Final decision on AUM sites awaits environmental impact assessment, MEPA CEO ‘reassures’

MEPA CEO Johann Buttigieg denies knowing details of heads of terms, says EIA consultants not appointed as formal application has yet to be submitted

MEPA CEO Johann Buttigieg
MEPA CEO Johann Buttigieg
Committee chair Marlene Farrugia
Committee chair Marlene Farrugia
Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino
Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino
Principal permanent secretary Mario Cutajar
Principal permanent secretary Mario Cutajar

A final decision on the site of the American University of Malta, to be developed by the Jordanian Sadeen Group, has yet to be taken pending the conclusions of the environmental impact assessment (EIA), MEPA CEO Johann Buttigieg has reassured.

Buttigieg was addressing the parliamentary committee for the environment, convened by chair Marlene Farrugia upon request of Front Harsien ODZ. The committee sought to understand why part of the AUM campus will still be developed at Zonqor Point.

A formal application has yet to be filed and EIA consultants have therefore not yet been appointed, the CEO confirmed. He also confirmed meeting with a member of the Sadeen Group along with a representative from the Office of the Prime Minister.

In August, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that the campus of the American University of Malta will be split in two, with a reduced site at Zonqor Point in Marsascala and the rest of the university housed at Dock 1 in Cospicua.

The Zonqor site will include three faculties and the dormitories, with the buildings rising to a maximum height of five storeys, half of what is permissible under the floor-to-area ratio policy, while the foreshore will remain untouched.

However, the MEPA CEO this evening reassured the committee and NGOs that “all shortlisted sites will be analysed by the EIA”, giving the impression that proposed sites, such as that in Tarxien, was still in the running.

Questioned by Front Harsien ODZ spokesman James Debono, Buttigieg denied knowing the contents of the heads of agreement signed between Sadeen Group and the government.

“I was not conditioned by the agreement and I don’t even know what the agreement entails,” Buttigieg said when asked directly whether “sea view” was part of the condition.

He did not confirm whether the EIA would go into the seven individual sites in detail but insisted that the site selection exercise was “an integral part” of the report.

Buttigieg did not exclude the development of a marina after reminding that the local plan made such a development, including a 10-storey high building, possible. When questioned by Farrugia, he also agreed that the local plan could be changed.

The committee received comments from various NGOs and Alternattiva Demokratika, who made it clear that they seriously doubted the conclusions of the report which identified Zonqor and Dock 1 as the most viable option.

“This report gives the impression that all solid alternatives were sidelined to ensure that Zonqor remains the final recommendation,” environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino said.

“There are at least two other proposals, one of which confirmed by the report itself,” AD chairperson Arnold Cassola said, adding that a proposed site in Tarxien was within development zone and covered a good 30,000 square metres.

The site selection report itself described the Tarxien site as “suitable” for the development.

According to Buttigieg, it however remained a government’s decision to see whether it wanted to use the site to develop a housing estate or build a school.

Cassola reiterated the AD’s call to the Prime Minister for the publication of the heads of agreement signed with Sadeen, once again questioning whether the Zonqor choice was a condition stipulated by the developers.

Din l-Art Helwa asked why the sites had been announced before the EIA was even carried out.

The MEPA CEO said the authority had shortlisted seven sites following 513 submissions made. 32% of the submissions excluded sites in the south of Malta – a requirement – or did not provide alternatives.

Marsaskala resident John Paul Cauchi said he did not see any logical progress between the report and its conclusions.

“It was like putting lipstick on a pitbull,” he said, referring to how “excuses” were made up to make suitable alternative appear to be not.

Buttigieg said that sites such as Santu Rokku fortification was sidelined because of its value of heritage whilst MEPA wanted to avoid a repetition of Fort Cambridge and Fort Chambray.

John Portelli, of the Malta Organic Agricultural Movement, described the site selection report as one of “convenience” to justify a decision already taken. Portelli questioned why didn’t the government move away from a commitment made at Smart City and develop the university there.

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