7 NOVEMBER 2001

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Should development go higher?


By Miriam Dunn

The scarce amount of land available for new investment in the tourism sector has prompted some architects to question whether it would be better to allow controlled high-rise development in some areas of the island.

Although the prospect of high-rise development tends to result in panic and protests among some critics, especially environmentalists, some architects are arguing that this option is preferable to what is being witnessed at present.

"Because almost all the virgin land earmarked for development in the tourism sector in the building scheme has been utilised, tying the hands of investors who are interested in expanding in this area, some are having to find ways of ‘working the system’," one architect said. "This might mean acquiring property and then lobbying to adapt it for different use, even if it is deemed to have historical value, or to be in an area that might not be suitable for tourism development.

"Just look at the protests that are still ongoing about hotel developments at Marfa and Verdala."

He questioned whether the answer might not be to build up higher in certain areas, providing they are not of a historical value, as long as the building is controlled.

"If some land is made available in this way, it would give developers the opportunity to invest in a straightforward manner and might help avoid certain scenarios where unsatisfactory developments have taken place," the architect said.

But Ivan Fenech, spokesman for the Planning Authority, was doubtful about whether allowing high-rise development was necessarily the answer to the problem of land scarcity.
"The idea of raising building heights in order to allow for further investment has some serious land-use implications," he said. "Most of all it would mean further intensification in existing tourist areas which would increase problems of infrastructure and for the social fabric. This could negatively affect the occupancies of existing accommodation establishments."

Mr Fenech said the PA aimed to improve the urban environment in existing tourist areas.

"The recently published Qawra Development Brief is one example of sensible development which diversifies the tourist product without compromising the environment," he said.
"On the other hand, redevelopment gives us an opportunity to address other issues like the problem of vacant buildings."

Mr Fenech said that in line with the Structure Plan, the authority looks positively upon rehabilitation projects in historic and village core areas that would diversify the tourist product and generate economic activity in areas other than the traditional tourist localities.

The PA spokesman emphasised that the current Structure Plan, while guiding the Planning Authority, encourages the development of tourism accommodation within the built-up areas of the main tourist localities - St Paul’s Bay, Mellieha, Sliema, St Julians, Marsascala, Marsaxlokk, Birzebbugia, Mgarr (Gozo), Marsalforn and Xlendi.

"The plan also encourages the provision of tourism accommodation in urban conservation areas," he said. "The intention is to attract new markets by diversifying the tourist accommodation product through the rehabilitation of buildings in historic and village core areas."

 



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