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There are not many people who can say that they live or work in a UNESCO listed city. So what does it mean for the people for whom the title is an everyday reality? Is it a welcome honour, or does it bring more restrictions and regulations? Valletta was listed as an UNESCO registered city back in 1980 and more recently Valletta was named as the European Capital of Culture. So just what does this mean for the people and businesses of Valletta?
Living in Valletta
Valletta has been referred to as a living museum yet for the people who live and work here, life goes on and so Valletta has to be practical, accessible, investable and reliable. Living in a city with so many listed and historical buildings can be restrictive, so what is the Maltese government doing for the people of Valletta?
Valletta is a very proud city and rightly so, but it is also very community-minded. There is hardly a day goes by in the summer without some kind of festival or celebration in which tourists and residents alike come together in a mingling of cultures to celebrate the unique heritage of Malta.
The Notte Bianca is one such example and is a night-long celebration of the cultural creativity of Malta held in Valletta. There is hardly a saint's feast day which does not require a local outpouring of celebrations and customs, something the tourist board loves to promote.
Transport in Valletta
Whilst some might get misty eyed over the old British yellow buses that used to be a common sight in Malta, others remember how unreliable and polluting they were. The city is now served by a large network hub of buses which transport people from Valletta to all over the island. Eco-friendly electric taxis ferry people from around 10 points in Valletta to anywhere within the city.
The Grand Harbour port now sees not only smaller vessels such as water taxis which run to Gozo and other points around Malta, but large cruise liners and freight shipping and of course there is the airport located just 8 kilometres outside the city.
However, most of the city centre is now pedestrianised and it can be very hard for business owners and residents to be allocated a parking space in the city centre. As a recompense for this, the government announced cheaper parking for those who choose to use the Park and Ride facility. There are also plans to increase the number of parking spaces by extending the MCP car park in nearby Floriana, which will be discreetly located under a public park.
Regeneration of Valletta
Valletta has a hard line to walk. On the one hand the government need to try and maintain the historical heritage the city provides and prevent it from turning into some kind of modern holiday resort, but on the other hand Valletta needs to also move on as a city into the future and create its own legacy.
Whilst there are differing opinions about the regeneration in Valletta, the coverage it has obtained so far has been generally positive. The waterfront is now a thriving community of its own, with plenty of scope for further development and where possible, historical artefacts such as the city's fortifications have been restored to their former glory.
New developments which lie just outside the city are also being welcomed, as they offer all the modernity of the 21st century and prove to be an economic boost. Investors are reassured by the city's modern growth and the tourist industry also welcome new hotels, restaurants and tourist accommodation.
However, as Valletta is a World Heritage site, such modern developments are restricted if Valletta wants to keep its status. Developments must be sensitive to their surroundings and not impact too greatly on the skyline.
One can look to Bath in the UK as an example of how a modern development (in this instance the Bath Western Riverside development) can come to the critical attention of the WHC.
Property owners also need to adhere to city legislation when it comes to making improvements to their properties. In some instances air conditioning units need a development permit as do other fixtures.
Not everyone is pleased with some of the modern renovations in the city. Projects such as the City Gate in Valletta have received mixed reviews from the local press.
Grants and Funding
It costs a lot to restore a building, yet with the government keen to stay true to its historical roots and faithful to some of the reasons why it was nominated to be a UNESCO heritage site, it needs to offer incentives for the restoration of some of its fine properties rather than new developments and luckily this is what the government are focusing on achieving by way of tax incentives, grants and assistance.
Those wishing to convert historical properties that are grade one or two listed or which are located in an urban conservation area, can apply for a rebate on the cost of their restoration at up to 20%. The Investi fdarek scheme is strictly limited however.
Valletta is a great place to invest thanks to the stability of the government and the banks. Various policies have been put in place to make it easier for businesses to thrive here such as extending lease agreements for business owners from 6 months to 45 years to make it easier for them to get bank loans.
Tax incentives are also offered such as income tax exemption for artistic works in Valletta which renders artists exempt from income tax up to a maximum of 20,000 EUR, tax credits for the development of digital gaming industries and various other schemes set up to help micro industries and to promote businesses to use green energy.
Properties in Valletta
Valletta is a bustling city that is attracting many newcomers thanks to its climate, tax incentives, business opportunities and buoyant property market. The Permanent Residence Scheme, which is set to re-launch, has attracted a considerable number of expats interested in new developments such as Portomaso (St Julian's) and Tigne Point (Sliema) whilst the government financial incentives are also a lure for those who prefer more traditional property in Valletta.
With loans and mortgages available from local as well as foreign banks, the home buyer will find plenty of properties in Valletta to choose from.
All in all, Valletta appears to have struck the right balance between conservation and development, helping the city remain the envy of many in Europe as it looks forward to a bright future.