Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summer in Sliema

As we head into Summer, the Sliema Local Council will be involved in various activities, events and initiatives.

The Sliema Arts Festival will take place between 17 and 19 July, and promises to provide an exciting mix of activities which will cater for different tastes and styles. One can read more about the Festival elsewhere in the Sliema magazine and in other local council promotional material.

During the summer months, much focus will be made on Sliema’s beaches. Daily requirements such as accessibility, cleanliness and safety are top priorities for the Local Council which works in collaboration with Government Departments and entities in this regard.

I appeal to everyone using Sliema’s beaches to keep them as clean as possible, and also not to park cars on the rocks or other no-parking areas. Unfortunately, litter such as dog droppings, cigarette buts and plastic bottles are ever-present, despite the daily clean-ups and enforcement from wardens

Accessibility is also a major priority in play areas and other facilities in Sliema. The upgrading of the children’s playing area at Independence Garden was recently awarded for its accessibility features. This was an encouraging achievement for the local council and inspires us to keep giving priority to accessibility in upcoming projects.

The Sliema Council is also highly concerned with the Chalet structure, which suffered damage during the Winter months. Discussions are on the way to see what can be done to ensure safety and devise alternatives to the decaying structure.

During summer, the Local Council will be providing lessons in reading and writing in Maltese and English for Primary school children. Besides, applications will for the highly popular courses in Lifelong Learning and Performative Arts will be available between July 15 and August 7 from this website: http://lifelonglearning.gov.mt/. A wide range of courses will be on offer for the upcoming academic year. Sliema’s public library at Blanche Huber Street will be open as usual and I invite residents to make use of its services, which include lending of books and internet.

On a final note, my roles in the Local Council have been confirmed by Mayor Anthony Chircop, for which I thank him. Hence, I have been confirmed as Chairperson for the committees for Education and for Accessibility and Disability; I am a member in the Finance, Tenders and EU Committees; and I also am a new member of the Committee for Public Gardens, Playing Fields and Promenade. My responsibilities for Coastal Environment and for Environmental pollution have been confirmed, too.

I invite those interested in contributing to these areas/committees to contact me at mbrig@hotmail.com

This article appears in Sliema Local Council magazine, Summer 2015
Click here for online view

Friday, June 26, 2015

40-storey hotel proposed in traffic-congested Sliema

New 40-storey hotel to ‘complement’ other high rises

Developers claim that new hotel will mostly cast a shadow on their own property

James Debono
Malta Today
25 June 201

A new forty-storey hotel in Sliema will be casting its shadow on the neighbouring Fort Cambridge apartment block, developers GAP Holdings claimed when asked on the shadowing effect on neighbouring residences.

“Most of the time, especially during the afternoon, the shadowing will be on our own property,” GAP Holdings director Paul Attard told MaltaToday.

According to Attard the effect of the hotel tower on the landscape has to be seen in the context that the Tigné peninsula has been earmarked as a high-rise area in the recently approved policy regulating building heights. “Therefore, more high rise buildings are expected to complement one another,” Attard said.

But it is this fear of a concentration of high-rise developments in an area with a population density of 4,135 per square kilometre which is creating most concern among residents.

A 38-storey tower is already being proposed next to Villa Drago, and other developments may follow.

“We are already experiencing a gridlock of traffic,” Sliema councillor for Alternattiva Demokratika, Michael Briguglio told MaltaToday.

Briguglio has called on MEPA to assess the cumulative social and environmental impacts of all proposed developments before taking a decision on any single proposal.

He said that while the Fort Cambridge development was approved by a development brief, which limited the height of the project to 16 storeys, no reference to the development of a 40-storey hotel was made in this brief.

He also told MaltaToday that MEPA has informed him that the Environmental Protection Directorate is still assessing whether an Environment Impact Assessment is required.

On his part, Paul Attard confirmed that the Malta Tourism Authority has given GAP Holdings the green light to apply with MEPA to build a 40-storey hotel. But the MTA will require further information, details and MEPA permits prior to the final approval.

The application submitted to MEPA is for the erection of a 5-star hotel having 368 rooms. “At present we are dealing with various renowned management chains,” Attard said, describing the hotel as “the first of its kind in Malta, being a city hotel, more business orientated and not the resort type.”

He also claims the hotel will create 300 new jobs. “The shape of the building was developed following various designs and studies with the scope of creating pleasant massing to the high rise as an iconic building.”

Townsquare 38-storey highrise: Sliema Local Council sends objection to MEPA

No metro, no high-rise, Sliema council says

The council warned that there is no means of improving the road network to accommodate the increased traffic in the Qui-Si-Sana area.

