Red letter day for Sliema as Townsquare set for approval

The 100-metre development was reduced by 37m after a 2018 decision by the environment and planning review tribunal to revoke the original permit

A PricewaterhouseCoopers study says the project remains viable thanks to the average 200sq.m internal area of the 159 apartments
A PricewaterhouseCoopers study says the project remains viable thanks to the average 200sq.m internal area of the 159 apartments

The Gasan group’s downscaled, 28-storey high-rise in Sliema is set to be approved on Thursday by the Planning Authority’s board.

The 100-metre development was reduced by 37m when the original 38-storey tower was downscaled following a surprise decision by the environment and planning review tribunal to revoke the original permit last year.

The updated proposal will still include 159 apartments as in the original permit, but with a reduction of 638sq.m of office space and 270sq.m of retail space, and an increase of 307sq.m for a gym, health club and spa.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers study says the project remains viable thanks to the average 200sq.m internal area of the 159 apartments.

The PA’s case officer acknowledged that the tall building would inevitably result in visual interference. “It is difficult to mitigate the effects of the proposal on the visual amenity to any greater extent than the measures already incorporated into the design of the proposal.”

Even the Environment and Resources Authority has not objected to the proposal, despite reservations on the visual impact when seen from the Sliema and Gzira waterfronts, Valletta and Bighi.

The height was reduced to address the EPRT’s concerns on the previous design’s visual impact from the Three Cities.

The permission is subject to a €266,314 planning gain paid into the PA’s planning fund for environmental improvement projects in Sliema.

The Townsquare saga

The Townsquare high-rise will be built on the former Union Club site near the scheduled Villa Drago, which will be restored.

The plan dates back to 2005 with an application for a shopping hall, car park and residential units. In 2007, the Gasan Group proposed a 32-storey tower with a public square and a number of smaller blocks. In 2010, the height of the tower was slashed to 23 storeys, with a new 15-storey tower.

With the approval of new high-rise rules in 2014, new plans were presented for a 38-storey tower, met with a storm of objections by residents, NGOs and the Sliema local council.

The PA board narrowly approved the project in 2016 by seven votes to six, in a controversial meeting during which ERA chairman Victor Axiak, who opposed the project as proposed, had been indisposed. PA board chairman Vince Cassar described the project as an exaggerated high-rise.

A scientific survey of 450 Sliema residents, held as part of project’s Social Impact Assessment, showed 61% were still opposed to the downscaled project. These included 50.3% who “completely disagree” and 10.2% who “disagree” with the project. Only 17.4% said they agree or completely agree with the project while 22% were undecided.

The study found Sliema residents were mainly concerned by the traffic, air pollution, parking and noise pollution generated by the project. To a lesser extent, they also expressed concern about the impact on the cost of living, local culture, local character and aesthetics.

The SIA includes a list of mitigation measures to address social issues that were brought up by the interviewees, which included discounts on parking rates to immediate neighbours and the use of Villa Drago and the Piazza for community events.

The PA’s planning directorate is now recommending clearance from the consultant who carried out the SIA, to verify that the mitigation measures will be in place before the start of operations on site.

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