Another Side To The Paceville Masterplan Proposal
Not everyone was happy with the plans, and here's why...
This article was written, submitted and endorsed by three NGOs opposing the Paceville Masterplan: Kamp Emergenza Ambjent, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and Moviment Graffitti.
Like most other Lovin Malta readers, I was at first somewhere between liking the idea of a radical overhaul for Paceville, and not believing it would happen. The slick video and last week's sponsored piece left me with the impression that this was a serious public-private initiative to increase quality in Malta's tourism product while improving traffic and green infrastructure. Newly-pedestrianised areas, new cycle lanes, greater access to the coast, diverting traffic underground, better waste management... The proposal got quite a few things right.
Just a few minutes after reading that article, I walked into the Millenium Chapel in Paceville for a public meeting with residents. I knew the mood would be negative. If I lived there, the suggestion that I spend the next five, uhm, 10-if-I'm-lucky years living in the middle of Malta's very own version of the Dust Bowl wouldn't be that appealing. The meeting was organised by Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent (the guys who gave you Manoel Island), and the St Julian's Local Council. As it turns out, there's a few things off about this whole thing.
1. Residents weren't properly consulted before the proposal was devised
Ok, they were… kind of. Before the current masterplan was devised, the planning authority invited "interested parties" to give their submissions as to what should become of Paceville. But this was done during last year's Christmas period, between December 18th and January 8th. This is, of course, a time when everyone is diligently monitoring official media, just waiting for opportunities to write submissions to the Planning Authority in between helpings of nanna's mouth-watering turkey. To add insult to injury, after the Local Council asked the PA for a meeting with residents, they were refused. As St Julian's Mayor Guido Dalli put it: 'I don't understand it.'
But, if residents weren't involved, who was?
2. Big business certainly was
The owners of the 18-24 proposed towers were definitely consulted. In fact, it seems to have been designed over a blank canvas around the wishes of nine sites for mega developments. PA CEO Johann Buttigieg, effectively admitted that this was the case: "We showed them the nine high-rise sites that have been proposed for Paceville, and asked them to find out whether the town’s infrastructure can cater for the amount of development that we are envisaging.”
Roads and parks are proposed to be constructed over existing residential blocks with seeming disregard for the people who have built their lives there. The professionals themselves said it best:
"Planning is not about laying the canvas to carry forth the interests of small powerful lobby groups, leaving vague lacunas in between and modifying legislative frameworks to weaken counterchecks and concentrating decision-making to a handful of people." - Malta Chamber of Planners
3. It's not as environmentally-friendly as you think
There's a lot to be said for cycling and walking, and any future masterplan needs to take these into account. However, there's also a lot to be said for not creating two million tons of construction waste and dumping some of it on an internationally-protected underwater habitat - the posidonia oceanica meadows described as "the lungs of the Mediterranean". All this to build a development for which there is no pressing public need.
4. There's a €586 million price tag no one is talking about.
That's one hundred Manwel Dimech bridges...
That said, we can make up the cost by selling more citizenships....
5. Including €150 million being spent to remove people from their homes
Yeah, about those figures for land 'expropriation'... That's money put aside to force people out of their homes and businesses. Take Rita Dalli, who was born in a house in Elijah Zammit Street and lived her entire life there. She was making some tea one fine morning when the doorbell rang. It was her neighbour from up the road.
"I have bad news for you", she told her.
"What bad news?" Rita replied.
"You know your house is going to be demolished right?"
"That's right, they're going to widen the street and take your front, and build a tertiary road where the back of your house is."
Can we all just take a second to consider Rita's face at this point?
Speaking to Rita now, she sounds desperate. "One second you have something in your hand, you have a house, you have real value..the next second...nothing."
To add insult to injury, Rita, only a few months ago, paid a considerable tax ("thousands") on inheriting her portion of the house from her recently deceased sister.
She, and the many others who will be affected, will be offered compensation for their loss, but it doesn't take an estate agent to figure out that the value of their properties dropped the minute the masterplan was presented.
In essence, they're using taxpayer money to kick taxpayers out of their homes, in the interests of a few big developers. At this point, we have to ask, are we OK with this?
6. That sets a dangerous precedent
Despite claims that this would be illegal, strictly speaking, it isn't. The law on expropriation notes that this is only acceptable for "public purposes", which do include "town-planning or reconstruction". So what is happening here is that a small community with an image problem is being bulldozed because no one else on the island actually cares about the human face behind the den of sin. Views of Paceville as 'Sin City' have been encouraged with lack of regulation of strip clubs and little enforcement on underage alcohol abuse. The authorities' negligence is now being used as an excuse to force through this glorified 'Dear Santa...' list at the expense of the long-suffering residents. If we don't stand with the people of Paceville today, will we expect them to stand with us when the next phase in the Dubai-fication of Malta kicks off?
Speaking of Dubai...
7. This approach does not work
Dubai was the property investor's dream in the early 2000s. Once the recession hit, residential prices fell by 50% in less than a year between 2008 and 2009.
Spain was another attractive destination, with several coastal mega developments bringing dollar signs to many investors' eyes. Unfortunately, the crash was not much kinder - house prices fell by 37% between 2007 and 2013, with thousands losing their investments. The glittered plans became 'ghost cities', and the Spanish economy has only started to rebound this year...a decade later!
One last example - Ireland, the Celtic Tiger, where a combination of rising prices and speculative investment (sound familiar?) led to a property bubble that burst in spectacular fashion with property prices falling by 35% over only 3 years (and over 50% from the 2006 peak).
Turning to Malta...
We've seen the Metropolis project in Gżira remain a black hole. We've seen the A3 towers in Paola bailed out with public money with the transfer of Transport Malta offices there. And we've seen ITS and the Malta Tourism Authority forced to move to the failing Smart City at a cost of over €50 million.
We'll leave it up to you to imagine the economic cost should any of the 20 or so towers proposed on the >1 sq km piece of land face similar problems.
"While ambition is a very important trait in us Maltese, when it gets coupled with some quick successes, we can overdose on it. We would feel invincible until greed takes over and brings our ruin. This becomes unfair when we bring down whole communities, skylines and districts with us." - Christopher Mintoff, President of the Malta Chamber of Architects.
8. It's not just tree-huggers who are against this
Here's what GRTU main man Philip Fenech had to say after the project was presented to business owners in the area: "They asked me whether this plan was made for certain people to eliminate them from business and try and take their slice of the pie in the future... Can’t they regenerate the area without breaking us?” So you have residents, NGOs, professional bodies and even business unions coming out against this proposal, meaning that those who didn't believe it would happen at all might just be right. But make no mistake...
9. This masterplan will go through unless we stop it
There's plenty to do before November 25th, which is the closing date of the public consultation. First, you can actually participate in it! We've drawn up an easy-peasy form that you can use to make a submission. Feel free to edit the proposed text - the more personalised and varied the responses are, the better! Then on Saturday 12th there will be the launch of the campaign against this masterplan. Like the page Not This Masterplan to keep updated! We're holding a protest tomorrow.
What about the long term?
No one has said a word against the need for a masterplan. In fact, a masterplan has been called for repeatedly – for ALL Malta. It is necessary to establish boundaries and frameworks, to set up a level playing field with rules that have been agreed on by all the different stakeholders. But that means that it needs to go back to the drawing board. It needs to start from a different angle - considering the needs and wants of the residents and business owners who have invested so much in the area. People need to be put at the forefront. And yes, the good things from this masterplan need to be retained - but they need to fit around people's needs, not the needs of a few big developers.
Additional reporting by Architect Tara Cassar.