Pembroke council objects to Fino tower buildings dwarfing listed Australia Hall

Council objects to proposed buildings dwarfing Australia Hall, calling for buffer zone around listed historical monument to ensure that its prominence is preserved

Fino’s three 'mixed use' blocks, ranging between five and six floors, are being proposed on a 3,870sq.m area that envelopes the historical Australia Hall
Fino’s three 'mixed use' blocks, ranging between five and six floors, are being proposed on a 3,870sq.m area that envelopes the historical Australia Hall

The Pembroke local council has unanimously agreed to object to the development of three blocks that will rise to six storeys around Australia Hall, as proposed in a zoning request by owners Fino Group.

Labour mayor Dean Hili raised the issue in a council meeting, setting the tone for the discussion when he expressed his personal opinion against the development being proposed, saying Australia Hall’s historical value was such that its prominence “should not be buried and dwarfed by a number of different buildings being proposed around it.”

Hili said that while Fino had dropped original plans for an 18-storey tower in the area, apart from the restoration of Australia Hall, he could not agree with a six-storey block encircling it, and reminded councillors of the increased density in development from the new Chinese embassy.

The brief discussion saw all councillors agreeing to object to the Fino zoning request, saying “the prominence of Australia Hall as a historical building should be preserved through the creation of a buffer zone to ensure that the building is not suffocated and surrounded by buildings which are even higher than Australia Hall”.

Over the past years the Pembroke local council led by Dean Hili has consistently taken a stance against over-development in the area, particularly in its long-standing opposition to the DB project on public land, that was transferred to the business group by the Labour government.

Development over 3,870sq.m footrpint

Fino’s three “mixed use” blocks, ranging between five and six floors, are being proposed on a 3,870sq.m area that envelopes the historical Australia Hall.

In planning jargon, mixed-use developments normally include a combination of residential, office and retail development.

A zoning application in 2018 was removed from the public information system in 2019 when the application was deemed to be incomplete; the latest plans from January 2022 were published earlier this week.

The application no longer makes any reference to the application of the ‘high-rise’ Floor Area Ratio mechanism as originally proposed, which would have allowed a high-rise development in the area.

The latest plans foresee development over some 12,000sq.m in total floor area, that is, the entire floor area of the three massive blocks and the restoration of Australia Hall itself. Some 2,400sq.m of the total 6,331sq.m site will be retained as open public space.

The development is being proposed by AH Developments, which is owned by the Fino Group.

The local plan approved in 2006 makes no reference to development around Australia Hall and only permits the “re-use” of the historical building as a “public meeting hall, for commercial use, exhibition space or other suitable cultural or recreational use”, including shops, offices, food and drink establishment or educational facilities.

The local plan also specifies that any development must respect the “architectural integrity of the site” and “any views from and onto the scheduled buildings.”

Back in 2005 Fino had applied to turn Australia Hall into a supermarket but the application was withdrawn by the Planning Authority’s planning directorate.

In 2014, the new Labour administration used its prerogative to stop a court action instituted by the Lands Department, under the former Nationalist government, to take back the Pembroke land. The land had originally been accorded to the party back in the 1970s as compensation for the expropriation of its land in Marsa, for the Malta Shipbuilding Corporation, by the same Labour government of the time.

The PN protested the Labour administration’s decision in 2014 to stop the court action, accusing it of using its overweening power for its party’s financial gain. In July 2014, Labour sold Australia Hall to A.H. Development for just €582,343, with the final price taking into consideration unspecified outstanding debts with the buyers.