A 30-metre high telecommunications mast will be erected on top of the Dwejra ridge, next to the Victoria Lines, because of a law that has since been repealed.
The Mepa board yesterday approved an application by the owner of the land in question (it was not clear who this owner is: the information given by Mepa mentions a Dr Jan Spiteri as the applicant) solely because the same application had already been approved on an Outline basis in 2006.
At the end, three board members – Alex Vella, Prof. Victor Axiaq and Dr Timmy Gambin – voted against while seven board members voted in favour. As board member Dr Joe Sammut MP said: ‘Dura lex, sed lex’.
The application was first submitted in 2003 for a site in Siggiewi but the Mepa directorate suggested a change in the site and suggested Dwejra. The Outline application was approved in September 2006 and there was no change at all in the full application which was considered yesterday.
The site in question is a committed building, although some walls have been vandalized. The room will be slightly enlarged to contain three transmission rooms, plus a generator room and a 30-metre antenna.
Eng. Zammit explained to the board why such a facility has been deemed necessary.
He explained that telecom infrastructure in Malta is reaching full capacity and more capacity is needed for the foreseeable developments in the future.
There are telecom towers in Malta but the owners of these towers are the providers themselves and have little motivation to allow further addition to their towers. Ing. Zammit said he worked for GO until recently and thus knows what he is talking about.
This will be a facility that can be used by all or any operators. If this facility is not approved, there will either be a huge increase in rooftop installations or else Malta will have to lose out on the coming technologies, such as 4G.
Dwejra was chosen because the site is very strategically located. The developer was ready to abide by any condition imposed by Mepa or MCA.
When the Directorate officer was about to begin his appraisal, he said he was going to consider the three applications at one go. He explained that apart from this application, yesterday’s board meeting was to discuss two other applications for a telecommunication facility in the immediate vicinity of this site.
But he was stopped by the Mepa chairman, Vince Cassar, who ordered this application to be discussed on its own merits, without relation to the others. The reasons became evident soon after.
The Directorate officer explained that over the years, Mepa had received a number of applications for a telecommunications tower, for sites ranging from Tat-Tomna in Mellieha, the Bitmac site in Xwieki, and a site in Tal-Balal.
So Mepa bunched all the similar applications together so that they could be considered only in a holistic manner after consultations with MCA. But this one application had to be considered by the board before the MCA holistic plan because an Outline permit gives the owner an acquired right.
Among the conditions suggested by the Directorate, the Civil Aviation Authority suggested changing the colour of the tower from gray to red for visibility reasons. Another suggestion was that as a planning gain, the operator undertakes to remove all overhead wiring from Dwejra but the Directorate did not like this and suggested instead a bank guarantee of €10,000.
Two representations were received, of which one was by Nature Trust who protested that the area is a highly sensitive one.
In 2006, the MTA had objected but this time, they did not. It later turned out that the MTA was not even consulted this time.
Perit Robert Musumeci, the architect for the next two applications (by Vodafone) objected to the board discussing just this application first and said his client would be disadvantaged with this procedure. Dr Edwin Mintoff, the architect of the application being discussed, strenuously objected: his application had been nine years in the works and has an Outline permit to boot.
But Mr Musumeci argued that the operation of the tower needed an MCA permit based on an agreement between the operator and the MCA. If this application only is approved, it would offer one applicant a competitive advantage.
At the end of a rather long discussion, it was agreed that the eventual permit would be ‘non-executable’ unless an agreement on common usage was not reached with MCA in six months’ time. Dr. Mintoff said the applicant agreed with this.
Board member Alex Vella railed against the Outline permit rule. He claimed that MCA had said this antenna could be erected at Mtarfa but he was told this suggestion dated to the pre-Outline permit stage. It was the Mepa Directorate itself, Dr Mintoff added, which had suggested Dwejra.
Mr Vella said that since 2006 a lot of technological improvements had been made and maybe this huge mast is no longer necessary. MCA should be told to update its studies.
Prof Victor Axiaq could not believe that the board members had been brought to the meeting only to be told they could do nothing about an Outline permit. This will ruin the Dwejra landscape.
Deputy chairman Franco Montesin, who was chairing the meeting at this point, said that once the Outline permit was not changed in the Full application, nor the policies had changed, there was nothing the board could do.
Eng. Zammit said that on the contrary, technological progress had brought new products on the market. Malta risked losing out of the upcoming 4G technology unless its communications infrastructure was brought up to par.
Mr Vella was not persuaded: this land is privately owned, he said: this is all speculation. It will ruin this pristine site.
Astrid Vella first claimed that the Outline permit was challenged by the subsequent scheduling of the Victoria Lines. It was explained to her the scheduling took place before the Outline permit of September 2006.
Ms Vella then claimed this application infringed no fewer than 13 Mepa policies. Can this application be amended?
She then claimed that the Mepa board had thrown out two applications based on an Outline permit – one for a Maghtab application and one for a building project at Hamrun.
But Dr Mintoff, who was also the architect of the Hamrun application (the former 7-Up area) rose angrily to deny this claim: the Hamrun application was rejected at full application stage because the Outline permit did not specify the amount of residences in the application.
Eng. Zammit said the mast could not be lower than 30 metres: actually this was the lowest height possible.
Dr Sammut warned the board they could be held legally responsible if an acquired right, by way of an Outline permit, was not approved. That was why the Outline permit procedure had been repealed at law.
After the board had voted, and approved the application, Mr Vella suggested that the permit be reviewed every two years for a maximum of eight years but when the board voted on this proposal only Mr Vella was in favour and the rest were against.
Astrid Vella then wanted to find out which board members had voted in favour but Mr Montesin erupted: she had been present for the vote and members had voted by show of hands. What else did she want?
When the other two applications were about to be discussed, Mr Musumeci said there was little point in doing so but the board still went through the motions and voted them out unanimously.
The board finally approved an application for an extension of the Nectar Group warehouse next door to the US Embassy at Ta’ Qali.
Architect George Tonna explained to the board the plant is rigorous in its observance of ISO and other regulations and employs 114 employees. It has also won a number of awards and has set up a Nectar Academy to train its employees.
Nectar grew out of the Attard Brothers’ concern and its present facility uses part of the big Attard Bros complex. The present application extends the warehouse by using yet another part of the complex, the precast hall.