The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has coincided with a sharp drop in new development permits issued by the planning authority. Information tabled recently in parliament shows that compared to 2019, the number of permits issued by the planning authority in 2020 declined by 40%.

At the height of the construction boom in 2019, the PA issued 12,485 permits were issued which was four times as much as in 2013. However, last year the slowdown in the construction industry cause by the pandemic started to pinch as the number of permit approve dropped to 7,461 which is the lowest number since 2016.

ODZ permits

The information which was tabled by Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia in reply to a question from Opposition MP Joe Ellis also provides a detailed analysis of the of permits approved, their location and type.

Last year almost one in eight permits issued were for projects in ODZ areas which totalled 995. However, almost half (385) were for agricultural projects and fisheries which rarely fuel controversy. On the other hand, 115 permits were issued for residential purposes on ODZ land including the conversion of existing buildings. Furthermore, the PA issued 14 permits for swimming pools on ODZ land. The statistic highlights government’s aggressive road reconstruction programme  with no fewer than 26 permits for roads in outside the development boundaries. Another significant figure is that pertaining to permits issued for alteration to dwellings which in 2020 accounted to 219. However, no information was given on the nature of such modifications and hence it was not possible to know if these comprised major works. Despite the fact that tourism in 2020 ground to a completed halt due to the pandemic, 114 permits were issued for hotel and tourist accommodation of which six in ODZ areas.

Development in Gozo

The statistic also gives a breakdown of the permits issued on the sister island. Despite the slowdown caused by Covid-19, the permits issued in Gozo in 2020 remained relatively high and totalled 1,060 which is double the amount which used to be issued prior to the construction boom. As for ODZ permits, in 2020 were issued in Gozo including 45 for residential dwellings which was more than half of the respective total in Malta.

Earlier this year NGOs and mayors of Gozitan localities expressed concern on what they described as the uncontrollable development in Gozo, amid concerns this could ruin the unique characteristics of its skyline and eat up more virgin land.

Recently, an iconic boathouse in Xlendi was demolished to make way for a six-storey apartment block fuelling outrage from environmentalists and heritage lovers. However, as the dust settled everything seems to have gone back to normality and the works are forging ahead with the complete blessing of the authorities.