Maltatoday, Sunday 10 August 2008, by James Debono –


MEPA has to take decisions on nine high-rise applications when its own planning policy on tall buildings hasn’t been approved yet

Nine new high-rise buildings are set to tower above the skyline in various parts of the island, ranging from the 11-storey boomerang structure on the former Mistra village site, to the 32-storey high towers in Sliema and Gzira.
And yet, the government still has not approved the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s policy on tall buildings, entitled ‘A Planning Policy on the use and applicability of the Floor Area Ratio’.
The floor area ratio is the formula used to compensate for the decrease in the sprawl of a development by allowing it to rise further higher.
The document has been awaiting approval by the Prime Minister since 2006: and since then, at least three outline development permits have been issued for high-rise buildings.
The document envisages high-rise development of more than 11 floors in places like Marsa, Pembroke, Sliema, Tigné, the Malta International Airport, Gzira, Qawra and Ricasoli.
But significantly, Mistra is not included in the list of localities earmarked for high-rise development, suggesting that the permit for an 11-storey development granted earlier this year, would not have been possible had MEPA’s own policy guidelines been approved sooner.
When processing the nine pending high-rise applications – as well as any other applications to be submitted before the policy is approved – MEPA is currently using the criteria set out in an “explanatory memorandum” and “the policy and design guidance issued in 2005 and 2007,” a spokesperson told MaltaToday.
Following the controversial approval of the 20-storey Fort Cambridge tower blocks, in which the decision to approve the project was announced by a press release before the vote was even taken, MEPA is now set to approve two new high-rise structures in the Midi project in Tigné.
Block T14, earmarked for the development of a multi-storey office block with an underlying car park, business centre and conference theatre, is set to rise 14 floors, terracing down to 10 floors.
Block T17, earmarked for the development of two residential apartment blocks overlying a car park and clubhouse, has a proposed height of 12 storeys.
According to the outline development permit, building heights on the site of the two new developments were set at between five and 12 floors.
The Tigné proposal outline development planning permit was already subject to an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), but the proposed changes will be subject to an EIA update focusing on the likely significant effects, a MEPA spokesperson told MaltaToday.
The new MIDI development is set to intensify pressure on the infrastructural amenities in Tigné, especially after concern was expressed by Alternattiva Demokratika on the fragility of the geological foundation of the area.
Apart from Tigné, high-rise development is set to take place in Gzira, Paola and Qawra.
The site of the long abandoned former Gzira stadium is also earmarked for a 16-storey block set to become the dwarf companion of the 32-storey tower on the site formerly occupied by Mira Buildings, which has already been granted an outline permit.
In Paola, a 19-storey block is envisaged on the site formerly occupied by the save on supermarket. MEPA has already approved a three-tower high-rise block opposite the Addolorata cemetery.
Significantly it was MEPA, and not the developers, that proposed the construction of the three towers in Paola, whose apartments are regaled with cemetery views. Originally the developers had applied for the construction of 54 apartments set on three floors. According to MEPA, this would have resulted in a monolithic block of flats replete with staggered facades. The Planning Directorate then asked the developers to suspend their application and consider a high-rise development.