The Malta Independent 18 June 2018, Monday

Church commission questions approval of Paceville high rise despite lack of master plan

Tuesday, 13 March 2018, 14:31 Last update: about 4 months ago

The Church’s environment commission (KA) said today it could not understand how the Planning Authority had approved the amendments to the 31-storey Mercury House high rise in St Julian’s when there was no master plan for the area.

In a statement, the KA pointed out that during that board meeting, even PA chairman Vince Cassar was quoted as saying that it was a pity that there was no master plan for the area, yet the application was given the green light.

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The PA said it cannot understand how both the representatives of the Government and those of the Opposition voted in favour, while agreeing that the proposed development should have been presented in the context of a master plan.

“One cannot help asking: What are political parties’ priorities? Whose interests are they defending? Who will safeguard the interests of those citizens who hold the common good at heart and who are against overdrawn projects such as this?”

The commission said it believes that the cumulative impacts of all the projects at Paceville and St George’s Bay will be felt in the long term.

This was one of two examples given by the KA in a statement in which it said that the MEPA split (into the PA and ERA) could have been carried out in a more effective manner, and that this would have prevented certain ‘bizarre’ decisions that raise doubts about the running of the authorities themselves.

The other example brought forward by the KA was the development at Fortina Hotel in Sliema.

It said the Environment and Resources Authority had felt that there was no need for an Environmental Impact Assessment to evaluate the impact of an additional 5 floors on a 17-storey tower, the demolition of existing structures and the construction of a 15-storey block of apartments.

It said the fact that a site falls within an urban area does not imply that any type of development on it is justified, especially if such development will have a negative impact on the community.

“It seems that this decision has not taken into account one of the pillars of sustainable development – the social dimension.”

“The irony is that, concurrently to this decision, the ERA launched a set of new regulations aimed at strengthening EIAs by introducing new aspects to be considered for assessment such as personal health and climate change.”

“However, the KA expresses concern when arbitrary exemptions to these regulations are introduced. Experience has shown that under all administrations there have always been persons who show great ability in playing about with the wording of the law and manage to find loopholes when the spirit of a regulation (that of protecting the citizen) would be to actually curb such abuse.”

“Exemptions from rigorous scrutiny in the planning stage have led to the building of the hangar at Haywharf, a construction which is highly incongruent with the Bastions of the European Capital of Culture and of the public shooting range on land assigned to the local Police Academy at Ta’ Kandja. It is now public knowldege that the real reason for this exemption was not for the Police to have a shooting range, but so that Malta can host an international competition. This is blatant abuse of the spirit of the law.”

The KA said it was also concerned by various attempts by a number of developers at ‘redevelopment’ (a term which does not have the same negative connotation as ‘destruction of architectural heritage’) on sites of significant cultural and historic value in the heart of urban communities.

“For the past 20 years, we have been experiencing the construction of hotels taking the place of 19th century historic structures, and even a watchtower built by the Knights of St John being engulfed by a modern hotel. Furthermore, of little concern to the authorities seems to be the possible damage, as a result of construction, on protected sites such as Għar ta’ Ħarq Ħamiem in St George’s Bay.”

“In this context one questions the muscle of those entities constituted specifically with the aim of ensuring that the environment and, especially, the natural, cultural and artistic heritage, and the social fabric of our islands are given due priority. The KA shares the views expressed by the Commissioner for the Environment and Planning at the Office of the Ombudsman and reiterates what it has often said: that as long as the ERA and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage do not have the power of veto in every controversial issue to be decided by the PA, then we shall continue to see decisions which do not give greater weight to the common good.

Politicians often ask citizens: ‘How would you like this generation to be remembered in the future?’ In the light of the way these projects have been approved, the KA would like to propose this same question to all those involved in the formulation of development plans and policies and to whoever is in any way responsible for the decisions relating to development permits.”

 

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