PA approves 10-storey hotel and 75 more apartments in Townsquare project

Project approved by all seven board members present despite chorus of disapproval of elderly Sliema residents speaking during the meeting

A photomontage of project as approved in 2019
A photomontage of project as approved in 2019

The PA board has approved an additional development consisting of 75 more apartments and a 10-storey hotel with 90 rooms to Michael Stivala’s Townsquare high rise project, despite a chorus of disapproval by residents fed up with overdevelopment in the area. 

The latest plans will see the number of apartments rise from the 159 as approved in 2019, to 234, with the overall height of the tower remaining unchanged.  All seven board members present voted in favour.

A survey among Sliema residents, which was included in a social impact assessment but not mentioned during the meeting, had shown that 61.3% of Sliema residents were against the addition of a hotel to the already approved project.

The project also involves an extension of the area reserved for tables and chairs and a relocation of the main entrance and exit to the underground parking from Hughes Hallet to Triq Qui Si Sana. 

The changes were made after MDA chairman and developer Michael Stivala bought the site, reportedly for €70 million, from the Gasan and Soler families. 

The 28-storey Townsquare project in Sliema was approved by the Planning Authority board in 2019, following years of controversy over the height of the high-rise building.

The proposed hotel within the high-rise Town Square development in Sliema will occupy a space previously designated as a ‘pavilion’ in the garden and will be constructed on stilts. 

According to traffic studies, the daily trip generation is also expected to increase by around 662 trips for a total of 3,188 trips.  To mitigate this impact, upgrading works on neighbouring junctions are being proposed.

A number of residents expressed their frustration at overdevelopment in Tigne and Qui Si Sana.  This triggered a debate between PA officials speaking in technical terms and residents referring to the way overdevelopment is ruining their everyday life. 

An elderly resident expressed her concern that the relocation of the parking’s entrance to Triq Qui-Si-Sana, would mean 800 cars passing right under her home.

“I should be celebrating my birthday with my family. Instead, I am here speaking against a project which should not even be considered.  I will end up living on the entrance of a tunnel for 800 cars,” Ms Pisani said.

But the project architect replied that the tunnel access was already approved in the 2019 permit.  Former PA chief executive Johann Buttigieg, now a consultant for Stivala, lamented that the elderly lady and her lawyer had refused repeated requests for meetings to discuss “mitigation measures” to minimise the impact of the tunnel entrance.

Another resident, whose bedroom faces the project, expressed her frustration at the intensification of development in an already over developed area in Sliema.

“We will not only have to face a tower everyday of our lives…. now Mr Stivala wants to add 70 apartments and a hotel and is putting more tables and chairs…. How can you accept a monstrosity like this?” she asked the board.

She also referred to the cumulative impact of other approved developments like the newly approved 33-storey hotel in Fort Cambridge.

Another young resident, who was still a child when the Townsquare project was first proposed in 1999, pleaded the board to say no. “We are tired of living next to this project. Even our property was damaged during excavations.  What good is coming out of these changes? Say no for once. We have had enough”.

An elderly resident recalled living in Tigne Street since before the second world war. “We have been deprived of air and light and we are being suffocated”. 

PA chairman Emmanuel Camilleri replied to the residents’ outcry by saying that projects can only be refused if they are in breach of established policies. 

“The easiest thing for me is to say no.  But don’t forget that the applicant can appeal.  If we say no without giving a reason based on policy our decision would be overturned.”

Astrid Vella rebutted, quoting local plan policies calling for a more “restrictive approach to  further development” in already congested areas.  Camilleri replied to Vella, saying that “all you are doing is reading the local plan”.

The case officer referred to policies designating the area in question for hotel development.  But lawyer and environmentalist Claire Bonello noted that the same policy makes it clear that hotel development should not have an adverse impact on residents.

Lawyer and environmentalist Claire Bonello pointed out that the project will increase traffic trips by 20% in an already congested area of Sliema in peak hours.

Bonello expressed concern about the organisation of events on the top floor of the hotel, which would have a noise impact on residents.   Johann Buttigieg expressed willingness to sign an agreement with residents which would see Stivala paying a fine on noise breaches after 11pm.

Stivala’s application also foresees a reconfiguration of parking levels to increase the number of parking spaces from 600 to 850, and the introduction of a parking area for alternative modes of transport, including cycling, scooters, and taxis.