The Malta Independent, 7th June 2008 –
Din l-Art Helwa condemned the approval by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority of the “massive 11 storey development on the Mistra ridge, which will dominate the northern coastal skyline”.

The development proposes 868 new residential units and was approved without a proper assessment of the visual impact of the project, and without a photomontage of the latest proposal, it said, arguing that the approval was made against Mepa’s own planning policies.

The project site lies on a high ridge (Bajada ridge) in the more rural northern part of Malta, and is visible as one heads to the northern tip of the island and to Gozo. “The adverse visual impact of this project is of national importance, as is also stated in the EIA,” Din l-Art Helwa said.

It added that the project should have been presented to the board, as well as to the public, with photomontages clearly showing the visual impact of the latest plans on the surrounding landscape. Din l-Art Helwa had repeatedly made this point to the major projects team at Mepa over the last months, but the request for adequate photomontages taken from important viewpoints in the surrounding area, was ignored.

“Superseded photomontages of previous plans were shown to the board for only a few seconds during the meeting. Din l-Art Helwa is shocked that the board could have approved the project unanimously on this basis, seeing that the negative visual impact was one of the major concerns of the project, together with the heavy congestion of traffic that will be created on this already saturated road,” it added.

The Local Plan NWSP 25 clearly states that on this site, with the application of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR), a maximum of only eight floors can be allowed, or slight departures from this height. 11 floors cannot be considered as a slight departure from eight floors, said the NGO.

Significantly, Mepa’s own FAR policy states clearly that tall buildings are not acceptable on ridge sites, and specifically lists Mistra ridge as an example of an unacceptable location, Din l-Art Helwa pointed out. The approval of this project has created a dangerous precedent for tall buildings on ridges throughout Malta and Gozo, and has severely compromised the FAR policy document itself.

Din l-Art Helwa said it expects the Prime Minister to ensure that the Mepa board acts in a responsible manner, which was not the case with this decision.

“This decision calls further attention to Mepa’s problem of credibility, proving that Mepa does not act equitably or fairly across the board when it ignores its own policies on such a large scale. Din l-Art Helwa believes that the approval of this project creates, yet again from the major projects team and the Mepa board, a case of two weights and two measures.”