20 - 26 June , 2001

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Making the most of the land at hand for industry

The availability of land for industrial use was highlighted last week by Parliamentary Secretary for the Economic Services Ministry, Edwin Vassallo. Land is precious and is one of the country’s scarcest resources and the demand for industrial space is increasing seemingly by the day.

The careful planning for industrial land use cannot be overlooked and, as Mr Vassallo explains, our first priority should be to give due consideration of whether we are making maximum use of the land that is to be developed. The following are extracts from a paper prepared by Chris Borg, the Planning Authority’s Managing Architect

The present situation
The easiest solution to all these problems is to expand the existing estates and /or to allocate government owned land for new industrial zones. As we have seen earlier it is very difficult to expand vertically our industrial units since this means most of our factories will have to be demolished and reconstructed.

"Today the situation is such that we have a number of estates which, with the exception of Hal-Far, are being classified or termed as fully saturated. When MDC tried to expand its estates' boundaries, the Planning Authority raised objections, by the public or both. In fact most of our estates are either surrounded by residential areas, agricultural areas or else a combination of the two." – Memo to the MDC Chairman – 13 January, 1999.

The situation is such that although MDC coped and is still coping in a satisfactory manner with demand, yet the situation is turning out to transform itself into one in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide an adequate supply.

This implies that MDC should do its utmost to utilise efficiently the space available while on the other hand try to identify solutions of how to expand and increase its present resources so as to be able to cope with the demand for industrial related resources.

"A question each and every one of us should ask is whether the existing industrial units are being utilised efficiently. This question should be related to another problem, that is, whether or not we have the data regarding the existing uses." - Memo to the MDC Chairman - 13 January, 1999.

This all leads to the formation of an efficient estates management team which will be in a position to have all the necessary information regarding existing industrial uses so as to be able to manage and control effectively the government owned industrial zones.

"Another problem is to identify which are the most sustainable types of industry. Which types of industry are we trying to target? Are these types sustainable in terms of land use, environmental impact, resources available for operations, labour supply and competition both local and foreign? All these questions should have precise answers if we intend to have an efficient management of our limited resources." – Memo to the MDC Chairman – 13 January, 1999.

Thus a long-term comprehensive plan is required in which "...MDC should identify clear goals from which objectives related to specific issues of industry are derived. However in order to assess and implement these goals and objectives there needs to be an up to date land use database. This data has to be analysed and this analysis will serve as the basis for the fine-tuning of the determined goals and objectives." - Memo to the MDC Chairman - 13 January, 1999.

Actions taken
The Government and MDC chose to solve these problems by the separation of the investment promotion from the estate management functions.

"In September 1999, MDC announced its re-consolidation into two parts: an investment promotion division and an industrial estate management division. Furthermore the latter will be incrementally spun off to the private sector. These changes will serve to focus the estate management function on becoming more responsive to clients’ requirements, while enabling the remainder of the institution to redouble its focus on incentive management, marketing and research." – (Prosperity in Change White Paper – Ministry for Economic Services, 1999).

Regarding the estate management function the two main objectives are:

1. The formation of an Estates Management Unit.
2. The formulation of an Industry Subject Plan.
Formation of an Estates
Management Unit
The scope of an Estates Management Unit is to have a more efficient and effective management of the existing resources.
However in order to have this type of management one has to have an updated database of all the existing resources. Thus data about the:
• Condition of existing building fabric;
• Condition of the landscaping areas;
• Traffic network and parking availability;
• Existing infrastructure;
• Vacant land available;
• Uses within industrial units;
• Economic situation of the various companies;
• Existing and projected employment and
• Rent situation
Is being collected and analysed so as to serve as the basis for the effective management of our industrial estates.

The formulation of an Industry Subject Plan
MDC in close co-operation with the Planning Authority embarked on the task to formulate an Industry Subject Plan. This plan will be a long-term plan, which will:

"Entail a review of current industrial land use and examine its advantages in the context of the potential it provides to cater for future demand for the manufacturing industry during the period 2000 – 2020. The purpose of such a study is to develop an effective land use strategy for industry." – Industry Subject Study terms of Reference, 2000.

MDC will eventually be one of the first government entities to prepare this type of plan since the Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands was enacted by parliament in 1992.

This plan will be incorporated in the Structure Plan and will provide an integrated strategy for the long-term future of the Maltese industry.

Past experience on factory design and land use
Industrial development is vital to the expansion of the economy and of employment. Particular attention is being given to small firms, both local and foreign, to start up and grow. Moreover

"Membership of the EU will provide Maltese industry unimpeded access to the large unified internal market being striven for by the EU. Of more immediate significance to manufacturers, accession into the Union will provide industry with relief from EU rules of origin as they currently apply to Malta’s exports." – (Prosperity in Change White Paper – Ministry for Economic Services, 1999).

