Update 2 | PA board approves Manoel Island masterplan with 300 apartments

By the unanimous decision of seven board members after four recused themselves, the Planning Authority approves the Manoel Island masterplan

Updated at 2:40pm with PA decision

The Manoel Island masterplan, which makes space for 300 apartments, has been approved by the planning board.

The project put forward by MIDI consists of 300 apartments set on three clusters over 58,000sq.m, commercial facilities, a cultural centre, sports facilities and 175,000sq.m of public open spaces.

All seven board members present in the meeting voted in favour of the development.

The board had been reduced to just seven members after the recusal of board chairperson Vince Cassar, ERA chair Victor Axiak, NGO representative Annick Bonello and member Joseph Brincat. They withdrew since they had been on the board that decided in favour of the original plans.

The outline permit is not final and MIDI will still have to submit a full development application before the project is given final approval.

Today’s approval signals that the authority is in principle in favour of the project.

The latest masterplan represents a downscaled version with fewer apartments than what was approved in 2019, and with no development on historical cemeteries found in the area. It also increases open spaces on areas previously identified for development. 

But apart from its strong visual impact especially on Valletta views from the Gzira promenade confirmed by photomontages presented during the meeting, the project would also take up 450sq.m from the Gzira promenade to make way for a new 42m-diameter roundabout, leading to the new bridge.

The project was sent back to the drawing board after the Appeal’s Tribunal overturned the 2019 approval due to a conflict of interest by one of the consultants who wrote the Environment Impact Assessment denounced in an appeal presented by Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar.

During today’s meeting, FAA spokesperson Astrid Vella welcomed the improvements to the project while calling for prior approval for the project from UNESCO due to its potential impact on Valletta’s world heritage site status.

She also referred to photomontages, which show the project obscuring Valletta bastions. This concern was also expressed by archaeologist Ruben Grima who reminded the board of Malta’s international obligations, which require consultation with UNESCO on any development impacting on Valletta.

Grima also warned that underwater archaeological features are more extensive then thought.

Jonathan Borg from the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage clarified that the SCH has imposed a condition that no dredging works can be undertaken before archaeological investigations are completed.

Board member Gilmour Camilleri also expressed his concern on UNESCO approval, auguring that the issue is settled before a full permit is issued.

Board member Chris Cilia called for the removal of an extra glass storey on the scheduled Lazzaretto, which had been approved, in a previous permit issued in 2012. The permit expires in 2024.

Michael Sciortino also representing FAA questioned the legality of the application, which amends an outline permit issued in 1999, which has long expired.

But Mark Portelli from MIDI insisted that the application is not an amendment to the 1999 permit but a brand new application, which should be considered in its own right.

Sciortino also proposed replacing the apartment blocks facing the promenade with a lower and less intrusive bungalow area. 

The case officer recommended approval, describing the project as an improvement over the original permit 

As approved the total footprint of new buildings will occupy circa 6% of the island down from 12.6% foreseen in the master plan proposed in 2017, with the case officer saying this achieves “a better balance between built-up and open spaces”. 

Residential units will be reduced from 499 units to 300 units, while the commercial component will also be decreased, including the outright removal of all office space; the removal of land reclamation approved in the northern perimeter of the island; retention of the yacht yard as is and forfeiting 5,000sq.m handed over to MIDI for the relocation of the yacht yard. 

The development incorporates the restoration and re-use of part of the existing bridge to become a belvedere point but would require a roundabout, which will occupy 8% of the Gzira promenade.


Planning board chairperson Vince Cassar, environment authority chair Victor Axiak, NGO representative Annick Bonello and board member Joseph Brincat recused themselves from the meeting.

They had already voted on a previous permit granted to MIDI for the development of Manoel Island. However, that permit was revoked by the Appeal’s tribunal.

The four PA board members recused themselves citing a court sentence related to a permit issued to the DB group in Pembroke in 2018.

In the DB case, the court had ruled that “any declaration made by board members on how they will be voting casts a dark shadow on the impartiality and seriousness expected of PA board members”. The judgment stated that whenever board members express an opinion on a project they should “recuse” themselves from voting.

The Gzira local council also decided not to send any representative to the board meeting in view of the same judgment. The council had reached a guardianship agreement with MIDI, guaranteeing access to the foreshore of Manoel Island.