The Malta Independent 25 June 2017, Sunday

Wake up before it is too late because your heritage is for sale to the highest bidder

Alice Taylor Sunday, 16 April 2017, 12:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

I have just spent a week in Cyprus, and although it is a beautiful country with picturesque coastlines and dramatic mountain ranges, it doesn’t have anything on Malta. I very rarely hear people talking about how beautiful this country is, perhaps because we’re all too busy shooting anything that flies, getting stuck in traffic, and being racist to foreigners, to notice just how incredibly lucky we are. We have the island of Gozo, Mdina, Valletta, The Three Cities, Dingli, archaeological sites, and many other areas of unspoilt natural beauty, but it seems that due to the greed and complete disregard of culture and heritage by a few, this is all under threat. Malta has already survived one great siege against all odds, and now it is time for us to fight again, only now our adversaries are the greedy, corrupt, and immoral property developers.

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If you visit any town or village in Malta, the first thing that strikes you is not the laid-back Mediterranean vibe, nor the quaint townhouses with brightly painted shutters – it will be the sound of excavations, drilling and building echoing through the streets from 7am until the sun sets. Nowhere is safe and the once peaceful, aesthetically pleasing localities are being destroyed by money hungry developers who are desperate to build phallic, steel monoliths protruding into the once unspoilt skyline as a desperate attempt to overcompensate for something. It would not be so bad if these structures were well designed and well built, but they are not. They are sprouting like pustules on the face of this country and they are cheaply built, exclusionary, inaccessible, and useless to all except the elite, the rich, and those hoping to buy citizenship or dodge taxes. In a country with 71,000 unoccupied residences where rental prices are rocketing at an unsustainable rate, why on earth are we building more flats? Every street you walk down will is a mix of dilapidated townhouses, empty shells of apartments that were never completed, and shiny shoeboxes stacked upon each other and available to rent at a snip of €1300 a month. We don’t need more luxury apartments, we need more social housing, more affordable housing, and to put more effort into conserving and renovating what is already there.

Now let us talk about Manoel Island for a moment – a site of historical and archaeological interest with a history stretching back hundreds of years. When I heard that plans were being formulated for its regeneration I thought, oh joy, perhaps they will turn it into a conservation park, a museum, a site of cultural interest that will be accessible to the general population. Oh, how naïve I was. Instead of making a place that can be enjoyed by all, someone has had the bright idea to turn it into another super yacht marina with a casino, a mall, and surprise surprise, some luxury flats. I fail to understand how on earth your average resident, who takes home the minimum wage of €720 a month, will be able to afford anything at all in this new development or how it will, in any way, be of any benefit to the local community.

It seems to me that every effort is being made to bulldoze this island’s heritage and history and line the pockets of developers and an inner circle of corrupt individuals with nefarious plans, yet no effort is being made towards improving the quality of life, reducing pollution, raising the minimum wage, and preserving the island’s natural beauty. When all of it is long gone, built up, and destroyed, when you have run out of townhouses to demolish, skylines to ruin, public land to make dodgy deals over, what will you do then? And more importantly, what will happen to all those who have been completely priced out of the local housing market?

Yes, I understand that it is 2017, and I also understand that architecture and building is a constantly evolving entity. One must continue to build, one must replace things when they get too old, one must make a modern stamp on our environment but this should not happen at the expense of a rich and diverse heritage. Malta’s towns and villages are lined with architectural masterpieces, pieces of history, beautiful old buildings; they add character to the country and give it a distinct identity. If you continue to demolish them and create a concrete hellhole reminiscent of any other place in the world then what reason is there for people to come here? For a nation that is so fiercely protective of its culture and identity, very few seem to care about what is around them. The beaches are full of litter, the streets are full of dog excrement, and any open space is eyed as a potential development spot and this needs to stop. We need to strike a balance between new and old, between preservation and evolution, and between the needs of the average resident and the desires of money driven developers.

Old buildings should be protected, public land should not be for sale, green spaces should be left untouched, incentives should be given to encourage the sale and purchase of empty properties, and tax breaks should be given to those who renovate old houses. There should be a limit on the height of new builds, planning permits should not be given for anything that will obstruct or impact a protected skyline, rental prices should be capped, and higher taxes imposed on those seeking to build flats and apartment blocks. Gardens must not be uprooted to make way for new council buildings, historical sites should not be turned into a poor man’s Dubai, and those that leave apartments in shell format should be made to pay a monthly fee until they are complete. Most of all, the planning application process should be transparent, residents should have a say in what happens to their towns, villages, and streets, and we need to stop forcing people out of their homes to make way for a new block of poorly constructed maisonettes.

Reclaim your country, take back your land, and say no to plans for the constant concretification of your countryside or there will be absolutely nothing left of any value for future generations. It is not foreigners, Muslims or the EU you need to fear when it comes to losing your identity, it is the wealthy elite in this country who want to concrete over your history and sell it off to the highest bidder or swap it for a passport. Stop selling your islands’ soul to rich businessmen who have no other interest in Malta other than how much money they can get for it.

 

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