Friday, February 7, 2014

Villa Bonici application turned down pending a development Brief

Noel Grima
The Malta Independent 7th February 2014

The Mepa board yesterday unanimously rejected an application to demolish an existing building and develop a residential area in the gardens of historic Villa Bonici in Sliema.

Villa Bonici is one of the many villas that used to be found in Sliema, with a frontage on the marina and a huge garden with features and with the main door in what used to be Prince of Wales Street and now Manwel Dimech Street.

The application has always been marked as a controversial one and no less than 600 representation letters were received by Mepa objecting to the proposal.

The Mepa board had already considered the proposal some time ago and had postponed a decision so that the applicant could present a different plan.

But Architect Edwin Mintoff, questioned by the Mepa chairman at the beginning of the sitting, admitted there has been no real change in the application. The applicant had remained in contact with the Directorate and is awaiting its direction.

The problem, in short, is that the application requires a Development Brief to go forward but it was not at all clear, up till yesterday, who should be the one to carry out the Development Brief. Previously, it was only Mepa that could carry out a Development Brief but now they can also be done by the applicant.

All parties then agreed there was no point in proceeding with the application that was being discussed before the Development Brief is carried out.

Sliema Councillor Michael Briguglio who was accompanied by the Sliema mayor, said the council, which is a registered objector, does not object to a Development Brief as long as there is adequate public consultation.

One must ensure that things are not carried out as they did at Fort Cambridge where the Development Brief was not followed.

Adrian Gatt, a resident and an objector, said the top part of the gardens was within the UCA up till 2006 but this was changed when the local plan was approved without public consultation. It was also scheduled but now even the building height limit has been removed.

Dr Mintoff replied that his plans had kept to the building heights of the buildings there. It is not true that the entire area was scheduled: only some elements have been scheduled and the application will respect them. The applicant has also discovered other elements that were not scheduled and will be restoring them.

When the application was thus put to vote, it received a unanimous vote of rejection.

Once the meeting was formally over, Astrid Vella from Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar stood up and invited Mepa to investigate how such an important part of Sliema had been erased out of the UCA.

The board members quickly showed they resented this intrusion after the meeting was formally over and some told the chairman he did not have to reply to her.

Ms Vella reiterated the change was made before the local plan was approved in 2006 with no consultation whatsoever.

Timmy Gambin, a Mepa board member, said it was not right that Ms Vella arrived late to the meeting and then hijacked it.

Dr Mintoff commented Ms Vella should have protested when the local plan was being approved (in Parliament).

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