[WATCH] DB high-rise may go ahead but developer has to make changes

The permit for the DB project has not been revoked but, significantly, the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has ordered the developer to obtain certification from Transport Malta that the existing road network can support the extra traffic generated

Photo montage of the DB project as seen from the sandy beach at St George's Bay
Photo montage of the DB project as seen from the sandy beach at St George's Bay
DB high-rise may go ahead but developer has to make changes, tribunal rules

Updated at 5pm with Moviment Graffitti's statement

The DB high-rise project on the site of the former ITS school in Pembroke can go ahead after objectors lost their appeal against the planning permit issued last year.

However, the developer has been ordered by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal to make changes to the design and provide 270sq.m. more of open space, lower the height of the tower by 10m and the hotel by 8m, and, significantly, to obtain certification from Transport Malta that the existing road network can handle the volume of traffic generated by the project.

In effect, this means that the future of the project hinges on Transport Malta giving its clearance that the current road network is sufficient to cope with the additional volume of cars.

The tribunal's decision came in the wake of an appeal filed by 17 objectors, which included residents, NGOs and three local councils – Pembroke, St Julian’s and Swieqi. 

The €300 million project, which includes a 37-storey tower and 17-storey hotel, was approved by the Planning Authority last September.

Dubbed as the City Centre project, the planning application had received an unprecedented 4,500 objections from the public, local councils and NGOs.

The permit was approved by 10 votes to 4. The PA chairman Vince Cassar had voted against while the Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak voted in favour.

The appeal was filed after an unprecedented crowd funding initiative, which saw the public donating €24,350 for the objections to be filed.

Preparatory works on the construction site began shortly after the permit was approved but were brought to a premature end after the appeal was filed in November. 

The appeal filed by the NGOs gave 18 reasons why the permit should be revoked. The appellants argued that the decision taken by the board was vitiated by the “chimerical” consideration of a tunnel which although presented as the only way to mitigate the project’s massive traffic impact “could be replaced by other measures” according to Transport Malta. 

“This means that the public lacks any certainty whether the tunnel will take place or not,” the appellants said, referring to the fact that a letter sent by the government failed to give any timeframes for the development. 

They also questioned the compatibility of the project with the Floor Area Ratio Policy which regulates tall buildings. 

Two cases of alleged conflict of interest for the Planning Authority board members, Matthew Pace (a co-owner in the Swieqi branch of property agents Remax) and Labour MP Clayton Bartolo (whose father owns a water sports company which operates in the Tunnynet complex in Mellieha) also featured among 18 reasons presented in an appeal against the approval of the project. 

The appellants also claimed that the PA’s approval was also vitiated by the PA’s executive chairman’s decision to fly in board member Jacqueline Gili on a private jet to participate in the vote, at the expense of €8,750 paid by the PA.

The appellants expressed serious doubts on whether this was an “exercise to ensure the votes of all those in favour of the project”.

Moviment Graffitti: 'a significant win'

Moviment Graffitti called today's decision a "significant win in the fight against the monstrous db Group project on the ITS site."

The group did however express disappointment with the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal's decision to uphold the permit granted by the PA.

"[However], we positively note that this permit will, for now, remain suspended, meaning that works cannot start," they said in a statement released after today's decision.

"In order for the permit to become executable, the db Group will have to considerably change their plans and submit them to the Tribunal," the statement read.

The Tribunal ordered a reduction of approximately three floors in the building-heights of both the tower and the hotel, as well as the provision of more public open spaces. In practice, this means that the project will have to be downscaled in order to give way for more public open spaces.

The tribunal's decision also placed significant onus in the hands of Transport Malta who will have to confirm that the project, when completed, is feasible with the existing road network. Transport Malta officials had stated, during the case proceedings, that traffic generated by the project would lead to multiple junction failures with the existing road network.

Moviment Graffitti insisted that they remain against the project in its entirety. "Local councils, NGOs, and residents will undertake further legal action aimed at annulling the PA's decision to grant this permit. In the coming days, several residents, NGOs and three Local Councils will start an alternative action in Court," the statement read.

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