High rise planning policy: Mriehel included by stealth

Planning ombudsman David Pace decries lack of public consultation on inclusion of Mriehel as a site for high-rise development

The two leading heritage NGOs, Din l-Art Helwa and Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar have called on the government to remove any reference to Mriehel from the approved policy.
The two leading heritage NGOs, Din l-Art Helwa and Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar have called on the government to remove any reference to Mriehel from the approved policy.

Planning Ombudsman David Pace insists that the government was wrong to include Mriehel by stealth as a high-rise zone in approved policy regulating tall buildings.

“The inclusion of Mriehel in the approved zones where the policy is applicable, should have been put to public consultation prior to the final approval by the MEPA board,” the planning ombudsman told MaltaToday.

No reference to Mriehel, which borders on Malta’s most densely populated urban centres, was made in a draft policy document issued for public consultation in November. 

This meant that the public, NGOs and stakeholders had no chance to comment on the choice of Mriehel as a site for high-rise office buildings. 

It turns out that it was the government which recommended the addition of Mriehel as a site where buildings which are more than 10 storeys high can be built, along with Qawra, Marsa, Tigne and Gzira.

The approved document states, “particular attention was focused on the strategic location of the employment hub of Mriehel”.

The area is presently designated for industrial uses, but in subsequent revisions to the Local Plan a wider mix has been encouraged and a “generic proviso” in favour of buildings higher than 14m was also introduced for large sites.

“Therefore it is clear that there has been an intention to consider higher buildings in this locality over the recent past”. The document designates Mriehel as an “appropriate location for tall buildings for predominantly office uses”.

The government’s inclusion of Mriehel coincides with plans by Farsons to construct a business park on the site of the Old Brewhouse and former Packaging Halls in Mriehel, even if the plans published by the company do not foresee high-rise development.

But the inclusion of Mriehel by stealth has been criticised by environmentalists.

For Din l-Art Helwa the inclusion of a new area without first presenting it to the public for comments is unacceptable and undermines the whole public consultation process, which MEPA has successfully developed over the past decade.

The two leading heritage NGOs, Din l-Art Helwa and Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar have called on the government to remove any reference to Mriehel from the approved policy.

The two organisations have called for a separate public consultation process to be carried out on whether or not Mriehel should become a location for high-rise buildings.

Both ombudsmen Joe Said Pullicino and MEPA’s former auditor, Joe Falzon, had criticised the previous government for making drastic changes to local plans in the absence of public consultation. 

Planning Ombudsman Pace insists that the principle of public consultation throughout the whole planning process was, and remains, an essential element of the process.

“MEPA is obliged to allow for a public consultation process in any proposal for changes to the key documents which regulate the planning system,” he said.

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