PA postpones decision on Labour councillor’s ODZ permit for three-storey elderly home

Application proposes the demolition of a one-storey abandoned farm building with a footprint of 1,020sq.m and its replacement by a three-storey nursing home set on the same footprint but rising to 11 meters

Photomontage of the approved development (Photo: Planning Authority)
Photomontage of the approved development (Photo: Planning Authority)

The Planning Authority’s board postponed taking a decision on a three-storey high elderly home proposed by Marlon Brincat, a Labour councillor and minority leader in the Naxxar local council asking for the removal services from the roof and reducing the height of each storey. 

The decision was postponed to 7 December.

The application recommended for approval by the case officer proposes the demolition of a one-storey abandoned farm building with a footprint of 1,020sq.m and its replacement by a three-storey nursing home set on the same footprint but rising to 11 meters.

The site of the proposed development is located outside the development boundaries right in close vicinity to the Tal-Laqx windmill and the Semaphore Tower. Photomontages confirm that the project will impinge on views on the tower.

The proposed facility will consist of 60 beds spread over 47 rooms, over three levels above ground, together with a number of miscellaneous facilities.

The Naxxar council had objected to the application.

Mayor Anne Marie Fenech Adami chose not to comment on the application saying that she would do so when the vote is taken.

Board chairman Emmanuel Camilleri expressed concern on the height of the building and proposed removing services from the roof. 

Board member Martin Camilleri also proposed changes to the massing of the project.

Earlier on during the meeting Environmentalist and lawyer Claire Bonello revealed that five documents related to the site selection exercise and the feasibility study are not available to the public on the PA’s public information system and demanded a postponement of the hearing. 

The Planning directorate’s representative insisted that the public could view these documents in the PA’s offices. Chairman Emmanuel Camilleri rebutted saying that the case officer has been available since September and NGOs had plenty of time to request to see these documents in private. 

But Bonello argued that the absence of these documents created an uneven level field favouring the developer over the public. Speaking on behalf of the applicant Dr John Gauci insisted that the documents included sensitive commercial information.

Bonello also questioned the decision to process the development according to very generic SPED policies allowing old people’s homes in the ODZ instead of the more specific and stricter rural policy applicable to the redevelopment of existing farm buildings. 

This policy excludes any development which does not provide any “wider environmental benefit”. She argued that the project should have been assessed according to both policies.

Architect Tara Cassar questioned how a three-storey building on the same footprint of an existing one storey building surrounded by farmland, would not have a negative visual impact as claimed by the case officer. She also questioned how a 12 meter height limitation applicable in the development zone was applied to an ODZ site. 

Astrid Vella warned that the development will disfigure the rural landscape. Vella also referred to the national health strategy which states that old people’s homes should be located within the community and not in peripherical ODZ areas.  The PA chairman rebutted that this is a “matter of freedom of choice.”

Two residents from the area expressed concern on the traffic impact of the application on the very three-meter way alley, which will provide two-way access to the home.  The case officer pointed out that Transport Malta had approved the latest plans following several changes. 

The Planning Authority’s Development Management Directorate is recommending the approval of an ODZ arguing that the visual impact of the new meeting is “not significant” and will “respect the surrounding context”.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) had objected to the proposed development arguing that the proposal contributes to further urban development beyond the development zone boundary.

Issues raised by ERA include the negative impact on the landscape character and visual amenity, light pollution and the increase in operational traffic, which would increase pressures on the currently undeveloped area beyond existing settlements of Naxxar and Ħal Għargħur.

Moreover, according to ERA photomontages of the proposed development confirm that it would detract from preserving the rural landscape character. The Design Advisory Committee, a panel advising the PA on the visual impact of proposed developments was also concerned about the visual impact on its surroundings.

However, the Development Management Directorate insisted that the impact of the building is not deemed to be significant.