Malta Today, 8th June 2008, by James Debono
After the Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando saga, Mistra has returned to haunt the Prime Minister’s green credentials this time with MEPA’s approval of an 11-storey project replacing Mistra Village… a few hours before backtracking on a previous decision to allow a new 23-storey tower in Qui-Si-Sana. JAMES DEBONO tries to unfold MEPA’s intricate web of contradictions on the last day of the end of the Andrew Calleja era
The contradictory decisions were taken in the last meeting presided by MEPA chairman Andrew Calleja, who had presented his resignation a day before.
When an EIA was finally conducted the photomontages of the new development not only revealed the massive impact of views from Valletta but also that the development impinged on the Valletta view from Bighi and Kalkara.
Had MEPA conducted the EIA before the outline permit was issued, the issue on the project’s visual impact would have been resolved a year ago.
Its back to the same old story where developers are first given the impression of a fast-track treatment only to discover that when the going gets tough and the public starts objecting, their path suddenly finds unexpected obstacles.
What was remarkable in the Fort Cambridge case was that while MEPA’s experts were calling for the approval of the project, it was MEPA board member Joe Farrugia who burst the bubble by calling the height of the tower unacceptable.
Conveniently, in news bulletins Farrugia was constantly referred to as “the Prime Minister’s appointee” on the board.
At one time Flimien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar chairperson Astrid Vella even threatened legal action against every individual board member holding them personally responsible for any decision which went against the law.
“The visual impact is negative in both cases,” the case officer declared in the meeting.
He also explained that if building heights were reduced back to 16, as envisioned in the local plan, this would mean that open spaces in the area would be drastically reduced to the detriment of residents living in the surrounding streets.
It was not a unanimous decision. Three board members voted against a deferral to give time to the developers to submit new plans with reduced heights, while five voted in favour. But only one board member spoke against the motion.
By retaining the same number of apartments and reducing the height of the building, MEPA’s decision could further infuriate residents living in surrounding streets.
MEPA was not able to think outside the box by reducing the number of apartments to make way for more open spaces while still reducing the height of the mega tower.
MEPA has still to resolve the contradiction of a mega development in Tigné before the Transport Authority approves its own controversial traffic plans for Sliema.
While in the case of Fort Cambridge the EIA was held after an outline permit was issued, the EIA on the Mistra development was held before MEPA took its decision on the preliminary permit.
Following a public outcry against the construction of a 19-storey tower, the latest Environmental Impact Assessment proposed its replacement with a “boomerang shaped” building stepping up from six to 11 and back to six floors.
While in the Fort Cambridge case the public was regaled with a presentation of photomontages from every possible angle, in the Mistra case, photomontages superimposed on previous plans were shown to the board for only a few seconds.
The environmental impact of the 900-apartment boomerang structure in Mistra is even more pronounced because it impinges on the pristine views from Mistra bay.
Surely Mistra – which is also associated with a proposed disco set on Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando’s land – is proving to be a veritable minefield for Gonzi’s green aspirations.