Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fragile Sliema caves worth less than staircases according to MEPA




Risk to Sliema caves from naval clinic development valued at €25,000

The fragile cave system, which stretches for 33 metres below the promenade and Tower Road, includes the iconic Ghar il-Lembi and Ghar id-Dud caves, which according to previous scientific reports are in danger of collapse.

James Debono
Malta Today 23 December 2015
http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/60473/risk_to_sliema_caves_from_naval_clinic_development_valued_at_25000_?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed#.VoBHLxUrLIU

A €25,000 bank guarantee has been imposed by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) to ensure that excavations under the naval clinic, to make way for an eight-storey development by the Gasan Group, do not damage the fragile underlying cave system below the naval clinic.

This bank guarantee imposed on the Gasan group, to protect the Sliema caves, is considerably lower than the €47,000 bank guarantee imposed on Polidano group in 2007 to ensure the protection of two unique internal staircases and other internal features in two traditional townhouses in Cathedral Street. The Polidano Group forfeited €14,000 of the €47,000 bank guarantee after the staircases were destroyed.  

The fragile cave system, which stretches for 33 metres below the promenade and Tower Road, includes the iconic Ghar il-Lembi and Ghar id-Dud caves, which according to previous scientific reports are in danger of collapse.

The permit which included the bank guarantees was originally approved last year but had to be approved again following minor changes proposed by the developer. 

The bank guarantee is lower than that imposed on developments such as the redevelopment of town houses in Sliema. 

When asked how bank guarantees are calculated and why this particular bank guarantee was lower than that imposed in other cases, a spokesperson for MEPA argued that “heritage-related bank guarantees vary according to the heritage in question and whether the risks are perceived to be minimal, medium or high”. 

The spokesperson claimed that the bank guarantee is equivalent to the cost of restoration works and is forfeited if the perpetrator does not restore the damage and the works are “carried out by MEPA using the bank guarantee”.  

According to the MEPA spokesperson heritage-related bank guarantees are approved by the MEPA board and revised from time to time to reflect current market rates for certain restoration works.

No big risk to caves 

During the processing of the application the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s Environment Directorate (EPD) had expressed concern about vibrations from excavations required for developing by the Gasan Group of a two-level car park beneath the Sliema pjazzetta on the underlying Ghar id-Dud cave system. Similar concerns were expressed by the Sliema council.

But the Planning Directorate concluded that these excavations could still be carried out in a way that would not endanger the Ghar id-Dud and Ghar il-Lembi caves.

The EPD noted that the proposed underground car park beneath the pjazzetta is directly adjacent to the area identified as “moderately sensitive” to “external stress” in terms of cave and ground stability in a survey carried out in October 2004. 

The study was conducted to assess the impact of a car park which had been proposed below the existing promenade, in the immediate vicinity. 

Plans for the development of this car park were shelved by the previous administration after MaltaToday published the results of these studies. 

According to the report, Ghar il-Lembi has a “very weak” internal stability and could collapse in the “short term” while the internal stability of Ghar id-Dud is “weak” but not as weak as that of Ghar il-Lembi, making its collapse less imminent.

The EPD raised concerns on the works to be carried out in the vicinity of the sensitivity zones and requested that the underground car park be down scaled to avoid excavations in the area nearest to the sensitive zone and called for a targeted geo-technical study to assess the impact of excavations in the other areas. 

According to the EPD, since several karstic features are known to occur in the area “it cannot be safely assumed that the vibrations will not travel to the high sensitive zones, potentially causing adverse effects to the cave systems”. 

While taking note of these comments the Planning Directorate concluded that the proposed car park under the pjazzetta is further away from the sensitive area. The Planning Directorate insisted that the sensitivity zones do not extend below the open piazza. Moreover the 2004 report also states that in the areas of moderate sensitivity like that immediately in the vicinity of the proposed car park, small scale works can still take place if adequate precautions are taken.

A report commissioned by the Sliema local council in 2007 revealed that the faulted coast along Ghar id-Dud is retreating rapidly by the dislodgement of boulders along joints and faults, affecting the stability of the Tower Road promenade. The report warned that this could lead to either partial or total collapse of the caves, resulting in the promenade literally “caving in”, and causing a tragedy.

