Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Fort Cambridge developers won’t have to pay more for appreciation of land

Gap Holdings is likely to be unhindered in seeking a permit for the new tower block

James Debono 
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.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Notes from a traffic jam

If we ever needed reminding on the chaotic traffic situation in Malta, a car crash a few days ago hammered the point home. A bus and a car crashed on Tower Road, and a major congestion followed. News outlets reported the crash and drivers were alerted to avoid the area.
Anyone driving through Sliema knows that traffic congestion is steadily increasing. And as things are developing, Sliema will not be the only locality in this situation. Amid this suffocation, good governance becomes increasingly in demand.
Will the Planning Authority consider the massive traffic impacts resulting from mega-projects? Will it adopt a holistic approach when considering development proposals, or will it simply consider each proposal in isolation? Will developers continue to deceive us by understating the negative impacts of mega projects? This was the case when architects’ recent plans for development proposals in Tignè did not show other proposed developments in the area.
Developers are expanding their tentacles with new high-rise tower blocks. There are at least two such projects being proposed in Sliema – Townsquare and Fort Cambridge. The Ministry for Transport knows that consequently, thousands of extra cars will likely bring about the mother of all gridlocks, yet is it speaking up for the common good?
Will the Planning Authority adopt a holistic approach when considering development proposals, or will it simply consider each proposal in isolation?
Judging by the behaviour of the same ministry on other matters, I doubt whether the common good is high on its priorities.
For example, take public carparks. Before the 2013 general elections, Labour was vociferous against their ‘privatisation’, yet it curiously didn’t dare speak against certain parkers who were and still are making lots of money from them.
Indeed, such carparks have become a rent-seekers’ paradise. Were the common good really a priority, such carparks would be devolved to local councils and revenue from parking would be usedfor public purposes, and not to enrich some individuals.
Which takes us to residents’ parking. The recent constitutional court’s decision in favour of residents’ should bring some order provided that government does not ignore the ruling. As far as Sliema goes, the Ministry for Transport decided to discriminate against residents when it removed the residents’ parking scheme while retaining other schemes in other localities.
What will Minister Joe Mizzi do once Transport Malta decides to evaluate the 17 pending applications from local councils for resident parking schemes?
I personally believe that non-resident parking in commercial zones should be charged. This happens in many cities abroad and it can also help encourage a modal shift from private cars to public transport, walking and other alternatives. In the process, it can also help spare residents and workers from some car pollution.
The increase in traffic jams around Malta should also alert authorities ofthe rights of pedestrians and cyclists. Apart from the sorry state of many pavements, one has to keep in mind that there are various roads which are actually a hazard for pedestrians in view of lack of pavements, various obstacles and ongoing works.
Cyclists – on the other hand – face many dangers on the road, as witnessed by many accidents, including some fatal ones. Perhaps the Ministry for Transport should consider amending legislation which prohibits adult bicycle users from cycling along promenades, and instead introduce bicycle lanes to enable this.
The traffic debacle in Malta shows that there is a need for good governance and serious planning. It is true that private transport provides opportunities in terms of freedom and mobility, but at the same time it causes considerable harm in terms of pollution, accidents, gridlock and other unintended consequences.
At the moment is seems that not enough weight is given to such harm, with the consequences which are so evident for all to see.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

Architects slam 40-storey Sliema hotel plan

A photomontage of the proposed Fort Cambridge development, which does not take into account another tower proposed for the area.
A photomontage of the proposed Fort Cambridge development, which does not take into account another tower proposed for the area.
The proposed 40-storey hotel at Fort Cambridge in Sliema is a project that is being studied in isolation and it lacks long-term planning, according to three prominent architects.
The architects – Edward Said, Richard England and Conrad Thake – were reacting to reports by this newspaper on the assessment of the development, which concluded that the environmental and cultural impact would be of high significance, with no possible measures to limit the damage.
The environmental planning statement submitted to the Planning Authority last week, a necessary step in development applications of this nature, stated that “the scale of the proposed development would undermine the value of the landscape… with no scope for mitigation”.
“The project is being studied in isolation, the information that is being given is in isolation, without any information on what is being proposed in the vicinity as well as the combined impact of that on the way of life of the residents,” Mr Said said.
Prof. England agreed, adding that such developments required a clear “master plan” as well as a profound study of the impact this could have on traffic and infrastructure in the area.
We are blindly giving in to the glitz and glamour we see in countries in Asia and the Middle East
“Otherwise, the whole thing is going to burst. You also need an economic masterplan. But this is unfortunately not being carried out,” Prof. England said.
The only way having such high-rises in Malta could possibly work, Prof. England said, was if these were to be somehow constrained to one specific zone.
“We can’t have one skyscraper there, another one somewhere else. If we do, the whole traffic system, the whole infrastructure, the whole economic system even, will collapse,” Prof. England went on.
Another issue of concern to the architects was the lack of local identity injected in such developments. They argued that the value of local heritage was being undermined in favour of such projects.
“We are blindly giving in to the glitz and glamour we see in countries in Asia and the Middle East. We get them, lock, stock and barrel, and import them on this tiny island,” added architect Conrad Thake, who was also present at the conference.
The 40-storey hotel, designed for the business traveller and high-end tourist, would consist of a tower built within the footprint of the existing 19th-century building located to the south of Fort Cambridge, which was originally constructed as living quarters (barracks) for British military personnel posted there.
Photomontages of the impact on the landscape do not take into account the 38-storey tower proposed for the Townsquare project on the old Union Club site in the vicinity. This has been met with over 300 objections since the proposal was made public last summer.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sliema residents want to sue government over tall buildings epidemic

