[WATCH] Developers' chief: 'Slight inconveniences' small price to pay for booming economy

Malta Developers Association president Sandro Chetcuti says it's useless to dwell on past mistakes and that the focus should be on fixing things going forward

For the economy to continue to grow, sacrifices must be made and the country must live with the small inconveniences development brings with it, according to Malta Developers Association president Sandro Chetcuti.

Invited by host Saviour Balzan on Xtra on TVM, Chetcuti said there was a trade-off to a flourishing economy, and that reining in construction would ultimately result in the economy stagnating.

“If we want an economic boom and a growing economy we will have to continue making small sacrifices and live with a small inconvenience,” said Chetcuti.

The MDA president said that he has always promoted policies that leave the least possible impact on people’s lives, such minimising construction work on public holidays and early in the morning.

Moreover, according to Chetcuti, many of the problems attributed to the development industry, such as the loss of townscapes and open spaces, related mainly to planning issues and past mistakes, rather than the industry itself.

MDA president Sandro Chetcuti
MDA president Sandro Chetcuti

“There’s no point crying over spilt milk,” he said. “We can’t dwell on the past at the expense of trying to fix the future.”

Andre Callus from Kamp Emergenza Ambjent and Graffitti, stressed however that what was at stake was not a small inconvenience, and affected life on a very small island with limited space.

“The past is in fact is not the past because the places that have been built up are still there. It is land we will never get back, so we must definitely take the past into account.”

On whether activists opposing development were against economic growth, Callus said that this is not case but pointed out that economic growth driven by development does not benefit everyone in the same way.

“We believe that a large chunk of the economic growth generated by the construction industry is growth, the result of which goes to the few not the many,” he said.

Responding to an assertion by Balzan that the opposite is true, and that the ripple effect from the construction industry has a positive effect on many different sectors, Callus said while the construction industry provided work, which was often low-paying and temporary, there were other considerations to be made.

“What you have taken from the economy is the actual land. You are increasing congestion and creating other problems,” he said. “The development that we are seeing at the moment satisfies the interests of the businesses community.”

Kamp Emergenza Ambjent spokesperson Andre Callus
Kamp Emergenza Ambjent spokesperson Andre Callus

During a phone-in, PN MP Ryan Callus underscored the importance of striking a balance that allows the economy to grow while also safeguarding the environment. He said that the country must also be mindful of the fact that development must be sustainable and that there is a demand for the properties currently being built

To ensure sustainability, he said the PN’s position was that the environment should be protected at all costs and there should be a focus on regenerating built up spaces for new developments.

Planning policy and height limitations

Architect and government policy advisor Robert Musumeci, also speaking via phone said that any government had to try and balance the sustainability of development with the rights of the individual to develop or make alterations to land they own.

Moreover, he said that the current planning legislation allowed the public to object to development and that regulations were being applied in good faith.

“In my opinion this is happening because we have processes that involve the public at every level. It is not a whitewash,” he said.  

He went on to say that in formulating new legislation, policy makers had the public’s powers, especially when it came to objecting to development.

“While it is true that the rights of the individual must be respected, so too must the rights of the collective,” retorted Callus, adding that when speaking about regulations, it also important to discuss how these regulations are actually made.

“Let us appreciate that for years, not everyone had the same say in determining how these rules were made. A small class of people that had interests in certain types of developments had more of a say than the majority,” said Callus.

On the increase of height limitations, Callus pointed out that an opportunity for one person could also take place to the detriment of another and that, with buildings getting higher and higher, even developers would lose out in the long run.

The sudden increase in high-rise applications, said Chetcuti reflected the way construction industry today, with better use space which has already been developed so as to safeguard arable land.

Moreover, he said people and single mothers, for example, were getting used to living in smaller apartments, and no longer felt to need to own large houses. Callus interjected however, and pointed out that high-rise buildings were not being built for single mothers.

“This is where the bubble is at. These buildings are going to be built with the hope that very rich foreigners come to Malta to buy these luxury apartments.”

Chetcuti pushed back against claims that the country was currently going through a property bubble, insisting that the real demand for properties was there for all to see.

More in Xtra