“If collapse is sudden and during daytime or early night time, injury and loss of life may result,” the report by Geotek Services warned.

€23,000 guarantee for facade

A further €23,000 bank guarantee is also being imposed to protect the remaining façade of the naval clinic, which was illegally demolished. The developers were fined €2,300 for this illegality because the application predated the introduction of the hefty fines introduced in 2012.

The MEPA board had already approved the permit last year but had to meet again to consider a modification of permit conditions to reflect the actual drawings approved by it. No changes were made to the bank guarantees approved last year.

The money deposited in the bank guarantee will only be released by MEPA following completion of the works. The developers will have to forfeit the amount if the permit condition is not abided by and MEPA is not precluded from taking further action to ensure that the condition is adhered to. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Xmas consultation for Sliema Skyscraper

MEPA has asked the Sliema Local Council to give feedback regarding the proposed Skyscraper on top of the Military barracks at ex-Fort Cambridge site. When the original permit was given to the Fort Cambridge developers, the apartments were approved on condition that the ex-military barracks is preserved. Now, the developers are proposing to build a 40-storey tower on top of the building. A few metres down the road, another skyscraper is being proposed by other developers for the Townsquare project. The consultation period provided by MEPA is bang right in the middle of the Xmas period and before the next Sliema Local Council monthly decision-making meeting.
 Sliema Local Council was informed as follows, re. Ref: TRK 159681 (EA00019/15) 
Reference No:      TRK 162247 (EA00030/15)
Location:              Site at, Triq Tigné c/w, Triq il-Ponta Ta' Dragut, Sliema, Malta
Proposal:               Retention of the historic existing facades of the Fort Cambridge barracks building and demolition of the existing southwest facade and internal structure. Proposed excavation and construction of a new high-rise hotel Class 3B including all ancillary facilities and amenities.
Kindly be advised that the abovementioned development application requires an Environmental Planning Statement (EPS) as per EIA Regulations, 2007 (S.L. 504.79).
 A Project Description Statement (PDS) for the proposed development has been submitted and may be found on the following link:
Kindly provide, within 21 days of receipt of the email (7 January 2016), any information that you wish to see included in the Terms of Reference of the EPS. Kindly email your comments to eiamalta@mepa.org.mt.

Residents, NGOs and civic-minded citizens are invited to send me proposals at mbrig@hotmail.com so that I may propose together with my colleague councillors within Sliema Local Council. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Building Construction sites consultation process


The Building Regulations Office inviting the general public to take part in a consultation process on the draft Legal Notice regarding management of construction sites. The consultation process ends on Friday 29 January 2016.  
Citizens are encouraged to send comments on the draft Legal Notice so as to suggest improvements in the management of building sites, including comments relating to aesthetics, so that contractors are prevented from continuing to uglify and to dirty our towns and villages.
Email to: bro.mti@gov.mt

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Residents could be ‘elbowed’ out by Tigné skyscrapers

James Debono, Malta Today, 8 December 2015

http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/60024/residents_could_be_elbowed_out_by_tign_skyscrapers?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter#.VmgQZPmrQdU

A project development statement warns that that the new hotel may encourage “further investment in commercial activities”, which could result in “pressures on existing uses, which could be residential, to be elbowed out of the area”.


The proposed 40-storey hotel in Tigné could trigger even more commercial development in the area which would ultimately push existing residents out of Tigné, a project development statement (PDS) prepared by the GAP Holding’s consultants ERSLI warns.

The document warns that that the new hotel may encourage “further investment in commercial activities”, which could result in “pressures on existing uses, which could be residential, to be elbowed out of the area”.

The hotel itself was conceived in response to the increase in investment in the Sliema and Tigné commercial centres, between which it will be located.

According to the document the intensification of commercial development in the area depends on a number of factors, including the performance of the local economy, the balance between supply and demand for commercial property, the price of property and the impacts on the quality of life of the ‘locals’ by concentrations of commercial and recreational activity and construction works in the vicinity of their residences and neighbourhoods.

The proposed hotel is bound to attract potential investors interested in exploiting the new opportunities which it may engender. 

With regard to the need for holistic planning, the PDS throws the ball back to MEPA, noting that “normally, changes in the ‘footprints’ of specific urban zones are controlled through the planning system and environmental regulations.”

