The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Mepa Postpones decision on Fort Cambridge application

Malta Independent Friday, 6 June 2008, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

After four hours of heated debate, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority board yesterday approved a motion postponing the construction of 341 residential apartment blocks as part of the Fort Cambridge Development Project in Tigné, Sliema.

Board member Joe Farrugia, who was appointed on the board by the Prime Minister, forwarded the motion, which was approved by five votes in favour and three against.

After listening to a presentation by the Mepa case officers and listening to the complaints made by several Sliema residents, Mr Farrugia, who is an architect, said that the building is “too bulky, too big and unacceptable”.

Mr Farrugia said the deterioration of the visual impact with raising the number of storeys from 16 to 22 was unacceptable.

“We cannot prejudice and sacrifice the visual impact on half the island to satisfy a small number of people in the area,” he said.

“The visual impact is overpowering as the building starts in the highest point in the area – on this basis I feel that we cannot approve it.”

Another two board members agreed with Mr Farrugia’s comments and he tabled the motion to postpone the decision to see exactly how the visual impact will affect it, sending back the project to the developers. He suggested that the architects consider drawing up a proposal which respected the original 16-storey height limitation in the development brief.

The original proposal had been of 16 floors, but after consultation with neighbouring residents, the Mepa Planning Directorate had suggested to the developer to reduce the footprint but increase the height of the project.

However, project architect Alex Torpiano said he was perplexed as the arguments are the same as the ones put forward last year. “I don’t agree that this open space will be enjoyed by a few people.

“It seems you have already decided – we carried out detailed studies on the approved applications.”

He pointed out that the authority actually granted an outline permit for a 23-floor development a year ago and added the discussion had to focus on the visual impact of the development, i.e. the facade and similar cosmetic details.

The directorate recommended that the board approves the application with various conditions, including a bank guarantee of e100,000.

Case officer Jonathan Henwood explained that in October last year, the authority realised that there could have been serious impacts and as a result, an addendum was added requesting a full environmental impact assessment report.

It was found that several mitigation measures have to be introduced to reduce the wind impact while the proposed building had a high visual impact from several viewpoints across the island such as Bighi and Manoel Island.

Sliema councillor Michael Briguglio pointed out that the development brief clearly stated 16 storeys and not 23.

“Sliema people don’t want these things – we were barely consulted on this issue,” he complained.

Furthermore, he added, the local council requested a social impact report but nothing was done about it.

“You are not respecting the Sliema residents. The social impact report was drawn up for the Sliema town square project and the golf course but not for this,” said Mr Briguglio.

Architect Martin Debono told the board that the outline plan is illegal and that they do not have the authority to approve it.

“If you want, you can issue another development brief. However, if the application for 23 storeys is approved, then you are breaking the law,” he said.

Mr Debono also accused the developers of already starting the construction.

However, the case officer explained that the works carried out are simply stabilisation works that were approved.

Project architect Mr Torpiano said that the developer followed the development brief religiously.

If you want to create open spaces in Tigné Street, then one has to build upwards – there is no other way, he said. “We can’t be accused of not abiding by the law.”

He said that when the excavations started, a huge number of fissures were found and safety measures had to be taken immediately.

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