James Debono
Malta Today
25 June 2015

The Sliema local council has warned that “unless a metro is created,” the 38-storey tower next to Villa Drago should not be allowed.

The council warned that there is no means of improving the road network to accommodate the increased traffic in the Qui-Si-Sana area.

“With no stretch of the imagination can there be such a development without a radical upgrade of the infrastructure to access the area, such as by metro,” the council said in its representations sent to MEPA on the project.

According to a previous impact assessment when a 23-storey tower was proposed, traffic in the area was set to increase by 27,000 cars.

The council also expressed its doubts on the economic feasibility of the project, noting that several blocks in the area contain a considerable number of unsold apartments while other apartments are about to be put on the market by other projects. The council raised questions on the economic impact of having an over supply of properties and whether this could endanger Malta’s economic stability.

Moreover it also noted that the lack of planning in the area militates against attracting high net worth individuals to Malta.

“It is totally illogical to try to sell or rent apartments to high net worth individuals and then expect them to live adjacent to a construction site in view of lack of planning,” it argued.

It also warned that construction is bound to take years of excavations and will also involve transporting construction material to the site. This will have an enormous impact on the noise and dust levels and on traffic congestion in this major tourism spot.

The council also objected to the higher shading on neighbouring residents and on the Qui-Si-Sana foreshore and sea. The Environment Planning Statement for the original 23 storey proposal had warned that “the scheme will extend this impact (shading) further over the sea. It will also impact additional areas of the rocky foreshore at noon insofar as there will no longer be patches of sunshine.”

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Plans for more Tigné towers raise concerns

Photo by Darrin Zammit Lupi

The Times, 11 June 2015
by Caroline Muscat

A tower planned for Fort Cambridge, in Tigné is an entirely new proposal the Sliema local council insists it has never heard about.

It is one of two towers planned for the crowded peninsula, raising once again the controversy over congestion, air pollution and population density.

The topic is to be raised at the Sliema council by councillor Michael Briguglio, a former chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika, who pointed out the Fort Cambridge tower had never been on the cards.

While the tower at the Town Square project had been debated, the 40-storey high tower on top of Fort Cambridge officers’ mess is entirely new. It will be Malta’s highest tower block.

“We were never given any indication of such heights. I did my PhD on the development, so I know a great deal about the case. This wasn’t in the plans,” Dr Briguglio said.

Read more in Times of Malta.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Sliema faces 40 & 38 storey highrise overdevelopment in Tigne'

Sliema’s new towers to dwarf Portomaso
James Debono
Malta Today, 7 June 2015

The ‘Dubai-fication’ of the Sliema skyline is in full swing, with two newly proposed towers fighting for the honour of becoming Malta’s tallest buildings.

As far as plans go, a 40-storey tower being proposed on top of the Fort Cambridge officers’ mess is set to become Malta’s tallest tower block.

In a separate development, plans for the town square project proposed by Mark Gasan, the son of magnate Joseph Gasan, have also been changed.

Plans submitted last week show the height of the main tower increasing from the 34 storeys proposed in September 2014 to 38 storeys. In 2010 the development was limited to 23 storeys.

If approved the two Sliema towers will be higher than any other building in Malta, surpassing by far the Portomaso tower, which is 23 floors. Not very far away, the Metropolis development in Gzira is set to rise to 33 floors.

40 storeys on Fort Cambridge

The application proposing the erection of a 40-storey hotel also foresees the “retention of the historic existing facades of the Fort Cambridge barracks” and the “demolition of the existing southwest facade and the ‘internal structures’.”

The design of the high-rise buildings is being prepared by leading architect Ray Demicoli, who designed the Portomoso tower and marina developments, and is currently designing plans for the Zonqor point American University, the proposed Costa del Sol Hotel in Ghadira and the proposed extension of the Ramla Bay Hotel.

In 2014 Demicoli was also one of a number of architects chosen to sit on a committee entrusted with drafting a new policy on building heights, which was approved by the government in 2014.

MaltaToday had already revealed in January that the barracks had been identified for a high-rise hotel development.

MEPA’s Planning Directorate had held “preliminary discussions” on a proposal to develop a “new hotel” on the abandoned site of the former Holiday Inn in Tigné, Sliema, a spokesperson for the Malta Environment and Planning Authority confirmed.

When asked whether a high-rise development is being proposed in the barracks area, Paul Attard, director of GAP Developments Plc, said the company has “no particular plans” for the site but confirmed that it “is looking at all possibilities available according to the current building policies”.

