A shift from grey to green: A new start for the environment

No one will ever be more than 10 minutes away from a green open space.

Elected on a platform to get Malta’s economy back on track after a period of economic stagnation and falling purchasing power, Labour put most of its efforts in its first legislature to address this. In the following legislature, the emphasis shifted to consolidate this economic recovery by rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, spread more economic growth across society and overhaul governance. Now with a sound economic machine, the focus can shift resolutely to raise the quality of life on our islands.

Putting the environment at the centre of policymaking and giving it pre-eminence among the country’s economic goals marks clearly this shift. This was the first time in our nation’s history that a major political party launched its electoral campaign with its environmental proposals. Before the environment was considered as a Cinderella topic, to be left for the fringes of a campaign. It was seen as something remote, of interest to a few and as far away as from bread-and-butter issues as could be.

Dr Robert Abela had already in August 2020 emphasised the importance of the environment by placing it as one of the five pillars of Government’s economic vision. Now he has elevated it as one of the main areas where he wants to bring change and to be judged upon.

The first time in our nation’s history that a major political party launched its electoral campaign with its environmental proposals.

And he has put his money where his mouth is. €700 million to be invested to upgrade our environment and regenerate our built areas. What was spent on the physical infrastructure will now be spent on improving the look of our communities. This will not be just through the creation of afforested areas or parks far away from our towns and villages. The commitment is to replan our built areas so that no one is ever more than 10 minutes away from a green open space.

Main thoroughfares will be turned into parks. The central spaces of our towns and villages will return to being the centre of our community life as instead of parking spaces with traffic dominating them, they will become islands of tranquillity where we can enjoy life with our families. Areas where there has been an increase in the population will be finally given those parks and open spaces that they so much have come to crave.

The commitment to change the liveability of our built areas is testament to Labour’s commitment to allow people to reach their aspirations. It is also a fundamental building block of the new prosperity which Labour wants to create. An economy with a focus on knowledge-based service sectors will mean that economic activity will move away from concentrated areas such as large offices and factories and instead in smaller offices and even people’s own homes. The State now has to ensure that people working in their community have the means to take well deserved breaks in green open spaces. Upgrading the environment will help sustain productivity and also help attract to keep Malta an attractive destination for tourists and for high skilled foreign workers.

Labour’s commitment towards the environment goes beyond the €700 million pledged for this purpose. It is part of a holistic plan to decarbonise our society. This plan like previous ones in other areas is based on the idea of creating the right incentives. If we want to make people shift to electric cars, the best approach is not to ban other cars and place the burden of the transition on ordinary people. The best approach is for the State to become a partner in this transition and shoulder a large part of the costs. If we want to stop the urban crawl and reinvigorate our urban centres the best approach is not to try to impose onerous building restrictions that raise the price of housing and put pressure on prospective homeowners. The best approach is for the State to create the right support package so that it becomes much more worth it for someone to renovate an existing building rather than buy a new one built in the outskirts.

Dr Abela’s vision to put the environment at the centre of Labour’s plans for a new prosperity presents an incredible opportunity for our country. This will transform our quality of life and create a new phase of economic growth, more sustainable, fairer and more dynamic.

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