This means that the resources available need to be managed efficiently so as to satisfy and cope with the needs which will result from this change.

Unfortunately one of the crucial resources, that is land, can be classified as scarce. Thus the Malta Development Corporation (MDC) is facing a problem since there seems to be a lack of government owned industrial space.

In order to be able to understand the present problems related to factory design and industrial land use one has to understand and analyse the origins of the present industrial set-up.

Historical outlook of the Maltese industrial set-up
In the early 1950’s when it was evident that the English military services were planning their round up, the Maltese Government sought advise from British consultants regarding the future development of the Maltese economy particularly regarding the industrial, agricultural and tourism sectors.

With respect to industrial development two major advises were given one of which proposed the training of a nucleus of people and the other proposed the formation of a corporation. Major priority was given to the formation of a team or nucleus of industrial specialists. Four people were selected and sent to the UK for training and by 1962 they returned and were eventually engaged by the Maltese Government to kick-start the industrial sector.

It is important to note that during this period the industrial sector was mainly made up of two main companies, namely Farsons at Mriehel and the Malta Drydocks at Cospicua together with some garage industries of the casa bottega type scattered in the Maltese towns and villages.

In 1959 the Aid to Industries Ordinance was enacted by parliament and an Industrial Development Board was formed which was made up of Maltese and British officers. This board dealt with grants, loans and other forms of assistance to industry as specified in the Aid to Industries Ordinance.

On the other hand the Public Works Department (PWD) was made responsible for the construction of factories. This was done in close liaisoning with the Industry Department.

For the construction of the first factories Maltese architects were sent in the UK to study the designs adopted in that country.

Eventually, between 1957 and 1960 the first eleven factories were built at Marsa thus forming the Marsa Industrial Estate. These factories were basically a copy of similar factories constructed in England. In fact the roof structure with the north lights design was copied exactly and implemented in Malta. It is also important to note that some of the first factories were actually imported from the U.K. and assembled in Malta. On the other hand others were being constructed at the Malta Drydocks.

The reason behind the choice of Marsa as the first industrial estate were that this area happened to be owned by government and was supplied with the necessary infrastructure. Moreover this estate was located adjacent to a main traffic network which made it easier for all its employees to travel to and from their place of work.

The second estate after Marsa was San Gwann Industrial Estate, which started being constructed in the 1960s. The units in this estate are similar to those of Marsa and eventually had the same roof design.

One of the reasons behind the choice of this estate was to create job opportunities in this part of the island. However as with Marsa, the major reason behind the creation of this estate was that it could easily be developed on a large expanse of government owned land.

Meanwhile during the early 60’s a commission of three technical people was formed, to analyse the type of factory construction adopted at that time. It is important to note that during this period our factories were already experiencing problems vis-à-vis the Maltese climate. In particular problems were being reported concerning the north light design. This commission was also responsible to study import substitution so as to reduce the rate of imported goods.

The main outcomes were that this commission suggested that the design of the new factories was not adequate and that smaller factories should be constructed with a maximum span of 20 meters instead of 30 meters. Moreover it was also suggested that 12 meters span units should also be constructed. It was also proposed that due to the Maltese weather conditions the north lights should be omitted from the roof design of new units. A recommendation was also made to construct the first reinforced concrete roof units. This recommendation applied to the 12 meters span designs.

It is important to note that during this time pre-cast/pre-stressed concrete planks were not available yet. Thus it was extremely difficult to span industrial units by reinforced concrete without having a large number of bulky columns and beams which obstructed the operations inside these units.

In 1965, the first four factories were constructed at Mriehel. Thus, Mriehel Industrial Estate was established. Again, the same factory designs were adopted similar to the factory units of Marsa and San Gwann. This meant that the same design problems were adopted even in these factories. The location of this estate was mainly governed by the same reasons as for the other estates.

Bulebel Industrial Estate was established in 1968 by the construction of the first twenty factories. British consultants prepared the original layout of this estate together with the factory designs. For some reason or another, the north light roof system was adopted again and in this case, the situation was such that this design was patented. Thus for a long period of time no one was able to alter or carry out major maintenance works to these roof designs.

Unlike the already established estates, Bulebel was the first estate which originated from a proper master plan which included the integration of various land-use and urban design aspects such as traffic, parking, landscaping and building layouts. However its location was dictated by the availability of government owned land in the area.

In 1970 the one and only industrial estate was established at Gozo, Xewkija. Meanwhile between 1974 and 1979 some twenty factory units were constructed at Kordin Industrial Estate.

Till 1978, both the PWD and MDC were building factory units. The PWD built the standard factories while MDC dealt with custom-design units.

