The Malta Independent 14 November 2018, Wednesday

Hotel Removed from Tigné Point development

Malta Independent Friday, 20 January 2012, 00:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

The board of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority yesterday approved two applications regarding almost the last bits of the jigsaw puzzle that will, when completed, form the entire Tigné Point development.

These are two residential blocks, T17 East and West and an office block, T14. That leaves only two small applications to be processed and the whole area will have been developed.

A high hotel building, which was originally to form part of the Tigné North phase, has been removed from the plans and some of its floor space added to the two residential blocks and the office block.

Professor Alex Torpiano, development company MIDI’s architect, told the Mepa board that a garden will now be created in the space originally assigned for the hotel and this will also enable sea-views to be preserved right in the middle of the development.

Prof. Torpiano recapped the entire history of the project. It was a Development Brief that first announced the project in 1993. For that part of the Tigné peninsula it envisaged a boulevard and a number of blocks with a signal high tower to be the landmark hotel.

But when works began and the underground tunnel was being dug, the excavators rediscovered the Garden Battery which formerly linked Fort Tigné to the Cambridge Battery together with its three gun emplacements and ancillary stores and residences for soldiers and officers on top.

This discovery (the buildings had been thought destroyed in World War II) necessitated a complete overhaul of the plans. By means of a very complicated manoeuvre, the gun emplacements were shored up and the tunnel now passes underneath them. But the plans for the north side of the development had to be changed.

In 2008, following the discovery of the Garden Battery, a new master plan was submitted, including the newly-discovered buildings and linking them to Tigné Point. The car park, too, had to be redesigned because of the Garden Battery foundations.

It was also important, Prof. Torpiano continued, to create a pedestrian walkway which will start from Qui-Si-Sana and walk all the way to Fort Tigné and thence to the Ferries. It was equally important to retain the sea-views right from the middle of the development.

At the centre of yesterday’s twin applications is T14, the office block. This is shaped like a U sitting on its side, with a central feature in the middle linking the two branches. A bridge leads up from the Garden Battery floor area to the lobby area and this wide area is replicated on all floors. All office space will be open plan and can be configured to the clients’ needs.

On one side its façade will be covered by a perforated metal screen, such as that proposed for the University library. It will also be linked to The Point by means of a cafeteria. This office building will be three storeys higher than originally planned, taking its added height from the now discarded hotel landmark building.

The two blocks of T17 will be residential and situated on either side of the office building with the landscaped garden between them, preserving the sea-views. They will be six storeys higher than originally planned. In all, the two blocks will have 102 apartments.

The Directorate confirmed that, following this rethink, the volumes of the proposed blocks is even lower than that originally approved in the Outline Permit. Again, doing away with the hotel and its planned 20,000 sq m did wonders in this respect.

An update of the EIA process was carried out but it focused solely on the projected block’s visual impact. The Directorate thus recommended approval.

Before the public was allowed to comment, the head of the Directorate, Architect Silvio Farrugia, told the board there was a last-minute change of plans. A planned toilet had had issues with the health officer and it has now been substituted by a laundry with the health officer’s approval.

Astrid Vella from Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and the Sliema Residents’ Association complained that a vaster EIA should have been carried out. This is a 13-year-old Development Brief and many things have changed in the meantime. In 2005, it had been estimated that there were 4,000 empty apartments in the area, and they must have increased in the meantime.

The Mepa officers handling this application must have stuck to the letter of the law, not its spirit. Other developments in the area, such as Town Square, had been obliged by Mepa to carry out a traffic impact assessment but the only thing that was changed in this project’s updated EIA were the views!

Mepa, as the guarantor of the quality of life, should be ensuring that a social impact assessment and a traffic impact assessment are carried out in this regard.

Besides, the public consultation carried out was a farce and totally inadequate. It was FAA which had taken upon itself to hold a consultation meeting and 300 people turned up: None was aware of the project’s dimensions.

When the EIA update was to be the subject of another public consultation, the people of the area were not informed and even those who searched on purpose for the meeting notice could not find it, nor did they get any help from the MIDI office.

The meeting, when it was held, was meant to be from 3 to 5pm but when the FAA representative turned up at 4pm, the meeting was already over as very few people turned up.

Ms Vella thus asked the Mepa board to defer decision until a social and a traffic impact assessment are carried out.

She then added that the beach belongs to the public and asked if the public had been told it was going to lose this right.

Mepa chairman Austin Walker here intervened and asked for reactions to what Ms Vella was saying.

Prof. Torpiano said no part of the application regarded the beach: This had been left outside the public deed of the land transfer agreement with the government.

As regards the point this is a 13-year-old Development Brief, Prof. Torpiano counter-argued that this huge development had been purposely structured to be long-term. Although the agreement was signed in 2000, work must be finished by 2025.

Besides, two traffic impact assessments were carried out in 2000 and 2008 and an internal one in 2010.

A Mepa officer defended the choice behind the updated EIA and said that the removal of the hotel tower necessitated an update on the visual appearance of the development.

As for the public consultation, public announcements had been carried in most papers and the Mepa officers themselves were surprised at the very low turnout. The meeting did not start on time and one presentation was made lasting half an hour. There were some questions at the end but after that no one seemed to have anything more to say and the meeting was closed. Nevertheless, the exhibition regarding the plans was left in the place where the meeting was held for any interested late-comers.

Ms Vella counter-argued that the input by the Sliema local council had been disregarded. A short battle of comments ensued between Ms Vella and Mr Walker. Ms Vella said she was abroad on that day but the FAA representatives did turn up at 4pm for a meeting that was supposed to last till 5pm, and found nobody.

When the issue was debated at board level, questions were asked about the lido. The developers confirmed this would have a small pool and access would be reserved for residents first and the public if there was still some space, against a small payment.

As for the pedestrian access around the seashore, Prof. Torpiano clarified that the shoreline there is accessible from Qui-Si-Sana to the NSTF clubhouse but then one has to ascend around a storey or two to continue walking.

As regards parking, the proposed parking is enough for the residents and the people working in the office building but this is not a public car park for people promenading at Għar id-Dud.

Finally, Ms Vella commented that it was not right that the proposed hotel had been converted into an office block but Mr Walker interrupted her and said she was repeating herself and there had been no change of use. The hotel block had been wiped off and the office block inherited some of the proposed hotel’s storeys.

As soon as the two applications were approved, Ms Vella walked out, losing a very interesting presentation about the proposed restoration and re-use of the Lazzaretto.

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