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38-storey Sliema tower approved • Planning Authority chairman votes against

Project which PA chairman Vince Cassar describes as ‘exaggerated’ will unleash 3,500 car trips a day in Sliema • Elderly residents express concern over impact of four-year construction on their daily life

james
James Debono
4 August 2016, 6:58pm
Planning Authority chairman Vince Cassar voted against the development (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Planning Authority chairman Vince Cassar voted against the development (Photo: Chris Mangion)
The Planning Authority board has narrowly approved the construction and development of a 38-storey tower in Sliema, in a heated marathon session that lasted four hours this afternoon.

The Townsquare project, comprising 159 residential units, 4,719 square metres of offices, 8,241 square metres of commercial space and 748 parking spaces, is set to become Malta’s tallest building.

The project, approved with seven votes in favour and six against, is set to increase traffic in Sliema by 3,500 cars a day.

Planning Authority chairman Vince Cassar described the project as an exaggerated high-rise. Cassar also referred to the excessive noise for residents during construction and questioned whether the development was surrounded by four streets (a point raised earlier by architect Carmel Cacopardo).

The position was reiterated by deputy chairman Elisabeth Ellul. PN MP Ryan Callus declared that he would not oppose an amended version but could not support the project as proposed and voted against. Labour MP Joe Sammut voted in favour. The Environment Resources Authority was not represented in the vote  because its representative Prof. Victor Axiak was sick. The Planning Authority’s Executive Chairman Johann Buttigieg intervened before the vote to declare that board members voting in favour of the project would not be in breach of any PA policies.

A representative of the Planning Directorate confirmed that noise for residents during excavations for the 38-storey tower will exceed 96 decibels – a level considered to be substantial. The excavation phase, which will take 10 months, will see 28 trucks passing every day through Sliema. Construction is expected to take four years.

The project’s environmental impact assessment said it expected residents in the area to keep windows shut to minimize noise during the works.

Sociologist Michael Briguglio at the hearing (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Sociologist Michael Briguglio at the hearing (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Green Party councillor and sociologist Michael Briguglio questioned the fact that the social impact assessment for the project dated back to 2007. Despite changes to the project itself in the last decade, and the increase in development which has changed Sliema’s social fabric, the SIA had not been adjourned.

Briguglio also questioned the conclusions of the out-dated study which he described as "one-off anthropological study worthy of an undergraduate student."

He also noted the absence of any reference of the economic impact of project on residents and businesses in the area. Briguglio called for a proper discussion on alternatives to the project as proposed and a genuine attempt to dialogue with residents.

“We are not living in North Korea where top down solutions are imposed ... this project is a source of concern for elderly people who are being told to close their windows not to hear noise,” the Sliema councillor said.

A similar concern was raised by elderly residents suffering from asthma and who attended this afternoon’s meeting of the PA board. “Have some human empathy for us who will have to endure this development for four years,” a resident appealed to the board.

PN councillor Pierre Portelli also expressed concern on families with young children and sick and disabled people including people recovering from cancer.

Project architect Martin Xuereb describing the 3D model of the project (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Project architect Martin Xuereb describing the 3D model of the project (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Project architect Martin Xuereb argued that, had the developer opted for low-rise buildings, he would have had a right to develop 26 apartment blocks of eight floors each without the added benefit of having more than 50 per cent of the area kept as an open space through application of floor area ratio. He insisted that project would have same social impact irrespective of whether it is developed as high-rise or low-rise.

The point was reiterated by board member Timmy Gambin, although Sliema councillor Paul Radmilli insisted that it was the PA’s prerogative to issue such a permit. Gambin went as far as attacking the Sliema council for not replying to a complaint he made on an unrelated matter.

Gambin also described NGOs as “morally despicable” for presenting a judicial protest holding board members accountable.

Flimkien Ghal-Ambjent Ahjar coordinator Astrid Vella referred to the sewage problem in the locality, which would aggravate the situation, while noting that the Water Services Corporation had failed to give its feedback to the Planning Authority. 

“We already have overflowing sewage in the main roads of Sliema. Just imagine the impact of a 38-storey tower,” she said.

Alternattiva Demokratika deputy chairperson Carmel Cacopardo (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Alternattiva Demokratika deputy chairperson Carmel Cacopardo (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Members of the Gasan group, the developers behind the Townsquare projetc (Photo:Chris Mangion)
Members of the Gasan group, the developers behind the Townsquare projetc (Photo:Chris Mangion)
The Sliema council has already had to issue notices for people to stop swimming due to sewage overflows. Radmilli insisted that the PA could not approve the project in the absence of feedback from the WSC.

The case officer has acknowledged that the project will break the Sliema skyline but said the PA’s policy on tall buildings approved in 2014 now identifies the Tigné area as “a cluster of tall buildings.”

 

Background

The Townsquare project, which includes the premises of the former Union Club and the scheduled Villa Drago, a former Libyan cultural centre, which is to be restored, dates back to 2005 when an application was presented to construct a shopping hall, residential units and an underground car park on this site.  

The project includes the restoration of Villa Drago.  

A Project Development Statement presented by the Gasan Group in 2007 proposed a 32-storey tower on the site.

Sliema residents raised concerns against the development (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Sliema residents raised concerns against the development (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Three years later the height of the tower was slashed to 23 storeys, but a new tower rising to 15 storeys was also proposed along with the central tower. The studies commissioned by the developers in 2010 – after the height of the main tower was slashed to 23 storeys – concluded that the project would have a “minor impact” with regard to the shadowing on the surrounding buildings. It was only in 2015, after the approval of the new policy on high-rise buildings, that a solitary 38-storey tower was proposed.  

Environment Impact Studies commissioned by the developers of the Townsquare project in Tigné, Sliema, estimate that the project will increase daily traffic peak flows by 3503 according along Qui Si Sana.

The project will result in a shortfall of 234 parking spaces. This is because the project would only include 778 parking spaces of which 355 will be reserved for the residents of the tower while the project will create a demand for 982 parking spaces.

The case officer report concludes that the shortfall would impact on visitors to the commercial establishments included in the project and not the residents of the tower.  But the case officer also refers to studies based on a “dynamic model” showing that when the parking needs of different users are also taken into account the project would have an “adequate parking”

Geologist Peter Gatt has warned that a geological study submitted as part of the Townsquare high-rise project did not flag a layer of “very weak rock” that could pose problems in supporting tall buildings.

 

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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