PA to discuss new Manoel Island masterplan on Thursday – Malta Independent Online

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The Planning Authority Board is set to discuss the new Manoel Island masterplan on Thursday
Last December, it was decided that the Manoel Island project is to be reviewed in full by the Planning Authority.
The case officer’s report was published and assesses the revisions requested for the Outline Development Application as already approved in PA 9407/17. The application had already been approved on 18 March, 2020. However, the Planning Board’s decision was appealed by third parties before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT), and the EPRT nullified the original Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, due to a conflict of interest concern being raised regarding one of the studies conducted.
Following the EPRT decision, a revised EIA Report was resubmitted to ERA on 15 February 2021. The comments made by ERA, its consultees and the general public during both the review stage and the public hearing were forwarded to the project team on 5 April 2021.
“Following the submission of comments and revised documentation, a clearance from the ERA, which includes a ‘Summary of the EIA process’, ‘Appendices’, ‘Assessment and Recommendations’ and ‘Conditions’ documents, was uploaded by the architect (…) As such the requirements set by the EPRT were fulfilled and therefore the revised master plan was eligible for the relevant planning assessment.”
The proposed revision will still consist of a mixed-use development, incorporating residential, commercial, leisure facilities, sports facilities for the local community, public amenities, a hospitality offering and a Centre for the Arts and Culture.
“The new masterplan totally omits any construction and development on the former cemetery sites, taking up significantly less floor area and committing more land to public open spaces. In total, the revised proposal would add 35,000sq.m to public open spaces while reducing the amount of new residential development by 35%, amounting to a reduction of around 40,000 GFA. This would translate to a total footprint of circa 6% of the island for new buildings rather than the 12.6% as approved in the 2017 master plan, aiming to achieve a better balance between built-up and open spaces. The number of residential units will be reduced from 499 units to 300 units, while the commercial component will also be decreased, including the outright removal of all office space,” the case officer’s report read.
“More land is being committed to parks, squares and promenades, with the vast majority of the island seeking to become a pedestrian-friendly shared-surface destination, while all parking and service facilities to be located underground. This includes the carpark that was accommodated behind the entrance bastions of the Gateway area; relocated to an underground and more central area.” The revised master plan also seeks to retain and rehabilitate the Pay Office (former REMPEC building), among other things.
An NGO has raised a number of concerns. Among other things, the impact of the view of Valletta from Gzira was highlighted, as was traffic numbers and that this application could be premature due to other ongoing appeals related to Manoel Island.
ENGO Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) for example, said that “One of the mitigating features left in Gzira is the views of Valletta, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The status of a World Heritage Site is used by all countries of the world to attract visitors and is coveted by all around the world. Yet both ERA and the PA seem unbothered that the views of the World Heritage site will be obliterated from the Gzira waterfront with the proposed apartment blocks in Midi’s plans. The views of the majestic bastions of Valletta will be replaced by views of nondescript blocks of apartments.”
It also said that the Planning Board should not proceed with consideration of the application until the pending appeals that deal with Manoel Island and are still ongoing have been heard and decided.
The applicant’s representatives responded to a number of points in a letter. In a part of its reply, it said: “it is simply wrong to state that the views of the majestic bastions of Valletta will be replaced by views of nondescript blocks of apartments. On the contrary, the development will create new viewpoints, and open up alternative public open spaces where the views mentioned by FAA can be better enjoyed from.”
Regarding the ongoing appeals, the applicants said that each application should be assessed on its own merits, and not on the basis of the possible or potential outcomes of other planning proceedings. The applicants said that the appeals applications cited by the FAA refer to very specific aspects of the Manoel Island Development, and what the Planning Board is considering in the current application is a much broader and wide-ranging application. “It simply does not make sense to keep this planning application on hold, in order to await the outcomes of what are, in comparison, minor applications.”
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