers' boss says

MDA chief Sandro Chetcuti, Opposition leader Adrian Delia and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, addressing the MDA’s Annual General Meeting, give their take on the way forward for development

Malta Developers' Association president Sandro Chetcuti
Malta Developers' Association president Sandro Chetcuti

Malta has failed when it comes to forward development planning, and now needs to concentrate more on having a strategy in place for the sector, the construction lobby's chief said.

Malta Developers’ Association president Sandro Chetcuti, addressing the group’s Annual General Meeting on Thursday, conceded that development planning, had, since the British left the island, been piecemeal in nature.

“We now cannot afford to turn Malta into a Bugibba and Qawra,” Chetucti said, as he spoke of the importance of maintaining and saving certain townscapes.

Construction, however, he said, was one of the main reasons why Malta went from a recession to the “biggest boom the country has ever seen”.

He said he agreed that the economy didn’t have a “pause button” – something which the Prime Minister has previously made reference to – and that stopping now would lead to an economic regress.

Touching on the issue of competition from foreign developers, Chetucti said that local players in the industry weren’t afraid of competing, but that it had to be ensured that there was a level playing field for both the Maltese and foreigners.

He also lamented, however, that developers were coming across excessive bureaucracy which was holding the sector back.

“Bureaucracy is increasing every day. People in the sector are complaining of problems at the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage, for instance – the system there has collapsed, as it can’t keep up with the volume of work while also carrying out monitoring. We have to be flexible and practical here,” he remarked.

On the issue of land reclamation, Chetucti said that the MDA was in favour of it, as long as it wasn’t done for speculative purposes. “We don’t want to see blocks of flats built on reclaimed land.”

He said, in his closing comments, that the way forward for the sector was to admit where it had gone wrong, to concede that it still had a lot to learn, and to keep working with the government and the Opposition for Malta’s future.

Delia calls for planning far ahead, Muscat says this is impossible

Addressing the MDA’s members, Opposition leader Adrian Delia agreed with Chetucti’s call for more planning. “When it comes to long-term planning, the question is not if we build, but the way we will build, and if this will be suiting Malta’s needs,” he said, emphasising that evaluating how many hospitals, schools, roads, hotels, and so on, are needed, was essential.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia
Opposition leader Adrian Delia

“We need to consider what Malta’s population will be in two decades’ time, how many of these will be foreigners, how many will be families…” he stressed, adding that, if the industry managed to do that, it would become a much bigger success story than it already is.

Taking the podium after Delia, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, however, rejected the idea that it was possible or practical to plan so far ahead.

“I am absolutely against planning which tries to forecast today what the needs of my children’s children will be 25 years in the future,” he said, “This is not realistic, and countries, including Malta, which tried to do this, realised they were wasting their time. Things are happening at such a fast pace in today’s world, and technology is developing so quickly, that predicting the future is impossible.”

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

He, did, acknowledge, however, that there had to be a strategy in place to cater for existing needs, but that any talk of a masterplan has historically been shot down.

“In my experience, when even a mere mention is made of the term ‘masterplan’, a furore erupts.”

To devise a masterplan, he said, a concrete agreement had to be reached on the parameters within which developers operate, depending on the circumstances of a project.

“We need to agree on what developers can do and what they can’t. There is a fine line between understanding what the country’s economy needs, but also understanding that a plan means that some things have got to give,” he said.

By means of an example, he said that developers would have to concede if, for instance, a fellow player in the industry was allowed to build a higher structure than their own, by virtue of the particular circumstances of its location and the rules which come into play.

He said Malta had to start moving away from carpet policies and more towards provisions which cater specifically for individual situations, such as the fact that excavations in certain localities would unearth historical remains and therefore had to be regulated in a certain manner.

He also underlined the contradiction in certain arguments which are popularly made. “Some may argue that Malta needs an underground metro system to solve the traffic problem – the excavation of which would lead to the creation of huge amounts of construction debris. In the same breath, however, they might say that they are against land reclamation.”

“So we have to start making decisions, and seeing what our priorities are.”

Muscat also said that the time had arrived for the government to move away from taking direct decisions in the sector, and instead place things in the hands of professionals.

“In my view, an ideal system would be for the government to not have anything to do with such things, and would instead rely on professionals, including architects, lawyers, and so on,” he said, “But, the moment that such a professional is found to not have done their job properly, their warrant should be revoked. We need to have a system for everyone to take responsibility.”

“I am ready to start a discussion on this matter,” he added.

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