It isn’t enough to fill every remaining green space in Malta and Gozo with blocks of flats. Now they want to build on the sea.
Labour MP and former Parliamentary Secretary for Cleaning protest memorials Deo Debattista was the latest to resurrect the idea, speaking during a panel discussion last weekend on the Labour Party’s ONE TV.
“If we want to keep sustaining all these tourists who are visiting Malta,” he said, “We must discuss land reclamation.”
Adding more land to a country to increase its ability to host more tourists would be a rather unique way to boost revenue, but it was his next statement that veered closer to the truth.
“I think we need to create more space because if we think that we’re going to stop this cycle, everything will automatically halt,” he said. “I don’t want this to happen because everything will collapse”.
For ‘everything’, read ‘the construction bubble’. A bubble needs room to grow and swell, and there isn’t much left. Confine it, and the bubble will pop. Debattista is right about that, at least.
The end of the construction bubble will herald the end of the short-term prosperity that has kept Labour in power. The livelihood of so many hangers-on is utterly dependent on it, as is the impunity enjoyed by Joseph Muscat and his merry band of kleptocrats.
That’s why the solution can never be to accept the consequences of greed and an utter lack of planning. No, it’s to keep the frenzied bender going at all costs. And so land must be ‘reclaimed’ from the sea — or ‘annexed’, rather, since there was never any land to take back in the first place.
Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia flogged the same seahorse just one month earlier on TVM, claiming “we will see true land reclamation within the next five years.”
Small scale land-from-sea projects aren’t new in Malta. Sections of the Birżebbuġa freeport, part of China’s Delimara power station and the Marsa Sports Club all sit on land that used to be water. But the ideal space for new projects seems to be limited.
After conducting a series of marine surveys in 2018, the Environmental and Resources Authority concluded that Malta had just one site where a large scale land reclamation project would be advisible: Xgħajra, between Fort Ricasoli and Żonqor.
That would make the Jordanian construction magnates behind the so-called American University of Malta happy. Their recent land swap for Smart City puts them right in the centre of it.
Of course, the ERA ruled out sites that housed particular species or protected marine habitats back in 2018. In a land where everything that flies is gunned down for fun, protecting unique species and habitats is pretty low on the list of concerns.
A year later, five more possible locations were being floated (or sunk, take your pick): Marsaxlokk harbour, already congested St. Paul’s Bay and Buġibba, Portomaso, Qalet Marku, and Mġarr Harbour in Gozo.
The hotel lido in Gzira should give you a sense of what to expect if land is reclaimed in those areas: construction debris dumped into the sea, clouding turquoise waters with silt, and the usurpation of public land for private profit.
I suggest the government designate any new territory ODZ. That way, their friends can apply for permits to build some cut-rate version of Dubai or Singapore in defiance of the laws as they do everywhere else.
This virgin territory that will rise like foam-born Aphrodite — not on a half-shell but a solid foundation of excavation waste — will contain enough tumuli for every far-fetched hope and dream.
But I wouldn’t expect palm-shaped promontories or a patriotic Maltese cross. The get-in-get-out-quick model favoured in Malta prefers the Brazilian favela aesthetic.
“Please, sir, can I have some more?” More concrete. More dust. More apartment blocks thrown up with such speed and lack of attention to detail that it looks as though they’re erecting ruins.
And most of all, more money in the already bulging pockets of concrete kings like Joseph Portelli and Silvio Debono.