Ivan Martin
Times of Malta 18 May 2016
Sliema residents want the local council to take legal action against the government to stop the “gross overdevelopment of tall buildings”.
“If the council is really concerned with the amount of construction that has gripped Sliema, then it should take the government to task, especially seeing that politicians seem incapable of legislating against developers,” resident Simon Camilleri told a general meeting of the local council on Monday evening.
During the meeting, the local council presented its annual report and invited residents to express concerns and give feedback. Dr Camilleri was one of several residents who raised the issue of overdevelopment, calling on the council to file a class action suit – a lawsuit filed by a group of people – against the Planning Authority and the government for adversely affecting their quality of life.
He said the government was using new legislation to circumvent regulations that once protected Sliema and its residents from mega-development. The result was the spreading of a concrete jungle that had grown from a small tumour to a full-blown infection, adversely affecting residents’ quality of life.
Replying to residents’ calls for legal action, councillor Michael Briguglio said such a move had not been ruled out. He said the council would first have to go through the entire planning process, filing objections and making appeals against certain large projects before considering any further remedial action.
Let’s face it, Sliema is practically ruined
Construction in the Sliema area is often a topic of public debate and has come to the fore again recently in the wake of announcements of plans for high-rise buildings in the area. Among the projects in the pipeline is a building set to be the tallest hotel on the island.
The property, planned to form part of the Fort Cambridge complex in Tigné, will have 40 floors, roughly double the height of the Portomaso building in neighbouring St Julian’s.
Another mega-project, the 38-storey Townsquare towers, is included in plans for the redevelopment of the old Union Club site. Plans for the two towers, and others in neighbouring localities, have raised concerns of traffic impact and overshadowing among Sliema residents, who fear the projects will attract more residents, traffic congestion and pollution in the already-crowded area.
Resident Toni Buhagiar, 73, said he had lived in Sliema all his life but could hardly recognise his hometown when he walked through its once-picturesque streets.
Tall buildings, he complained, now dominated the urban space he so dearly loved and he expressed fears the new towering projects earmarked for the locality could push it over the edge.
“Let’s face it, Sliema is practically ruined. Now, with these new mega-projects, it’s going to be a nightmare,” he said.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sliema tower: ‘Unreasonable’ to expect residents to keep windows closed during construction

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

Impact of 40-storey hotel at Fort Cambridge would be of 'high significance'

Sliema Local Council asked the Planning Authority to schedule (protect) the barracks. The proposed development violates previous conditions. Planning Authority should consider this development as a non-starter. 

Developer's photomontage does not include other skyscraper proposed development in the area

No way to limit the damage

Times of Malta, 14 May 2016, by Caroline Muscat
The assessment of the proposed 40-storey hotel at Fort Cambridge in Sliema submitted to the Planning Authority concludes that the environmental and cultural impact would be of high significance, with no possible measures to limit the damage.
The environmental planning statement submitted to the PA last week, a necessary step in development applications of this nature, states that “the scale of the proposed development would undermine the value of the landscape… with no scope for mitigation”.
It refers to the impact on the environment, landscape and cultural heritage.
The hotel would consist of a tower built within the footprint of the existing 19th-century building located to the south of Fort Cambridge, which was originally constructed as living quarters (barracks) for British military personnel posted there.
It had been suggested to the former Malta Environment and Planning Authority that the barracks should be scheduled (protected) as a Grade 2 property, according to the study. It is understood the Authority was in the process of scheduling the area but the process came to a standstill.
Photomontages of the impact on the landscape do not take into account the 38-storey tower proposed for the Town Square project on the old Union Club site in the vicinity, which received over 300 objections since the proposal was made public last summer.
The proposed development at Fort Cambridge consists of a 5-star, 40-floor urban hotel designed for the business traveller and high-end tourist. It would have 368 suites and its footprint would cover 1,770 square metres on a 2,500 square metres site.
The Environmental Planning Statement, which identifies and evaluates the likely environmental impact of a proposed high-rise hotel, states: “The building is designed to make a strong statement on the Sliema skyline.”
Residents who spoke to this newspaper said they were “furious” because the developer, GAP Holdings, owned by Paul Attard, had shown them plans assuring them the development that would replace the military barracks would be limited to four storeys.
The Tigné and Valletta peninsulas, together with Manoel Island, are designated areas of very high landscape sensitivity and value
The study also states that the additional 1,527 vehicles the project would add “would have a negligible impact” on an area already disturbed by traffic congestion.
For some years, the existing building formed part of a hotel, which was closed down some years ago. In 2008 it was earmarked for office development.
The proposed use would involve its interiors being demolished and substantial parts of the facades retained. These facades will envelope the first four floors, with the other 36 floors built around a contemporary design.
The site is located in the Triq Tigné, corner with Triq il-Ponta ta’ Dragut, on the Tigné peninsula.
The barracks were designed to form part of the Cambridge Battery, built in the 1880s.
The weaponry in the fort included one of the 100-ton guns which were installed in Malta and Gibraltar. Together with other coastal defence installations of the day, Fort Cambridge was a response to the improvements in warship design. Initially, the barracks were two storeys high, with an additional two floors added later.
The military buildings were constructed by the Order of St John and the British. Tigné Point was one of the more important defensive positions in the islands, improving control of the mouth of Marsamxett Harbour.
The presence of Fort Tigné, the Garden Battery, Fort Cambridge and the barracks in Tigné Point gave the area a military character which has been diluted over the years as a result of the type of development that has been taking place in the area for the past years, according to the study. The fortified coastline, which includes the Tigné and Valletta peninsulas together with Manoel Island, is officially designated an area of very high landscape sensitivity and value.
The Planning Authority has set June 30 as the deadline for feedback.

