[WATCH] PA board approves 38-storey db Group development

Project approved with 10 votes to four • Developer organised transport for db Group employees to attend meeting



Over 4,500 people have submitted objections to the project with many residents expected to attend the meeting
Over 4,500 people have submitted objections to the project with many residents expected to attend the meeting

The controversial db Project in Pembroke was been approved on Thursday afternoon, with ten votes in favour and four against. The development was approved in a PA Board meeting that lasted almost six hours. 

PN representative Marthese Portelli, Pembroke Labour mayor Dean Hili, PA chairperson Vince Cassar, and Annick Bonello, who represents NGOs, were the four persons who voted against.

Ten board members voted in favour, including Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak. The decision was met with cries of disappointment by residents who packed themselves into the hall in the hope of reversing the PA's decision

The school hall was packed with residents, environmental campaigners and db employees
The school hall was packed with residents, environmental campaigners and db employees

As rarely happens, all 14 members on the board were present for the meeting.

Cassar said he voted against the project in order to be consistent with his previous position regarding a master plan for the area. Cassar also described the project as “excessive”.

PA chairperson Vince Cassar (left)
PA chairperson Vince Cassar (left)

READ MORE: DB's City Centre high-rise | All you need to know about Thursday's Planning Authority vote

The massive project has been opposed by Pembroke residents all throughout, who have argued it would have a negative impact on their quality of life. Their cause was backed by environmental groups and the Nationalist Party, albeit quite late in the day. PN leader Adrian Delia said earlier this week that the project fell foul of existing policies.

Former PN minister Jesmond Mugliett is one of the project's architects
Former PN minister Jesmond Mugliett is one of the project's architects

At the start of the meeting, Cassar told people he would eject anyone causing a disturbance during the meeting.

The project's architects, Milan-based MYGG, kick-started proceedings by presenting their plans. The Italian firm's representatives are accompanied by former PN minister Jesmond Mugliett, an architect.

During the meeting it was revealed by the planning directorate that the government had issued a letter of commitment to construct a road tunnel, which has been identified as necessary for the project. In fact, Transport Malta had stated that the tunnel was a condition for the project’s approval.

Environment Impact Assessment coordinator Paul Gauci gave an hour long presentation on the project’s details, including its geological and ecological impact.

Later in the meeting, the project's case officer confirmed that the government has issued a letter of commitment for the tunnel linking Pembroke to project.

When photo montages of the project were shown, residents booed. 

Planning Authority CEO Johann Buttigieg arriving for the meeting
Planning Authority CEO Johann Buttigieg arriving for the meeting


Some commotion arose in the hall when the time came for people's interventions to be taken from the floor, with former Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Arnold Cassola alleging that the project is "illegal" due to the valuation process, and the meager sum put forward by the developer, raising suspicion of illegal state aid.

He revealed that the Green MEP group in the EU parliament is raising this issue with the European Commission.

"Will you approve this project with the risk that the it is later found to be illegal?" he asked.

The absolute majority of the 25 interventions were against the project, although five residents spoke out in favour.

Vince Cassar was amongst those to express his concerns on the proposals, questioning the project for the increase in traffic it would cause - to applause from those in attendance - and said he also had doubts about that fact that the exit to the proposed tunnel would be located within the project itself.

He also raised his objections to the demolition and reconstruction of Grade 2 British barracks in Pembroke.

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

Former Pembroke Labour mayor Joseph Zammit defended the project questioning whether the objectors too it all hail from Pembroke. "All developers have a right to invest their money - without developers there would be no money for social services," Zammit said.

Labour MP and representative on the PA board Clayton Bartolo said that if it is the case that a master plan for the area does not exist, developers should not be the ones penalised for this. 

Responding to this, Marthese Portelli insisted that master plan should precede projects in a locality. She also questioned the lack of detail in the letter of commitment issued by Transport Minister Ian Borg for the tunnel, noting the lack of timeframes.

Victor Axiaq, speaking next, repeatedly praised the Environmental Impact Assessment carried out on the project, and hailed developers for being ready to change various aspects of the plans, such as the disposal of water away from the nearby beach.

Axiaq made no reference to the visual impact of the project, or its effects on residents.

Most Pembroke residents - apart from a handful - who voiced their opinions, expressed opposition to the project, however.

Pembroke mayor Dean Hili reiterated his council’s opposition to the project, but limited his intervention to proposals to mitigate the impact if the project is approved.

Hili also noted the absence of timeframes in the government’s commitment for the tunnel, and asked what would happen if project were to start before the tunnel is constructed. Hili insisted that the only solution is that the tunnel exit should be located at Saint George’s Bay.

He went on to describe the project as “devastating” for Pembroke.

Academic and Pembroke resident Adrian Grima insisted that the project defied the very mission statement of the PA, describing it as a fantasy of a few rich people who want to ride roughshod.

Activist Claire Bonello questioned the impact on accessibility to the beach lido, which would be effectively become a bar area. She asked whether the first 15 meters of this area would be retained as public space.

"Will this result in a beach concession?" she asked, with the case officer answering that a temporary deck would be developed.

Graffiti activist Andre Callus referred to a social impact assessment showing over 70% of residents in Pembroke were against the project. "This project is simply the intrusion of Paceville in to Pembroke," he remarked.

READ MORE: db project gets thumbs down from Guardian of Future Generations

Former PN  Transport Minister Jesmond Mugliett, who represented the developer, argued that the project would cater for parking demand in Paceville, therefore decreasing the pressure on Pembroke.

He also said that tunnel has to be seen in view of the government’s overall traffic plans.

Before the meeting

Crowds gathered early for the meeting outside the St George Preca College secondary school hall, in Ħamrun. MaltaToday is also reliably informed that a number of db Group employees arrived for the meeting in organised transport.

The meeting is being held at a larger venue than usual, since over 4,500 people submitted representations to the project.

Moviment Graffitti said yesterday that the Planning Authority had informed those trying to book a place that no further reservations could be made, despite the fact that all those who submitted a representation have a legal right to be present and voice their concerns.

The project

The project is being proposed by the db Group, which had been leased land on the former ITS campus in Pembroke, with the proposed 17-storey hotel of 315 rooms and 37-storey residential tower having been tagged at a construction cost of €300 million. 

The PA’s planning directorate has recommended its approval, making this outcome likelier but not inevitable. Just two years ago, the 38-storey Townsquare development in Sliema was also recommended for approval by the case officer, but it was approved by one single vote and later revoked by the appeals tribunal for being “too excessive”.

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

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