Maltatoday, 8th June 2008, by David Darmanin –
Not only has the delay in MEPA’s approval for the development of Fort Cambridge become a matter of concern for the applicant, but it is now also causing anxiety among some of the private investors, whose money is either secured in bonds aimed at co-financing this project, or otherwise spent in deposits covering preliminary purchase agreements on apartments due to be sold on plan.
GAP Holdings’ plans to develop 341 luxury apartments at Fort Cambridge took an interesting turn last Thursday when, at a MEPA Planning Directorate meeting expected to give the green light to a full development plan, a board member objected to the project on grounds of the visual impact a 23-storey block is bound to have on Valletta’s landscape when viewed from Bighi point.
As a result, the MEPA directorate postponed the meeting after recommending the applicant to submit fresh plans for a 16-storey development, as originally proposed. The developers however, had already started advertising apartments to be sold on plan, including those scheduled for the 17th floor or higher. Besides, in order to co-finance the development, in 2007 GAP Holdings plc issued €35 million in bonds, set to mature not later than 30 April 2013.
It is not known whether delays in the issue of development permits will impinge on the completion of the apartment blocks in time for the deadline by which bond payments are redeemed.
Although the bond issue prospectus distributed on behalf of GAP Developments plc in March last year clearly forewarned of: “risk of delays in planning permissions and other risks inherent in the building and construction industry”, it is not known what course of action the developers are opting to take now that the possibility of such consequence is looming.
“It would be wise to be cautious for the time being, and take things day by day,” GAP Developments chairman George Micallef said when asked to comment.
Meanwhile, industry sources informed this newspaper of prospective apartment owners currently looking into the possibility of being granted a refund on payments forfeited upon promise of sale agreements.
Micallef denied outright that GAP had been approached with any such request. “I can guarantee nobody approached me personally with a request for a refund, I swear,” he said.
Commenting on MEPA’s decision to postpone the issue of development permits, Micallef said: “MEPA had already granted an outline development permit for a 23-storey block and it is on that plan that permits are to be issued.”
The original development plans were submitted for a 16-storey development, but since issue was found with the extensive footprint the building was due to occupy, “discussions with MEPA had confirmed that a development on 23-storeys would be granted,” Micallef confirmed, in view of the fact that a higher building would reduce the footprint.
And yet, landscaping issues now motivated MEPA to make a U-turn, suggesting a reversion to plans for a shorter building.
“It would be better to refrain from commenting on this, but if a four-storey block is constructed there it would still be seen from Bighi,” he said.
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