The Malta Independent 21 May 2019, Tuesday

Planning Authority approves amendments to the Manoel Island master plan

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 7 March 2019, 12:36 Last update: about 3 months ago

Board discussion saw concerns raised over potential archaeological remains

The Planning Authority Board has approved proposed amendments to the already approved Manoel Island master plan, thus changing the original plan.

The Outline Development application proposes a change to the already accepted master plan. It proposed “a change in the building configuration and an increase in open spaces. It also proposes a reduction of 8,000 sqm in gross floor area of already approved development resulting from a decrease in massing, increase in residential component, decrease in commercial component and removal of offices. It proposes a re-design of the access to Manoel Island and the re-organisation of parking areas and berthing facilities, Alterations to the breakwater, restoration of the existing pay office and relocation of the guard house are also proposed.”


The situation on Manoel Island itself has seen widespread criticism, and a petition was launched calling for the whole of Manoel Island to be turned into a wooded park. So far, the petition in Parliament has seen over 6,700 signatures.

Several board members during the debate highlighted that a master plan was approved many years ago and that this application only dealt with proposed amendments to that plan. They also highlighted that official development applications would be needed before construction can occur.

This application was last discussed in December, however, a decision on the proposed amendments to the Manoel Island master plan was deferred.

MIDI’s architect highlighted, during the meeting, that the proposed amendments to the master plan are an improvement over the already approved master plan. He said that concerns regarding the lack of open space in the old master plan, and others, are addressed in these amendments.

He said MIDI is asking to reduce 8,000sqm from the development space on Manoel Island. This is a contentious situation as this amount would be transferred to the Tigne master plan. He said that no building will rise higher than Fort Manoel. The proposal will also include the construction of a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists.  He also spoke of the concept of a car-free zone, highlighting that cars will be led underground soon after crossing over the main bridge. MIDI is also committing to construct a new slipway for Gzira fishermen.

PN MEP candidate and sociologist Michael Briguglio said that this development is larger than others which had a social impact assessment done in the past, arguing that it should have been done in this case.  He said what was done on this project was not a social impact assessment. A PA board member said that if the master plan is approved then the full application would be subject to a social impact development.  A master plan is not alien to the needs of residents, Briguglio retorted. Briguglio accused a number of board members of trying to speak over objectors and stop them from speaking arguing that the discussion, as some board members argued that what he was saying was wrong.

Asked about the 8,000 sqm reduction in development area, by Claire Bonello from FAA, who argued that it would just be transferred from Manoel Island to Tigne, Buttigieg said that the local plans give thr right for the 8,000sqm to be built on Manoel Island, and to ensure that the 8,000sqm would not be used, it has to be transferred to Tigne. “That transfer is still subject to an application,” he added, explaining that part of the Tigne master plan was not built yet.

A representative of the fishermen of the area said that the land reclamation in this proposal is larger than it was previously. He questioned whether boats will be able to navigate under the bridge that will be built.

Maria Grazzia Cassar from DLH said that the board should consider the open views, highlighting that this is just as important as physical open space. She said that the psychological effects of closed spaces on people is not being taken into consideration. She said that this area is an area of high landscape values in terms of views. “This is something we could ruin forever.”

A couple of members of the public highlighted the potential archaeological remains in the sea around Manoel Island as well. The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage are checking on the impact of this as they were not aware of the surrounding area. 

Cassola argued that everyone knows that there is a previous contract on this case, but said that MIDI did not respect the old contract by closing off the foreshore for years, and when such things occur, the government should revoke the contract. He highlighted that the application is also going higher than what was in the original contract in terms of metres. He highlighted that there were articles regarding the archaeological potential of the surrounding area and went a step further to ay that it is not just potential, but there is evidence of archaeological remains.

The architect argued that he hid nothing on the heights, and said that on parts of the island some heights did rise to create a better skyline. On land reclamation, he said it is an obligation but the area of land reclamation is the same as the prior master plan. On the bridge, there is a 2m allowance in height so that boats can pass under it, he said. On the archaeological issue, he said that nothing new is being said, adding that the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has the right to ask for studies or order changes in design. He said the necessary investigations will be done and the contractors will stay on what the SCH suggests.

PL MP Clayton Bartolo, who represents the PL on the board, said that politicians do influence what people think, but added that certain arguments made today were nowhere to be seen during the discussions on the 1999 master plan, which was 20 years ago. He said that if the board votes against this development, the developer could build according to the original master plan, but said that today there is the chance to reduce the construction by 8,000sqm. He proposed that before any development applications be issued, a slipway be constructed.

PN MP Marthese Portelli also said that before development permits would be granted, then the SCH studies should be completed.  A MIDI representative said that what they could do is have the old slipway in use until the new slipway is built. She also said that the master plan amendments provide more open space.

The decision also read that the developable area on Manoel Island cannot exceed 127,178 sqm, meaning that the developable area cannot exceed that amount.

In the video below, Kevin Schembri Orland speaks to Gzira Mayor Conrad Borg Manche.


Photos and video: Michael Camilleri

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