MDA boss dismisses ‘crazy’ proposal for moratorium on large-scale projects

MDA president Sandro Chetcuti makes environmental case for skyscrapers, argues that high-rise buildings will create more public open spaces

PA chairman Vince Cassar, independent MP Marlene Farrugia weigh in on high-rise debate

The government “would be crazy” to support independent MP Marlene Farrugia’s call for a moratorium on large scale projects, according to Malta Developers Association president Sandro Chetcuti.

Farrugia has presented a parliamentary motion calling for a moratorium on large projects pending the design of a masterplan regulating such developments. However, Chetcuti dismissed her call and insisted that developments should proceed according to the set local plans.

“I can speculate that Parliament won’t pass this motion, as I don’t believe that the government is crazy enough to halt all ongoing works because of the proposed high-rise projects,” he said on Monday night’s edition of Reporter. “Local plans are the bible of development, and if the government wants to revise them, then it must first embark on a wide-ranging public consultation process.

Farrugia’s motion follows revelations of plans to construct four skyscrapers in Paceville – two at the site currently occupied by the Institute for Tourism Studies, one at Villa Rosa, and another at the Mercury House site. Other high-rise buildings have been proposed in Sliema, Gzira, and Mriehel.

Chetcuti insisted that local plans shouldn’t be updated specifically to appease developers, but rather that developers should have to update their designs according to the new local plans.

He added that the government’s ongoing consultation for the partial review of Paceville’s local plan should also take into account the impact of any new policies on the surrounding area.

Skyscrapers ‘can create more open spaces’

Social equality campaigner and Moviment Graffiti member Andre Callus warned that Malta is too small to accommodate further large-scale development.

“Many people are in favour of high-rise because they think that it is better to build upwards rather than to take up more land,” he said. “However, this is a fallacy based on the belief that we have to keep on building, even though there are 72,000 vacant properties on the island.

“The people haven’t yet realized that these high-rise buildings are not being planned to house people, but as speculative projects based on the illusion that wealthy foreigners will invest in them.

 

When asked by host Saviour Balzan how he will convince the public that the Maltese economy should shift away from the construction industry as its primary motor, Callus said that people are able to realize that land is scarce.

“Land is Malta’s most precious resource, and it can no longer remain the main source through which people make money. There are always alternatives; the economy isn’t a phenomenon that falls out of the sky but rather something built up through government incentives.”

He was skeptical to Chetucti’s insistence that developers should follow the local plans, arguing that places like Sliema and St Julian’s have been developed “savagely” over the years despite all the regulations and laws.

“Regulations are important, but at the end of the day it is those unelected, wealthy and powerful people who call the shots. Regulations – such as building height limits and ODZ exceptions – have been changed over the years to appease certain people.”

Callus has lent his support to a new green activist group Kamp Emergenza Ambjent, who recently erected tents outside Castille in protest at environmental destruction.

“Many people from all walks of life are alarmed at the way land is being treated as a commodity for a few people to get rich,” he said. 

However, Sandro Chetcuti retorted by insisting that the dawn of skyscrapers could have environmental benefits in the form of more open spaces.

“High-rise is an interesting model that has worked in every country that it has been introduced in,” he said. “They take up less land than normal buildings do, and the land that is saved can be used to create open spaces for the public.

“Indeed, high-rise should be intertwined with the spirit of public open spaces, or else we’ll end up with towers touching each other with no spaces in between.”

However, he warned that allowing all the proposed high-rise projects to proceed simultaneously risks overheating the market.

“While I understand the government is enthusiastic to keep on improving the economy, it shouldn’t allow all these large projects to be built at the same time, but rather save some of them for a rainy day.”

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