Lands Authority objects to Marsaxlokk football club’s project

The Lands Authority has formally objected to development of a new football ground, an old people’s home and a hostel on a newly developed Marsaxlokk car park and an adjacent public garden

The car park built outside development zones in Marsaxlokk next to the football ground
The car park built outside development zones in Marsaxlokk next to the football ground

The Lands Authority has formally objected to development of a new football ground, an old people’s home and a hostel on a newly developed Marsaxlokk car park and an adjacent public garden.

The LA said the applicants, Marsaxlokk FC, do not possess a legal title on a substantial part of the land earmarked for the development, “including a public car park and a public garden”.

The former Labour mayor of Marsaxlokk, Edric Micallef, is hoping the Planning Authority will reject his home football club’s bid to develop a recently constructed car park with football ground seating, an underground car park, as well as an old people’s home and hostel.

But the present mayor, Steven Grech, has adopted a more nuanced position, expressing concern at the project’s scale but saying the council will discuss the proposal with the sports club.

The football club wants to build a fully-fledged UEFA category 1 football ground with seating, club halls and offices, a hostel for team players, as well as an old people’s home with an integrated public garden, a childcare centre, social club, sport shops, pharmacy and physiotherapy clinics.

But Edric Micallef blasted Marsaxlokk FC’s sports commercialisation project, saying the club’s proposal for the extensive development of public land, would be detrimental to the neighbourhood, which has already filed 63 objections to the project. “It is very evident that this proposal is an attempt to carry out extensive commercial development on public land through the excuse of sports, resulting in the detriment of the neighbourhood. I strongly recommend that the Planning Authority refuses this application,” Micallef told this newspaper.

The former mayor took umbrage at the development of the existing public garden at Port Ruman, which could be integrated into the proposed old people’s home, practically rendering it almost private. And with an underground car park, the garden could turn out to be unsuitable for any mature trees. “Neither an old people’s home nor a hostel, which is more the size of a hotel, are compatible with the Marsaxlokk Local Plan,” Micallef said.

Mayor Steven Grech says the council will ask for clarifications on the project, but he welcomed what he said were positive aspects in the project, saying that Marsaxlokk needed an old people’s home, a commitment the Labour Party made for the locality. Marsaxlokk FC president Frank Cachia declined to comment at this stage.

But Micallef claims the club is proposing a pharmacy in a bid to curry public sympathy despite other applicants being on a waiting list to open pharmacies in Marsaxlokk – pharmacies are regulated by a law which limits the amount of pharmacies that can open in any locality.

The existing football pitch appears to be enclosed between the proposed old people’s home and the hostel, with window terraces looking out onto it. Micallef claims there is no indication as to how the ground will be accessed, saying this raises a red flag for further proposals, such as a possible ‘phase 2’ for a pool and other ancillary facilities for the hostel.

“This area in Marsaxlokk should remain open to the public. With this proposal the area will not remain open but will be all enclosed with buildings, to the detriment of the neighbourhood, especially to those people who invested in their property here, knowing that this area is outside the development zones.”

The public car park adjacent to the football ground was only recently built was approved despite objections by the Environment and Resources Authority. Inaugurated in 2018, the €1.5 million project was the first phase in a €6 million project of regeneration for Marsaxlokk. The then tourism minister Konrad Mizzi had said the car park was built as an environmental project, with rural landscaping, to ease traffic problems in Marsaxlokk and as a place for hawkers to park their vans, relieving the promenade from obstruction by large vehicles.

The car park also includes a water reservoir for 760 cubic metres of rainwater, and paving through which grass can grow – it was subsequently awarded an award for being ‘environmentally sustainable’ in the 2018 Malta Architect Awards, hosted by the Planning Authority. Edric Micallef noted with some sarcasm that by turning the car park into an underground facility, it was doubtful whether any such award would be forthcoming.

The current application comes in the wake of a legal notice issued in 2017 which encourages the commercialisation of sports facilities.  Through this legal notice football clubs, aquatic sports clubs and national sports associations, which were given government-rented property, could dedicate part of the building for commercial activities that can be carried out by a private entity.

The same legislation excluded entertainment establishments, gaming shops, residences, hotels and other activities which the newly set Commission for the Commercialization of Sports Facilities does not feel adapted for sport facilities attended by children. While this legislation has injected investment in sports facilities it has also led to greater pressure for commercial developments which have little to do with sports.

More in Townscapes