The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

PA indicates intention to grant permission for 15-storey tower in Ta’ Xbiex

Albert Galea Thursday, 9 April 2020, 20:20 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Planning Authority has indicated its intention to grant permission for a 15-storey tower in Ta' Xbiex which had initially been recommended for refusal by the case officer over the height of its basement garage.

The proposed tower - put forward by Malta Developer's Association Secretary General Michael Stivala - is in Ta' Xbiex along Testaferrata and Enrico Mizzi Street - very close to the dormant Metropolis development - and will see the construction of 15-storeys of offices on top of a five-level underground car park.

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The development was recommended for refusal by the case officer because the height of four basement garages was 30 centimetres below the minimum level required by law.

Explaining his counter-argument to the reason for recommended refusal, the development's architect Joseph Bondin said that going further underground could cause structural issues because the development was already going six metres below sea level.

PA Executive Chairman Martin Saliba meanwhile also specified that the law foresaw the possibility of exemptions, and pointed out that reducing the height of the basement storeys will also help in the reduction of construction waste.

Coming down to a vote, it was only NGO representative Annick Bonello who voted against the project, citing concerns over certain geological elements of the project.

PA Chairman Vince Cassar, ERA Chairman Victor Axiak, and board members Gilmour Camilleri, Chris Cilia, Martin Camilleri, Duncan Mifsud, and Saviour Debono Grech all voted in favour.

Ta' Xbiex Local Council representative Yasmine Tonna voted in favour of the project as well, stating that residents whom the council had spoken to believed that the value of their property will increase as a result of the regeneration that the project will bring to an area known as a hotspot for abuses such a prostitution. She also noted that residents had praised the addition of more parking and an open space to the area.

Both Axiak and Gilmour Camilleri had expressed concern about the social impact that the project may have, and lamented that details in this regard had not been presented by the architect. Despite this, they said that their concerns were allayed following Tonna's contribution to the discussion.

However, the actual social impact assessment paints a different picture. The 100-page assessment penned by Maria Brown and Marvin Formosa, found that the residents of the area (Ta' Xbiex, Msida, and Gzira) had a "construction fatigue" and were also concerned about parking, traffic, and disruption to their daily lives in the construction phase of the project.

The assessment's conclusions did however note that the interviews with 301 residents were done in August 2019, not long after three construction accidents had occurred - defining this as the assessment's "most determining limitation".

Surveys carried out by the assessors and indicated on page 71 of the report found that some two-thirds of the interviewees disagreed with the project, with there being "a degree of mistrust, bordering on resentment, towards the construction and building industry".

This being said, assessment concluded that and also found that many residents were in favour of the regeneration of this specific area.

However, at no point during the meeting were the results of the aforementioned survey referred to.

Martin Camilleri also displayed concerns over the proposed open space - which takes up over half of the proposed ground level footprint - and its plainness, noting that he would like to see more effort done to the landscaping of the area.

Bondin on his part pledged that the space will not be used for tables and chairs.

Meanwhile, in providing his reason for approving the project, Chris Cilia lamented that he had to vote in accordance with the policy which was in place - which he did not agree with - and said that it was ridiculous that there is no masterplan for the area or its skyline in place.

A final decision will be taken in another sitting as is standard practice when the board shows the intention to overturn the recommendation of the case officer.

 


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