The building, whose façade will be retained in the proposed development, includes the officers’ quarters dating back to the British colonial era. The building has been left in a shabby and abandoned state for the past decade, despite being proposed for Grade 2 scheduling by MEPA.

Over the past months residents have denounced “countless mysterious fires” and a general lack of maintenance which have made the abandoned building a haven for “vermin of all kinds”.

The permit issued in 2010, obliging developers to restore Fort Cambridge, did not impose any obligations with regard to the upkeep of the British era barracks. Currently the developers are conducting works to restore the nearby fort.

Although the site is adjacent to the high-rise Fort Cambridge development, it also lies in proximity to low-rise residential houses.

The barracks is being proposed for Grade 2 scheduling by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. If scheduled, the building itself will be protected from demolition but alterations can be made to its interior. Recently the façade of the naval clinic was integrated in an eight-storey development next to the Pjazzetta at Ghar il-Lembi in Sliema.

38 storeys in Sliema Townsquare

The Townsquare project, which includes the premises of the former Union Club and the scheduled Villa Drago, which is to be restored, dates back to 2005 when an application was presented to construct a shopping hall, residential units and an underground car park on this site.

A Project Development Statement presented by the Gasan Group in 2007 proposed a 32-storey tower on the site, apart from a public square, pedestrianised areas and a number of smaller blocks.

Three years later the height of the tower was slashed to 23 storeys, but a new tower rising to 15 storeys was also proposed along with the central tower.

An update to the Environment Planning Statement presented by the developers in 2010 stated that the building heights were changed following discussions with MEPA.

In 2012, a revised environment impact study recommended that people should close their windows to mitigate the noise impact of the development, prompting a reaction by former environment minister Mario de Marco, who described this recommendation as “unreasonable”.

The studies commissioned by the developers in 2010 – after the height of the main tower was slashed to 23 storeys – concluded that the project will have a “minor impact” with regard to the shadowing on the neighbourhood.

But the same study acknowledges that the project will increase the shadowing on the public open spaces along the Qui-Si-Sana sea-front.

“The scheme will extend this impact further over the sea. It will also impact additional areas of the rocky foreshore at noon insofar as there will no longer be patches of sunshine.”

The EPS update (based on a maximum height of 23 storeys) also assessed the impact on the landscape.

The greatest visual impact was felt from a viewpoint near the Preluna Hotel where the skyline will be broken by the tower as well as by the Fort Cambridge development. The impact on this spot is deemed to be major.

Since the site sits behind the Fort Cambridge and Midi developments, the view from Is-Sur tal-Inglizi in Valletta was deemed to be “minor”.

The development was not visible from Bighi and Vittoriosa and “barely noticeable” from Mdina and from Smart City.
Studies presented by the developers when 23 storeys were proposed estimate that the project will increase peak flows in Qui-Si-Sana from the present 24,444 to 28,874 vehicles.
 The proposal was revised following the approval of the new heights policy which identified the

Tigné peninsula as one of the sites where tall buildings over 10 storeys can be permitted.

In March MEPA informed objectors that it was awaiting the submission of a revised proposal in view of the new policy on building heights.
Tigné as the new Dubai

The Tigné peninsula, which already includes the 17-storey high Fortina Hotel and the 20-storey high Fort Cambridge apartment blocks is one of the six localities where tall buildings can be developed. The other five are Gzira, Qawra, Paceville, Marsa and Mriehel.

The Tigné peninsula was included in the high-rise zone, despite the concern expressed by the Rehabilitation Projects Office (RPO), the government office responsible for protecting Valletta’s UNESCO World Heritage status, that this could endanger its unique status.

The RPO questioned the inclusion of Tigné as one of six locations suitable for over 11-storey buildings.
“Tigné is within the buffer zone and immediate context of Valletta and a significant change in its character will severely affect that of Valletta itself – highly threatening its World Heritage status,” a report presented to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority by architects Mirielle Fsadni and Wendy Jo Attard warned.

The report warns that the World Heritage status is not an “automatic right” but can be revoked, as was about to happen to Cologne’s Cathedral following the proposal of a high-rise building in its vicinity.

MEPA replied to the RPO’s submission by pointing out that high buildings already exist in Tigné, which has been designated as a commercial hub.
According to MEPA these two factors weigh in favour of locating more tall buildings in the area. “The designation of Tigné as an appropriate location for tall buildings could be an opportunity to consider it holistically with the aim of improving the views from Valletta.”

For MEPA the issue at stake is whether “more tall buildings will result in more harm to the quality of views from and towards Valletta” or contribute to a “more sensitive and holistic approach” to the visual impact on Valletta.