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.

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