Sunday Times of Malta, 17 May 2009

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority has denied claims made by developers that it was to blame for stalling of the controversial Mistra Heights project.

The planning application for the high rise project on the Xemxija ridge was submitted to the authority on December 24 – but the relevant fees were only paid by the developer on March 30, a spokesman for Mepa said.

According to law, the authority can process the application when these fees are settled.

The development, which was meant to stand at a height of eight or 11 floors, depending on the road level, was meant to replace the former Mistra Village. It is a joint venture between Maltese developers JPM Brothers Ltd and Al Masalleh Real Estate Ltd of Kuwait.

One of the directors, Jeffrey Montebello, had said the project had been hindered by planning hurdle since the full development permit had still not been issued, just under a year after the preliminary green light was given. Project manager Dean Wells also said planning bureaucracy was the main reason stalling the project.

But Peter Gingell from the Mepa communications office said: “Does the applicant of this major project honestly expect to have received his planning permit within a month-and-a-half?”

The future of the planned 868-apartment high-rise complex over the Xemxija ridge is unclear and the project’s marketing team has been laid off. The directors denied sources’ claims that the project may have run into financial difficulties.

Mepa’s decision to approve the outline development permit in June last year came under fire from environmental organisations which warned it would approval lead to a “dangerous” precedent for tall buildings on ridges in Malta.

The company bought the former Mistra Village holiday complex in 2005 and the planned development costs were last year estimated at some €250 million, half of which was direct foreign investment.