But so far each project proposed in Tigné is being assessed in isolation and the cumulative impacts are not being assessed. 

Traffic impact

So far studies have only assessed the traffic and air quality impacts of each proposed project separately.

Apart from the Fort Cambridge hotel, MEPA is presently considering a 38-storey tower near Villa Drago.  

While the Tigné hotel is projected to generate an extra 1,500 trips a day, the 38-storey tower will create an extra 3,503 daily trips. This adds up to around 5,000 daily additional trips.   

Air quality studies for the town square project predicted the impact on pedestrians at Gnien George Bonello Dupuis as “negligible” for PM10 (particulate matter) and “slight” for nitrogen dioxide, while sensitive receptors on the Qui Si Sana seafront was deemed to be slight for PM10 to moderate for nitrogen dioxide. But this fails to account for the additional cars generated by other new projects in the area.

Both projects will result in a substantial number of heavy-vehicle trips in order to transport demolition and excavation wastes away from the respective sites. 

It is estimated that 1,700 trips would be required daily to transport construction material from and to the Fort Cambridge site.

According to the consultants of the Fort Cambridge project the impact of the traffic generated by the proposed hotel depends on the number of clients who make use of cars for their needs and the times of the day when inbound and outbound trips are generated.

Conference facilities would generate traffic during peak times, especially in cases where participants sleep in other hotels. 

Studies show that the proposed hotel will generate 1,000 additional car trips over and above the traffic which would have been generated if the site was developed for offices as originally foreseen.

To mitigate this impact on traffic the consultants call on the developers to formulate a green transport plan, which for example could involve the offering of incentives for employees to make use of public transport or to invest in cars using gas fuelled engines or electricity powered ones, or hybrids. 

From offices to hotel

The outline permit approved in 2007 provided for 5,600m2 of office space. 

The proposal to change the allocated land use was made because the development of the Sliema and Tigné Point centres indicated that a hotel for upmarket business travellers had the potential to succeed. 

Originally the development in the former barracks that had recently housed the Holiday Inn in Sliema was limited to four floors by a development brief approved by MEPA in 2006.

The height limitation in the Tigné area was introduced “in order to conserve the ex-military barracks building”, the brief reads. 

According to the approved brief, the existing ex-military barracks building “is to be retained due to its historical and architectural importance”, but internal alterations are allowed.  

“This building will act as a buffer between new higher development on the site and the surrounding residential blocks. No additional floors are to be allowed over this landmark building,” according to the brief.

But the PDS makes reference to two new policies approved in the past two years; one identifying Tigné as an area for high rise development and one allowing stand alone hotels to add any number of additional storeys.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority is also claiming that a policy on hotel heights approved in 2014 has superseded the 2006 development brief for Tigné’s Fort Cambridge, which banned any additional storeys on the historical building.

There is an apparent snag: the new policy on hotel heights does not apply to development on “scheduled sites” like historical buildings, such as the former military barracks. 

But the former barracks is not a scheduled building. A MEPA spokesperson recently confirmed that the site “has been proposed by MEPA for grade 2 protection”, which would not allow the application of the new hotel heights policy. 

But no final decision has been taken about the grade 2 scheduling.

Impact on landscape

A project development statement (PDS) recognises that the 40-storey hotel proposed on the Fort Cambridge barracks proposed by GAP will have a significant impact on the surrounding landscape.

“In the end, the building is intended to constitute a strong statement as is clearly shown in the montages. For this reason, one should expect the proposal to be the subject of public debate.” 

Photomontages show a dramatic impact on views from Valletta, Manoel Island, Bighi and from the university. 

The photomontages do not take into account a nearby tower proposed by the Gasan group near Villa Drago, which is set to rise to 38 storeys. 

According to the authors of the PDS (ERSLI consultants) the “arguments for and against buildings of this type are well rehearsed by now, and the public consultation process concerning this project is not expected to produce new arguments regarding its impact on the landscape and visual amenity”. 

Of particular significance is the view from Bighi, which shows the new tower dominating the Valletta skyview. Since Valletta is recognised as a world heritage site, views towards it are also protected by UNESCO rules.

Din l-Art Helwa has expressed concern that the new hotel would undermine Valletta’s status as a world heritage site.

Din l-Art Helwa warned that the view of the city, which earned it its World Heritage status, “will be compromised for the sake of a building which we can very well do without.”

