The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

FAA ‘disgusted’ at way Balzan residents were treated at PA meeting

Thursday, 26 May 2022, 09:06 Last update: about 1 month ago

FAA today expressed its disgust at the way the fate of Balzan residents was handled at a Planning Authority hearing re PA 8693/20 where a Joseph Portelli associate is proposing to build 7 floors including two basement garages, one whole 2,400 sq.m. floor of retail outlets, and four overlying floors of 90 apartments including penthouses with rooftop pools. All this in a congested area facing the Balzan Urban Conservation Area.

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As soon as the session started it was clear that Stephania Baldacchino, who was chairing the Environment Planning Commission, was determined to grant this permit, in spite of the project’s lack of compliance on several counts, FAA said in a statement.

Given the obvious impact on the neighbourhood - increased commercial activity, over 180 residents added to a small village, noise, traffic, flooding - this application should have been subjected to an Environment Impact Assessment since it “may have significant adverse effects on the environment”, however it was waived.  Not even an Environment Impact Statement was requested to avoid the project being assessed as a major project, FAA said.

The five-storey massing that spans a whole block looks directly into the gardens of the villas at the back of the site, depriving the residents of their privacy. In defending the fact that this project rises two storeys higher than the Local Plans allow, Baldacchino claimed that the Dolphin Centre, built in 1987, was an ‘old’ building and therefore would have had high ceilings almost equivalent to the 16m being proposed. In actual fact, the three floors of Dolphin Centre are much lower.

Such dishonesty has become the hallmark of applications related to Joseph Portelli, who seems to have total control over the Planning Authority, FAA said. Furthermore, Baldacchino acted on the developers’ behalf, prompting the architect with arguments to strengthen her case.

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar also questions the fact that this application for such a large project went before the Environment Planning Commission, which handles the bulk of smaller projects, rather than the main PA Board which handles the larger projects. Is this due to the fact that a board of three persons is easier to ‘convince’ than a Board of 13?

It is shocking that the project’s requirement for a Traffic Impact Assessment was waived when the regulation stipulates that a TIA is to be arried out for developments of 75 residences or more.  The traffic generation report makes no reference to unloading facilities for the 9 new shops.  Are delivery trucks to draw up on the pavement to unload?  This lack of planning will definitely exacerbate traffic congestion, further undermining the quality of life of residents in the area.

Most importantly, Ms Baldacchino was deaf to the fact that the project violates Design Control 2015 guidelines on the transitioning of heights from 2-storey houses to the higher blocks, especially in a building that faces the Balzan Urban Conservation Area.

On Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar’s dogged insistence, the case was deferred due to missing documents therefore the objectors call for the case to be heard by the main PA Board

In just six months Stefania Baldacchino has built a track record of granting permits in violation of strong planning regulations, including Joseph Portelli’s infamous Sannat blocks, FAA said.  This is totally unacceptable, and begs the question of who at ERA waived the Environment Impact Assessment obligation and why? Why is the PA Commission intent on approving this project in violation of so many policies and regulations?

FAA calls on the Planning Authority to introduce a system of automatic appeals where the Commission or Board approves a permit in violation of planning regulations or Case Officer recommendation to refuse the permit.

The Planning Authority Local Plans were well studied to ensure the quality of life in our towns and villages. Ignoring them has led to the uglification of Malta, the drain of youths abroad, the undermining of resident’s health and tourism. How much longer is the Planning Authority going to keep on robbing residents of their quality of life?

 

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