More noise and traffic as supermarkets loom on Ta’ Qali rezoning

Malta’s Environment and Resources Authority questioned the wisdom of permitting supermarkets and retail outlets on a run-down industrial area next to the Ta’ Qali national park

The Planning Authority argues that commercial development is more compatible with the neighbouring national park, than the present industrial use of the site
The Planning Authority argues that commercial development is more compatible with the neighbouring national park, than the present industrial use of the site

The designation of the Ta’ Qali national park as a quiet area will be impossible, if the Planning Authority forges ahead with a rezoning to change part of the area into a commercial development.

Malta’s Environment and Resources Authority questioned the wisdom of permitting supermarkets and retail outlets on a run-down industrial area next to the Ta’ Qali national park, warning the commercialization of the area will “hinder the possible designation of Ta’ Qali as a quiet area” under the requirements of the Environmental Noise Directive.

ERA is currently updating Malta’s Noise Action Plan, which should include the designation of “relatively quiet areas” in both urban areas and in open countryside. “Quiet area” is a concept used in landscape planning to highlight areas with good sound quality and limited noise disturbance.

ERA’s noise maps already show that traffic noise along the roads surrounding Ta’ Qali, such as Vjal L-Istadium Nazzjonali, is already substantial and having an adverse impact on the adjacent recreational area, with noise levels varying between 50 and 64dB. The addition of new commercial entities within the surroundings could further increase these noise levels.

The proposal to include supermarkets, schools and storage facilities in the list of uses permitted on the industrial area near the United States embassy, was made in submissions by business owners in the area last year after the government proposed rezoning the area to permit offices.

The Planning Authority argues that commercial development is more compatible with the neighbouring national park, than the present industrial use of the site.

In the latest revisions published on Thursday, the PA took on board a number of ERA proposals, like restricting road infrastructure to the boundary of the present industrial zone and ensuring a green belt to screen the development from the countryside.

But ERA’s main criticism related to the change of use of the area has been largely ignored.

In its submissions submitted in October 2019, the ERA pointed out that the proposed rezoning of an industrial zone in Ta’ Qali into a commercial area which can include supermarkets, medical clinics, schools and storage will increase traffic generated to and within the area of Ta’ Qali. “This will result in an increase in noise levels and air pollution with adverse impacts on the nearby national recreational centre,” ERA warned.

To mitigate this impact, ERA has proposed noise threshold levels in different areas of Ta’ Qali and the creation of a small bus terminus and bicycle racks.

But ERA is concerned that the proposed change in land use designation will reduce that much needed land intended for industrial uses. “This may contribute towards the displacement of future development pressures for certain industrial uses towards rural areas with consequential adverse impacts on the countryside, rural character and landscape.”

Increased heights

The rezoning of the area also comes with an increase in allowable heights from 10m today to 17.5m. Development fronting the area that is outside the development zone, will have a facade height of 8m. Development on the perimeter of the rezoned area facing the embassy and the car park, will have a facade height of 11m. Development can still be terraced up to 17.5m, but a visual impact assessment to assess the impact on Mdina views will be required.

One major change to original plans is the introduction of a landscape buffer to serve as a green belt, consisting mainly of trees and shrubs aimed at mitigating the visual impact of any development abutting the ODZ area and Mdina views,

The Kamra tal-Periti had shot down the proposed revision as one directed more towards appeasing private landowners and facilitating their interests than achieving “any planning gains or safeguarding the national interest and that of the public at large.”

The Chamber said that while a number of commercial uses were being allowed, no allocation was made for sports facilities. The Chamber also lamented the lack studies assessing traffic impacts, parking provision requirements and environmental impacts.

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