[WATCH] Planning Authority to reject American University extension

The Planning Authority board has indicated that it will reject the proposed extension of the American University campus but a decision will be taken in another meeting • Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield welcomes decision

The proposed extension for the American University of Malta
The proposed extension for the American University of Malta
Planning Authority to reject American University extension

Updated at 4.45pm with Glenn Bedingfield reaction

All Planning Authority board members declared their intention to deny the American University of Malta a permit to extend its facilities in Bormla.

The major development on Thursday went against the planning directorate’s recommendation to approve the development that would have seen the take-up of three open spaces along Dock 1 and its environs.

The shift in direction means that a final vote on the application will have to be taken in another sitting, as is normal procedure.

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This was the first major test for the PA board after activists took to the streets of Valletta in protest against environmental destruction earlier this month.

Marching under the banner Enough is Enough, protestors took pot shots at the PA and that same spirit was very much alive during this morning’s sitting.

Residents voiced their opposition to the planned AUM expansion on land that was granted to the Sadeen Group by the government in 2015.

PA Chairperson Vince Cassar, who voted against set the tone for the discussion among board members expressing strong reservations on the extension of the building in front of St Michael’s Fort.

“This will obstruct the fortification. I appreciate that this was part of the concession given by government but this should have been thought of before,” Cassar said.

PA chairperson Vince Cassar set the tone of the meeting by expressing strong reservations on the planned expansion
PA chairperson Vince Cassar set the tone of the meeting by expressing strong reservations on the planned expansion

He also opposed any building in Saint Paul Street where a dormitory is being proposed in an open space currently used as a car park.

“This space should be turned into a garden,” Cassar said.

Environment and Resources Authority Chairman Victor Axiak also voted against. “This is like grafting a tissue on an already existing body. If the community rejects it there will be a rejection,” Axiak said.

The developer’s architect Edwin Mintoff rebutted the comments, insisting they were “unfair” because the investors based their decisions on an approved development brief and a parliamentary concession.

The proposed extension of the AUM campus would have included a new building between the Knights and British building (in front of the public staircase) and a new building which partly obstructs the view of St Michael’s Fort. The development would also add an extra floor on the Knight’s Building.

At one point when it became clear that the application was going to be rejected a visibly irked AUM delegation walked out to discuss matters outside the building.

The board was left stranded waiting for them to return before voting. When returning they asked for a postponement by a month to avoid a vote today.

Government representative Clayton Bartolo said it was unacceptable to allow a building to obstruct Fort St Michael.
Bartolo asked: “What sense does it make to cover a heritage building which we intend to restore with public money?”

Government representative Clayton Bartolo said it was unacceptable to have a building obstructing Fort St Michael
Government representative Clayton Bartolo said it was unacceptable to have a building obstructing Fort St Michael
PN representative Marthese Portelli said a social impact assessment should have been a requirement
PN representative Marthese Portelli said a social impact assessment should have been a requirement

PN representative Marthese Portelli, who voted against, also expressed her concern on the impact of the proposed development on the social fabric. She insisted that a social impact assessment should have been a requirement.

Bormla Mayor Alison Zerafa Civelli also declared her opposition to the project as proposed.

Bastions are our identity - resident

“The bastions are our identity, don’t ruin them,” a resident said.

Anthony Bonavia, deputy mayor of Isla, made it clear that the Labour-led council was against the project. He warned that Isla will suffer in terms of parking and traffic.

“Don’t suffocate us. Please don’t suffocate Senglea. We call on you to vote against. If you vote for this project you will suffocate us,” the deputy mayor appealed.

Elderly resident Catherine Caruana implored on the board not to approve “the monster”, while Rebecca Cremona presented a 1,900-strong petition against the development.

Christine Cassar from Graffitti said that the main reason not to approve the project was that the land should not be given to private interests. 
“This land belongs to the public and should remain in the hands of the public,” she said to the applause of the public.

A decision on the proposed car park and dormitory in St Paul’s square was postponed by six months as recommended by the case officer.

In an hour-long presentation made in English, architect Edwin Mintoff presented a number of alternative designs supposedly reducing the volume of the dormitory but which were met by an uproar by the public.

The AUM extension would see three open spaces along Dock 1 and its environs being taken up by buildings
The AUM extension would see three open spaces along Dock 1 and its environs being taken up by buildings

‘Application turns Bormla into Sadeen town’ – Claire Bonello

Lawyer Claire Bonello questioned the legality of the piecemeal approach for the approval of this application warning against postponing the most controversial aspect of it and insisting on a decision on the plans that were presented.

To the applause of those present, Bonello described the application as one turning the locality into Sadeen town.

Architect Tara Cassar from heritage NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa objected to the decrease in open spaces and noted how the bastions will be obstructed. “How can we even discuss a proposal which will obstruct historical views?”

The applicant’s architect insisted that the staircase between the dock and St Paul Street will be retained behind the new building.

But John Vella, a former Labour councillor of Bormla insisted that if the staircase is enclosed with buildings it will cease to remain a social space.

Vella also pointed out this will not allow the use of the area for cultural activities like showing films. “We are shooting ourselves in the foot,” the former councillor warned.

Steven Vella a specialist in social impact assessment agreed, insisting that sheer access does not amount to respecting public spaces like the stair case which will be covered by a building. He also questioned why a social impact assessment was not conducted asking board members whether they had any clue on how the area is used by residents.

Traffic impact assessment calculated an additional 326 daily car trips in an area where junctions are expected to fail.

221 parking spaces are being provided despite studies showing that 720 spaces would be required. But studies concluded that parking requirements will be satisfied as most students are not likely to use private vehicles.

AUM president Louis Walker
AUM president Louis Walker

The only person who spoke in favour of the project was Louis Walker, AUM president, who read a prepared speech outlining the benefits of the development for the community including that of “educating its future leaders”.

Bedingfield welcomes decision

Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield, who publicly voiced his concern over the expansion plans, welcomed the decision. "We showed that we are a government that listens. I listened to my constituents... I am satisfied that the PA acknowledged the arguments put forward by Cottonera residents," he said on Twitter.

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