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Marsascala mayor defends Jerma high-rise plans; ‘better to build upwards than sideways’

Neil Camilleri Monday, 31 October 2016, 11:23 Last update: about 9 years ago

Marsascala Mayor Mario Calleja has defended a proposal that would see the construction of three towers, the tallest being 44 floors, on reclaimed land on the site of the former Jerma hotel.

The Malta Independent on Sunday spoke to Mr Calleja on Thursday, one day before the Planning Authority said the project as proposed was a “non-starter.”


Details from the plans submitted to the PA last week by Porto Notos Ltd, a company owned by Charles Camilleri, known as il-Franciz, and lawyer Pierre Lofaro, were released last week. The developers want to double the footprint with 25,000sq.m. of reclaimed land. Two-residential towers, one with 44 floors and the other with 32, would be built on the reclaimed land while a third tower, a 22-floor hotel, would be built on existing land. The area would also include a large lagoon with an artificial beach and promenade. The tallest tower would stand nine times taller than the existing Jerma structure.

In 2014 Mr Calleja (above with PM Joseph Muscat) had told MaltaToday that he disagreed with a new policy that could see buildings as tall as 10 storeys being built in Marsascala.

But when contacted by The Malta Independent on Sunday this week, he insisted that any form of development was better than the current dilapidated site.

Mr Calleja made it clear that this was his personal opinion and that the local council had yet to discuss the matter. “Anything is better than the dump there is now. That is all I can say. I have not really seen the details and I’d like to go into more detail.”


‘Land reclamation will not be extensive’

Pressed to say whether, in principle he agreed with the construction of three high-rise towers on the Jerma peninsula, the mayor defended the proposal, saying that from the little information he had it seemed that the developers “were very careful not to obstruct the tower and the villas in the area”.

“I would be happier if they built upwards rather than spreading outwards and becoming an obstacle to nearby residences. And at least if there will be land reclamation it will not be extensive.”

Mr Calleja said he was speaking about unapproved plans and that nothing had been set in stone. We pressed on and asked the mayor if a 44-storey tower was excessive. “Isn’t the entire country full of towers? There are towers in Paceville, Bugibba and Sliema.”

When we suggested that the tower would overlook several multi-million euro villas in the area, Mr Calleja said the structures would be built on the coastline, not in the village core, and the villas would not lose their sunlight. “Obviously this is my opinion and not everyone will agree.”


‘Nowhere to accommodate exchange visitors’

Mr Calleja has stated repeatedly that Marsascala needs a hotel. The main reason, he said, is that the locality has a twinning agreement with some 27 villages and cities in the EU and exchange visitors have nowhere to stay in Marsascala. “We are ashamed to say that there is no accommodation for them. How can you have a touristic village with no hotels?”

He added that the economy of Marsascala thrived when the Jerma was open, while today restaurants were only doing well in the summer months.

Right, so restaurant owners will benefit from a hotel. But where do the residents fit in, we asked. “Everyone will benefit because at least there will be a better environment. Would you rather leave it as it is? I feel ashamed by the area,” Mr Calleja said.

The mayor said that the day when the former hotel is demolished could not come soon enough but added that the council would never allow the construction waste to be transported over land in trucks. “So if they intend on reclaiming land, maybe they should just go ahead and dump the material into the sea straightaway” (as part of the land reclamation process).

Asked why the council had not supported a motion – moved by PN councillor Charlot Cassar and supported by PL Deputy Mayor Desiree Attard – calling on the government to buy the land and turn it into a nature park, Mr Calleja said this did not make sense because all the projects the government was embarking on were public private partnerships. “The government would never take such a risk and dish out money to buy the place only to leave it as it is.” But should the council not have at least tried, we asked. “We did not agree with that motion because it makes no sense to leave the area as it is. I believe that the area should be developed.”


100 per cent unacceptable – Deputy Mayor Desiree Attard

Contacted by this newspaper, the Marsascala deputy mayor Desiree Attard (photo below) had an altogether different opinion.

“My opinion has not changed at all,” she said. Ms Attard said a few months before Charlot Cassar’s motion, the council had unanimously approved a resolution saying it would not support any project which was not strictly tourism-related. “This meant we would not approve any form of residential development.”

She continued: “My opinion is that this land should be turned into a nature park, just like Charlot and I had said in the motion. But seeing that there seems to be no choice and that some form of development will have to take place – I completely disagree with the current proposal. I don’t agree with a high-rise development in Marsascala which, in any case is not allowed under current planning policies. I especially disagree with land reclamation as this would have a disastrous effect on the coast. There are salt pans there and we do not know how these will be affected. The entire project as proposed is 100 per cent unacceptable for me.”

The deputy mayor said, however, that any future proposal which was strictly touristic in nature would have to be considered in line with the council’s resolution. “But I will still not support land reclamation and high-rise.”

Asked whether she agreed with sweeping statements such as “the residents of Marsascala want a hotel”, Ms Attard said her constituents certainly did not agree. “I do not see the need for a hotel in a town where construction is so rapid. Business is also quite prosperous and restaurants are full on weekends. What we need is a lung, somewhere where people can go for a stroll along the coast and relax. The Jerma site would be ideal for that. We have already lost another lung at Zonqor.”


Proposed project ‘a non-starter’ – PA

The Planning Authority said on Friday that the project as presented is a non-starter. “Although the authority has held several pre-submission meetings over the past months with the developer and clearly indicated that the project as presented was not acceptable, the developer still decided to go ahead with the same proposal,” the authority said.

A few weeks ago the PA issued an enforcement notice in respect of the site, which has been neglected for several years. The former hotel, which is owned by the Montebello brothers, is expected to be auctioned off by judicial sale but the process is currently suspended.

This newspaper asked the PA why the project was deemed as a non-starter and to specifically state which parts were unacceptable – the high-rise element, the land reclamation or the residential use. In reply a spokesperson said: “Given that the proposed application has yet to be validated, the Authority will not comment further.”

A 2014 policy on high-rise did not include Marsascala in the localities where tall buildings are allowed. Tall buildings are defined as structures exceeding 10 storeys. Medium high-rise, meaning structures of 10 storeys or less are permitted in Marsascala.

The local plan for Marsascala, specifically the part about building height limitations, says that the area is regulated by Policy SMMS 15. The said policy, however, makes no reference to building heights.

The policy states that “while the development of the site should focus primarily on the provision of tourist accommodation, Mepa (PA) will consider other development options which would include residential and commercial development, provided these are part of a comprehensive development of the area and should include sufficient public urban open space whilst retaining access to the foreshore.”

“Mepa will provide Terms of Reference which will include planning parameters e.g. site coverage, building heights, to guide the submission of development options. The Brief should consider providing for public urban open spaces as well as retain public access to the foreshore.”

Marsascala was one of the 21 sites proposed for land reclamation in 2013. 

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