ERA members split over appeal against high-rise decision

Environment and Resources Authority set to make decision tomorrow on whether to appeal against high-rise projects that have been approved in Sliema and Mriehel 

The Environment and Resources Authority board will convene tomorrow to decide whether to lodge an appeal against the Planning Authority’s approval of high-rise towers in Sliema and Mriehel.

Informed sources within ERA told MaltaToday that the board members are split on whether or not to appeal and that Monday’s vote could go either way.

The main argument being put forward against an appeal is the fact that ERA had hardly protested against the environmental impact assessments that had been carried out on the two projects.

“It’s a legalistic argument… ERA hadn’t opened its mouth at the environmental impact assessment stage, so why would it appeal now?” the source said.

The Environment and Resources Authority was not present at the Planning Authority’s meeting last month in which the towers were approved, as its chairperson Victor Axiak was indisposed due to medical reasons.

Axiak sent his views in a memo to ERA board member Timmy Gambin, and his views on the Mriehel project – questioning the veracity of photomontages presented by the Tumas and Gasan developers – were read out.

However, Gambin did not read out Axiak’s views on the Townsquare project, and it was later reported that he had rubbished the EIA for the skyscraper as a “sham”.

The EIA for the Townsquare project, which was commissioned by developer Gasan, estimated that it will increase daily traffic peak flows in Qui Si Sana from the present 24,444 to 27,947, but that a new underground car park will alleviate congestion.

It also warned that the project would have a major visual impact when seen from Tower Road and from the Preluna Hotel. As for the immediate impact of construction on Sliema residents, the EIA bluntly stated that residents could shut their windows to minimize the noise.

In comments on the project’s Environment Planning Statement, ERA warned that its construction would have a significant effect on residents and that the EIA’s suggestion to them to keep their windows shut was “unreasonable”.

Moreover, it expressed concern that the tower could also have a major visual impact when seen from Manoel Island and the Valletta ferry landing, and had flagged a geological study submitted in Gasan’s EIA, which warned that a “layer of very weak rock” could pose problems in supporting the skyscraper.

The 38-storey was approved by 7 votes to 6, meaning that had Axiak could have split the vote had he been present and voted against, which would have then left the decision in the hands of PA chairman Vince Cassar – who had opposed the project.

Axiak has refused to publish the memo he had sent to Gambin or even state how he would have voted, arguing that he doesn’t want to prejudice ERA’s decision on whether or not to appeal.

When asked by MaltaToday why he did not read part of Axiak’s memo dealing with the Sliema tower, Gambin refused to comment.

Two weeks ago, a group of 20 activists blocked the entrance to ERA’s offices in Marsa to urge them to appeal the high-rise projects.

“There isn’t a single institution in this country that safeguards the environment,” Moviment Graffiti activist Andre Callus told the protest. “The MEPA demerger was sold to us as an attempt to give the environment a stronger voice… Yet, in this case, ERA even failed to use what little weight it has.”

Four environmental NGOs are currently raising funds to mount an appeal against the PA’s high-rise decisions. The Sliema local council will launch a separate appeal focused on the Townsquare project.

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