For DLH the proposal is totally unsuited to the tiny size of Malta.

“Its overpowering, dominating presence will be difficult to escape, and will be a constant obstacle to the people of Madliena, St Andrews, Sliema, Kappara, Gzira, Msida, Ta’ Xbiex, Senglea, Birgu, Cospicua, Kalkara, Mdina, and Rabat” DLH said.

Monday, December 7, 2015

40-storey hotel to make 'strong statement'


James Debono
Malta Today 3 December 2015
http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/59915/40storey_hotel_to_make_strong_statement#.VmWPAvmrQdV 

A project development statement (PDS) recognises that the 40-storey hotel proposed on the Fort Cambridge barracks proposed by GAP will have a significant impact is on the surrounding landscape.

“In the end, the building is intended to constitute a strong statement as is clearly shown in the montages. For this reason, one should expect the proposal to be the subject of public debate.”

Photomontages show a dramatic impact on views from Valletta, Manoel Island, Bighi and from the university.

The photomontages do not take in to account a nearby tower proposed by Gasan group near Villa Drago, which is set to rise to 38 storeys.

According to the authors of the PDS (ERSLI consultatents) the “arguments for and against buildings of this type are well rehearsed by now, and the public consultation process concerning this project is not expected to produce new arguments regarding its impact on the landscape and visual amenity”.

Of particular significance is the view from Bighi which shows the new tower dominating the Valletta skyview.  Since Valletta is recognised as a world heritage site, views towards it are also protected by UNESCO rules.

The PDS reveals that the development would generate an additional average annual daily traffic of 1,527 vehicles over and above the 3500 additional daily cars generated by the Townsquare project.  So far no study has been conducted to assess the cumulative impacts of all developments proposed in the area.

A study on the shadows created by the hotel shows that this would mostly affect the residential area in the mornings up to about 13:00hrs but the extent of the shadows vary from season to season. In the summer and winter afternoons, the longer shadow would not fall on the residential area but on Fort Cambridge. 

 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Townsquare development to be discussed by General Services Board




Re:  PA 01191/15 – Appeal to the General Services  Board re (a)  use of a closed drainage system and not a traditional open galley; and (b) use of basement as offices & commercial premises – Townsquare (Old Union Club) between Tower Road, Hughes Hallet Street, Tigne Street, Qui-S-Sana Lane, ix-Xatt Ta’ Qui-Si-Sana, Sliema

Registered objectors to the Townsquare project have been informed that the General Services Board will be discussing the case in caption on Friday 11th December at around 11.30am at the Public Health Regulation Department, 1st floor of ex-Outpatients Department, St. Luke’s Hospital, G’Mangia.

Objectors have been informed that "in view that the issues to be discussed are related to but do not represent the ‘entirety’ of the Townsquare application and because of the physical constraints that do not allow such a large number of persons to attend the sitting, you are being requested to organize the contestation process and nominate amongst yourselves a maximum of not more than five persons".

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Educational initiatives in Sliema: A good year



Michael Briguglio - Local Councillor
(This article appears in Tas-Sliema magazine, December 2015)

2015 was a good year in terms of educational initiatives involving Sliema Local Council. The council has tried to reach out to people from different backgrounds so as to increase social inclusion and educational potential.  On behalf of the Council I would like to thank all educators for their work.

The storytelling initiative for kids aged between 5 and 7 is now in its fourth year. The initiative is held on Saturday mornings at the Margaret Mortimer Public Library, Blanche Huber Street, and helps encourage children to discover the wonderful world of libraries.

For the second consecutive year, a reading and writing course for kids was held in Summer. This course helps primary school children improve their skills in English and Maltese. This summer, 25 children participated in the course.

Beading, a consistently-popular course, is once again being held during the current months. This year’s course started in October and attracted 16 participants.

During the year, Sliema Local Council also held a number of talks in philosophy, art, health education, and heritage.

