Updated | Environment Authority to appeal Townsquare high-rise decision

Environment and Resources Authority to appeal a Planning Authority's decision to grant Sliema high-rise permit • Environment minister hails ERA's decision as proof of independence and strength of Malta's authorities 

The 38-storey was approved by seven votes to six during a meeting of the planning board
The 38-storey was approved by seven votes to six during a meeting of the planning board

The Environment and Resources Authority has taken a final decision to appeal the Planning Authority’s approval of the high-rise tower in Sliema.

In a statement released on Monday evening, the ERA confirmed its intention to appeal the decision, arguing that it had “sufficient legal and substantive arguments” to appeal the case.

On the Mriehel high-rise, the ERA said that it did have its own concerns but an appeal would “not be the most appropriate tool”.

“ERA shall be taking alternative measures to ensure that such concerns are presented at the right for a, for the best possible outcome,” the authority said.

The ERA argued that it was not in principle against high-rise buildings, as long as these developments take into full account the principles of sustainability.

“Nonetheless ERA will also be taking other initiatives, including the submission of formal recommendations to Government, to ensure that such high rise developments will be assessed within an improved comprehensive planning and environmental framework,” it added.

Both decisions were taken today during a board meeting of ERA.

Early this morning, ERA chairman Victor Axiak was spotted at Casa Leone, which houses the Ministry for the Environment.

Environment minister Jose Herrera said in a statement that ERA’s decision is proof of the government’s commitment to give the environment a stronger voice.

“ERA’s decision is the fruit of an electoral promise [to split up MEPA] that for the first time ever gave an environment authority the right to appeal against decisions,” he said in a statement.  

He added that ERA’s decision proves that Malta’s authorities are strong and independence, and that all criticism aimed at ERA was out of place and premature.

“This country’s authorities must be allowed to take decisions serenely. What ERA has done today is unprecedented.”

Informed sources last week told MaltaToday that the board members were split on whether to appeal or not. The Environment and Resources Authority was not present at the Planning Authority’s meeting last month in which the towers were approved, as Axiak was indisposed due to medical reasons.

The 38-storey was approved by seven votes to six, 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.

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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