11th September 2014

The government has approved new building heights for hotels stating that this measure can solve the issue of their economic viability and improve the quality of Malta’s offer.

At the same time, there are schemes in the offing that will develop the whole of Malta’s eastern shores from St George’s Bay, past White Rocks to Salina, so that the newly built, nature-destructive four-lane highway known as the Coast Road becomes an inland route.

If such schemes become reality, the beautiful, last open spaces out to sea that relieve the eye after the unbearable jungle of Sliema will be no more.

Coastal islands, coastal racetracks, marine tower blocks are being planned to the delight of speculators and, no doubt, to appease promises made just before the last elections.

A few marauding Maltese have found these untouched sea and country views and are set to destroy them for all, except for those who will own them.

Gozo will not be spared either.

Regulations approved last February to allow building in the countryside, more recently for high-rise areas and now for higher hotels have conveniently bypassed the forthcoming Structure Plan. Stymied by this advance permitting, and still in draft form, this hollow document makes total mockery of any serious planning system.

There is an oriental saying that toads do not poison their own hole and, yet, we are fast being allowed to do so in search of quality.

Quality is not achieved by adding hotel rooms. Malta’s record number of visitors this August peaked at 200,000, half of Malta’s population. While I congratulate all tourism stakeholders for achieving this, has anybody worked out how many visitors Malta will have to cope with in August when all this hunger to build is sated? Is it 10 per cent more, 40 per cent more?

Can we see the studies that have been made to justify this further urbanisation of Malta and, in the absence of a style committee, the inevitable uglification of Malta?

What infrastructural improvements are going to be made to guarantee both the visitor and the inhabitant a pleasant experience in the already congested peak of summer? Our coast and our countryside are the sitting rooms of the rich, the poor and our visitors too.

They are where we go to enjoy nature and find relaxation and rest – we must not ruin the little that is left.

While we definitely need to upgrade ageing hospitality amenities, if we aspire to quality, more building is not the answer.

Let us look at today’s visual quality and the experience we offer.

Mostly, our visitor sits in concrete cages that stare inevitably at other concrete cages. This is not quality.

Rooftops of undisguised water tanks are not quality. Being buried behind bleating, egoistical air conditioning outlets is not quality. Excursions between towns through gold aluminium ribbon development, mostly lying unfinished and without a tree in sight, is not at all quality, a result of the questionable 2006 rationalisation schemes.

Walking in towns means risking life and limb on broken pavements. Countryside trekking is an endurance test through dumped construction waste.

Side lanes are littered with unwanted domestic apparatus, the legacy of ignorant selfish people who are unaware that an efficient bulky refuse service exists.

Elected on a mantra of enforcement, this government is allowing illegitimate shanty towns to spread (forget Armier, try Delimara).

Squatters’ shacks double up as hunters’ hides and land is cleared for illegal bird snaring. How can we get quality into an offer in the shoulder months when murderous bird shot is heard at all hours, and well-meaning NGOs get arrested for helping protected species? Certainly not by building higher but by better planning regulations, radical urgent domestic education and strict rigorous enforcement for law breakers.

Then think about the sea, blue flag beaches too. Try Blue Lagoon in August, it’s the worst advert Malta could have. Try swimming in Għadira on a Monday after hundreds of leisure boats have left their weekend effluence.

Ministers, planning authority officials, please leave your manicured swimming pools. Take a snorkel and enjoy macerated toilet paper and soapy debris that is seasoned with oily plumes from the nation’s fish farms.

Reverse osmosis outflows from hotels churn swimming areas up into slimy bubble baths. The long-awaited storm water tunnel from Birkirkara will empty its discharge straight into swimmers at Ta’ Xbiex and the yacht marina (can you not take a pipe right out to sea?)

It is in this we are destined to swim if we love the sea, our visitors and their children too.

Poor planning, poor controls, poor building taste, poor education or none at all are only proving that Malta Tagħna Lkoll (Malta for all) is fast becoming Malta Tagħna Biss… for a selected few and quality is very, very far away.

Simone Mizzi is executive president of Din l-Art Ħelwa.