219 persons applied for the Sliema Lifelong Learning Courses, which are organized by the Ministry of Education with the collaboration of Sliema Local Council. Sliema council is proud that 11 courses are being held in this regard, namely: 

 -         English as a foreign language Level 2 – 25 applicants
-          English – 12 applicants
-          English as a foreign language level 1 – 22 applicants
-          English conversation – 24 applicants
-          French – 20 applicants
-          Health Wellbeing and successful Ageing – 16 applicants
-          Lace Making (open class) – 24 applicants
-          Maltese as a foreign language Level 1 – 24 applicants
-          Maltese as a foreign language Level 2 – 20 applicants
-          Spanish level 1 – 20 applicants
-          Spanish level 2 – 12 applicants

Sliema Council has also had very positive feedback for fitness classes (yoga and pilates), which are held in conjunction with SkolaSport.  

Sliema Local Council also proposed some other courses, which unfortunately did not attract a significant number of applicants. We hope that such courses will attract more interest in the future.

The Local Council is currently looking into new initiatives, and we welcome feedback from the public in this regard.  Indeed, when deciding on which courses to offer, two main considerations include public demand as well as success of previous courses.

We also look into the social and educational priorities of our locality. In this regard, Sliema Council is giving increased importance to the concepts of social inclusion and integration, and we are looking into possibilities of more courses which emphasize such concepts, particularly since Sliema is a locality characterised by much diversity.

I therefore invite those interested to send me any feedback or proposals regarding the possibility of new courses. Feedback on courses currently in place and queries related to education are also most welcome.

Best wishes for the festive season.

mbrig@hotmail.com




Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sliema top locality for recycling of waste


Sliema emerged as the locality with the highest percentage of recycled household waste between 2010 and October 2015, according to figures presented in Parliament.

Sliema recycles 12.75% of its waste, followed by Ta' Xbiex (11.98%) and Balzan (10.48%).

Worst performers are Xaghjra (1.29%) followed by Mtarfa (1.99%) and Valletta (2.03%).

More information here.

Christmas Lunch - Sliema Local Council


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tower set to dominate Sliema skyline


James Debono
Malta Today 18 November 2015
http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/59382/tower_set_to_dominate_sliema_skyline?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter#.VkxUrfmrQdU

The building of a huge 38-storey tower proposed by Gasan Group is set to have a dramatic impact on views enjoyed by pedestrians strolling along Ghar id-Dud and will also break the skyline when viewed from as far as Rinella Bay in Kalkara.

An addendum to the Environment Impact Assessment, which includes photomontages of the project, notes that the project will “dominate the (Ghar id-Dud) skyline” and result in a “large change to the overall view”.

The building will also interrupt “the otherwise relatively uniform historic view” resulting in a “noticeable change” when viewed from Rinella Bay in Kalkara. 

The skyline is also “broken” when viewed from Marsamxett Harbour from Triq l-Assedju l-Kbir. 

When viewed from is-Sur tal-Inglizi, the tower will rise above the Midi and Fort Cambridge development, which already break the skyline. 

But the tower will be barely visible from Mdina. 

The revised EIA claims that it is “hard to predict” the cumulative impact of the 38-storey tower together with other developments which can be proposed in the future. 

The study refers to the proposed 40-storey hotel on the site of the former Holiday Inn near Fort Cambridge but notes that this development “is still at planning stage and has no valid development permit”. Therefore no photomontages showing the impact of the two developments together have been published. 

Originally proposed as a 32-storey development in 2005, the height was reduced to 23 storeys in 2011 and raised again, to 38 storeys, in 2014. 

Although the height of the main tower has been increased the number of apartments has been reduced from 181 to 163. This is because originally the project also included a 15-storey tower, which has now been reduced to five storeys.

This means that the additional daily traffic generated by the development has been reduced from 4,240 to 3,503.  

Developers who insist they have a right to develop the area claim that the project would have the same traffic impact if developed as a low-rise development consisting of 26 eight-storey blocks.

Since the number of additional cars has been reduced the EIA concludes that there is no need for additional studies on air quality.

The original study predicted the impact of the project on pedestrians at Gnien George Bonello Dupuis as “negligible” for PM10 (particulate matter) and slight for nitrogen dioxide while that on sensitive receptors on ix-Xatt ta’ Qui Si Sana was deemed to be slight for PM10 to moderate for nitrogen dioxide. The project’s impact on air quality is now expected to remain the same or “slightly improve”.

If approved the town square project will also include a new retail development in the open spaces around the tower as a continuation of high street shopping in Bisazza Street and Tower Road. It will also include the restoration of Villa Drago.