In 1979 the first twelve factories were constructed at Hal-Far and another fourteen units were constructed at Ricasoli. Thus Hal-Far and Ricasoli Industrial Estates were established.

The Hal-Far units were constructed by MDC while the Ricasoli units were constructed by the PWD. The Hal-Far units included steel columns/steel beams structures on which pre-stressed/pre-cast concrete planks were laid. This design did not depend on the workmanship quality and eventually was more efficient than that adopted at Ricasoli which included bulky reinforced concrete columns and beams.

In 1988, the Industrial Development Act was enacted by parliament. This act provided for further incentives to the manufacturing sector and these provisions were again entrusted to MDC for administrative purposes. Moreover, MDC was also entrusted with the day to day administration of the government owned industrial estates, which included also the functions previously administered by the Land Department such as
• Rent collection and
• The allocation of industrial land and units.
In addition to these functions MDC was also made responsible for the:
• Development of industrial government owned land
• The maintenance of industrial units
• The maintenance and general upkeeping of the industrial estates.

In 1991, the Mosta Technopark was established. A cotton-spinning factory previously occupied part of the site on which it was constructed. This estate was the first estate to be scrutinised by the Planning Directorate, which today is the technical arm of the Planning Authority.

The main objective behind the construction of this estate was to provide space for the expansion of the electronics manufacturing industry. This type of industry was growing at a very fast rate and an example of this was the SGS factory at Kirkop.
Other positive aspects of this estate were that for the first time:

• A serious attempt was made to have the entire estate made up of double decker units, which meant more efficient land-use.
• A particular land use was being allocated to a particular area, thus differentiating between different land uses.
However, one of the major drawbacks of this estate is that these units are too large for the electronics industry both in terms of area and height. Unfortunately it seems that the same concepts as those of the 1950’s were adopted vis-à-vis the design of factory units.
Today MDC administers a total of 642 industrial units spread out in 14 government owned industrial zones which include Attard, Bulebel, Corradino, Hal-Far, Kirkop, Marsa, Mosta, Mqabba, Mriehel, Ricasoli, Safi, San Gwann, Ta’ Qali and Xewkija.

An analysis of this industrial set-up
The standard factories, which make up most of our industrial estates, were basically designed according to the first designs brought over from the UK during the 1950’s. This means that the unit sizes adopted throughout this period including Mosta Technopark are actually sizes aimed to accommodate textiles and medium engineering uses.
Unfortunately despite their rigid designs many of these factories had to be altered and sub-divided so as to accommodate the continuous change in demand. This means that large amounts of finances had to be spent so as to implement these alterations.
The design of factories adopted catered for textile and medium engineering uses. This means that the factories had to have large spans and ample circulation space with a minimum number of columns. It is important to note that these uses depended on large numbers of employees and bulky/heavy machinery. Thus given the constraints and pressures for the expansion of the industrial manufacturing sector the easiest solution was adopted, that is, to spread horizontally instead of vertically.
Moreover since most of the units having the larger spans were roofed over by steel/aluminium sheets it was impossible to transform the supporting structure to cater for another factory level. This applies also to the concrete roof units, which were designed in a way that they could not withstand the loading from another level. Another important point was that the columns and beams were designed to withstand the loading from the roof only.
Another problem was that the factory design adopted was not adequate for the Maltese climatic conditions particularly during summer periods. For instance from their very beginning north lights failed to serve their purpose and eventually they were and are the cause of water penetration. Thus during the 80’s various solutions started being explored regarding thermal insulation and ventilation. However none of the solutions seems to have been successful for a long term. Eventually some of the solutions such as the spraying of impervious foam proved to be the ruin of most of the steel roof factories.
Today the situation is such that most of our industrial units cannot be expanded to cater for more uses. Moreover the life span of most of these units has already been exceeded and the situation is such that MDC has to spend a considerable amount of finances to maintain these units.
Regarding environmental issues Malta did not have an adequate legislation when industry was being established. Thus most frequently foreign investors were asked to abide by regulations from their country of origin. However enforcement and monitoring of these regulations lacked. Thus environmental issues were merely the ‘Cinderella’ of industry.
Although it seems that sometimes efforts were made to increase job opportunities were there was the need for such an increase. The location of industrial estates was merely dictated by circumstances and by the availability of government owned industrial land.
Another important aspect, which characterised industrial land use, is that during all this period no forward planning was actually made in the establishment of the estates or their extensions. This means that estates and all that happened in them cropped up in a piecemeal fashion resulting from the everyday pressures. For instance no effective zoning plan was ever adopted to separate incompatible uses.
Integrated planning was non-existent and resources had to be stretched and twisted so as to accommodate economic projections and impacts, business plans and other requirements dictated by investment promotion needs. Thus MDC lacked an overall strategy which integrated the land use, economic, social and environmental aspects of the Maltese industry.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt