Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Sliema council's Townsquare appeal to focus on PA's 'flawed procedures'

Philip Leone Ganado - Times of Malta, 19 August 2016
The Sliema local council’s appeal against the controversial Townsquare development will be based on “flawed procedures” and the failure of the Planning Authority to adhere to legal requirements.
In a meeting on Wednesday, the council unanimously agreed to appeal the PA’s decision to grant a permit for the 38-storey development, which has been vociferously opposed by residents and environmental groups.
The council is made up of seven Nationalist Party representatives, three from the Labour Party and one representing Alternattiva Demokratika.
AD councillor Michael Briguglio, who spearheaded the call for the council to appeal, told the Times of Malta: “The appeal is purely a legal matter. We will focus on areas where, according to our legal advice, the PA did not conform with the law and did not follow procedure.”
Appeals against the decision can be filed up to 30 days after the decision notice is published in the Government Gazette, which is expected by the end of August.
The council is currently meeting its lawyers to formulate the grounds for the appeal. Discussions are also ongoing with heritage NGO Din L-Art Ħelwa over the possibility of a joint appeal.
The Townsquare project, proposed by the Gasan Group, was narrowly approved by the PA board earlier this month by seven votes to six, a few hours after the approval of an equally controversial development of four interlinked high-rise buildings in Mrieħel.
Environmental organisations have said they would continue to seek all legal avenues to halt the “tidal wave of towers”.
It is still not known whether the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) will submit an appeal, as it is empowered to do by law following the split from the PA.
The authority initially said it “did not envisage appealing” days after the decision was taken, but it since appears to have backed down from that stance, with chairman Victor Axiak stating this week that he would be meeting with lawyers and experts before coming to a decision.
The Sunday Times of Malta reported that Prof. Axiak had expressed reservations about the controversial high-rise project in a memo to fellow PA board member Timmy Gambin. The memo, which was not referenced or read out during the hearing on the Townsquare project, had described the environmental impact assessment for the project as a “sham”.
Prof. Axiak was absent from the PA board meeting due to illness, leaving the ERA with no real say or vote during proceedings.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Where is the consultation?


Some old Labour nostalgics argue that Joseph Muscat is very different from Dom Mintoff. Their narrative states that Mintoff looked to the political left while Muscat looks to the right. Mintoff gave primacy to social justice, Muscat is in the pockets of big business. And so forth.
I think that things are not so clear-cut. Yes, there are differences between Mintoff’s and Muscat’s respective Labour parties. For example, Muscat has opened up to various middle-class concerns. Gone are the days of the glorification of boiler suits and workerist relics. Though one can also argue that it was Mintoff’s Labour government that constructed the middle class in the first place.
Yet, to say that Mintoff’s Labour had no relationship with big business is far beyond the truth. This narrative is so typical of socialist mythology of some golden age of socialism, which, in reality, never existed. Society is never so simple.
The similarities between Mintoff and Muscat are prominent in their top-down leadership styles. The leader and his team are seen as the enlightened supreme decision-making body. Some members of this team might have disproportionate influence, as was the case with Lorry Sant in the 1970s and 1980s and Konrad Mizzi today.
This Mintoffian hangover is indeed present in Malta today, even though we are living in an age of multilevels of power, ranging from the global to the European, from the national to the local and from the party political to civil society.
I would like to mention some recent examples of the top-down decision-making culture under today’s Labour government.
The similarities between Dom Mintoff and Joseph Muscat are prominent in their top-down leadership styles
Due to lack of space, and for the sake of consistency, all examples involve the Transport Ministry/Transport Malta combination. These cases also involve democratically-elected local councils which, incidentally are made up of different political representations. In all cases, the government practically ignored local councils.
First: Ta’ Xbiex – Transport Malta imposed new traffic arrangements which, in many cases, led to a tight bend bang in the middle of a quiet residential area. The mayor of the locality made it clear that his local council was not involved in this traffic diversion.
Second: Mellieħa – The Transport Ministry wants to establish a floating water fun park at Golden Bay. A tender has been issued by the government and the Mellieħa local council only got to know about it after it was published. The locality’s mayor has expressed his opposition to this and has called for the commissioning of proper studies before the plan proceeds. NGOs have also raised concern on the environmental repercussions of further commercialisation of this blue-flag beach.
Third: Sliema – In the past months I had the opportunity to write about the lack of enforcement against drivers dangerously zig-zagging on the bus lane and on the parking fee situation at the public car park at the Ferries.
It would be much better if such fees are collected by the local council and used for public needs rather than by individual parkers. In both cases, the Transport Ministry acts as if local concerns are inexistent.
Sliema now has to bear the brunt of another unwise decision by the Transport Ministry/Transport Malta: the permanently orange traffic lights at the Ferries. This is confusing drivers and pedestrians alike in what has become a dangerous free-for-all situation on this busy road.
Transport Malta has been alerted to this and its official justification has to do with the Kappara road project. Fair enough but, again, why not consult with the Sliema and Gżira local councils?
Just a few days ago, a 26-year old man was hit by a car on this road and he passed away a few days later. I hope this has nothing to do with the new traffic lights arrangement.
I could go on and on with other examples in other sectors.
It is very unfortunate that subsidiarity and consultation are not being given importance by a government that was supposed to be one that listens.
Well, it might be listening to pre-electoral lobbies and to the people high up the party ladder but it really needs to pay more attention to the proposals, concerns and views of democratically-elected local councils and civil society.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sliema local council unanimously agrees to appeal Townsquare tower



Tim Diacono
Malta Today 17 August 2016

The Sliema local council has unanimously decided to appeal against the Planning Authority’s decision to approve a 38-storey skyscraper in Qui Si Sana.

However, an informal council meeting to debate the potential appeal was marked by PL councilor Lisa Cassar Shaw’s criticism at the way the project has become politicised and the media coverage of the meeting. 

The request for an appeal was proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika councilor Michael Briguglio, a vocal critic of the project that will be developed by the Gasan Group. All councilors agreed with his position, and the council’s appeal will be formally lodged within 30 days after the publication of the PA’s decision in the Government Gazette.

Outflanked by the majority PN council, Lisa Cassar Shaw insisted that the project should not have become politicized and that the media should not have been allowed to film and cover the meeting.

“We are here to represent the residents and the issue has become too politicised,” she said. “I have nothing against the media, but this was an informal meeting and it wasn’t the place for it.”

Briguglio retorted that the project was politicised by the Prime Minister’s aide Glenn Bedingfield on his personal blog.

“Bedingfield polticised the issue when he criticised me and asked where I was ten years ago. I was here ten years ago, at this very same table,” he said.

PL councilor Marianne Aquilina struck a more diplomatic tone, arguing that no political party should try and take political capital out of it and that the council should unite in favour of Sliema’s residents.

Sliema mayor Anthony Chircop said that planning lawyer Ian Vella Galea has agreed to represent them in this case, upon which Briguglio requested that the council also seek the aid of lawyer and environmental activist Claire Bonello.

“She was at the PA hearing and knows the case inside out, apart from the fact that she is also a Sliema resident,” he said.

The council also agreed to meet up with environmental NGO Din l-Art Helwa, who had sent them a letter to request that they appear as parties to the council’s appeal.

Briguglio said that the presence of Din l-Art Helwa will strengthen the council’s case, as its arguments are always based on careful research.

“It would make more sense for there to be one strong appeal, rather than two appeals that could trip each other up,” he said.

PN councilor Pierre Portelli said that student organisation Youth 4 the Environment had also approached them to ask to co-appeal the planning decision.

“Whoever we get on board, the main focus should be that the strategic planning for the appeal is done from the council and that we will be the authority to spearhead the appeal,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to piggyback the council.”

The Townsquare project, will comprise of 159 residential units, 4,719 square metres of offices, 8,241 square metres of commercial space and 748 parking spaces. It is set to become Malta’s tallest building, dwarfing the 23-floor Portomaso tower.

The tribunal is chaired by planning official Martin Saliba, and also includes architect and Freeport chairman Robert Sarsero and lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace, a former Labour candidate. Due to planning conflicts of interest, Sarsero is often substituted by Labour-leaning lawyer Andy Ellul.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Townsquare: Correspondence between ERA chairman and PA board members should be published

ERA chairman won't say what he thinks of skyscraper plans, still no decision on appeal
Environment Resource Authority chairman Victor Axiak is "not yet ready" to share his thoughts on the planned skyscrapers in Mrieħel and Sliema, given that the ERA has yet to decide whether to appeal the Planning Authority's decision to green light the developments. 
Prof. Axiak, who sits on the Planning Authority board, was roundly criticised by civil society organisations for having missed the controversial hearings due to illness. 
In a personal statement sent to the media, Prof. Axiak said he had submitted a request asking to nominate a proxy to the board when members could not attend "well before this matter erupted." 
He said the PA board chairman, board secretary and Environment Minister had been informed of his inability to attend the meetings on August 2, the same day he was discharged from hospital with instructions to rest for at least two weeks.
Prof. Axiak defended his decision to hand the memo outlining his thoughts to a solitary board member, Timmy Gambin, saying he did this to avoid exerting "unjust and unfair" pressure on other PA board members. 
"With hindsight, I do not expect others to share this view, but that is not my problem," Prof. Axiak wrote, adding that he had full faith in the integrity of all PA board members. 
Dr Gambin chose not to read out Prof. Axiak's memo about the Sliema Townsquare project during proceedings.
"I had specifically asked this member to make use of my memo as the member may seem fit, during the discussion. Furthermore we agreed that this would not in any way condition the way such member would be voting," Prof. Axiak noted.
On August 4, the PA gave the green light to a 38-floor skyscraper in Sliema, and another four in Mrieħel.
'We are watching you' - CSN
In a reaction, the Civil Society Network urged Prof. Axiak to make his memo publish, arguing that all correspondence between himself, the ERA and the PA board should be published. 
It argued that the PA's decision to approve skyscraper plans ran counter to existing policies and was made despite the absence of a masterplan on high-rise development. 
"Civil society is closely watching ERA's actions and expects it to put the environment before other considerations," the network said.

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Planning board knew ERA chairman would be absent from controversial PA meeting


James Debono - Malta Today 12 August 2016


ERA chairman refuses to publicly state position on Sliema skyscrapers • Confirms absence from controversial Planning Authority meeting was due to surgery

A highly controversial meeting of the Planning Authority which approved high rises in Sliema and Mriehel took place despite the knowledge that Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak would be absent due to health reasons.

In a statement issued today in his personal capacity, Axiak confirmed that he was admitted to hospital on July 30 to be operated the following day. He received specific instructions not to attend to his normal duties for at least two weeks.

“I immediately informed [everyone] that I will be indisposed for the PA board meetings of August 2 and 4,” Axiaq said, confirming that the Envrionment Minister, the Planning Authority chairman and board secretary had been made aware of his absence.

The Sliema project was approved by a majority of just one vote.

Axiak was reacting to environmental organisations which expressed "dismay" at the absence of ERA from such an important meeting.

In a joint statement issued yesterday, Flimkien Ghall-Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth and the  Ramblers Association said they would have asked for an adjournment of the meeting had they known of Axiak's absence.

Axiak also said that he "was not yet ready" to publish his opinion on the planned 38-storey tower in  Sliema, given that the ERA had yet to decide whether to appeal the Planning Authority's decision to green light the development.

In a statement issued yesterday, Civil Society Network called on ERA to publish all correspondence between its chairman and the Planning Authority on the matter.

Axiak had sent a detailed memo on both the Mriehel and the Sliema tower high-rise projects to board member Timothy Gambin, telling him to use the email as he deemed fit during the meeting. However, only Axiak’s views on the Mriehel towers were read out.

Gambin, an expert in underwater archaeology, voted for both projects during the public hearing. Contacted by MaltaToday, he preferred not to explain why Axiak’s views on the Sliema project were not relayed during the meeting.

"I specifically asked this member to make use of the memo as he deems fit, during the discussion. We also agreed that this would not in any way condition the way this member would be voting,” Axiak said.

He explained that he sent it to just one board member to as not “to place unjust and unfair pressure on such members”.

“With hindsight, I do not expect others to share this view, but that is not my problem. Furthermore, I have full respect and trust in the integrity of all Board members including the one to whom I sent this memo,” Axiak said.

Axiak told MaltaToday that after the meeting he also sent a copy of this memo to ERA board and to Environment Minister Jose Herrera.

"I thought that I owed them a full explanation on what had happened as a result of the media coverage on this matter,” he said.

Axiaq has refused to publish the memo in view of ERA's pending decision on whether to appeal against the two developments.

"I am not yet ready to publish the contents of this memo since ERA still needs to decide whether to appeal or not, against the PA's decision on these two high rise development."

In the part of the memo addressing the Mriehel proposal, Axiak questioned the quality of the photomontages presented by the developer especially the one depicting the view of Mriehel from Mdina. The development was approved by ten votes against two.


Sliema Council to discuss Townsquare Appeal on Wednesday 17 August

This Wednesday 17 August at 6pm Sliema Local Council will be meeting to discuss its appeal against the Townsquare development. 

Council meetings are open to the public and can also be seen through online internet streaming from the council website - http://sliemalocalcouncil.com/



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sliema residents say swimming zones are shrinking

Sliema residents swimming at Tigné have complained to the local council that the swimming zone there is smaller, despite the transport authority saying this is not the case. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier
Sliema residents swimming at Tigné have complained to the local council that the swimming zone there is smaller, despite the transport authority saying this is not the case. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier
Sliema residents swimming at Tigné have been flooding the local council with complaints, claiming the size of the swimming zone there has been reduced drastically.
According to a spokesman for Transport Malta, the swimming zone’s size has not decreased. In light of the complaints, however, the authority would be “verifying that all zones were implemented according to the coordinates laid down in the agreement”, he said.
Yet despite complaints streaming in daily, the council cannot do much to refute the claims by the transport authority, an issue that has long hindered the work that can be carried out by the council, according to Sliema councillor Michael Briguglio.
“There’s no way to disprove what Transport Malta are saying. Swimmers complain to us on a daily basis, but there is not much we can do to verify.
Unfortunately this is not the first time that our hands are tied and we are left with no other option but to wait for the competent authorities to take action
“This is one of many examples where the council must rely on a government authority that may be detached from the local situation,” Dr Briguglio told this newspaper yesterday.
A similar situation was reported at Exiles earlier this summer, with the authority informing the council the issue would be addressed and the zone would be extended once again, the councillor said.
According to Dr Briguglio, the council has to deal with such situations on a regular basis, insisting that while residents often turn to the council for assistance on such matters, there is often not much councillors can do.
“We work with residents, we know them, but unfortunately this is not the first time that our hands are tied and we are left with no other option but to wait for the competent authorities to take action,” he said.
Calling the situation a “bureaucratic mess”, Dr Briguglio said that in such cases, the council would take all the necessary steps to try and resolve the issue, but in the majority of cases, all it could do was wait for the authorities to take action.
He added that there were other problems in the locality that the council wanted to address but could not, because it relied on another authority to take action.
According to Dr Briguglio, the locality was presently dealing with parkers and street vendors who blatantly abuse the system, for instance, and while the council monitored each case closely, it could not do much to stop the abuse.
“There is a whole range of issues, and all we can do is send photos and ask authorities to take action,” Dr Briguglio said.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

SLC appeal against PA Townsquare Decision

[UPDATED] Sliema Local Council will be appealing against the PA approval of Townsquare. Hats off to Mayor Anthony Chircop and the other councillors supporting the appeal

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This morning I sent the following to all fellow Sliema Local Councillors:

Dear Councillors,

I am hereby proposing that SLC appeals against the PA decision on Townsquare as various policies were ignored.
Given that SLC is a registered objector, we have the duty to make sure that we used all options given to us by law to ensure that PA policies are adhered to.

Many residents are expecting SLC to  appeal against the PA decision.

Given that there is a very tight deadline to register appeal we would need to do this asap.

Can we decide asap please, and can SLC check on precise deadline for submission of appeal and other procedural requirements?

Regards
Michael Briguglio

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In the meantime, the Environment and Resources Authority, whose chairman failed to turn up for the PA decision meeting on Townsquare and Mriehel highrises due to illness, has stated that it will not be appealing.

In order to lodge an appeal, one has 30 days from when the permit decision is published on the government gazzette. One does not actually have to be a registered objector to file an appeal. The legislation allows any third party to lodge an appeal to the Tribunal Board within these 30 days. Anyone who lodges an appeal is advised to state that permit and works shall be suspended until an appeal decision is taken by the Appeals Board. Without a statement such statement, the developer can commence works after the 30 days elapse at his own risk.