Watch: Mayhem as db Project approved by Government appointees

Approved by 10 votes to 4, the db Project at Pembroke hung on the votes of the government appointees in the Planning Authority Board. The votes were carried thus:

Against: Chairman Vince Cassar, Pembroke mayor Dean Hili, NGO representative Annick Bonello, PN representative Marthese Portelli

For: PL representative Clayton Bartolo, government appointed ERA chairman Victor Axiak, Government appointed Deputy chair Elizabeth Ellul, And government appointed members Desiree Cassar, Timothy Gambin, Matthew Pace, Simone Mousu’,  Jacqueline Gili, Ivan Tabone, Joseph Brincat.

15:30 The recommendation is to grant, the members who intend to vote down the project need to state their reasons. Chairman Vince Cassar said that he intends to vote against the project on grounds of lack of consistencies. He described the design as excessive. Pembroke Mayor Dean Hili declared that he would be voting against the project. Opposition MP Marthese Portelli, NGO representative Annick Bonello, Vince Cassar, Dean Hili voted against. The project was approved.

15:18 Pembroke Mayor Dean Hili said that the Local Council position is widely known. He asked how will the developers be mitigating against the negative impacts by the project on the resident. Hili noted that while there was a letter of commitment it may as well be the case that the tunnel does not happen after all. He asked what would happen in the case a decision is taken against the tunnel or if the tunnel was not complete by the time the project is finished. He asked whether the service trucks would be using the emergency exits. Perit Mugliett says that if the tunnel would not happen, a connection would be in place to mitigate. Mugliett cited a verbal commitment with Infrastructure Malta which would be parallel to the project. He said that there were some five meetings with Infrastructure Malta. Hili said the Local Council is in complete disagreement with what is being planned when it comes to traffic. The Council voiced its wish that the exits would be through St George’s Bay and that Triq Pietru Darmenia would not be included.

15:02 Opposition MP Marthese Portelli took the floor, she referred to all the revisions in local plans promised as well as the promised master plans. She said that the Government has not kept his word on the matter causing frustrations. Opposition Leader Adrian Delia had already announced that the Opposition representative would be voting against the project. Portelli is asking a number of questions related to policy issues rising from the case officer’s report. Portelli asks about the units which will compose the tower, she asks whether this will be solely residential. The Case Officer said that 35 storeys will be residential, one storey will be mixed used while one storey will be of mixed use. She asks about the area of each unit rather than an aggregate. The Case Officer replied that the tower is predominantly residential with the commercial is in the two low lying floors. Portelli criticised the letter of commitment by the Government as vague.

14:56 Government MP Clayton Bartolo appointed to the PA Board took the floor now, saying that while a master plan was needed, the applicant should not be penalised. He said “ironically the developer took it upon himself to do a master plan. Bartolo described the Green Travel Plan as “innovative and good” and stressed on the importance of these being implemented. Bartolo asked about the estimated time of arrival of the police, CPD and ambulance to the site in case of an emergency. He described the project as a village in itself. The case officer said that the tunnel would lead the traffic into the project while the entrances on land can only be used as exits.

14:47 ERA Chairman Victor Axiaq took the floor saying while that he appreciates Bonello’s work, he said that the impact of shadows on the ecological habitats surrounding the development would be minimal. Axiaq claimed that the EIA was one of the most detailed reports he has seen, saying that the development was improved according to the feedback sent in on the EIA by ERA. Another study was carried out the appropriate assessment which had found that the cooling water and other discharge from the hotel would have caused damage to the beach. Axiaq said, now this discharge will happen further away from the beach from where it would be dispersed.

14:35 NGO representative Annick Bonello took the floor now she addressed the residents who claimed that the area was a Paceville spin off, this would not go away once the development takes place. Bonello said that Għar Ħarq il-Ħammiem is scheduled grade I area. She said nothing was said about the second chamber on which there was no ecological study. The Case Officer said that an ecological study was carried out also for the lower chamber. Bonello asked whether divers were sent on site. The Case Officer said that it was too dangerous to send divers on site. The project architect said that the commitment was to go along as the project is developed (observational method) rather than creating a standard framework to protect the cave. This would be mean that the assessments on the impact on the subterranean cave would be done there and then. He said that if found that the project is not sustainable and would negatively impact the cave they would adapt accordingly. Asking about the proposed tunnel, Bonello reminded that the site is regulated by the habitats directive which would be needed to green light the project. Bonello also spoke about the shadows that such development cast on the surroundings.

