The Malta Independent 21 September 2021, Tuesday

The greying economy

Rachel Borg Saturday, 11 September 2021, 08:43 Last update: about 9 days ago

The regularity with which we wait to hear of controversial decisions to be decided by the Planning Authority is quite exhausting.  Before that decision there were also Objections and Protests filed and submitted.  Perhaps protest marches were held by objectors and concerned citizens.

Nevertheless, the drum roll goes on with one approval after another in spite of signatures to oppose, long-lasting damage to the urban and sky-scape and to the degradation of our community and environment.  Loss of public spaces which could have been used to enhance instead of to deprive.  Fallen antique properties which are lost forever.

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We have stood against mega development of apartments, whose application was submitted in a deliberately misleading way creating dis-information about the actual size of the project and its impact on the environment and the cost to nature. 

NGOs like Moviment Graffiti are always on the ball to highlight the more controversial projects and organize civil society into the response needed to try and protect against the development.  Mayors and councils have also staked time, money and energy to look at more beneficial ways of promoting their towns and villages and trying to save what they can for the people and future generations.

In spite of all the effort, decisions slip out of the PA like sweat from their skin on a heat wave.

Even though most decisions appear foregone, civil society has committed itself to fight decisions where they go against the interests of the community and the neighbourhood.   In time it creates a consciousness that will become a reality.  Many people want to preserve our architectural heritage and sites of great importance.  They want to see farmers continue to farm their land and to maintain the fruit trees and other trees which save the land, insects and the climate and give so much pleasure to see greenery and hear the birds that shelter in them.

Whilst the building approvals continue to be stamped, in a block in Nadur, some 5 months ago, a young French couple and their child rented a lovely apartment at a quite high rate.  They were working with a gaming company and worked from home.

Just last week, the “for- sale” sign appeared on their bicycles.  They are leaving.  The company they worked for is no longer operating in Malta and they have lost their jobs.  The property is vacant until a new tenant can be found but as it seems to be happening, owners are facing more departures than arrivals.  The block of apartments was built to target a foreign client.

Grey-listing is starting to hit home.  Amongst all the grey of the concrete all around us, we have another grey. 

The economy will be the orphan of the Government, with its PA and tycoon business organization.  There will be other orphans, like the land given to the American University of Malta and Sadeen in Zonqor point and in Cottonera.  Our bays remain under threat.

We stand to see how many new hotels will operate for a few years before converting into seafront apartments.  We will see our land burnt and hardened, producing nothing but dust.  Birds will fly around aimlessly looking for a place to nest and land. 

Those property owners of the Pre-1995 rent law will shamefully continue to subsidise social housing for the government whilst empty apartments will lie all around. 

Hospital corridors will still accommodate the sick on a stretcher and appointments will be too late for many. 

Jobs will be hit, not just in the construction sector but also in hospitality and the retail sector.

Malta now needs a long-term plan which looks back over the past 10 years, at least and focuses on regeneration from top to bottom for going forward.  Globally too, the world is also going through a radical change to rise to the urgency of climate change and to adapt accordingly.  Any plan that is created, economic, social, educational and business, needs to keep the climate and people in mind and grow from there.

We have the fortune and misfortune of being a small country where even minor decisions can have an impact.  When we ignored Covid, it spread very quickly.  When we decided to tackle it, numbers went down fairly quickly. 

It would not take much to relocate grey construction to where it belongs instead of in the heart of our towns and villages.  Councils should be given all the support they need to plant trees and greenery and save spaces for recreation.  The building of roads is an entity in itself and one that deserves to be challenged in every decision.  There should be a moratorium put in place and a revision of current projects. Protecting freedom of movement in our streets is crucial at this time with all sorts of obstacles around us.

The sea is also feeling the weight of the activity and the coast is besieged.  Every decision needs to be weighed carefully and priority should be given to whether the project is in the interest of the residents or not.  Preferably the status of the protection of the coast must trump any other application.

The Gozo Tunnel should be scrapped now.  In reality it was nothing more than a vote scavenger. The money can be spent in much better ways that are holistic to the needs of Gozo and the Gozitans.  No more talk of referendum or permanent link.  Saving Gozo from the same siege as Malta is at the top of the list and continued focus on Gozo is essential in combating the forces of development happening there.  It does not have to mean that activity comes to a stop but it needs to be more diversified, intelligent and realistic, outside of political interests.

If the rate of decline in the economy continues at a fast pace, the election will probably be scheduled in the soonest possible time.  We must take advantage of the opportunity we are given and not fall victim to the polls which try to depict a predictable conclusion.  It is not so.  We can take decisions into our hands and collectively gear up towards positivity.

Let us tackle the heat and the climate which is threatening our tourism industry, besides the ugly construction and disturbance.  In time, with a good long-term plan in place, we can rebuild a touristic product which is eco-friendly, revives the majesty of our heritage buildings, towns and villages and does not just look at numbers.  A sustainable and quality product is needed to meet the demands of the post-Covid tourists, now more than ever.

Our choices will greatly affect our future and what is left to save of our country.  Emerging from the grey-listing is also imperative and the agenda must be set to tackle it and regain our reputation as a mature partner in the fight against corruption and money-laundering.  The Commissioner of police must step up to the job.

Let us make the right things happen for Malta and Gozo.

 

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