As published on The Malta Today on Wednesday 20th March 2013
During a business trip to Singapore last month¸ I was fascinated by the island’s success in many sectors¸ notwithstanding the fact that it possesses no mineral wealth and is a densely populated country which has acted as a safe haven when the world was hell striven by the start of the recession in 2007. Singapore is roughly twice the size of Malta but houses over 5 million citizens in a densely populated area.
It comes as no surprise that over the past decades Singapore has invested heavily in land reclamation for large infrastructure projects such as a massive Freeport and construction of an international airport. So how can Malta ever reach the high GDP per capita on a tiny island where space comes at a premium and land prices are already very expensive (and scarce)? The probable answer is the continuation of land reclamation from the sea.
The topic recently hit the headlines after the prime minister announced the government’s intention to invite investors to participate in such ventures. As can be expected¸ the subject is highly contested by environmentalists and NGOs who focus their thrust against land reclamation¸ saying such measures will upset the ecological¸ scientific¸ archaeological habitat amid other cultural values.
It follows that due to Malta’s size¸ high population density and unique island biodiversity¸ any political announcements to encourage land-use are resisted by the environmental lobbyists¸ but of course welcomed by property magnates. The former base their complaints on the island’s relatively high urban land cover¸ while they refer to a high proportion of used dwellings (about 70¸000) which in turn raises questions about the overall efficiency of land use when viewed in the context of the latest census relating to residential occupancy.
This bone of contention needs to be counterbalanced by the reuse of abandoned dwellings to accommodate social housing for the elderly and potential redevelopment of some of the dwellings¸ which are old and unfit for habitation. Of course this is what the Housing Authority is doing: inviting developers to come forward to form a joint venture with which to share the development costs with government so as to rehabilitate such derelict houses.
This is a medium-term solution but in the meantime¸ in my opinion¸ there is nothing to stop us from attracting new investment to emulate Singapore’s success in land reclamation.
There was much negative feeling against the alternative use of a mountain of inert material at Maghtab and some had suggested that due to its proximity to the sea at Qalet Marku¸ such building debris could be deployed to create a small island as land reclamation given the water level there is relatively shallow. This idea found strong opposition from a number of environmentalists. Naturally the construction lobby is very much in favour of sustainable work linked to large-scale land reclamation work¸ which on its own can secure jobs and perhaps qualify for EU funding.
The prime minister is encouraging the private sector to c