Two prominent business groups have come together to call for a holistic approach to planning in Gozo in response to fears that the present wave of development is having a negative impact on both current social realities and future economic considerations.
The Gozo Business Chamber was joined by The Malta Chamber on Saturday in calling for a rethink of the “present rate of overdevelopment fuelled by existing policies”.
The two organisations said that development needs to be considered within the context where it is taking place, and pointed out that “this includes our rural communities and towns”.
Speaking to BusinessNow.mt, Daniel Borg, CEO of the Gozo Business Chamber, says that the organisation had long been observing the worrying trend, with industry insiders being among the first to sound the alarm.
“We have real estate agents and developers with us, and they noticed that if this continues they will also be impacted negatively,” he says.
“They know that this is not sustainable, that if you don’t have property of value you wan’t be able to resell. Yes, there’s money to be made right now but we must not forget that the impacts will be felt in the long term, especially if Gozo becomes the same as Malta.”
Mr Borg says that the joint position adopted by Gozo’s local councils spurred the Gozo Business Chamber to make its voice heard by being the first entity to formally support the local councils’ stance.
The group also participates in the intelligent planning consultative forum, a body set up by the Ministry for the Environment, and presented a policy paper on the matter.
He explains how The Malta Chamber immediately supported the Gozo Business Chamber in its efforts to ensure that development respects the communities it affects.
Mr Borg stresses that the two chambers are not against development in general, but are instead calling for a manner of development that is contextualised.
“This does not only affect Gozo,” he says, noting that their statement was also well received by stakeholders in Malta, “but in Gozo it’s heightened as there are certain zones that are relatively untouched.”
“The truth is,” he continues, “that Gozo is twice as dependent on development real estate as Malta.”
He believes that its rural character and its economic dependence on the sector makes the issue more pertinent in Gozo, with questions on the kind of developments being built, whether there is a need for such a fast pace of constructions, or how facades can be improved to form a coherent aesthetic fabric taking centre stage on the island’s agenda.
“We need planning policies that take note of the needs of each locality,” he says.
“Currently, they’re implemented in a blanket manner, with no concern to what currently exists or what the locality can support, socially and in terms of infrastructure. They simply allow the maximum possible development while seeing each as a standalone project.”
He mentions developments taking place on sites adjacent to Urban Conservation Areas, areas of typical character within which development is restricted, calling for staggered height limits in such border areas.
“We are asking for a holistic approach, taking into account both design and capacity, elements which tend to be ignored currently.”
Mr Borg called on Government to recognise its responsibility as a prime mover in the sector.
“Government sets the policy scenario, and developers move within that policy. Things will only change is there is a different framework. As it stands, developers are incentivised to get the maximum possible space out of any plot of land, with no concern to the quality of the build.”
Noting that many of the Gozo Business Chamber’s members are community-driven individuals and companies who are often also involved in other voluntary organisations, Mr Borg concludes by recalling the words of Pope Francis that people are but guardians of what exists, stewards of the present so that future generations may enjoy it too.
“We must preserve and nurture the elements that make Gozo unique.”
Gozo Business Chamber & The Malta Chamber Statement
The Gozo Business Chamber and The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry on Saturday noted that they are concerned with the way development is happening in Gozo, noting that the island “has a unique character which both Chambers believe has immense potential for a more sustainable economic development and growth that respects the island’s culture and authenticity.”
They called for established design guidelines which respect the context of Gozo’s towns and villages, with the design of any proposed development needing to be seriously considered and evaluated within the context of the streetscape to ensure that it gives a positive contribution to the local distinctiveness.
“Clear design guidelines respecting the context of our towns and villages complemented by a well thought out aesthetics policy are required,” they said, adding that “in this sense Gozo can serve as a test bed where policies can then be deployed at a national level.”
The two organisations also noted a need for the coherent application and interpretation of policies.
“Policies must be interpreted within their wider context rather than a pick-and-choose approach of abstracts from one policy or another.”
“We are seeing the demolition of terraced houses and buildings which merit conservation to be replaced with apartment blocks, whilst the character of Gozo’s urban streetscapes and other aspects such as their proximity to urban conservation areas and outside development zones are being completely ignored.”
During a joint media conference at the Cittadella, the President of the Gozo Business Chamber, Joseph Borg highlighted that it is in favour of sustainable development which promotes quality construction that embellishes the environment and not abuses it, also in light of the aim for Gozo to achieve carbon neutrality prior to Malta.
“We need to stop, think and plan in the long term” said Joseph Borg, indicating that this is a process which should involve architects, developers and policy makers.
In this context, both Chambers said that the property and construction industry should be incentivised to move towards more sustainable development.
The protection of Gozo’s green belts, and a thoughtful and judicious use of what is permissible on outside development zones, including a genuine use of such land when needed, should seriously be considered during the evaluation process of any development, they said.
“Gozo has a unique character. Its uniqueness contributes directly to our competitiveness and it is our duty to ensure that the industry develops in a way which takes into account the unique fabric and character of our islands, the challenges posed by climate change, and the well-being of the community at large,” the president of The Malta Chamber Marisa Xuereb said.
Both chamber representatives said that the strategic direction for Gozo should be based on sustainable forms of tourism and economic development.
The chambers finished the press conference by making clear their belief that Gozo can thrive in many ways.
“Development should serve the common good and create real economic value which does not impinge on the quality of life.”
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