Planning board approves DB project by four votes to three

In a meeting where all participants, save the project’s consultants, urged the board to reject the project, the PA approved the construction of two 17-storey towers and a 12-storey hotel next to Pembroke’s residential area by margin of just one vote

Photomontage of how the City Centre project will look from the Paceville side of St George's Bay
Photomontage of how the City Centre project will look from the Paceville side of St George's Bay

A seven-member Planning Authority board has approved the controversial City Centre project by the DB group, despite widespread opposition from residents groups and three loca councils.

In a meeting where all participants, save the project’s consultants, urged the board to reject the project, the board approved the construction of two 17-storey towers and a 12-storey hotel next to Pembroke’s residential area by margin of just one vote.

Three board members voted against. Pembroke deputy mayor Omar Arab voted against due to the massive nature of the development. Board member and economist Gilmour Camillieri and Omar Vella also voted against, due to the environmental impact and the vague nature of commitments on a tunnel connecting the project to the St Andrew’s road.

Five members of the PA board – including board chairman Vince Cassar, NGO representative Annick Bonello and ERA chairman Victor Axiak – recused themselves, having participated in a first decision that was overturned by a court of law.

In an impassioned intervention, Andre Callus from Moviment Graffitti insisted that the changes to the project by DB to address the residents’ concerns did not change the disproportionate nature of the project. “The only change is that the project has become shorter but fatter.”

With us the people or against


Describing it as an atrocity “and the worsy project ever proposed” in Malta, Callus accused the developers of stealing the land from the public. “You will ruin the life of residents. What will we gain as a people from the sale of apartments to rich foreigners? This is a threat against the nation. This means that absurd monsters can be proposed on anyone’s doorstep.”

He recalled that everyone, including business lobbies, were against the project. “The people have spoken. Everyone is against it except the DB group. If the PA ignores all these objections, the PA should close down.”

Lawyer and activist Claire Bonello said the project’s approval of the project was dependent on the tunnel linking it to Pembroke, describing it as the elephant in the room. “We do not even know who will be paying for it and when it will be concluded. We do not have conducted any study on its impact on the Natura 2000 under which it would pass. The application which includes the tunnel is presently suspended. Will be approving the project on the basis of a phantom tunnel?”

Planning Directorate officer Silvio Farrugia confirmed studies were still underway on a planning application proposing the “optimum road network” for the area and that the application is “suspended” pending these studies.

Pembroke resident and author Adrian Grima reminded the PA board that the only argument made by the developers was that the project was better than what was proposed before. “This means that three years ago, they were taking us for a ride. Now they want to take us for another ride...”

“What is presently a public space will be privatised… This is a project which will turn residents in to foreigners in their country… This project is a bully which will enter into our homes. Today we will know on whose side the institutions stand, with us residents or with the developers.

Other voices

Archaeologist Fr Eugene Paul Teuma expressed concern that the cave system of Wied Ħarq Ħammiem probably extended further that was presently known, questioning how the tunnel will be connected to the DB group’s project in view of its potential impact on the cave.

Archaeologist Patricia Camilleri questioned “the outlandish and oversized proposal” describing it as an “old-fashioned plan which has nothing to do with modernity.”

St Julian’s mayor Albert Buttigieg reminded the board that three councils representing 30,000 people were opposed to the project. “How can seven people on the board overrule 30,000 residents and 17,000 who presented written objections to the project? This project has been described as a landmark statement… in fact is a big blasphemy”.

Various other residents and organisations, including ADPD, Din l-Art Ħelwa and Flimkien Għall-Ambjent Aħjar also objected to the project.

Nationalist MP David Thake described the process leading to today’s meeting as “vitiated”, pointing out the involvement of disgraced minister Konrad Mizzi, the NAO report finding irregularities in the transfer of land, the airlifting of a PA board member to vote for the project in 2018 and the conflict of interest of former board member Matthew Pace who is now facing money laundering charges.



Only the developers’ consultants spoke in favour of the project. “Our vision was for a landmark building which makes a statement in the area,” project architect and former PN Minister Jesmond Mugliett said.

He claimed that the barracks which housed the Institute for Tourism Studies were accessible to the public. “This will be the first development in Pembroke which valorises the historical heritage of the barracks.”

He said the resident’s concerns were taken into account when a proposed nightclub and casino were removed from plans and the building heights reduced and open spaces increased.

The architects underlined improvements over the original plans from three years ago, and the commitment of the developer for the upkeep of landscaping and vertical gardens, while confirming that the project will create a seamless pedestrian connection between Paceville and Pembroke.

The author of an economic impact assessment claimed the project will generate 1,000 jobs in the first five years and generate a multiplier effect of 330 million. He also described the high-rise development as a “buffer zone” between Paceville and Pembroke.

The case officer acknowledged that the 12-storey hotel was being recommended for approval on the basis of a policy which does not apply to scheduled buildings like the barracks. But this was being allowed because the barracks were being integrated in the hotel design.

Omar Arab, the deputy mayor of Pembroke, was very muted in his criticism of the project. He explained that Mayor Dean Hili was not present due to potential legal problems posed by original his participation in the first meeting in 2018. Arab expressed his appreciation that the developer was willing to listen to the council’s proposals to amend the project including the removal of the casino and acknowledged that the project was itself facilitated by “policies”. But he still believed that the project is a “massive one with a big impact on the residential area”.