Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sliema local council unanimously agrees to appeal Townsquare tower

Tim Diacono
Malta Today 17 August 2016

The Sliema local council has unanimously decided to appeal against the Planning Authority’s decision to approve a 38-storey skyscraper in Qui Si Sana.

However, an informal council meeting to debate the potential appeal was marked by PL councilor Lisa Cassar Shaw’s criticism at the way the project has become politicised and the media coverage of the meeting. 

The request for an appeal was proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika councilor Michael Briguglio, a vocal critic of the project that will be developed by the Gasan Group. All councilors agreed with his position, and the council’s appeal will be formally lodged within 30 days after the publication of the PA’s decision in the Government Gazette.

Outflanked by the majority PN council, Lisa Cassar Shaw insisted that the project should not have become politicized and that the media should not have been allowed to film and cover the meeting.

“We are here to represent the residents and the issue has become too politicised,” she said. “I have nothing against the media, but this was an informal meeting and it wasn’t the place for it.”

Briguglio retorted that the project was politicised by the Prime Minister’s aide Glenn Bedingfield on his personal blog.

“Bedingfield polticised the issue when he criticised me and asked where I was ten years ago. I was here ten years ago, at this very same table,” he said.

PL councilor Marianne Aquilina struck a more diplomatic tone, arguing that no political party should try and take political capital out of it and that the council should unite in favour of Sliema’s residents.

Sliema mayor Anthony Chircop said that planning lawyer Ian Vella Galea has agreed to represent them in this case, upon which Briguglio requested that the council also seek the aid of lawyer and environmental activist Claire Bonello.

“She was at the PA hearing and knows the case inside out, apart from the fact that she is also a Sliema resident,” he said.

The council also agreed to meet up with environmental NGO Din l-Art Helwa, who had sent them a letter to request that they appear as parties to the council’s appeal.

Briguglio said that the presence of Din l-Art Helwa will strengthen the council’s case, as its arguments are always based on careful research.

“It would make more sense for there to be one strong appeal, rather than two appeals that could trip each other up,” he said.

PN councilor Pierre Portelli said that student organisation Youth 4 the Environment had also approached them to ask to co-appeal the planning decision.

“Whoever we get on board, the main focus should be that the strategic planning for the appeal is done from the council and that we will be the authority to spearhead the appeal,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to piggyback the council.”

The Townsquare project, will comprise of 159 residential units, 4,719 square metres of offices, 8,241 square metres of commercial space and 748 parking spaces. It is set to become Malta’s tallest building, dwarfing the 23-floor Portomaso tower.

The tribunal is chaired by planning official Martin Saliba, and also includes architect and Freeport chairman Robert Sarsero and lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace, a former Labour candidate. Due to planning conflicts of interest, Sarsero is often substituted by Labour-leaning lawyer Andy Ellul.

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