Maltatoday, 14th September 2008, by Matthew Vella –


Over 200 signatories including residents from the Santa Marija Estate in Mellieha, have called on the government to uphold planning policies and save the area from further development that will turn it “into a concrete jungle”.

The petition, presented by the Santa Marija and Kortin residents’ association, was presented to the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) Austin Walker, to take protective measures against ensuing development in the area.
Santa Marija was originally established as a residential area in 1963 by magnate Albert Mizzi’s Cenmed (Central Mediterranean Development Corporation Ltd).

Buyers were bound by strict contractual obligations to only build a detached bungalow on their plot, surrounded by an open space or a garden in order to preserve the green area of the estate.
Originally, plots could only have a building site coverage limit of 20% of the area, but in 2000, MEPA revised planning policies to increase site coverage to 30% as well as allowing single bungalows to be replaced by two semi-detached units or flats.
Additionally, Mizzi’s company Cenmed has waived conditions which restrict development of the plots, against a fee of as much as Lm15,000 (€35,000), paving the way for intensified development.

The petitioners have written to the Prime Minister to complain about MEPA’s “misguided relaxation” of building policies, saying it is “slowly but surely eroding the character of the estate”.
“This intensification has led developers to introduced underground parking and basements, excavating indiscriminately beyond the building footprint… the result is obvious. The gardens are being replaced with wholesale paved areas which obviously do not support soil and vegetation,” the petitioners wrote.


Remedial action
The petitioners are calling for changes to development planning policies enshrined in the Local Plans that govern the building guidelines for the area.
They are calling for Santa Marija Estate to be excluded from any height relaxation zones so that development is restricted to a one-floor limit as originally conceived.
They also want “unequivocal confirmation” on the Northwest Local Plan policy that designates Santa Marija as a ‘low-density, predominantly bungalow area’. “This should clearly send the message that habitable rooms should be planned on one level.”

The petitioners claim MEP’s decision to allow two adjacent semi-detached units on one plot has provided developers with “the opportunity and financial attraction of buying old bungalows to replace them with two semi-detached units” and “is still doing most damage to the character of the estate”.
They also want to limit plot density to 25% of the entire one-tumolo plots, to allow the rest to be landscaped space. “Soft landscaping is what gives the Estate the garden character which we are all afraid of losing.”
They have also called for a limit to excavation on the plots to the building footprint and swimming pool areas, and therefore exclude excavation in front gardens.
They have also called for Santa Marija Estate to be subjected to an Environmental Impact Assessment or a Sustainable Development Survey based upon the current and planned developments.