14:21 Chairman Vince Cassar claimed that he disagreed with the dismantling and rebuilding a grade II scheduled building. He said he cannot agree with such things, because we all know what happens in such cases of “dismantling”. Next question is regarding the development brief, citing the local plan required such a brief. The next question by Cassar is about the parking spaces which was reduced from 1700 to 1150 parking spaces which means that more cars will be going into the area. An angry Vince Cassar addressed those present at the hearing saying he does not need their clapping, he was only raising his points as it was his right to do.

14:16 The board discussion is about to start. With the Planning Authority CEO Johann Buttigieg reading out the letter of commitment which was sent by the Government and signed by Transport Minister Ian Borg expressing Infrastructure Malta’s commitment.

14:13 The Project architect argued that the project was designed according to the Floor Area Ratio Policy. The case officer stressed that the interventions will be temporary when replying to the questions raised regarding the beach concessions. Mugliett is now arguing that the open spaces are designated for the public to use contrary to the claims made that the community will not be benefiting from the project.

13:53 The floor is now closed. Architect Jesmond Mugliett took the floor replying to the questions raised about the tunnel. Mugliett said that the Green Traffic Plan was not a wish list but a “real commitment”. Perit Sciberras said that three experts commissioned for the social impact assessments, all three who are not sociologists, the experts include statistician Vincent Marmara.

13:41 Democratic Party MP Godfrey Farrugia took the floor. He says he could not understand the rationale behind the Case Officer report given that there were 12 infringements of policy and procedure. He argued that given the size of the project, it required a project brief which is non-existent in this case. He explained that the site is situated on a peninsula. Quoting the FAR policy high rise buildings should not be developed close to residential areas. The project would be approved, however no national master plan nor Paceville master plan are in place. Farrugia asked the board how are they in a position to approve the application since the land transfer is being investigated by the auditor general. Farrugia concluded that the developer and the case officer shamelessly came to the public hearing presenting a report which contains 12 infringements of policy and procedure.

13:37 The banner now closed and onto a next person who appealed to the board to vote against. The person who took floor is describing the problems associated with the proposed tunnel which opens into a narrow road. Another speaker took the floor saying that it was not the first time that the PA was doing things upside down. He asked how is it that the project going to be approved without studying the tunnel properly. Citing one of the studies, the man pointed out that while the developer claimed he was willing to be part of the master plan, there existed no master plan for the site.

13:32 A resident claiming he lives 3m to the proposed site said that while he respects the experts he described the exercise as a sugarcoating exercise. He described the project as a burial of the surroundings. The man described as a burial with the person seated in front of him opening a banner with “Don’t bury us alive”. The chairman kept telling the person to close the banner.

13:27 Andre Callus from Moviment Graffiti says the organisation documented the vans carrying workers from db Group coming to the hearing, describing the developers as having lack of imagination and when they sense criticism rally paid supporters which were brought to the public hearing. Callus points out that the tunnel is subject to a separate application and the tunnel is what makes the project viable due to the traffic which will be generated. He asked if it’s logical to approve the project before the tunnel is approved. He asked those present whether is this the Malta one would leave for their children.

13:25 Claire Bonello from Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar took the floor. She asked for a clarification on area C which concerns the Lido. She stated there should be no beach concessions given the existing limitations. She asked whether the 15m as required by the Public domain act have been kept. Bonello said that beach concessions were prohibited according to the local plan.

13:20 One of the residents claimed that the “project would be the world’s envy”. Another resident claimed there are many inconsistencies claiming untruthfully that the Sliema Local Council would not speak about other projects. David Pisani from Żminijietna – Leħen ix-Xellug took the floor now, he points out that the government had to intervene and solve the traffic issues which would rise out of the proposed development. He said the government should not be the one footing the bill for the lack of provisions for the increased traffic.

13:13 Resident and academic Adrian Grima took the floor quoting from the mission statement of the Planning Authority. He told those present that Pembroke does not belong to Pembroke residents, but to Malta. He warned the Board if they would like to vote in favour of the project they would be voting for the few rich developers who are riding roughshod on the residents as though they were flies.

A resident now took the floor who claimed he lives in front of the project in Triq Walter Ganado saying that the project would make Pembroke better for a better economy. The man said that the area is completely abandoned, claiming the area has been described as “slums”. Another resident from the same street as the previous one, took the floor asking the local council why it would be voting against the project.

13:12 Another woman took the floor addressing the board, asking who will foot the bill for the tunnel whether it was the developer or the taxpayer.

