Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tower set to dominate Sliema skyline

James Debono
Malta Today 18 November 2015

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.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Al fresco dining: Sliema council wants enforcement

The system is set to do away with multiple permits from the MEPA, Transport Malta and the Lands Department, but it remains unclear which entity would clamp down on those establishments breaching the new rules.

James Debono
Malta Today 5 November 2015‏

A new planning policy which proposes a one stop system for permits for establishments setting tables and chairs on public land fails to indicate which entity would be responsible for the enforcement of the new rules.

The system is set to do away with multiple permits from the MEPA, Transport Malta and the Lands Department, but it remains unclear which entity would clamp down on those establishments breaching the new rules.

The Sliema council – one of the councils most affected by the new rules due to the large number of establishments along its promenades – expressed disappointment that “there is no mention as to which entity will be responsible for enforcement” of the proposed regulations. 

In its submissions to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority on the policy proposed to regulate the sector, the council insisted that the success of such a policy was highly dependent on the level of enforcement in place. 

Moreover the council laments that the role of local councils in enforcement will be weakened considerably through the new planning laws in view of the removal of part of the present planning act which states that a number of minor encroachments on public property “can be removed at the request of any public authority, including the local council”. 

Neither does the policy oblige public authorities to consult with local councils when issuing permits for outside catering establishments. The Sliema council is insisting on the right of local councils to have the legal basis to request the removal of illegally positioned tables and chairs.

The new policy, if approved, will ban new kiosks from setting tables and chairs outside. But it will allow restaurants to place tables and chairs to half the width of public promenades or belvederes. The policy indicates that in these cases, tables and chairs have to be set facing the road, with pedestrians having the space facing the sea.

Even on promenades, the area reserved for pedestrians is set at a minimum of 1.5 metres – which is barely the space required for two people to walk side by side. 

The new law also regulates the setting up of tables and chairs on both sides of any pavement with a width greater than 2.7 metres. In such cases a 1.5-metre minimum corridor has to be kept as a free passageway for pedestrians.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Will the wardens system improve?

Times of Malta, 2 November 2015
Some months ago, Local Councils Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Buontempo said that the warden system had become a ‘ticket-issuing machine’ which required change.
In his words, government’s reform in the sector “will transform wardens from Gestapo officers hiding behind trees ready to suck the money out of citizens’ pockets into friends of our community”. Consequently the new system would be credible, sustainable and would take on a more civil and educational role.
Through the new system, a government agency will regulate the sector and will procure warden services from private operators at a fixed price.
Will this reform produce a better enforcement system?
I for one am not convinced that a centralised agency under the control of central government is the best way forward. True, such an agency may benefit from economies of scale, but on the other hand it may add another layer of bureaucracy to a system which is already characterised by too much red tape and too little transparency and effective results.
Perhaps it would have been better to have a system which gives more power to local councils, which, after all, are more in touch with their localities’ immediate needs.
Questions have also been raised on the method of appointment of the head of the new government agency. It is a political one on the basis of trust, and not on merit through an open, public call for applications.
I do acknowledge that certain positions within the public sector require persons of trust. But I fail to see how the head of an enforcement agency should be handpicked by the respective minister (or prime minister).
Consequently, will the head be loyal to the political whims of his political masters? Will this result in uneven enforcement, for example when elections are approaching?
Notwithstanding the issues I mentioned above, I wish to refer to certain matters which I hope will be tackled by the new agency.
Such a centralised agency may benefit from economies of scale, but on the other hand it may add another layer of bureaucracy
First, I hope that wardens take action against heavy polluters. These include many old cars, certain delivery vans, certain minibuses and coaches, a good deal of construction trucks and other vehicles. They are not only producing pollution levels which should not be tolerated in any self-respecting society but, in the case of commercial vehicles, they are a source of unfair competition to others. For example, in the waste collection sector, some companies are using new trucks which produce minimal pollution, whilst others are using trucks which are only fit for scrapping.
Second, wardens should enforce on bus lanes. I recently learned that only 12 tickets were issued on the Sliema-Gzira one. Is this right, when cowboy drivers frequently swerve into the bus lane at high speed, to the danger of pedestrians and to the frustration of other drivers who follow regulations?
Third, wardens should take immediate action against construction trucks blocking roads without a local council permit, cars parked abusively on pavements, public spaces and other areas for a length of time. I do agree that at times drivers have no choice but to park temporarily in non-parking spaces in the case of deliveries, transportation of kids or elderly persons, and so forth, but this is a far cry from those who permanently park their cars in public areas such as disability ramps and beaches.
In this regard, it is imperative that wardens operate around the clock. As things stand, it is more likely to see wardens operating during office hours, but everyone knows that enforcement is required at all times of the day, including weekends, when local council offices are closed.
Finally, Malta’s enforcement system should make more use of green wardens. Currently, they are too costly for cash-stripped local councils, and hence their deployment is minimal. No wonder that dog pooh, rubbish bags and other unsightly waste feature prominently in various parts of the country.
I agree with Buontempo that wardens have an important educational role. This can help increase a sense of civic pride and respect. But I also wish to remind him that when front seatbelt legislation was introduced, it was the fining system which made it work. The same cannot be said for seatbelts at rear seats.