Watch: “Plans changed”, says db CEO; “but not enough” retorts urban planner

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

People were not interested in knowing the whole truth on db’s plans for the former ITS site, db CEO Arthur Gauci insisted during a discussion on Newsbook Hour while defending the changes that the Group is proposing. On the other hand, Dr John Ebejer, an urban planning exper, said that notwithstanding the changes that the db Group is not proposing the project still goes against current policies and should not be accepted.

Gauci and Ebejer were partecipating in the Saturday edition of Newsbook Hour on 103 Malta’s Heart which is hosted by Fr Joe Borg.

During the programme, Gauci spoke about the newly submitted changed plans. He explained that the plans had been reviewed several times following various discussions with different stakeholders including the local councils of Pembroke and Swieqi.

Replying to the criticism levelled at the project, Gauci said that it was part of the democratic process and this was a major project. “Of course people will resist,” he said, adding that the whole truth on the project was not out and that several people seemed biased against the project.

Among the changes done to the plans, the ITS building will now be retained and “restored to its former glory”, Gauci remarked.

Gauci referred to the 2006 Local Plan and said that it had provided for mixed use of the area.

Gauci was asked about the NAO report. The programme host noted that while the NAO said that db Group paid a fair price it highlighted several serious shortcomings by Government’s Negotiating team. The presenter added that former Minister Konrad Mizzi, whose dealings were very suspect ones, failed to meet the NAO and the PA gave privilaged treatment to db Group.

Speaking about the NAO report, Gauci said that the project was given a political tinted. He was happy that the NAO report noted that the db Group had paid a fair price. He underlined that as a group they were part of the business community and had no interest in politics. He reminded that the when former Opposition leader and Partit Nazzjonalista leader asked for an investigation by the Auditor General, the group had accepted immediately, remarking that as a group “they always acted within the parameters set by law”.

Gauci also mentioned that the Pembroke local council had agreed to a memorandum of understanding with db Group on the project. He claimed that the group had conceded to the council’s demands and incorporated them into the project. Db Group had also committed itself to investing in the community, he said.

“Why didn’t the PA throw out the application as soon as it received it?”

University lecturer Dr John Ebejer who has vast experience in urban planning both in the legislative process and the practical side, asked why the project was not thrown out as soon as the application was received.

He maintained that while there were changes in development plans, there were many grounds on which the project could still be thrown out. He noted that no development brief was issued in relation to the land which was handed over to the db Group.

Ebejer said that initially the Planning Authority had laid out a red carpet for the plans as put forward by the group. He remarked that the proposed plans were not according to the Floor to Area Ratio policy which regulates high rise buildings. The policy requires that any such high rise has four roads leading to and from the building.

He referred to the mention of “virtual roads” and asked what this term meant, as he pointed out that the group divided the project into four parts to avoid such constraints.

Ebejer also spoke about the issue of traffic which would increase substantially once the project is completed. Referring to the Planning Authority’s hearing when the project was approved, Ebejer recalled how the PA CEO had quoted a letter there and then from the Transport Authority. He remarked that the letter should not have been accepted there and then and the board should have either adjourned or ignored it.

He also mentioned the problem of the construction waste which will be generated during the development of the project. This was a concern which was also highlighted in the Environment Impact Assessment Report.

Gauci dismissed the problem of traffic saying that the site will not be operated before the completion of the tunnel. He added that the government had EU funds which needed to be used for the upgrading of infrastructure, which would otherwise be lost. On the generation of construction waste, Gauci said that this could be used elsewhere.

db Group’s Project: Who is telling the truth?

The db Group has submitted revised plans for its project in Pembroke on the site which originally housed the Institute of Tourism Studies. The Group is saying that the new plans address the concerns expressed by many people during the consultation process. The revised plans propose major changes to the project, the Group insists.

On the other hand, three Local Councils and 10 NGOs say that the changes effected do not go far enough. They say that changes made were slight while db Group says that the changes were major ones. The Local Councils and NGOs describe the project as ‘monstrous’. The db Group says that the Local Councils and the NGOs are not saying the truth.

Mr Arthur Gauci, CEO of db Group, and Perit Dr John Ebejer will debate the subject during Newsbook Hour on 103 Malta’s Heart. The programme will be broadcast live Saturday at 9:00am on Newsbook.com.mt

Listeners and readers can send their questions till Friday 7.00pm on ask@newsbook.com.mt