Sunday Times of Malta, 10 May 2009 – by Mark Micallef

The massive, 868-appartment high rise complex over the Xemxija ridge is at a standstill and the project’s marketing team has been laid off, The Sunday Times has learnt.

Three people who manned the marketing suite for the controversial Mistra Heights development were laid off a month ago and the project’s future is unclear.

The development, which was meant to be standing 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.

Director Jeffrey Montebello denied sources’ claims that the project may have run into financial difficulties, pointing out that Fimbank was one of the partners.

He said the project faced a planning hurdle since the full development permit had still not been issued, just under a year after the preliminary green light was given.

He also denied that discussions were taking place for the Kuwaiti partners to take over. “There are no discussions and there will be none in the future,” he said, adding that these were private matters.

Asked why the marketing team was laid off, he said there was nothing to sell before Mepa issued the final approval.

Project manager Dean Wells also said planning bureaucracy was the main reason stalling the project.

“The financial problem is not the one stalling the project,” he said. But when asked whether this meant that there were no financial problems he declined to comment.

Mr Wells said sales would start next Spring and, Mepa permitting, works shortly before that.

The decision of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority to approve the outline development permit in June last year came under fire from environmental organisations.

The project was toned down from the original plans, doing away with a 19-storey tower and reducing the units by 100.

But environmental groups still complained that the approval led to a “dangerous” precedent for tall buildings on ridges in Malta.

An environmental assessment commissioned by the company had found there would be minimal impact.

However, environmental groups like Din L-Art Helwa had accused the planning board of giving their consent without having updated photomontages showing the true visual impact of the development.

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.

The local partner in the project also bought the former Jerma Palace Hotel in Marsascala to turn it into a five-star hotel and high-end apartments.

Other projects include the Belmonte Heights in Sliema and the A3 Towers in Paola.