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No environmental impact assessment for Gzira’s new 24-storey tower

The addition of eight more storeys to a 16-storey tower already approved in 2015 will still not require an Environment Impact Assessment

james
James Debono
25 August 2016, 12:04pm
The addition of eight more storeys to a 16-storey tower already approved in 2015 will still not require an Environment Impact Assessment which would assess the visual impact of the new tower.  

The additional storeys will make the Gzira tower as high as the Portomaso tower in St Julian’s. The additions will consist of 10 additional residential units and a panoramic lift along the facade on Triq il-Gzira.   

The tower is proposed on a triangular-shaped plot of land fronting Triq il-Gżira, Triq il-Rebha and Triq Tas-Sliema and which housed the former United Garage building, only 150 metres away from the Gzira church. 

In a letter sent to the Planning Authority on 28 June, the Environment and Resources Authority informed the PA that the project, which would have a total gross floor area of 13,560 square metres, does not require an Environment Impact Assessment.  

The reason is that only projects of more than 300 new dwellings or occupying a gross floor area of more than 30,000 square metres qualify for environmental impact studies. No reference to high-rise buildings is made in the EIA regulations approved in 2007.

But this would mean that studies on shading, wind impact, social impact and visual impact normally included in EIAs will not be carried out unless specifically required by the PA. 

EIAs always include photomontages of the project as seen from various strategic viewpoints.  

A spokesperson for the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) confirmed that the development does not qualify for an EIA because it falls below the thresholds stipulated by regulations.  

For this reason ERA has passed the buck to the Planning Authority when asked whether a visual impact assessment and studies assessing impact on microclimate would be conducted.

“These issues should be addressed in the mainstream development permit mechanism” and questions on these matters “should be addressed to the Planning Authority.”

The same set of questions was sent to the Planning Authority but have remained unanswered.

The project is being proposed by ADMG Company, which is owned by various shareholders, including Sonnet Investments, JPK Investments, Marius Cordina and Paul Darmanin. The directors of the company are Ian De Cesare and Marius Cordina.

The 16-storey building consisting of a mix of offices and apartments was approved in a record four months in August 2015. A Project Development Statement for this project had warned of impacts on long distance views of Valletta but no full Environment Planning Statement was ever conducted. Photomontages showed that the project as approved would be “moderately visible from Hastings Garden”, Valletta. The visual impact is expected to rise with the addition of eight floors.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority requested no wind studies, which are obligatory in EIAs for high-rise buildings, before the approval of a new 16-metre tower in Gzira. 

The Project Development Statement noted that the significant increase in the height of the development could potentially have implications for wind circulation around the development and the wind microclimate of the surrounding streets.

But it emerges that no such studies were ever carried out.  

“Studies on the possible changes to the wind microclimate in the area of the development were not requested by either the Planning Directorate or any of the agencies/departments consulted during the processing of the application,” a spokesperson for MEPA told MaltaToday after the project was approved. 

As for shadowing, a sun path study was carried out to show the shadowing of the proposed development. The study showed that the surrounding streets are already shaded and the project would mostly impact surrounding roofs, depending on the time of the day. 

As approved, the 16-storey building will include three basement parking levels accommodating 125 car parking spaces, 695 square metres of landscaped public open space, a cafeteria, overlying office space and 10 residential units. The board imposed a planning gain of nearly €30,000 for the Gzira Local Council to use in environmental and urban improvement projects, traffic management, green transport and similar projects. The project will include a public plaza, which occupies 62% of the site at ground level. 

But a part of this open space is roofed over by the tower. In fact the non-roofed open space is slightly less than the 50% of the site dictated by the policy. A four-storey development was already approved in 2012. The project includes 125 parking spaces, which is 28 more than required by project. The building will include a green wall. 

The 16-storey building was approved in a record four months in August 2015, and now has had eight storeys added to it
The 16-storey building was approved in a record four months in August 2015, and now has had eight storeys added to it
james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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