Sliema’s 38-storey Townsquare project recommended for planning approval

PA’s planning directorate to call on board to approve Townsquare tower in view of new policies on building heights earmarking Tigné as ‘cluster of tall buildings’

The new tower is set to dominate views of the Sliema skyline.
The new tower is set to dominate views of the Sliema skyline.

The Planning Authority’s planning directorate is recommending the approval of a 38-storey tower in Sliema next to Villa Drago proposed by the Gasan Group, against a ‘planning gain’ they have to pay of ‎€266,314 to fund traffic management and urban improvement projects.

A final decision will be taken in a public meeting set for next week. The meeting will be held  on 23 June at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta.

The Townsquare tower will comprise 159 residential units, 4,719 square metres of offices, 8,241 sq.m. of commercial space and 748 parking spaces as well as the restoration of Villa Drago.

The case officer acknowledged that the project will break the Sliema skyline but said the PA’s policy on tall buildings approved in 2014 now identifies the Tigné area as “a cluster of tall buildings.”

Architect’s’ rendition of the 38-storey development in Sliema
Architect’s’ rendition of the 38-storey development in Sliema

“The visual assessment should be considered in relation to the prospective skyline of the area as a cluster of high buildings,” the case officer said.

The PA’s design advisory committee is chaired by PA official and planner Dr David Mallia but also includes Portomaso architect Ray Demicoli, who himself has prepared plans for the neighbouring 40-storey tower proposed by GAP in Tigné, and historian Dr Charlene Vella.

Indeed, Townsquare is being approved as part of a cluster of tall buildings whose impact is yet to be assessed by the PA.

The PA’s design advisory committee also deemed the tower which will dominate the Sliema skyline as “one aspiring to achieve high quality development in the middle of Sliema.” 

The case officer said the tower would have a greater impact on land use if the area is developed according to the traditional style of apartment blocks, than if it was developed using the floor area ratio which promotes taller buildings on condition that more open space around them is created.

Townsquare will include a central plaza and underground car park, with an entrance from Hughes Hallet Street and an underground link under Triq Qui-Si-Sana.

The project’s environmental impact assessment said it expected residents in the area to keep windows shut to minimise noise during the excavation, which will take 10 months, and construction, which will take four years.

The Environment and Resources Authority expressed concern on the visual impact of the project. While the EIA consultants commissioned by the Gasan Group warned that the project would have a major impact when seen from Tower Road and from the Preluna Hotel, the ERA contends that the project would also have a major impact when seen from Manoel Island and the Valletta ferry landing.

It also expressed concern on the results of a scanline geological survey, which warned of the “potential collapse of excavation”. This impact is described as “uncertain” in the EPS.

The ERA is calling for more “precise details”, adding that a conclusive assessment on this issue could only be made when these details are submitted to the Planning Authority.

As far as plans go, a 40-storey tower being proposed on top of the Fort Cambridge officers’ mess is set to become Malta’s tallest tower block. Together with Townsquare, the two projects together will result in an additional daily 6,000 vehicles passing from the area.

If approved the two Sliema towers will be higher than any other building in Malta, surpassing by far the Portomaso tower, which is 23 floors. Not very far away, the Metropolis development in Gzira is set to rise to 33 floors.  A 40 storey tower is also being proposed next to Mercury House in Paceville.

More in National