Sliema Townsquare 28-storey high-rise approved

Downscaled tower will be 28 storeys high after PA appeals tribunal revoked original permit for 38 storeys

The 28-storey Townsquare high-rise in Sliema has been approved by the Planning Authority board.

PA board chairman Vince Cassar, NGOs representative Annick Bonello, and the chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority Victor Axiak, all voted against the Gasan Group project.

All other board members, including Sliema mayor Tony Chircop, and the Opposition representative, Marthese Portelli, voted in favour.

New plans submitted by the Townsquare developers propose reducing the tower's height by 37 metres
New plans submitted by the Townsquare developers propose reducing the tower's height by 37 metres

Vince Cassar welcomed the many improvements in the design, which was downscaled from 38 storeys after the original permit was revoked by the PA appeals tribunal,  but still expressed concern on piecemeal developments and the absence of a masterplan. “We should at least establish what we want with our skyline,” he said. “I am not convinced we are going the right way.”

Board member Matthew Pace, who was decreed by Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti as having a conflict of interest from his potential financial interest in the success of the DB group development in St. George’s Bay, was not present during the meeting.

The meeting was markedly different from the one which controversially approved the project with a one vote majority and vocal objections back in August 2016. The permit was later revoked by the PA’s appeals tribunal a year later after a successful appeal presented by Sliema council and eNGOs.

Following this, new plans were submitted in which the tower lowered by 37 metres in order to not to impinge on sensitive historical views. 
The tower will still be over 90 metres and rise up to 28 storeys, dominating Sliema views especially from Ghar id-Dud and the Sliema promenade.

The project will be clearly visible from Bighi and Rinella in Kalkara, but not visible from Fort St Angelo and barely visible from Vittoriosa. The original proposal was visible from both viewpoints in the original 38-storey proposal. 

In contrast to the 2016 meeting, no member of the public spoke during the meeting which was mainly attended by consultants and company officials and employees.

ERA chairman Victor Axiak expressed concern on the lack of a holistic assessment of different projects in the area like the proposed 40 storey hotel on Fort Cambridge. “We cannot continue to assess on a case-by-case basis,” he stated. 

Opposition representative Marthese Portelli described the latest proposal as a more balanced development than the original one, but shared Axiak’s concerns on future projects. “We need masterplans which set a framework for these developments,” she said. 

PA chairman Vince Cassar hinted that the Townsquare project itself sets a standard for heights in the area. Sliema Mayor Anthony Chircop, who was on the board, welcomed the various mitigation measures taken by developers, while asking on further clarifications on traffic related issues. He also referred to the Tigné area being ‘under siege’ by developers and called on authorities to enforce regulations on a wider scale. 

The project will include the same number of apartments as originally proposed, six on each floor with a larger three apartments at penthouse level. Studies show shadowing of the project will be mostly felt on the foreshore in winter. 

Dr Steven Vella presented the results of the social impact assessment focusing on mitigation measures to address concerns like noise and traffic raised in interviews with residents. But he did not even refer to a scientific survey among 450 Sliema residents also included in the study, which showed widespread opposition (over 61 per cent) to the project despite the height reduction. 

Four months of excavations are left as some of these works have already been carried out. The impact of these excavation on dust emissions and noise is expected to be major concern.  

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.