The Malta Independent 30 July 2021, Friday

Gzira’s green lung under threat again: Transport Malta proposes offices, restaurant in garden

Albert Galea Thursday, 3 June 2021, 09:56 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Council of Europe Gardens, one of Gzira’s last remaining green lungs, are under threat again, this time as state entity is planning to build one-storey office building, including a retail outlet and a restaurant, right inside the confines of the garden itself.

A planning application filed in April shows how state agency Transport Malta is proposing the “construction of marina office space and storage” in connection with the already approved yacht marina.

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The building would consist of commercial space, public toilet facilities, WC’s and showers, a retail outlet, and a restaurant with an ancillary outdoor area with a public roof garden.

Under the plans, it will be situated in the middle of the garden, bordering on the Gzira coastline along which there is a yacht marina, and right on part of what is a children’s playing area.

The development is set to take up 500 square meters of the garden, with only 141.1 of those being actually dedicated to the operations of the marina.  The retail outlet will be 12.6 square metres, while the restaurant will get 162.4 square metres for itself.  8.9 square metres will also be dedicated to the building of public toilets.

The remaining 175 square metres is being reserved for outdoors commercial use by both the retail outlet and the restaurant.

The “roof garden” meanwhile, as per the plans submitted to the PA will consist of a small area of “low lying vegetation” with 12 planters incorporated into it.  There will then be two seating areas with an inbuilt planter each, and four more benches.

The ventilation grills and access hatch for the restaurant and the rest of the building below will also come up at the edge of this roof garden.

The development will require the uprooting of 10 trees inside the garden.  Seven of these are olive trees, two are oleanders, and the remaining one is a date Palm Tree.

The plans show that the trees which are uprooted would be replanted in another part of the garden not far off

Earlier plans – which are still listed as “valid” on the Planning Authority’s website – show that 13 trees would be uprooted, including two Pine Trees and two more Palm Trees.

Because both sets of plans still appear as “valid” in the database, it is not clear which plans are the correct ones.

A number of public consultations have taken place already.  The Malta Tourism Authority on its part has said that it has no objection to the proposal to include a restaurant in the development.

The Environment & Resources Authority (ERA) meanwhile has said that the applicant has applied for an Environmental Permit – necessary because a number of trees, some protected, will be affected – and that works cannot commence before this is granted, even if a planning permit is granted.

The Environmental Health Directorate had no objection to the proposal either, saying that given the size of the kitchen, the restaurant should have no more than 70 covers indoors and outdoors.

Transport Malta meanwhile in a consultation on an application they filed themselves said that the proposal should not encroach onto the public road space.

The NGO Inhobbu l-Gzira however has expressed outrage at the plans, saying that “the Gzira garden is a public open space by law” and that it should remain so.

“We don't need more restaurants or shops.  We need greenery and places to relax in nature”, they said, as they encouraged people to object to the application – with objections closing on Friday. 

“The only open air play area in the whole of Gzira is being taken away from mothers and their kids”, the NGO said, describing the project as outrageous and asking Transport Malta: “Have you no shame?”

It’s not the first time that the Council of Europe Gardens have come under threat of development.

The Planning Authority approved the relocation of a fuel station into the gardens last year, despite widespread protests from NGOs, residents, and even the Gzira local council.

An appeal against the relocation was refused, and the local council has since taken the matter to court.

The original application to relocate the fuel station was made in an attempt to widen the road and remove the bottleneck at the end of the Strand, yet the project never materialised.

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