The Mepa board yesterday approved an application to transform a typical seafront villa at Ta Xbiex into the global HQ of an international aviation company.
The company is Comlux which, in its various companies, is registered in Malta.
Comlux, explained Andrea Zanetta, the CEO, is an international company in high-end aircraft designing, building and leasing.
Set up 10 years ago in Switzerland, it has been in Malta five years where it now employs 55 persons.
Internationally it offers VIP aviation globally through a network of offices spread around the world, building what may be termed flying luxury apartments. Its markets are Europe, the Middle East and the Far East with Africa opening up as well.
Internationally, it employs 568 employees and at Indianapolis it has a facility that builds luxury cabins from scratch to the client’s specifications and likes.
Clients range from the governments of Argentina, Malaysia, Gabon and Kazakhstan together with the royal family of Saudi Arabia.
In Malta the company has registered three companies including the holding company, Fly Comlux and the aviation operator.
Some days ago, Comlux signed an agreement with Airbus and a declaration was issued stating that Comlux is the operator of the largest fleet of Airbus private planes.
Being located in Malta, Comlux wanted to have a HQ that respects its stature and a place where its employees, in their visits to the HQ, can enjoy coming to.
It thus set its sights on Villa Margherita on the same side as Whitehall Mansions, which houses many embassies.
This however required a change of use and the Mepa policies at first seemed to prohibit this. For according to the polices until a few months ago, Ta Xbiex was considered as a residential zone with the only exceptions being for embassies which, in a way are also offices, but which have a special stature.
But as architect Anthony Muscat argued, besides embassies there are also a number of office buildings in the area. Next door to Villa Margherita there is the SMS Insurance offices and just across the street there are the Virtu Ferries offices.
Besides, Mr Muscat argued, last January Mepa adopted a policy of more flexibility in the way it treats polices and applications could be accepted as long as they were neighbour-friendly.
Nevertheless, the Mepa’s Local Planning Unit and its directorate at first both came out against approving the application. Just as they sent the DPAR report to the applicants, the policy was changed to a more flexible one and the application was thus referred to the board with a recommendation to approve.
But Perit Noel Debattista, representing himself, turned up at the meeting and objected to the approval. He said he lives in the area and the application is not compatible with the policy.
In the past, Mepa had denied four similar applications such as that by Villa Ellul to be changed over to offices, the former EU delegation building which is now an office but which is applying to become a health spa, plus other applications which were refused.
He also claimed, however that two doors away from him there are 60 people working in one office. There are now huge parking problems for residents. Also, some offices work long hours, such as those in the gaming industry. The least Mepa can do is to change the policy for the entire area.
Max Zammit, the young and new mayor of Ta Xbiex, said he has been only 12 days in office and is without an executive secretary. He turned up to see how Mepa holds its public meetings. The preceding council had objected to the application, as it did in similar circumstances, because of the parking problem.
Mr Zanetta pointed out that of the 55 employees Comlux has in Malta , 32 fly planes so do not work at the offices.
Mr Debattista rebutted that Atlas Insurance has 60 people working in two villas: there is no way Mepa can control how many people work in a building once it approves it as an office.
Board member Timothy Gambin asked about the parking problem since the building only has three parking places. Where will the rest park? Mr Muscat said there is ample parking space on the shoreline, next to the yacht marina.
Then a more serious problem cropped up: there are still outstanding issues with KNPD on access.
Comlux, Mr Muscat explained, had included one special parking slot for people with needs and from it a ramp led to the lift which goes all the way up to the roof. (In fact, this was one issue about which the applicant was seeking to sanction). But KNPD objected, saying the people with disabilities must come in at the front door, not from the back.
An entire discussion ensued in which members of the board looked into whether the KNPD objection could be over-ruled by the board.
Then it was pointed out that the applicant had an alternative way to contest the KNPD objection and it turned out it was all a question of mutual misunderstanding and bad communications. The applicant had built a ramp at the back but it seems the message had gone to the wrong persons and so KNPD continued with its objection.
This is, after all a listed building, and many members agreed with the applicant’s refusal to place a plastic lift at the main entrance when an easier access was provided at the back.