Mistrust and resentment over Testaferrata Street high-rise: 62% say no to new tower

Nearly two-thirds of residents in Gzira, Msida and Ta’ Xbiex disagreed with a proposed 15-storey tower on Testaferrata Street, which would stand beside the Metropolis development,

A social impact assessment among Gzira residents on a 15-storey high-rise has revealed great construction fatigue inside the harbour town and neighbouring villages.

Nearly two-thirds of residents in Gzira, Msida and Ta’ Xbiex disagreed with the proposed tower on Testaferrata Street, which would stand beside the Metropolis development, and reported a “degree of mistrust, bordering on resentment, towards the construction and building industry.”

The study was conducted by sociologists Marvin Formosa and Maria Brown, and includes a survey carried out in August 2019 among 301 residents from Msida, Gzira and Ta’ Xbiex.

The decision on the tower, proposed by developer Michael Stivala – also the secretary-general of the Malta Developers Association. A decision was scheduled for 26 March but board meetings have been postponed due to Covid-19.

Apart from the 15 storeys, the tower will have a five-level underground car park. The case officer is recommending the development for refusal because it does not comply with sanitary regulations despite adhering to planning policies.

But the social impact assessment now says residents in the Msida, Gzira, and especially Ta’ Xbiex, are showing signs of a “a construction fatigue which may also result in a negative impact on their mental and emotional wellbeing.”

52% said they completely disagreed with the proposed project while a further 11% disagreed. 18% were indifferent to the project and only 19% agreed or completely agreed with the development.

Residents who disagreed complained that Malta already had too many buildings to the extent that it has been overbuilt; mentioned the negative impact on the environment, particularly with regards to air, noise and visual pollution; and the increasing pressure on finding parking in the area in question. “In addition, one could observe another emergent theme in the respondents’ replies, a degree of mistrust, bordering on resentment, towards the construction and building industry,” the researchers said.

Respondents who ‘agreed’ with the project said such projects increase the number of parking spaces, generate job opportunities for a wide range of skilled workers and professionals, and inject more capital in the economy.

Respondents with lower-than-average educational attainment were more favourable to the project than more educated peers.

41% also insisted there were no positive impacts to the locality. But 25% said it would improve economic activity in the area; 13% said it would will create a higher number of parking places.

When asked what worries them most, 26% and 23% respectively said Ta’ Xbiex would suffer a degree of environmental deterioration, especially from the circulation of dust particles and noise from construction, and a reduction of parking places, respectively.

When asked which improvements they would like to see in the project, 39% said they wanted more public areas that include trees and benches.

The researchers recommended that the developer introduces a user-friendly and well-maintained grievance redress system; as well as invest in corporate social responsibility, minimise construction waste, dust generation and emissions, noise and vibrations, energy consumption and water use; introduce proactive sustainable management of traffic and parking spaces; and collaborate with local councils.

Project will spearhead area’s development – case officer

Despite the unpopularity of the project among residents, the PA’s case officer claims the project will “ameliorate the area”, which together with the yet-to-be-developed Metropolis project contribute to a “holistic public open space in a very dense, hectic and presently run-down urban conurbation”.

The total public open space proposed at ground level amounts to 477sq.m of the 839sq.m site.

Although works on the 33-storey Metropolis approved 10 years ago are yet to start, the visual impact of the new development is deemed to complement that of its larger neighbour.

The case officer recognises that the new project will act as “the starting push for the upgrading of the area” given that the Metropolis project lies dormant, as well as complement the 22-storey 14 East Tower.

But the case officer is still recommending a refusal over sanitary breaches due to the internal height of the basement parking levels.

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