The Malta Independent on Sunday, 22nd June 2008
Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA), in a statement, welcomed the appointment of a new Mepa chairman and hoped that the speedy implementation of Mepa reform will enable the new chairman to ensure a level playing field for both developers and residents, consistency in decisions and sustainable planning for Malta’s future needs.It says it fails to understand how a decision as important as the Mistra high-rise development could have been taken just prior to the appointment of the new chairman and the imminent Mepa reform. The decision to allow the building of high-rise blocks on Mistra Ridge violates not only the Local Plan, but also the Floor Area Ratio eight-floor limit for the area, as well as the regulation which stipulates that “Settlements on elevated ground and on ridges are inappropriate locations for tall buildings, as tall buildings in these locations would be more pronounced, would have a deleterious impact on the skyline on a national scale and would dominate the whole landscape when viewed from low lying ground;”(FAR Policy, 7.Locating Tall Buildings)

The approval ignored the advice of Mepa’s Heritage Advisory Committee as it also places at risk the area’s heritage, which includes archaeological sites and the unique and endangered Underground Flour Mill. The Mepa Board took the decision without being shown the impact of the

latest plans on the landscape in photomontages, the most important aspect of the project. On the grounds of these violations, FAA is questioning not only the wisdom, but even the legality of the Mepa board’s decision to allow a further 868 apartments in an that already has over 1,000 vacant housing units.

Furthermore, the Halcrow and TEN-T transport report already states that Xemxija Hill cannot cope with present traffic demands, let alone the increased traffic that this development will create. The building of a Pwales bypass, which has already been considered and dropped in the past, would be equally unsustainable, given the encroachment on agricultural land and the threat to the aquifer as well as to the Ghadira bird sanctuary and Area of Special Conservation which includes marshland and sand dunes.

The FAA said that Mepa’s argument that traditional development of the site would have created more units is an insult to the intelligence of the Maltese public. Malta cannot afford to continue ignoring basic planning parameters such as population densities, supply of vacant housing, EU Energy Efficiency Directives and the state of transport facilities in favour of short-sighted, fast-buck decisions.

Malta boasts of having been at the forefront of highlighting environmental issues 20 years ago and now approves permits that violate the principles of the Sustainability Strategy for the Maltese Islands that was recently ratified by Parliament. This not only threatens the health and quality of life of its residents, said FAA, but also the livelihood of tourism employees, which stands to be affected when the impact of what have been described as “massive and ugly developments” on our landscapes begins to be felt.

The news that applications have been made for 13 tall buildings all over Malta at a time when even senior planning officials are expressing serious doubts as to the wisdom of such structures in the Maltese context, makes a reassessment of the Mistra decision and the whole tall buildings policy a national priority, it concluded.