13:09 A Pembroke resident took the floor saying that he doubts whether all the objections where from Pembroke residents. The person seems to be in favour of the project. The man raising his voice saying that he has been accused of being in the developer’s or the government’s pockets. The person was booed.

13:06 A person from the floor asked for the letter of commitment by the Government whereby the Government committed itself to build the tunnel to be published ahead of the decision. The person also pointed out that the area above the cave is a buffer zone and should not be built.

13:05 Noel Muscat, Swieqi Mayor, refers to the increased traffic, reminding those present that people still have to come and live at Pender Gardens. He refers to the densely populated areas and increased traffic would have a negative impact on the lives of the residents in the surrounding areas.

13:00 Prospective PN MEP candidate Michael Briguglio said while he respects the person who carried out the social impact assessment, this should have been carried out by a sociologist. He highlights the shortcomings in the study which made no reference to the more 4000 objections registered by the public. Briguglio said that the SIA was not even peer-reviewed.

12:57 Former AD chairman Arnold Cassola said that the whole project may constitute a distortion competition and hidden state aid. Cassola argued that the Planning Authority board should have investigated how the site has been passed to the developer.

AD asked Green group at the EU to look into illegalities

Ska Keller, the co-president of the European Greens was asked by AD to look into the possible illegal procurement procedure of this development with the European Commission. He asked the Board whether they are willing to be held responsible if such claims are proven to be correct.

12:55 Now it’s time for Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina who was elected on the 10th district. He said that while details were laid out during this hearing, the residents were not even considered today. He described the project as monstrous. Aquilina appealed to the PA board not to be bullied by the developer into voting in favour of the project.

12:50 Deputy Mayor Albert Buttigieg from St Julian’s Local Council is the first person to take the floor refers to the once master plan which has now been shelved. He argued that this master plan was shelved however the projects keep getting approved. Buttigieg stresses that they represent more than 30,000 residents. He rhetorically asked whether anyone would want such project would be desired in their backyard.

12:45 Now it’s time for the public. The chairman announced that a list of speakers from the floor will be compiled and once closed only those on the list will be allowed to speak. Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina, Democratic Party MP Godfrey Farrugia, former Alternattiva Demokratika Chairman Arnold Cassola, resident Adrian Grima, from Moviment Graffitti Andre Callus, among others have asked to speak. Sitting MPs, local council members, eNGO members, and residents are present in the hall. 25 speakers from the floor gave their names to speak. Chairman Vince Cassar said that he does not want to hear any repetitions and that each speaker has a 3-minute space.

12:39 The development is subject to a bank guarantee of €575,000 due to the scale of the project. ERA asked for the project to be monitored. Each phase of the project requires a compliance completion certification. Clearance from the CRPD and CPD would be required at each phase of the project. The permit is subject to a public deed regarding the use of hotel. The permit is also subject to the planning gain and bank guarantee.

12:18 On and on the case officer goes explaining the project design, and the various technical details related to it. The project will have some 5,000 square metres of open spaces in total. Some 2,613sqm is the amount of space considered for internal virtual roads. A public plaza of 2,352sqm is proposed on the south-western part of the site. 486 sqm of the plaza are covered by terraced which are accessible to public. 1833 sqm is uncovered. Not all of the residential units have an area of 150sqm. However the average area of the units exceeds 190sqm.

11:41 Now the representation by the Directorate (DPAR). The Directorate explains the planning application was subject to a number of objections which include negative impacts on the subtereannean cave Għar Ħarq il-Ħammiem, scheduled buildings proposed to be relocated, insufficient open spaces, fragmented development as a result of lack of a comprehensive Master Plan for the area, increase in pollution, negative impact of the quality of life of the residents, the Lido goes against the public domain law, the tunnel proposed not subject to adequate environmental studies, among other objections submitted by eNGOs, residents, and other stakeholders. The 10 entities consulted did not object to the project including Transport Malta, Civil Protection Department, Malta Tourism Authority, etc. The MTA said that the project served as an upgrade to the product in the area. Both the St Julian’s and Pembroke Local Council have submitted their objections. The Malta Communications Authority did not reply and this was construed as “no objection” in line with the legal notice. The MCA was consulted due to the height of the building and whether this would be interfering with the communications. The Case Officer lists the issues that were studied including the cultural considerations. He also said that only limited excavations will be allowed above the cave. The ITS building is also a scheduled building, however it will be rebuild and integrated into the project.

The project was subject to an EIA which found a number of junctions which are considered as critical and some of which need to be improved.

