The Malta Independent 20 January 2019, Sunday

Decision on proposed Manoel Island amendments deferred by PA board

Albert Galea Thursday, 20 December 2018, 13:57 Last update: about 30 days ago

A decision on proposed amendments to the Manoel Island master plan was deferred by the Planning Authority due to a lack of adequate documentation presented, with concerns about a lack of photo montages comparing the proposed amendments with the already approved plan.  Furthermore, the board asked that documents which were found to not have been made available to the public to be uploaded for public viewing.

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Some 8,000 square metres of space that developers cut from their Manoel Island plans will now be transferred to Midi's development in Tigne, with negotiations between the developers and the Planning Authority still ongoing.

The board’s concerns came after they questioned whether the team had a graphic in hand to properly illustrate the height of the proposed buildings in relation to Fort Manoel, whilst members of the public also called for the exact photo-montage of how the project will be shown.

A set of photo montages was presented, however board members noted that the montages presented were not in actual fact compared to what has already been approved.  They said that they wanted a montage to compare between what had already been approved, to what is being proposed under these amendments.

One citizen also noted that certain visuals had not been made available to the public, and in fact the board noted that before these documents were made available, a decision could not be taken.

Clayton Bartolo, who is the government’s representative on the PA Board, expressed his concern on a proposal relating to the transfer of 8,000 square metres, saying that more information on how this land transfer is going to be carried out and how it would affect Tigne, which is to where it will be transferred.

The amendments to the master plan proposed a 7% increase in green open spaces when compared with the 1999 master plan, with that percentage being taken from private gardens (5%) and developed area (2%).  The project’s case officer had recommended that the amendments be approved.

With the proposed amendments, there would be no office space and much less commercial space within the project’s confines. There will be no commercial use within the fort, but the Lazzaretto and Pay Office buildings will retain their intended hospitality uses which will include a five-star hotel and ancillary casino.  The height of all the buildings will exceed four storeys and will follow the contours of the island itself.  Passages around the island will be paved and will be used by electric vehicles and emergency services if required, not cars.  In terms of parking, the proposed underground car park within the master plan must accommodate not just the new uses for Manoel Island, but also the vehicular spill-over from Gzira and Ta’ Xbiex.

The improvements will also see the addition of a pedestrian bridge joining Manoel Island with the Gzira sea-front.  A break-water for the yacht marina is also proposed to be built too whilst there were also some more details related to the proposed sporting facilities included as well.

Manoel Island has an approximate area of 305,000sqm and is located at the heart of Malta’s largest and most densely populated conurbation within Marsamxett Harbour, with direct visual links to Tigné, Sliema, Gzira, Ta’ Xbiex, Msida.

The development brief for both Manoel Island and Tigne Point was approved back in 1992, and the vision for a complex on the island was transferred into an actual permit through the approval of the Outlined Development Permission Application submitted by MIDI Plc in 1999 by the PA.

The initial mastervplan proposed the construction of what is essentially a village complete with yacht marina, football pitch and the restoration of certain historical buildings such as Fort Manoel, Lazzaretto, the Customs House and the old Cemetery Chapel amongst others.

The proposed master plan alterations will see the project retain most of the land uses already approved, the case officer’s report read. “It does however focus more on the residential aspect of the uses, seeking to decrease the area dedicated to the commercial use (and outright removal of office use) and reallocating it to the residential areas in order to cater for the current market preferences. The commercial component will generally be limited to the ground floor levels, (except for specific historically important buildings, mainly the Customs House, the Cattle Shed and its adjacent buildings dedicated solely to commercial use) allowing for a greater number of residences and providing a mix of different residential typologies which include serviced apartments.”

 “The majority of the eligible floor area will be dedicated to residences, divided into clusters. With few outlets along the main street, the commercial hub will be located in the centre of the island with the Manoel Square, the Admiralty Square and the Cattle Shed all rehabilitated as commercial developments. Such space will also be linked to the waterfront’s Marina Square through the Bovile Street, which will be characterised by exclusive shops, restaurants and cafes intended to create the main social hub”, the case officer wrote.

Michael Sciortino, a private citizen from Gzira, made various representations including one on the proposed pedestrian bridge, arguing that it would result in the loss of promenade space but noted that the structure for this bridge would rise to a height of 16 metres. He also remonstrated that a public slipway on Manoel Island has to be retained for use by the public, the project architect David Xuereb said that MIDI was in discussions with Transport Malta to have a slipway constructed on the foreshore.

Former Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Arnold Cassola noted that the access by car into the island was limited to the use of the marina and of the proposed hotel.  He said that with the PA’s vote today the authority would be giving developers the right to continue building and contributing to Malta’s over-development, a remark to which the PA board clarified that a permit for construction on Manoel Island had already been approved. The PA also said that they had no problem in discussing that the open spaces that were not honoured as part of the Tigne project be transferred and compensated for in the Manoel Island project.

Jamie Mercieca, another Gzira resident, questioned whether a social impact assessment had been carried out properly as neither him, nor his family, nor any of his neighbours had ever been approached as part of such an assessment and asked for a health impact assessment due to the moving of the yacht marina.  A consultant to the project said that a social impact assessment had not been carried out as this was stipulated within the Environmental Impact Assessment legislation as of 2007.  Health impact assessments were not formally listed within the terms of reference for the project and so it wasn’t carried out either, the consultant said.

Joan Micallef, also a resident from Gzira, expressed her concerns on the effect the proposed bridge will have on the accumulation of marine litter and on the fact that the first block of what is proposed would be of a detriment to the view. Xuereb also said that the project was vetted by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage who said that the development respected Valletta’s heritage and view.

 

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