Gap Holdings is likely to be unhindered in seeking a permit for the new tower block
Malta Today 27 May 2017
The Government Property Division will not be renegotiating the price of the land acquired by Gap Holdings, which in 2007 was selected to develop Tigné’s Fort Cambridge area according to the specifications of a development brief.
Despite being instructed not to increase the height of the Fort Cambridge barracks adjacent to its 20-storey apartment block, Gap Holdings are now seeking the green light for an unprecedented 40-storey tower block atop the historic British forces barracks.
But despite this tenfold increase in building heights over and above what was set by a legally-binding development brief to retain the Tigné barracks, the brief is legally not mentioned in the deed signed with Gap Holdings in 2007.
And that means that the company is likely to be unhindered in seeking a permit for the new tower block.
Additionally, the drastic change in building heights for this part of the project that had to be reserved for office space, will now result in a massive appreciation of land value from the original 99-year lease of €54 million.
Parliamentary secretary for lands Deborah Schembri has confirmed with MaltaToday that since the 2007 deed does not take into account the development brief that guided Gap Holdings, the Government Property Division “has to honour the original deed” – that would imply that no renegotiation of the lease price or any changes are being considered.
The parliamentary secretary also sent MaltaToday copies of correspondence from the office of the Attorney General in 2007, which confirms that the development brief was given to all bidders for the land as a guideline before submitting their bid.
When former Labour MP Joe Brincat questioned the changes to the building heights that were proposed by bidders over and above the development brief, the AG had replied that the brief’s planning parameters were not included in the tender conditions.
Initially the developers wanted to raise heights for the luxury apartment portion of the project from 16 to 23 storeys. In 2008, the PA opted for a 20-storey development that would however retain the same height in metres of a 16-storey block: by lowering the height of each individual floor.
The PA board insisted this would respect the brief’s parameters, a decision that was confirmed by the planning appeals board because it was in line with the approved development brief. And indeed this would be the indication that even though the Gap Holdings deed does not refer to the development brief, the brief was still recognised as the legal mechanism regulating development in the area.
But in 2015, new planning laws allowed the Fort Cambridge development brief to be superseded by a policy that allows standalone hotels to add an unlimited number of floors. Now, by relegating development briefs to the lowest rung in a hierarchy establishing the precedence of plans, the new Planning Act effectively paves the way for the approval of the Fort Cambridge 40-storey tower.
The only snag is that the hotel heights policy does not apply to hotels located on scheduled and protected buildings, like Gap Holdings’ proposal for the Fort Cambridge barracks. And the Sliema local council has recently called on the Planning Authority to schedule the British barracks.
But if the permit for the 40-storey tower is granted, Gap Holdings will not be paying anything more to the public despite the higher value of its land; nor is the PA bound by the development brief when it comes to issue the permit.
Additionally Tigné is designated as a high-rise zone by a 2014 policy, which applies to buildings that apply the so-called floor area ratio: enabling taller buildings by creating more open space around them. But Gap Holdings’ proposed hotel does not fall in this category.
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Environment and Resources Authority expresses concerns on noise and visual impacts
James Debono - Malta Today 17 May 2016
“Keeping windows shut” during the construction of a Sliema tower to avoid having to listen to the noise from a new phase of intensive development is “unreasonable”, the Environment Resources Authority said.
Its comment came in a reaction to an environmental planning statement (EPS) submitted way back in 2012 by consultants of the proposed Townsquare project in Sliema, which will erect a 38-storey tower behind Villa Drago.
The ERA has noted that the impact, played down somewhat in the EPS as ‘short term’, would be indeed significant because excavation will take 10 months and construction four years, in an already densely populated area that surrounds the proposed tower.
This concern was already expressed by the Environment Protection Directorate back in 2012 and reiterated in a report sent to the Planning Authority by the ERA last week.
Former environment minister Mario de Marco had in 2012 also described the measure as “unreasonable”.
The building of the huge 38-storey tower proposed by the Gasan Group is set to have a dramatic impact on views enjoyed by pedestrians strolling along Ghar id-Dud, the Sliema promenade, apart from breaking the skyline when viewed from as far away as Rinella Bay in Kalkara.
The ERA expressed concern on the visual impact of the project. While the EPS consultants, which are commissioned by the Gasan Group, warned that the project would have a major impact when seen from Tower Road and from the Preluna Hotel, the ERA also contends that the project would also have a major impact when seen from Manoel Island and the Valletta ferry landing.
It also expressed concern on the results of a scan line geological survey, which warned of the “potential collapse of excavation”.
This impact is described as “uncertain” in the EPS.
The ERA is calling for more “precise details”, adding that a conclusive assessment on this issue could only be made when these details are submitted to the Planning Authority.
The scan line study conducted to assess unstable rock wedges and slabs in the margin of the development, warns of potential earth movements along the walls of the excavation.
The project would involve the excavation of 109,251 cubic metres of rock. The amount of rock, which will have to be deposited in a licensed quarry, will amount to 8% of the average amount deposited on an annual basis.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But architects Mireille Fsadani and Wendy Jo Attard have warned in a report presented to the Planning Authority that 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.”
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.
Friday, May 13, 2016
|Developer's photomontage does not include other skyscraper proposed development in the area|