‘Real estate was, is and will always be the best investment for Malta’ – EAS president

Michael Bonello, CEO of Alliance Group and President of the Estate Agents Section of MDA and Dr Antoine Zammit, Senior Lecturer at the University of Malta and founder and director of architectural and urban design practice studjurban

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 September, 2021 at 10:02 am by Andre Camilleri

Building responsibly and sustainably is the key to how we move forward as a country. “The demand is still there”, said Michael Bonello, CEO of Alliance Group and President of the Estate Agents Section (EAS) within the MDA.

Speaking to the Malta Business Weekly, Bonello stressed, “Malta must change its vision for the construction industry. Together with the Malta Developer’s Association, we are working hard to put forward sensitive and practical proposals.”

This comes after Finance Minister Clyde Caruana stated that Malta must shift away from its dependency on construction last Friday. Caruana explained that the mistake that politics has always made over the years, both on one side and the other, has always been to turn to incentivise more construction as it is the easiest way to boost the economy. “If we continue working in this way, as we’ve done over the years, we cannot expect a different result. People are tired of seeing concrete and cranes around our island. I’m not saying that construction should be put to a halt. Still, we should consider other opportunities that give this country better growth, without touching or harming the environment,” Caruana said.

The Minister’s comments are one of the most open admissions to date that the economic model underpinning Malta’s growth was flawed. What people now wanted, he said, was open spaces and quiet environments.  “I’m not saying construction will stop. Nobody wants it to stop. But that does not mean we should not look at other opportunities that allow us to grow without polluting, just like other countries do,” he said. (Read Minister Caruana’s and the MDA’S full statement on page 9)

Bonello echoed his sentiments about sustainability, noting that there has been a noticeable change in the market, with more and more people seeking a property with land or even small plots of land to develop. “Pre-Covid, high-end modern developments such as Tigne and Portomaso were very attractive, yet the pandemic has changed this to some extent. Those at the higher end of the property market are now preferring rural farmhouses with plenty of outdoor space.”

Asked whether there was still the need for new apartments being constructed across the islands, Bonello replied that first-time buyers and second time buyers are still driving this sector. “As long as sites are following the rules, and not expanding outside development zones”, he did not see an issue with new developments. “Affordability is always a challenge, especially for first time buyers.”

With regards to the buy to rent investors, Bonello added, “During Covid-19 there was an obvious drop in those wishing to buy in this sector; however now we see figures steadily back on the rise. Initially, when the pandemic hit, the market was found flooded with rentals. Over 9 thousand Air B and B’s entered the local rental market overnight and then at one point, all short let tourism stopped abruptly”.

The Malta Business Weekly also reached out to Dr Antoine Zammit, Senior Lecturer at the University of Malta in the field of urban planning and founder and director of award-winning architectural and urban design practice studjurban, for his views.

“Sustainability has traditionally been viewed in terms of the three pillars – economic, social and environmental. In Malta, this has often meant a focus on generating revenue, increasingly at the expense of social considerations and, even more so, the environment.”

He added, “Over the past decades, numerous cities around the world have instead focused on the environmental pillar as a means of boosting their socio-economic pillars. Simply stated, this is because individuals (and investors) are drawn to cities that experience a heightened quality of life and liveability, in turn, brought about by a quality-oriented urban environment in terms of both open spaces and the urban fabric.”

Dr Zammit explained, “This necessitates a rethought policy realm that is more focused on design quality, sustainable rehabilitation of older properties and the generation of well-designed public and private spaces. There should also be a greater emphasis on the ‘planning gain’ of projects, particularly that of larger developments. Ultimately, as much as this is about the need for more sustainable government-driven projects, it is also about incentivising the private sector and individuals to deliver greener projects and demanding that such projects really result in a tangible public gain, in environmental terms, within our localities.”

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