Friday, August 12, 2016

Townsquare: Correspondence between ERA chairman and PA board members should be published

ERA chairman won't say what he thinks of skyscraper plans, still no decision on appeal
Environment Resource Authority chairman Victor Axiak is "not yet ready" to share his thoughts on the planned skyscrapers in Mrieħel and Sliema, given that the ERA has yet to decide whether to appeal the Planning Authority's decision to green light the developments. 
Prof. Axiak, who sits on the Planning Authority board, was roundly criticised by civil society organisations for having missed the controversial hearings due to illness. 
In a personal statement sent to the media, Prof. Axiak said he had submitted a request asking to nominate a proxy to the board when members could not attend "well before this matter erupted." 
He said the PA board chairman, board secretary and Environment Minister had been informed of his inability to attend the meetings on August 2, the same day he was discharged from hospital with instructions to rest for at least two weeks.
Prof. Axiak defended his decision to hand the memo outlining his thoughts to a solitary board member, Timmy Gambin, saying he did this to avoid exerting "unjust and unfair" pressure on other PA board members. 
"With hindsight, I do not expect others to share this view, but that is not my problem," Prof. Axiak wrote, adding that he had full faith in the integrity of all PA board members. 
Dr Gambin chose not to read out Prof. Axiak's memo about the Sliema Townsquare project during proceedings.
"I had specifically asked this member to make use of my memo as the member may seem fit, during the discussion. Furthermore we agreed that this would not in any way condition the way such member would be voting," Prof. Axiak noted.
On August 4, the PA gave the green light to a 38-floor skyscraper in Sliema, and another four in Mrieħel.
'We are watching you' - CSN
In a reaction, the Civil Society Network urged Prof. Axiak to make his memo publish, arguing that all correspondence between himself, the ERA and the PA board should be published. 
It argued that the PA's decision to approve skyscraper plans ran counter to existing policies and was made despite the absence of a masterplan on high-rise development. 
"Civil society is closely watching ERA's actions and expects it to put the environment before other considerations," the network said.


Planning board knew ERA chairman would be absent from controversial PA meeting

James Debono - Malta Today 12 August 2016

ERA chairman refuses to publicly state position on Sliema skyscrapers • Confirms absence from controversial Planning Authority meeting was due to surgery

A highly controversial meeting of the Planning Authority which approved high rises in Sliema and Mriehel took place despite the knowledge that Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak would be absent due to health reasons.

In a statement issued today in his personal capacity, Axiak confirmed that he was admitted to hospital on July 30 to be operated the following day. He received specific instructions not to attend to his normal duties for at least two weeks.

“I immediately informed [everyone] that I will be indisposed for the PA board meetings of August 2 and 4,” Axiaq said, confirming that the Envrionment Minister, the Planning Authority chairman and board secretary had been made aware of his absence.

The Sliema project was approved by a majority of just one vote.

Axiak was reacting to environmental organisations which expressed "dismay" at the absence of ERA from such an important meeting.

In a joint statement issued yesterday, Flimkien Ghall-Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth and the  Ramblers Association said they would have asked for an adjournment of the meeting had they known of Axiak's absence.

Axiak also said that he "was not yet ready" to publish his opinion on the planned 38-storey tower in  Sliema, given that the ERA had yet to decide whether to appeal the Planning Authority's decision to green light the development.

In a statement issued yesterday, Civil Society Network called on ERA to publish all correspondence between its chairman and the Planning Authority on the matter.

Axiak had sent a detailed memo on both the Mriehel and the Sliema tower high-rise projects to board member Timothy Gambin, telling him to use the email as he deemed fit during the meeting. However, only Axiak’s views on the Mriehel towers were read out.

Gambin, an expert in underwater archaeology, voted for both projects during the public hearing. Contacted by MaltaToday, he preferred not to explain why Axiak’s views on the Sliema project were not relayed during the meeting.

"I specifically asked this member to make use of the memo as he deems fit, during the discussion. We also agreed that this would not in any way condition the way this member would be voting,” Axiak said.

He explained that he sent it to just one board member to as not “to place unjust and unfair pressure on such members”.

“With hindsight, I do not expect others to share this view, but that is not my problem. Furthermore, I have full respect and trust in the integrity of all Board members including the one to whom I sent this memo,” Axiak said.

Axiak told MaltaToday that after the meeting he also sent a copy of this memo to ERA board and to Environment Minister Jose Herrera.

"I thought that I owed them a full explanation on what had happened as a result of the media coverage on this matter,” he said.

Axiaq has refused to publish the memo in view of ERA's pending decision on whether to appeal against the two developments.

"I am not yet ready to publish the contents of this memo since ERA still needs to decide whether to appeal or not, against the PA's decision on these two high rise development."

In the part of the memo addressing the Mriehel proposal, Axiak questioned the quality of the photomontages presented by the developer especially the one depicting the view of Mriehel from Mdina. The development was approved by ten votes against two.

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