Townsquare project: Where do Sliema’s elected MPs stand?

Nationalist MPs on the tenth district critical of 38-storey tower earmarked for Qui Si Sana; Labour MPs coy, non-committal, or silent

Debate on the Townsquare tower at Qui Si Sana has raged on since its approval by the Planning Authority earlier this month
Debate on the Townsquare tower at Qui Si Sana has raged on since its approval by the Planning Authority earlier this month

Debate on the Townsquare tower at Qui Si Sana has raged on since its approval by the Planning Authority earlier this month, with the Sliema council, residents, environmental NGOs, and student organisations all vociferous in their criticism of it. Yet, the MPs who have been elected on the tenth district to represent residents of Sliema, Gzira, St Julian’s and Pembroke have so far been conspicuous by their absence from the public debate. 

As such, MaltaToday sought to discover the personal opinion of the seven MPs on the 38-storey tower, that will be developed by the Gasan Group. The three Nationalist MPs who spoke to this paper all said that their personal views identically reflect those espoused by fellow MP Ryan Callus who, as the Opposition’s representative on the Planning Authority board, had voted against the project. 

The harshest criticism came from Robert Arrigo, who claimed that the project “reeked of pre-election deals”. 

“The change in government got the change that some developers wanted, and not what switchers wanted,” he told MaltaToday. “The Nationalist Party in Opposition stood tall and voted against it. Voting for change has never been translated so harshly. 

“My opinion is that this project is out of place, without a real and proper master plan involving all entities. The PA hearing scene could have come out straight from a film, nicely rehearsed, well-executed, where the Environment and Resources Authority chairman [Victor Axiak] was absent without a representative, and another individual [PA board member Timmy Gambin] not divulging an important memo which could have shifted the final vote.

“This permit opens all the doors for others to apply, anywhere, for high-rise projects. With this vote, the logic we know, was thrown out of the window.”

Robert Arrigo said the project “reeked of pre-election deals”
Robert Arrigo said the project “reeked of pre-election deals”

Opposition MP Francis Zammit Dimech warned that the project would be detrimental to Sliema residents and to the surrounding environment.

He was also open to the possibility that a future PN government could seek to find legal means to halt the project in its tracks for the benefit of residents. 

“It will all depend on what stage the development would have reached, and it is ultimately not in my remit,” he said. “However, my opinion is that if the project can be legally stopped then it should be, for the sake of the quality of life of residents, as well as of the environment.” 

MP and former environment minister George Pullicino said that he is fully behind the PN’s policy against the project. 

“The PN’s policy on the matter is very clear. Ryan Callus didn’t just vote against the project, but gave concrete reasons as to why he did so, largely related to the lack of impact studies. My personal position is exactly the same as his.” 

Also, Karl Gouder – who was sworn as an MP earlier this year to replace Albert Fenech – said that the PN is still hopeful that the Prime Minister listens to the pleas of Sliema residents against the project.

“The PN could never be in favour of a project like Townsquare that will leave a huge impact on Sliema residents,” he said.

“The PN, including myself and other colleagues from the 10th district, worked closely with the Sliema local council both before the hearing, and after it, and the Sliema local council will in the coming days lodge a formal appeal to the project.”

‘Townsquare shows need to tighten property development laws’ – Bartolo 

Education minister Evarist Bartolo has focused his criticism on the procedure that led up to the PA’s decision to approve the Townsquare project. 

In an opinion piece for MaltaToday, he questioned how Gasan was able to get away with merely acknowledging that noise pollution and increases in vehicle emissions would be a “major” concern in its impact assessment, without offering ways to mitigate them.

“The process is being done and the law is being followed, but the analytical depth of the established process leaves a lot to be desired,” he wrote. “In theory, going up and not sideways makes plenty of sense. The strategy is definitely sound. However, in my view, the tactics need to be improved on different fronts: holistically, at procedural level, and ultimately through implementation. This is very much a political matter – laws need to change to make sure that regulation and safeguards are improved.

“The fixation on a particular project will come and go, but real progress and change will only happen once we address the structural issues of the regulatory and policy framework in property development.”

Labour MP Michael Falzon, on the other hand, refused to divulge his personal opinion on the controversial project. 

Labour MP Michael Falzon refused to comment
Labour MP Michael Falzon refused to comment

“Planning policies and legal procedures must be adhered to, including for Townsquare, which is a project like all others,” the former parliamentary secretary for planning told MaltaToday. “However, I will not give my personal opinion on the project itself.” 

Competitiveness minister Manuel Mallia was not available for comment by the time of writing. 

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