Who said we are laid back during the silly season?

The silly season instils in us a nonchalance that moves us to focus more on the lighter side of life such as booking travel excursions and keeping our minds cool during the steamy summer nights


Two years ago, summer was characterised by strong protests by enlightened citizens following the publication of a masterplan drawn up by consultants for the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

The disputed plan was for the redevelopment of Paceville and its environs and was carried out by foreign consultants after extended public consultation.

The powers that be felt the heat in their kitchens and quietly withdrew the masterplan. This does not mean permits at that the golden mile - where each square metre is valued at a premium - were halted.

The infamous DB Group’s €300 million project valued by Deloitte on public land at a mere €15 million is now back in front of PA members for a second consideration after the original permit was declared null and void by the Court which stated that one of the government appointees on the adjudication committee had a serious conflict of interest.

The next mega project is the mass development of Manoel island. This permit was approved after minor modifications were carried out to appease the Gzira local council, yet with the heavy use of land on the tiny island, one wonders why the state does not have the guts to challenge Midi Consortium in their infamous 1994 deal with PN bigwigs.

Ideally, once Sliema and Gzira have been turned into a never-ending building site, at least Manoel Island would be turned into a landscaped garden to ease the pain of gentrification. But we are perpetually living in a silly season, so logic is hard to come by. Another bout of protests relates to property rent and sale prices, which are escalating beyond the reach of most Maltese.

Moreover, it is generally felt that the recent rent laws do not go far enough to tame unbridled speculation and protect the interests of inhabitants. Stoically, environmentalists remind us of 50,000 vacant properties, fanning the risk that this property surplus will continue to increase, as would the dependency on the construction industry.

Indeed, Smart City is another site where a mega development is to take place and already many units are being sold on plan ahead of parliamentary approval of change of use. Recently, it was reported that a contract of acquisition of land (previously assigned to Tecom on the cheap in exchange for creation of 5,500 ICT jobs) has been transferred against payment to third party developers.

The silly season instils in us a nonchalance that moves us to focus more on the lighter side of life such as booking travel excursions and keeping our minds cool during the steamy summer nights. Little do we bother that the sudden escalation in property prices may be good only for speculators, notaries, estate agents and banks.

In the mad rush to finish properties, we have been regaled with dozens of ugly tower cranes which furtively carry loads of building materials over our heads while we are stuck in traffic. Little do we notice that banks have been warned not to lend too much on mortgage while the incidence of non-performing property loans loom ominously ahead.

Party apologists remind us that the economy is racing ahead at breakneck speed to the envy of others in Brussels. They question whether it is wise to slow such progress.

The European Commission and IMF recommended close monitoring of developments in the property market, in view of exposure to the financial sector. It would do no good to remind readers that countries like Spain and Ireland have faced financial collapse for their total reliance on the construction industry, which ultimately endangered their financial stability.

A vivid example can be found in Marbella, located in the province of Malaga, where some dwellings were built in the prime beach locations and only after many years the Spanish court ruled that those permits were illegal, since the properties were all built in green areas mainly as a result of lax controls and an overzealous approach by the majors.

In Alicante (near Valencia), embezzlement and speculation triggered an uncontrolled growth of the city which has in turn produced a chaotic touristic plan. It is a known fact that a real estate bubble developed in Spain during this period and that when it burst, left a number of bankrupt developers and threatened the solvency of a number of top Spanish banks.

Spain thus witnessed the cruel effect of an unbridled property bubble exacerbated by issue of uncontrolled permits over use of land, spiced by speculation and massive construction, especially in the coastal areas. There remains a question mark over whether there is sufficient demand for this scale of development.

And this level of development leads to a debate as to what to do with the construction waste generated.

The prime minister has hinted that in the past 50 years land reclamation was never a problem for Malta and he cited many examples to prove his point. Naturally, the creation of small islands needs the careful planning of breakwaters and project management has to be efficient otherwise costs and risks can increase rapidly.

It is encouraging to note that the cost of reclamation in shallow waters was assessed as ranging from €42 million to €546 million. Paradoxically, it was the extension to the coastline in the shallow area on the Bahar ic-Caghaq coastline that proved to be most profitable but it was shelved owing to protests by environmentalists. Other areas are being considered but once again, people living in coastal areas are strongly opposing such land extensions.

In conclusion, the silly season may not be the ideal time to try to solve such complex economic issues and our laid-back attitude dictates that rationality prevails. Because, so one is led to believe, life is too short to worry about such travails during the silly season.

What cannot be denied is that government cannot halt the Dubaification which is hitting our shores. Our jobless numbers are so low that we can boast of full employment resulting from domestic growth.

It is tempting to suggest a more rational approach to building permits especially following the collapse of five buildings due to careless excavation practices.

The paradox that is facing us this summer is that as we braced ourselves to welcome the onslaught of youth arriving for the Isle of MTV concert, we also witnessed a drop in the quality of tourists.

The MTA’s target to reach three million tourists may be reached at the expense of having more 4-star hotels like Park Hotel in Sliema shut down due to the rock bottom holiday deals marketed online with low cost airlines.

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