The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

Environmentalists lash out in wake of Mistra permit approval

Malta Independent Sunday, 3 November 2013, 10:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

Green Party Alternattiva Demokratika, Din l-Art Helwa and Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar have all expressed outrage over the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s approval of the 774-apartment complex in Mistra.

Accusing Mepa’s “lack of ethics” as undermining proper planning procedures, the FAA yesterday “condemned the granting of a permit for the massive and disproportionate project at Xemxija, considering that the tall buildings policy had specifically excluded this ridge where the buildings will dominate an iconic landscape.

“The design falls far short of what would be aesthetically acceptable, while the whole ethos of allowing tall buildings in order to leave open landscaped areas is betrayed by the fact that a significant percentage of those open areas will be closed to the public.”

The FAA accused the Mepa board of having failed to consider the fact that residences all the way down to the seashore will, as a result of the project, be covered by shade, just as it had “ignored the Halcrow Report stating that no more development should be allowed in this area due to traffic problems”.

“In dropping its objection, Transport Malta insults local residents by claiming that the traffic situation is already so bad that adding heavy construction vehicles and another 1,500 cars to the area will not make a difference,” the FAA remarked. 

It also asked how the Xemxija sewage system, which does not cope with the existing households as matters currently stand, will cope with a further 744 apartments, and whether the taxpayer will be footing the bill for the upgrading of essential services.

“Mepa,” the FAA said, “is failing to appreciate the insignificance of our lifespan when compared to that of the landscape. Mepa’s approval of projects that will affect the quality of life of residents, undermine tourism and add to Malta’s glut of vacant properties is regress, not progress, and puts into question the whole raison d’être  of Mepa.

“Maltese politicians’ lip service to sustainability, and successive Mepa boards’ approval of projects that violate its planning policies and principles of sustainability, prove that our urban planning system is bankrupt, undermined by a fundamental lack of ethics that has blighted Malta for generations.”

 

Precedent for tall buildings on hills and ridges has been set – DLH

Speaking on Friday, Din l-Art Helwa executive president Simone Mizzi observed: “The major concern now is that, with the acceptance of this project, the precedent for tall buildings to be built on hills and ridges has been set. Malta does not have much left by way of unspoilt landscapes and open countryside.

“This design of the former Mistra Village Complex, itself a Din l-Art Helwa award winner several years ago for its use of local materials and traditional style, still could be more sensitive to the landscape. Its massive volume will be a permanent unpleasant blot for miles around.” 

Ms Mizzi said after the Mepa hearing that she was happy to hear the Kuwaiti developers say that they would consider improving this design yet again, and that she hoped they would make it kinder to the eye and more in keeping with the natural contours of the land.

“We trust they will be true to their word,” Ms Mizzi said.

Nine Mepa board members voted in favour of the 744 apartment project and five voted for it to be modified yet again to a more appropriate scheme on Thursday. 

Din l-Art Helwa said it had maintained that the outline permit granted in 2008 followed misleading and incomplete information to the former Mepa board and demanded the revocation of this permit citing Article 77 of the Environment and Planning Act.  The request for revocation of the outline permit by the NGO was thrown out by Mepa Chairman Vincent Cassar at the start of the meeting, stating that the Board had considered the request and found it to be legally unjustified and adding that he did not have to make public the considerations that led to this decision.

“It is of considerable concern,” said Ms Mizzi, “that the efforts to protect Malta’s environment, in this case a sizeable chunk of important scenic landscape, should be left to NGOs when the real responsibility for championing the environment should be with Mepa itself. 

“I am comforted by the fact that five members of the Mepa Board wished to see the project modified so its effect on the landscape would be mitigated or insisted that local regulations governing the permit would be observed. 

“However, the Board based its decision on an as yet unapproved high rise policy, the Floor Area Ratio, that calls for a maximum of eight floors to be allowed, when this permit was in fact granted for 12, hardly a small departure from the Local Plan which in essence allows four.”

This policy, DLH noted, also obliges the Mepa board to ensure that the resulting building is ‘of a high calibre quality building’, “But what we saw projected,” Ms Mizzi said, “were multiple repetitions of boxes accented in red, blue and green that were still massed in a most unnatural adjacency to the surrounding landscape.” 

She reiterated that the Mepa board, in the absence of any Aesthetics Board or Style Committee, would have to shoulder this responsibility and by approving this scheme of massive blocks accept that it did actually fulfil this requirement. 

Another unanswered question, the NGO said, was that of the complete reversal of the Traffic Impact Statement made by Transport Malta’s CEO, described in his letter of August 2013 to the Board as being of ‘no objection’. 

“This,” DLH said, “is a complete departure from the comments made previously in 2008 by Transport Malta’s experts who had stated that any additional traffic would impact most seriously on the single lane traffic between St Paul’s Bay and Mellie?a, itself the main thoroughfare to Gozo. The justification given in the report to the Board was that as the number of flats had been reduced from 994 to 744, the impact on traffic was no longer objectionable.”

Din l-Art Helwa contended that such a conclusion was “absurd and totally unacceptable”.

 

Mistra to be a ‘meg concrete jungle’ – AD

Green Party Alternattiva Demokratika in a statement yesterday, was of a similar opinion.

AD chairman Arnold Cassola said: “Alternattiva had registered its objections to this mega concrete jungle project as from 2008. Unfortunately, apart from the residents, public opinion was quite absent at that time. Unfortunately, the approval of such projects proves that whether it is a Nationalist or a Labour administration there is no political will to give the Maltese a better quality of life regarding noise pollution, air quality and traffic management.

“With projects of this kind, Minister Joe Mizzi’s traffic management plans are already dead before they are even announced and Malta’s inhabitants are destined to live the rest of their lives three hours daily jammed in traffic congestion.”

AD Deputy Chairman and Spokesperson on Sustainable Development and Home Affairs Carmel Cacopardo, meanwhile, observed that the writing has been on the wall for some time.

“AD has always been outspoken on this type of mega-development,” he said.  “Unfortunately the political parties elected to Parliament are not sensitive to this type of development. We expect to have many more of these decisions as the current government like its predecessor considers that the building industry requires its support.

“The rights of residents to be protected from the impacts of over-development have been discarded long ago.”

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