MEPA accused of dismantling local plans to ‘favour particular individuals’

The proposal for the development of the old Mtarfa hospital had clearly been made on the condition that regulations would change to suit it, says AD deputy leader.

Alternattiva Demokratika and FAA held a joint press conference in Attard
Alternattiva Demokratika and FAA held a joint press conference in Attard

Alternattiva Demokratika and green NGO Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) today accused MEPA of dismantling the local plans to accommodate individual developers.

In a joint press conference in Attard, AD deputy chairperson Carmel Cacopardo said that the application for the development of the former isolation hospital at Mtarfa into a retirement home had been made according to the new Height Limitation Adjustment Policy for Retirement Homes before the policy had even been issued. This indicated insider knowledge on the part of the applicant, said Cacopardo.

"In addition to difficulties caused by the direct impacts, MEPA is now bent on removing the protection of Grade 2 Scheduled properties. An example worth considering is the Mtarfa Hospital, which, notwithstanding that the consultation period came to an end yesterday, has been subject to a development application since June 2015 for the addition of a number of floors"

“Maybe there are grounds for an inquiry?” said the AD stalwart, clearly not expecting it to be held. "The principal idea here was to change the rules to favour a particular person, in this case [Seabank managing director] Silvio Debono."

In an announcement made yesterday, the government said that last year an application had been made to develop the Mtarfa hospital, after the issuing of an expression of interest on the rehabilitation of disused buildings.

“It makes no sense to make detailed plans for holistic local development, only to later eat away at them,” said Cacopardo .

The proposed increase of two storeys over Roseville in Attard increases urban development and negatively impact residents, he said, adding that as a direct consequence “the area where this proposal is applied will witness an increase of traffic problems.”

“It is a good governance issue, the proposal shows that it had been made on the condition that regulations would change to suit it,” said the AD deputy leader.

Astrid Vella, for the FAA, highlighted that the risks of a policy where care of the elderly is left in the hands of developers. There was no indication that medical professionals were consulted in the expansion of Roseville or Mtarfa, she said, dismissing as the “familiar refrain of the usual developers” who claim to need to build upwards to avoid spreading outwards. There was sufficient space in development zones, she said.

In addition, Malta's healthcare policy is going against the global trend towards care in the community, said Vella, and was instead favouring the “ghettoization” of the elderly.

Building upwards negatively affects the mental well-being, of the elderly and created a greater load on staff, she said. She said she feared that dementia patients will now be confined to the top storeys, instead of being allowed to wander the gardens – which has therapeutic benefits to them.

It also posed a fire risk, she said. “How can bedridden patients be evacuated? MEPA failed to identify this risk, only managing to identify advantages for the developer.”

Abroad, community care reduced load on the system and increased available bedspaces, said Vella, pointing out that ten empty government schools were available to be converted to homes for the elderly, in line with its plans for active ageing.