Thousands of people's lives being threatened in the interest of a few powerful people - NGOs

Residents and representatives of NGOs and local councils held one last press conference before a decision on the City Centre project is taken, during which they reminded the members on the PA board of their responsibility towards Maltese society

The project will consist of a 37-storey  tower that will cast shadows over Pembroke for long stretches of the day
The project will consist of a 37-storey tower that will cast shadows over Pembroke for long stretches of the day

The Planning Authority will have to decide whether to look out for the interests of thousands of residents, or that of a few wealthy developers when the PA board takes a final decision on the ITS project next Thursday. 

Addressing a press conference ahead of Thursday's vote, activists and residents insisted that the project must be refused because it threatened thousands of people's basic quality of life. 

"We are not talking about some luxury here but the right to have a decent quality of life in the place you live," said Andre Callus from the pressure group Graffitti.

He insisted that the site that the project was being proposed on was never intended to host such a development. "Such intensive commercial activity was never envisaged. It is not suited for this location."

Since it was proposed, the project has been opposed by all of Malta's environmental and civil society organisation, with no less than 12 NGOs and three local councils present at Tuesday's conference.

"It is worth noting that since this project was announced nobody has defended it." Callus said, pointing out that public opinion was overwhelmingly against the project, even when compared to other controversial projects. "This is not only about this project but about democracy."

The PA Board should refuse this project in no uncertain terms due to the very long list of harmful consequences
The PA Board should refuse this project in no uncertain terms due to the very long list of harmful consequences

READ MORE: Pembroke local council to vote against DB Group hotel development

The board, Callus said, had an obligation towards society to refuse the permit. If issued however, the development will see the former ITS converted into a massive 38-storey hotel, a 17-storey apartment block, as well as several restaurants, night clubs and commercial ventures.

Running through a long list of objections and concerns raised by both residents and competent authorities like the Environment and Resources Authority and the Planning Authority itself, Callus reminded those present that if completed, the developments tower would almost literally bury Pembroke residents alive.

During some parts of the year, residents would not be able to see the sun all day. The size of the project would also increase traffic congestion in an area that already hosted 14 schools and four sports clubs, he said. The fact that the project lies next to two Natura 200 sites could also not be ignored. 

"We believe that on Thursday the PA Board should refuse this project in no uncertain terms due to the very long list of harmful consequences and the fact that it is clearly not in line with the PA's own policies."

He reminded members of the public that some 4,500 people had filed an objection to the project with the PA and that all those that had done so were entitled to attend Thursday meeting, which will be held at the Liceo in Hamrun. 

Pembroke mayor Dean Hili, who will have sit on the board for the vote, and who has stated his intention to vote against the project, said that the local council couldn't but act in the interest of its residents. 

READ MORE: Pembroke towers will cast a long wintry shadow on housing estate

He too said that that such projects needed to account for the needs of society at large, rather than just a few powerful people. 

St Julian's mayor Guido Dalli described the project as marking the beginning of the end for Pembroke, while Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat stressed that he increased traffic flows from the project would impact all the surrounding localities, including his own.

He said he had attended to show solidarity with the residents of Pembroke, given what they had been made to go through by an "obscene development".

Some of the main reasons residents said they were opposing the project:

  • It will bury hundreds of residents alive under its long and wide shadows, that will reach as far as the reverse osmosis plant and place almost permanent darkness on the blocks of flats lying across the road.
  • Paceville will further invade Pembroke and Swieqi since the project will generate incessant commercial activity in an area that was designated by Government itself as a residential one. Such activity will also create more pressure for similar development in Pembroke and Swieqi in the near future. The surrounding infrastructure is also clearly inadequate to host such activity.
  • It is impossible to assess the real and full impact of the db Group project, since there is no Masterplan for that area. The ERA report on this project acknowledges that the full extent of its impact cannot be measured due to the lack of a Masterplan, making it impossible to understand the cumulative impact resulting from other existing and proposed projects.
  • It can potentially bring about an ecological disaster as works will be carried out on top of, and adjacent to, the Ħarq Ħammiem Cave, designated as an area of Ecological Importance and a site of Scientific Importance. The developer’s impact assessment itself identifies an adverse impact on the cave.
  • The project lies next to two Natura 2000 sites, that will be inevitably affected both during the construction phase and the operational one.
  • db Group would, in practice, privatise the rocky part of St. Georges Bay. This runs counter to the Public Domain Act.
  • The project will generate about 7,000 additional car trips daily. Developers are stating that the unsustainable traffic and pollution brought about by this increase is to be addressed through the construction of a tunnel. However, this tunnel is not part of their application and it will require a separate application for its approval and construction. Thus, the tunnel is, in effect, inexistent and cannot be considered when discussing this project. Moreover, even if the proposed tunnel is built, it will primarily serve the needs of the db Group and it won’t adequately address the traffic problem in the surrounding areas.
  • A concrete-making plant, called a batching plant, would be installed a few meters away from residents’ homes, with inevitable environmental consequences, including the spread of insidious dust particles.
  • The proposed high-rise is not in line with the Floor Area Ratio policy, both in terms of the number of roads needed around the developed site, and in terms of the requirement that 50% of the site is to be public open space.
  • The PA’s own Design Advisory Committee had described this project as “out of scale with its context”. Although the Case Officer’s report seems to indicate that the Committee changed its stance after the db Group modified its designs, one struggles to understand what led to this change of position since the modifications by the developer are practically insignificant – they just reduced 8 meters from the tower and removed one floor from the hotel.

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