The problems being caused by the continuous overdevelopment around us is a direct consequence of the local plans approved in 2006. The rationalisation exercise which was approved practically simultaneously, and as a result of which around two million square metres of ODZ land was given up for development made matters considerably worse .
The latest example is the planning application relative to a stretch of land measuring 1273 square metres in Santa Luċija. This land is, until now, an open space within the locality of Santa Luċija.
The late architect Joseph M.Spiteri, who in the late 1950s designed the locality of Santa Luċija from scratch took great care in planning for the needs of a community when he was preparing giving birth to the Santa Luċija locality. As emphasised by his son Dr Stephen C. Spiteri in the publication entitled Joseph M. Spiteri: A Maltese Architect and his work, when designing Santa Luċija, Joe Spiteri ensured that there was plenty of open space and trees. In his ideas Spiteri was undoubtedly influenced by the then prevalent housing design in the United Kingdom: Spiteri placed great emphasis on pedestrianisation and vehicular segregation together with the availability of plenty of open spaces. Environmentalists are still emphasising these points as an essential prerequisite for sustainable living.
The ideas pioneered by Architect Joseph Spiteri in Santa Luċija as a result of which open space around residential areas was considered as an essential contributor to enhancing the quality of life of all were unfortunately discarded over the years in housing design in the Maltese islands. Instead, we were offered intensive development of land aimed at maximising profits along the whole building development chain. Our quality of life was exchanged with healthy bank accounts.
The creation of an environment conducive to the creation of a sustainable living space has unfortunately been abandoned. The objective to be in harmony with our surroundings was abandoned.
Architect Joe Spiteri and his colleagues at the then Public Works Department invested substantial energies in trying to create from scratch a land use planning system during the mid-1960s. With the assistance of advisors sent by the United Nations a forward-looking town and country planning Act was approved by Parliament in the late 60s only for it to be ignored by those who were entrusted with its implementation.
This is the root cause of the present malaise in local land use planning. All efforts made by dedicated professionals over the years were meticulously undermined.
The current proposed project in Santa Luċija subject to planning application PA5152/22 has to be seen within this context. It gobbles up land which the original design for Santa Luċija had earmarked as open space. The open space is not wasteland but part of the essential lungs which the local community requires to breathe. Without it the community is deprived of an essential element of its community infrastructure.
The Ministry for the Environment is currently advocating the need for open public spaces. This rhetoric has however not been translated into tangible action as the Planning Authority is still encouraging a free-for-all building spree transforming existing open spaces into euro machines.
One of the major lessons of Covid-19 was the mental health impact on many in our urban areas who were constrained indoors. The lack of adequate public open spaces made matters worse during the Covid months.
Our urban areas have been left to develop on their own for quite too long. As a result, they have been guided by business-friendly or market-friendly authorities, producing the mess of an urban jungle we have to face every day. This is a mess resulting from political decisions which have ensured that profits repeatedly have a priority over people and their quality of life.
The Santa Luċija planning application PA5152/22 is the latest example of all this. The creation of a sustainable living space has once more been sacrificed on the altar dedicated to the euro-machine!
published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 September 2022