Updated | PN calls on ERA chairman to declare position on Sliema skyscraper

ERA chairman refuses to publicly state position on Sliema skyscrapers • Confirms absence from controversial Planning Authority meeting was due to surgery

Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak
Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak

The Nationalist Party has called on Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak to make public his views on the proposed 38-storey project in Sliema.

While pointing out that a memo sent by Axiak was meant to be read out during the meeting, Callus said this had been the ERA’s “first credibility test” which has now been “completely obscured”.

“These observations must be published immediately,” Callus said, pointing out that Sliema residents are going to be directly affected by the “excessive development”.

The call comes after Axiak said he won’t be making his views public for fear of prejudicing the ERA’s decision, which has yet to decide whether to appeal the decision taken two weeks ago by the Planning Board which approved the Townsquare project.

The highly controversial meeting took place despite the board knowing that Axiak would be absent due to health reasons.

In a statement issued today in his personal capacity, Axiak confirmed that he was admitted to hospital on July 30 to be operated the following day. He received specific instructions not to attend to his normal duties for at least two weeks.

“I immediately informed [everyone] that I will be indisposed for the PA board meetings of August 2 and 4,” Axiaq said, confirming that the Environment Minister, the Planning Authority chairman and board secretary had been made aware of his absence two days before the meeting.
The Sliema project was approved by a majority of just one vote.

Axiak was reacting to environmental organisations which expressed "dismay" at the absence of ERA from such an important meeting. 

In a joint statement issued yesterday, Flimkien Ghall-Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth and the  Ramblers Association said they would have asked for an adjournment of the meeting had they known of Axiak's absence. 

Axiak also said that he "was not yet ready" to publish his opinion on the planned 38-storey tower in  Sliema, given that the ERA had yet to decide whether to appeal the Planning Authority's decision to green light the development.

In a statement issued yesterday, Civil Society Network called on ERA to publish all correspondence between its chairman and the Planning Authority on the matter.

Axiak had sent a detailed memo on both the Mriehel and the Sliema tower high-rise projects to board member Timothy Gambin, telling him to use the email as he deemed fit during the meeting. However, only Axiak’s views on the Mriehel towers were read out.

Gambin, an expert in underwater archaeology, voted for both projects during the public hearing. Contacted by MaltaToday, he preferred not to explain why Axiak’s views on the Sliema project were not relayed during the meeting.

"I specifically asked this member to make use of the memo as he deems fit, during the discussion. We also agreed that this would not in any way condition the way this member would be voting,” Axiak said.

He explained that he sent it to just one board member to as not “to place unjust and unfair pressure on such members”.

“With hindsight, I do not expect others to share this view, but that is not my problem. Furthermore, I have full respect and trust in the integrity of all Board members including the one to whom I sent this memo,” Axiak said.

Axiak told MaltaToday that after the meeting, he also sent a copy of this memo to ERA board and to Environment Minister Jose Herrera.

"I thought that I owed them a full explanation on what had happened as a result of the media coverage on this matter,” he said.

Axiaq has refused to publish the memo in view of ERA's pending decision on whether to appeal against the two developments.

"I am not yet ready to publish the contents of this memo since ERA still needs to decide whether to appeal or not, against the PA's decision on these two high rise development."

In the part of the memo addressing the Mriehel proposal, Axiak questioned the quality of the photomontages presented by the developer especially the one depicting the view of Mriehel from Mdina. The development was approved by ten votes against two.

In a statement, the PN’s spokesperson for the environment Ryan Callus said that Axiaq had sent the memo, with the aim of being read out during the meeting.

“Since this did not happen, the least one can do is publish the memo and give environment a voice,” Callus, who voted against the project, said.

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