Month in month out we are inundated with the latest statistics on property contracts or “promise of sale” agreements. Recently we have had some blips with statistics indicating that property sales were possibly diminishing. Out comes the Malta Developers Association (MDA) supremo thundering that bureaucracy is holding back property deals.
The development permitting process is, generally, greed oriented. It has resulted in so-called flexibility policies which seek to facilitate going around development policy restrictions intended to protect the urban fabric and the quality of life of the residential community. For example, an area earmarked for a public staircase in the Gżira local plan was transformed into a hotel. This is taking place in a residential area where only residences ought to have been permitted. The beneficiary of such land use planning extreme flexibility is the Stivala Group of Companies. I am referring to upper Moroni Street in Gżira, which area has nowadays been labelled as Stivalaland by Gżira residents. Yet the MDA supremo has the cheek to complain.
Developers in Mellieħa were less lucky with flexibility bureaucracy as a hotel permitted in similar circumstances has seen its development permit being recently revoked by the Court of Appeal. The Stivalaland hotel permit in Gżira may possibly meet the same fate in the not-too-distant future as although it has been approved by the Planning Commission some 5 months ago (PA5962/21) the development permit has not been issued yet. Consequently, the time frame for objectors to commence the appeal process has not yet commenced.
Occasionally public opinion manages to pull a fast one. The recent scheduling of the Palazzino Vincenti landmark at St Julians is another area of conflict between the Stivala brand and planning bureaucracy. It is still too early to consider this as a closed case. One awaits with trepidation the next steps notwithstanding the scheduling of the Vincenti masterpiece.
The Stivala brand had planned to pull down Palazzino Vincenti and to develop yet another hotel in St Julians. On 12 December 2022 Palazzino Vincenti was temporarily protected at Grade 1 level through an Emergency Conservation Order. This temporary protection has now been lifted and downgraded to a Grade 2 protection on a long-term basis as decided by the Planning Authority last month. This is extremely bad news as it signifies that most probably only the elevation of this landmark will be preserved: its interior will be gutted. Those who rejoiced at this level of protection were ill-advised. I think that it will be the developer and his advisors who will eventually have the last laugh as they will not be too far from their original objectives!
In this specific case planning bureaucracy will, once more, not be preventing the Stivala brand from making mincemeat of our national heritage, with the Planning Authority’s blessing. And yet the MDA supremo complains.
The planning bureaucracy which the MDA supremo complains about was nowhere to be seen when the Stivala brand sought to stretch development as close as possible to the shoreline. Do you remember? Four years ago, in these very columns, in an article entitled: Protecting Our Coast: No political will in sight (TMIS: 14 April 2019) I had written about the development permit relative to the building block of which the restaurant Piccolo Padre along the St Julian’s coastline forms part. I had then emphasised as follows: “The development in question has been permitted on a footprint starting along the coastline itself. In addition, ………………… planning permission issued by the Planning Authority includes part of the approved structure protruding over the sea. Not even a whimper has been heard from the Lands Authority on the matter.”
Contrary to what the MDA supremo says land use planning bureaucracy, and its cousins, continuously make way for unbridled development.
That is the extent of how effective the bureaucracy is, practically always on the side of greed.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 May 2023