Spatial planning to make Malta more resilient

The future of Malta’s sustainable development hangs in the balance. Ivan Fava, from the Planning Authority, explains why effective planning can replace fragility with robustness in Malta’s socioeconomic roadmap

People in Piazza Regina
People in Piazza Regina

Sustainable development does not happen by accident. Amid rapid urbanisation, climate change and ageing populations, sustainable development relies on innovative and meaningful spatial planning for towns and cities. While smart planning may be led by local authorities, it is crucially a participatory process that empowers stakeholders at all levels – the public included – to add their voices to a strategic vision for the future.

Ivan Fava, Strategic Planning Unit Manager at Malta’s Planning Authority (PA) firmly believes in bottom-up contributions when planning for Malta’s sustainability. “The responsibility of releasing a strategic spatial vision for the country lies on the PA’s shoulders,” Mr Fava explains, “but its implementation involves every part of Maltese society.”

Back in 2015, the PA unveiled Malta’s Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED), thereby imparting a holistic direction for Malta’s growth. “Unlike detailed local plans, the SPED is intentionally general to encompass broad objectives that affect Malta’s development, including the economy, environment and society,” continues Mr Fava.

“We identified eight key topics: socioeconomic, environmental, climate change, travel patterns, and urban, rural, coastal and marine spatial zones. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that can be applied to all areas, which is why the SPED gathers each one’s unique issues and objectives. The targets outlined in the SPED were put forward in a geographical, spatial manner with the intention of them feeding into subsidiary legislation and policies nationally, locally and privately, including land-use plans.”

Malta’s socioeconomic development features prominently in the SPED. Over the last 20 years, the country’s economy has shifted from being industry-driven to services-led. The island has attracted international companies, foreign workers and large investments, triggering a high level of development pressure. Property prices have increased significantly, which has caused affordability issues among low-income earners and vulnerable groups.

Ivan Fava
Ivan Fava

“Malta has certainly felt the strain,” Mr Fava continues. “Our health and transport infrastructure have been squeezed, and there’s a burden placed on the environment. Land in Malta is scarce. Every choice we make, at every level of society, has a spatial impact, meaning it’s felt on the ground. In this regard, the SPED is a tool to guide Malta’s decisions towards sustainability.”

The PA monitors the evolution of Malta’s socioeconomic needs and keeps track of development permissions to determine whether the SPED’s aims are being achieved when seen through a holistic lens. The PA’s responsibility is also to assess and revise the SPED, a process set to start in 2020, five years after its release.

“Planning isn’t only about providing land for the economy,” Mr Fava asserts. “People require space to live and entertain themselves. The SPED highlights our basic need for outdoor recreation, and social and community facilities, including schools, care centres for children, the elderly and disabled, as well as animal welfare. Lifting vulnerable groups out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion is critical for Malta’s wellbeing.”

All the while, the country’s strategic infrastructure, including water, electricity, sewage, fuel and telecommunications, must be safeguarded. Moreover, the improvement of transport networks is an ever-present debate. Therein lies the issue of current users competing for Malta’s land and resources.

“Future generations must also be protected,” Mr Fava highlights when thinking ahead to where the SPED goes from here. “A community’s need for space, and consequently for robust spatial strategy, remains present. Buildings resulting from today’s plans must be flexible enough to accommodate future changes and our available resources must be managed sustainably to protect our rural areas and quality of life.

“At the PA, we’re conducting exercises to deepen our understanding of Malta’s socioeconomic issues, including studies of our development capacity and issued permits, distribution of spatial uses such as residential and industrial, and demographic studies into housing and employment. However, we need input from the public; to hear from eyes on the ground. So, we are encouraging citizens to make their voices heard in our public consultations. This is everyone’s chance to ensure that Malta’s strategic vision is one that you’re on board with.”

Malta’s Strategic Plan for Environment and Development can be accessed via:

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