by Petra Caruana Dingli

Believing that high-rise will take the pressure off the countryside is wishful thinking. Applications for construction in rural areas continue relentlessly, for petrol stations, schools, old people’s homes and more.

Small and large permits are continually granted outside the development zone, eating the countryside away, piece by piece. At Żonqor, a chunk of rural land will soon make way for an educational institute. At Ramla, a big urban-style hotel has just been approved.

Will these projects now be relocated into high-rise buildings? Will ODZ permits stop being granted? If not, then please explain to me how tall buildings are going to save the countryside. In reality, development will expand vertically and horizontally at the same time.

The government has promoted the idea of building ‘iconic’ high-rise structures. A flood of proposals for St George’s Bay, Qui-si-Sana and Mrieħel is the result. Add these to the existing permits for the Mistra Village site and the Metropolis project in Gżira, which have not yet been built. The A3 tower in Paola is a sad blot on the landscape.

Whether you like high-rise or not, the number of projects seems unsustainable. It is like children being let loose in a sweet shop. These projects are not an economic strategy in themselves, and construction cannot be the eternal motor of growth in Malta. Besides, how will all this construction be financed?

Faced with a public outcry at this high-rise feeding frenzy, Joseph Muscat has implied it is unfair that he is being criticised on applications, rather than on decisions. He said that in a democracy you cannot stop the private sector from submitting applications.

The polite answer to that bit of nonsense about democracy is that this quantity of applications would never be submitted simultaneously if the soil was not laid for them. Applications for major projects of this scale cost a considerable amount of money.

Lobbing the ball over into the next court by telling people to wait for permit decisions is just an attempt to change the subject. It is the government’s duty to consider infrastructure, for example, and this cannot be postponed.

People have a right to know how the infrastructure, such as roads and traffic, will be handled. It affects their daily lives. What about air quality and noise? Will sunlight still reach the windows of homes and offices lying in the shadow of these towers?

It is obvious that all these massive pro­jects will have a major impact. Good or bad, this impact must be assessed. EIAs are carried out by the developers themselves and only look at projects individually, not cumulatively. It is up to the government to present the wider study of overall environmental impact, besides a master plan.

St George’s Bay is already saturated, including its outskirts. The residents of Swieqi continually face parking problems, congestion and raised levels of crime. They don’t seem to be compensated much for the inconvenience, as they can’t even obtain a government grant to sort out their tiny public garden.

Sliema is being denied a residential parking scheme by the government. Try to find a parking space at Qui-si-Sana today. Then imagine that same experience for the residents after the Fort Cambridge 40-storey block is built there, and after the Town Square towers rise from the dust and ashes of the Union Club.