11:33 Now on to air quality saying that the tunnel would mitigate for the air pollution.  A Green Travel Plan is also being proposed, which includes an improvement of public transport, provision of transport for City Centre employees by the prospective employers, provision of bicycles for hotel guests, and use of advance parking management systems among others.

11:01 The next person to submit his representation who will be speaking about the Traffic Impact Assessment. Junction 1 referring to Pembroke traffic lights, junction 2 referring to St Julian’s traffic lights among others may experience traffic problems. It is predicted that the traffic would increase drastically due to the growth in St Paul’s Bay. The expert makes a strong case for a tunnel that would see all the traffic going underground. A flyover similar to that in Kappara is being proposed which would then go into the underground tunnel in order not to go through the Natura 2000 site (Wied Ħarq il-Ħammiem).

Photo-montages of the project are currently being shown. The photo-montages show the project from various view points including Valletta and Mdina. Now on to geology, explains that at the surface that the rock present is lower coralline limestone with the material excavated can be used again. The expert now moves on to explain the geology of Għar Ħarq il-Ħammiem which is composed of two chambers with one chamber very close to the road surface. A hydrology study was carried out in order to study the flow of water through Wied Ħarq il-Ħammiem some of which ends in the sea, however the expert explained that some of this water would now be stored in a storage chamber.

10:46 The architect explains that they took precautions in order to prevent damage on the unique subterranean cave lying below very close to the site, Għar Ħarq il-Ħamiem. Saying that the mass of the development has been shifted to the other side, while only buildings two or three storeys in height will be built over the cave. The architect said that a particular excavation method will be used. The architect explained that the ITS building was studied and will be kept in focus in the designed project. A social impact assessment was carried out with the architect saying that various measures were taken following the study such as down-scaling of the project, various traffic mitigation measures, among others. The proposed tunnel connecting Triq Sant’Andrija will be eliminating the traffic and be used as a service road. The architect makes a case for the tunnel in order to mitigate increased traffic and noise pollution. The architect explains the advantages of having an on site batching plant which would reduce the construction period and material wastage. According to the architect would reduce heavy traffic flows in the area. The architect delves into the other construction measures being taken by the developers.

A neighbourhood plan

The architect said that there needs to be more communication between the developers and the stakeholders creating a neighbourhood plan.

10:45 The last board member Jacqueline Gili has arrived to the hearing.

10:39 Third architect to take the floor will be explaining the technical side to the project. He explains the various entrances to the project, the residential quarters, the plazas and the shopping mall planned for the site. Service trucks will only be allowed in from subterranean tunnels. The architect explains the various open spaces planned for the project, with the various squares will be under the care of the developer himself. The architect reiterated that the public spaces are accessible to everyone.

10:21 First to make their representations are the architects, the first architect said that the project was received as a submission to a public call made. The first architect is explaining Pembroke’s local plan. The architect explained that five international architectural firms were appointed to provide alternative design. The brief however included that the project is a dynamic, landmark building. The architect said that the firm chose was MYGG an international firm based in Milan, Italy. An architect from MYGG is submitting his representation. He explains that the idea behind the project, that it was designed in “simplicity” with “clean shapes”. He continued saying that ITS could become the real focus of the project with their designs around the building. The project includes as well a public square. The second architect from the firm describes the plans as “vibrant”. She describes the south plaza as being connected more to Paceville and the nightlife activities in the heart of Paceville. The north plaza (square) was described as a more intimate and private even though it is public by the architect. Furthermore, a hanging gardens facing the sea will give a more natural look to the project, the architect explained. The architect said that during the day it will have a more natural look while at night it would adapt to the nightlife already present in the area.

10:20 Hearing kicked off with the Board chairman Vince Cassar giving a stern warning saying that he has the right to throw people out of the meeting if anyone “misbehaves”.

10:17 Many gathered on Thursday morning at San Gorg Preca Lyceum in Hamrun for the Planning Authority Board hearing. Almost every board member is here bar the government representative Jacqueline Gili.

10:00 Over seven policemen were present around the school where the public hearing is scheduled to take place. Those attending the hearing were made to go through security and get their wristbands. Bottles of water with caps were not allowed inside. Inside the hall some 500 people present, with no air condition only fans. will be broadcasting LIVE from San Ġorġ Preca Liceo where the Planning Authority meeting is scheduled to take place. During this meeting the Planning Authority would be deciding on the db Project in Pembroke.

READ The decision about db project to be taken today

READ Watch: “Thousands of residents view db project as a threat”

READ PN will vote against db project – Delia