Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Residents could be ‘elbowed’ out by Tigné skyscrapers

James Debono, Malta Today, 8 December 2015

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.

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