Manoel Island excavation permit approved despite pending appeal

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar accused the Planning Authority of sending a message that the appeal process was ‘nothing but a worthless sham’

MIDI plans to build a casino-hotel, shopping complex and luxury apartments on Manoel Island
MIDI plans to build a casino-hotel, shopping complex and luxury apartments on Manoel Island

The Planning Commission has approved a permit for excavation works at Manoel Island, despite a pending appeal to the project filed by NGOs and residents. 

Back in April, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), together with a number of Gżira residents filed an appeal against the Manoel Island development before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal.

FAA described today's decision as a travesty that makes a mockery of the appeal process. 

“By approving the excavation, the Planning Commission would be making out that the outcome of the appeal is a forgone conclusion, making a travesty of the whole appeal process,” Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar said in a statement on Thursday.

“What if the developers are made to alter their development plans after the site has been excavated?”

The NGO emphasized the importance of the Roman remains found in the area to be excavated, and the high probability of discovering other remains in the area.

“In spite of all this, the Planning Commission immediately voted unanimously in favour of the excavation permit before the planning appeal is concluded,” the NGO said.

It argued that up until a few years ago, “MEPA would never process a stand-alone permit for demolition or excavation that was not accompanied by a construction application, for fear that it would result in a hole in the ground as did the Gżira Metropolis project”.

“Yet today, the Planning Authority is recommending for approval an excavation application for the MIDI project at Manoel Island while the very development is being challenged at appeal,” the NGO said.

It argued that by approving the permit, the PA was sending out the message that the appeal process is “nothing but a worthless sham”.  

FAA went on to note that the authority was ignoring calls by the Superintendent for Cultural Heritage for an underwater evaluation to assess the surrounding seabed’s archaeology, adding that archaeologists had also warned that Roman remains dating back two millennia were also being threatened by the works.

“A study on the site was conducted in 2013 by Stefano Forlani, but for some reason the paper was not included in the Planning Authority assessment of the permit in spite of the fact that one of the authors was Dr Timothy Gambin, the marine archaeologist who is a member of the PA Board, supposedly representing heritage,” the NGO said.     

MIDI was granted a 99-year concession on the island in 2000 with the latest submitted plans including an extensive 600-apartment residential complex, a five-star hotel located in the Lazzaretto complex and an 8,449sq.m retail complex. The project will also include a marina with 183 berths and 3,595sq.m of sports facilities.

The consortium has promised to restore several heritage sites and include some 80,000 sq.m of parks and open spaces on Manoel Island.
The latest plans will see an increase in the number of residential units over the original plans but also include a decrease of 8,000sq.m in the total gross floor area.

READ MORE: No decision on Manoel Island excavations should take place while MIDI project under appeal

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