No more glyphosate in Sliema - Local Council instructs ELC

Sliema Local Council has instructed contractor Environment Landscapes Consortium (ELC) to stop using the controversial glyphosate. The council is also undergoing an exercise to introduce more environment-friendly plants which are suitable for the Maltese landscape

Activists to march against controversial weed killer

Times of Malta 14 May 2016
Organic farming activists opposed to a controversial weed killer and the use of genetically modified crops will march down Valletta next week as part of a global protest movement. 
Activists all across the world will take part in 21 May's March Against Monsanto, with the aim of raising awareness about the multinational's business practices and lobbying in favour of GMOs and weed killer glyphosate.
Malta's march is being organised by the Clean Food Movement. The movement is calling on the government to oppose an extension of glyphosate's EU license. 
Glyphosate, most commonly known through its brand name Round-Up, is one of the world's most common herbicides. The WHO has said that it is "probably carcinogenic", although the link has not yet been definitively proven.
MEPs voted to restrict glyphosate use, including at the pre-harvest stage, last month. But European Commission documents have revealed that it favours extending glyphosate's license for a further 15 years. 
France, Sweden and Italy oppose extending glyphosate's license, and more than 1.4 million people across Europe have signed a petition calling for the chemical to be banned.
Environmentalists have said the Commission's position runs against the EU's precautionary principle, which calls for regulatory caution if there is any scientific doubt.
Malta's position remains unclear, with an Environment Ministry spokesperson saying last March that discussions remained ongoing. Maltese MEPs all voted in favour of the EP position to approve glyphosate but restrict its use, except for Labour MEP Miriam Dalli who sat out the vote. 
A 2013 study by Friends of the Earth found that Maltese had the highest incidence of glyphosate in their bodies out of all countries surveyed. Nine out out every 10 urine samples taken tested positive for the chemical. 
Monsanto is one of the world's largest agrochemical corporations, with revenues topping $15 billion in 2015. It has long been the target of activists' ire, with its methods of promoting GMOs in Latin America and India coming under particular scrutiny. 
The March Against Monsanto will take place on Saturday 21 May at 10am. 

Photomontages show impact of proposed Sliema tower

Developer's photomontage does not include other skyscraper proposed development in the area
Times of Malta 13 May 2016
Recent released photomontages visualise for the first time the impact of the proposed 38-storey Town Square tower on the Sliema skyline.
Last June, the tower was included in the project for the redevelopment of the old Union Club site as part of the application which has been pending with the Planning Authority since 2005.
PA records show that over 300 representations against the proposal were submitted to the authority since the tower proposal was made public last summer.
The proposal includes excavation of the site, the construction of an underground car park and service facilities, a number of low rise buildings, food and beverage outlets, a pedestrianised mixed development of retail and office outlets, and residential units.
According to the submitted documents, the total built volume will reach 54,888 square metres on a footprint of 9,237 square metres. Forty thousand square metres will be dedicated to residential areas, over 5,000 square metres will host offices, while a retail and piazza will cover a volume of close to 9,500 square metres.
Construction would take 54 months
Villa Drago, included in the site, is indicated to cater for retail as well as for food and beverage outlets. The villa, a scheduled Grade 1 monument built in 1881, will be refurbished and recent additions will be removed.
If the development is approved, it is estimated the construction works would take 54 months.
Last year, the Sliema local council objected to the development, with one of its main concerns being traffic generation.
The council warned that there was no way to improve the road network to accommodate the increased traffic that would be generated in the area.
In a representation to the planning watchdog, Sliema council had said that “by 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”.
Studies indicated that, even without the project, the current traffic flow of 1,868 cars during the afternoon peak hour would reach 2,379 in 2017.
Din L-Art Ħelwa too has objected to the proposals, identifying traffic, air quality and density as key problems in the area: “All these factors and daily lives are definitely not to be improved but only worsened by a project of this scale.”