Update 4 | PA board indicated they would turn down Farsons project over local plan shortcomings

PA chairman Vince Cassar asked for a quick show of hands from board members as to how they would vote on the project, after some members expressed their reservations on the lack of a masterplan

A €40 million business park by the beverages giant Farsons hangs in the balance, after the Planning Authority board suggested it will turn down the project.

In a meeting of the board to discuss the project – whose planning process started in 2012 – the PA deferred its decision on the planning directorate’s recommendation for the approval of the Trident Business Park, over concerns on the lack of a masterplan by the company.

MaltaToday is informed that PA board chairman Vince Cassar asked for a quick show of hands from board members as to how they would vote on the project, after some members expressed their reservations on the lack of a masterplan.

A source at the meeting said seven members indicated they would vote against the planning officers’ recommendation to approve the project, while five, including Cassar, indicated they would vote in favour.

The PA said that the board members said the business park did not follow the provisions of the local plan and neither the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) policies “and expressed a preliminary opinion that they do not agree with the recommendation of the directorate. The final formal vote on the application will be taken at a future sitting.”

In an earlier company announcement issued by Simonds Farsons Cisk plc on the Malta Stock Exchange, the firm took the preliminary decision as a sign of rejection and said the PA board had voted against the recommendation. But a spokesperson for the PA denied that a vote had been taken, and instead said the vote had been postponed.

Indeed the PA board members intimated during Thursday's meeting that they would turn down the application, since Farsons had not produced a comprehensive masterplan for the whole site. "When the PA board gives notice that it could be about to overturn a recommendation from planning officers, it usually defers the decision," a spokesperson said.

In a statement issued Thursday evening, the PA said that despite the proposed development not being in accordance with planning policies, “the Planning Directorate recommended the project for approval as it was of the opinion that the proposed development could give additional value to the area.”

“During the first public hearing last month, the board members showed concern that the proposal was not according to policy. To address this concern, the applicant decided to suspend the application to prepare a Masterplan. The board agreed and accepted the applicant’s request for a suspension. After three weeks, the applicant opted not to submit a Masterplan and decided to proceed for a decision with the current policies,” the PA said. 

This issue was already raised back in October, when Farsons's architect Alex Torpiano had requested that the PA vote be deferred pending a resolution on the matter. According to the board minutes from the October meeting, Torpiano asked for a suspension of the application to allow for "a submission of a separate application for a Master Plan of the complex".

The €40 million development is earmarked to complement the rehabilitation of the Old Brewhouse, to restore and convert the industrial space and include a visitor centre with supporting food and other retail outlets, flexible workspace and additional amenities.

Another issue of concern among the PA board members was the proposed building heights which fell foul of planning policies in the area.

Mriehel is already one of the zones identified for high-rise developments, with a four-tower project by the Tumas and Gasan business groups already approved.

"The board of Simonds Farsons Cisk plc will be meeting immediately to consider the implications of this unexpected decision by the Planning Authority Board," Farsons said in a statement.

The planning directorate originally recommended the approval of the business park along Mdina Road, that consisted of international Grade A offices with landscaped courtyards and multi-level car parking facilities. Planned for completion by the end of 2020, the project, designed by Ian Ritchie Architects Limited, with the support of Malta-based engineers, TBA Periti, was to have over 18,000 square metres of offices.

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