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Paceville masterplan ‘risks leaving surviving businesses limp’

The proposal could have a devastating impact on business in the area, Philip Fenech, president of the GRTU’s leisure section warns

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
18 November 2016, 7:30am
President of GRTU’s leisure section Philip Fenech warns that Paceville masterplan will distort the entertainment district’s economic equilibrium and put its tourism appeal into question
President of GRTU’s leisure section Philip Fenech warns that Paceville masterplan will distort the entertainment district’s economic equilibrium and put its tourism appeal into question
The proposed masterplan to regenerate Paceville has so far been harshly criticised for putting unbridled development above the law, the environment and people’s rights. 

Now Philip Fenech, president of the GRTU’s leisure section, has warned of more insidious problems - that the proposal could have a devastating impact on business in the area, far beyond those establishments earmarked for expropriation. 

“Paceville is often criticised because of things like alcohol abuse, but the fact is that it is a success story – specifically because of its ambience whereby people hop from place to place,” he told MaltaToday. “If 30 establishments are suddenly removed, the entire area will be left limp.”

If approved, the masterplan will signal the end of Paceville as we know it – with the entire row of buildings stretching from Blackbull Pub to the Plush and AXM nightclubs to the Axis shopping centre earmarked for demolition so as to expand the plaza. The Mercury House skyscraper, which at 35 storeys will become Malta’s tallest building, will tower over this new plaza. 

“This will not only ruin those businesses that will be expropriated, but will also harm those on the other side of the street as it will completely distort the economic equilibrium in the area,” Fenech warmed. “Paceville is a hub and businesses feed off each others’ clientele – people will go to a nightclub on one side of the street and then buy a takeout from the other side. Removing half the establishments in the street will distort the synergy and leave the ones left standing limp.” 

Elsewhere, the range of buildings stretching from Stylish Bathrooms Centre opposite the main Paceville bus stop, down the hill of Triq is-Swieqi and right towards the Ecabs headquarters, the sushi restaurant ‘Sushi Ba’ and a range of buildings that were purchased for development purposes are also set to be demolished.  

“Our members suggest that this is being done to accommodate the Mercury House development, because for some reason the majority of expropriations will be within its parameter,” Fenech said. “It will effectively accommodate Mercury House from both sides – widening the roads to improve access to it.” 

Moreover, he noted that the 2005 local plans had stipulated that an open space must be developed within the parameters of the Mercury House land.

“Strangely enough, that open space is not included in the masterplan but seems to be shifted to St Georges Park opposite, which plot is made up of a multitide of going concerns including restaurants, nightclubs and apartments," he said.

Fenech was unable to quantify how many jobs are threatened, but the figure certainly runs into the hundreds at least – Ecabs by itself employs around 300 people. 

“I agree that Paceville requires a masterplan and we are not against increased competition, but any new buildings should be designed to fit into what space is available and not the other way round. If there isn’t enough space in Paceville for the Mercury House project, then it should be downscaled in size.”

Fenech also warned that the masterplan – which will include nine high-rise sites – will risk Paceville losing its tourism appeal.

“There’s a risk that it will kill Paceville’s traditional identity, alter the dynamic and render it less attractive to tourists, who after all don’t travel to Malta to see a mini Dubai. There’s a risk that we could lose the whole plot.”

No stance by St Julian’s PL councilors on expropriations 

Meanwhile, the Labour councilors on the St Julian’s local council have not yet taken a stance on the expropriations of residences and businesses that have been proposed in the masterplan.

The council last week officially decided to oppose the masterplan, but the three PL councilors were not present for the vote after having stormed out in protest. 

Minority leader Martin Sultana told MaltaToday that he wants to consult with as many people as possible before taking a stance on the masterplan, including particularly controversial aspects such as expropriation and land reclamation.

“I have spoken to several St Julian’s residents who agree with the masterplan and who have proposed improvements to it,” he said.

He accused the PN-majority council of putting the interests of environmental NGOs ahead of the interests of citizens when it voted to oppose the masterplan. 

“They were very arrogant in the meeting and simply opposed everything that was in the masterplan. Not everything in the masterplan is bad - in life, you cannot just oppose everything.” 

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono is a journalist at MaltaToday
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