Metropolis: Husni Bey renews Gzira high-rise permit

The developers of a proposed 33-storey high-rise in Gzira have submitted yet another application to extend the life of a permit first issued 11 years ago

The Metropolis excavation site, and right: the proposed 33-storey tower
The Metropolis excavation site, and right: the proposed 33-storey tower

The developers of a proposed 33-storey high-rise in Gzira have submitted yet another application to extend the life of a permit first issued 11 years ago.

The only sign of the new development once touted as a game-changer for what was once Malta’s main red-light district, is a gaping hole left by excavations 10 years ago.

The project, which is set to dominate views of Manoel Island, sets a precedent for high-rise development in Gzira. But it was approved before the approval of a policy regulating high-rise buildings in 2014, which includes Gzira among the localities where high-rise developments are allowed.

The original permit in 2009 foresaw the erection of three high-rise buildings with a building height of 13, 27 and 33 floors over a public piazza connecting Triq Enrico Mizzi and Triq Testaferrata.

The development was to include 191 residential units, a health club, offices, retail outlets, a supermarket, and an underground car park.

The permit was valid for five years and was later renewed in November 2013. In November 2014 the Planning Authority approved amendments to increase the number of parking spaces under the road, and increase office space from 4,600sq.m to 7,815sq.m and to decrease the number of apartments to 110.

The permit also included a helipad on one roof, and a communal outdoor swimming pool and deck area on the roof of another tower.

The area designated as public open space was increased from 1,840sq.m in the original permit to 4,265sq.m. But a substantial part of this area (2,485sq.m) was “roofed”, while the unroofed open space was split on three different levels.

This represented a change from the original permit which had envisaged a single open plaza along the existing streets, rather than contained within the project.

The site as seen from Valletta
The site as seen from Valletta

The permit was due to expire in June 2020.

During the PA hearing of 2014, board chairman Vince Cassar had specifically enquired on the time-frames for commencement of works. Architect Edwin Mintoff replied that the tenders were ready and works were to commence “soon”.

Just days before the 2015 local elections, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat officially laid the foundation stone for the high-rise – years after excavation had taken place – but since then the project has lain dormant.

In April 2018 the developers told MaltaToday that the project was stalled over the need to create more parking spaces around the tower’s perimeter. Project representative Aidan Barker has denied that the company has not secured financing for the iconic skyscraper. “We are actually studying the prospect of excavating a further two storeys below sea level, which would incur quite a considerable cost, if we go ahead,” Barker had said, who explained that the company has been instructed to provide more parking spaces.

The project, owned by Libyan entrepreneur Jalal Husni Bey – part of the Libyan conglomerate HB Group – was expected to inject €120 million in the economy and to create 400 jobs by 2019 upon completion.

But the company says it has been held up by a long legal tussle over how to best provide additional parking spaces.

Currently, the gaping hole across the 6,000sq.m plot on Testaferrata Street is at a depth of three to four storeys at the lower end, with enough space for an underlying car park for 500 bays.

But Barker had said that in 2016, the company was informed that the land surrounding the project was not government-owned and could not guarantee that any excavation would not be contested. So the land was requisitioned by the government, and then a tender was issued by the Lands Authority in October 2016 so that Metropolis could obtain access to the space beneath the roads.

However, the development hit another snag over the legal uncertainty as to whether excavating beneath property belonging to third parties could be allowed in this case.

“After winning the tender for the area comprising half the roads running along the perimeter, we could reach an agreement on the terms of the tender, specifically with respect to the penalties incurred on delays tied to the excavation for the creation of these new parking spaces,” Barker said.

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