ERA chair not bound by non-objection to ITS project

ERA non-committal on chairman’s vote after non-objection to PA over ITS project

The ERA’s report on the hotel and apartment complex development on the former site of the Institute of Tourism Studies at St George’s Bay fell short of an objection.
The ERA’s report on the hotel and apartment complex development on the former site of the Institute of Tourism Studies at St George’s Bay fell short of an objection.

The chairman of the Environment and Resource Authority has not yet committed himself on how he will vote at the planning board hearing for the DB Group’s Hard Rock Hotel, despite the ERA’s non-objection to the project.

The ERA’s report on the hotel and apartment complex development on the former site of the Institute of Tourism Studies at St George’s Bay fell short of an objection.

But ERA chairman Victor Axiak said he will only cast his vote in the PA board after “all the information related to this case has been heard by the board.”

The ERA report confirms that the 37-storey tower will have a “high adverse residual impact” on the entire cultural landscape of St George’s Bay but the ERA did not say ‘no’ to the massive development.

So if these impacts cannot be addressed, why is the ERA not objecting to the development as it has done on other developments – MaltaToday asked. A spokesperson replied that visual impacts cannot be effectively mitigated “given the size and height of the development”, but being inside a development zone and given the neighbourhood’s characteristics, “this consideration was not an upfront reason to object against the proposal”.

The ERA report warned that although damage to the underlying cave system of Harq Hamiem is unlikely, this was a risk of very high significance as this “would lead to the destruction of a feature (the cave) of unique cultural, scientific, and environmental importance to the Maltese Islands”.

But ERA’s concerns regarding the proposed excavation and rock-cutting in the vicinity of Harq Hamiem were addressed through the submission of technical recommendations by the project’s geotechnical engineer. “These recommendations were also accompanied by a declaration of commitment from the applicant to ensure the implementation of these safeguards.”

Despite tacit approval of the development, ERA’s representative on the board, Victor Axiak, may still vote against the project.

The ERA says its reports are meant to provide valuable information for all PA board members, but the information provided during the PA board’s final hearing has “also to be taken into consideration by these members”.

In view of this, a decision on how Axiak will “cast the vote is taken once all the information has been heard”.

MaltaToday is informed that legally Axiak is not bound to vote according to ERA’s recommendations. As it stands, the law does not even foresee his replacement by another ERA representative if he is sick. But the ERA’s non-objection could weaken any prospective appeal by the Authority against the approval of the project.

When asked directly on how he intends to vote, Axiak referred MaltaToday’s questions to ERA CEO Louise Spiteri and Environment Protection Director, Michelle Piccinino.

The ERA’s approval of the project is conditional on strict monitoring of works on the Harq Hammiem cave and the development of an underlying road network tunnel to avert congestion on existing junctions resulting from 7,000 new daily car trips, and minimise the impact on air quality. But the construction of the new Pembroke tunnel also raised concerns over its impact on the Special Area of Conservation under which it will pass.

Other negative impacts highlighted in the report include the generation of a staggering 350,000 tonnes of excavation waste. Only 50,000 tonnes can be recycled according to studies.

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