Plan­ning Au­thor­ity – con­trolled an­ar­chy

I never thought that I would hear my­self say that the Plan­ning Au­thor­ity (for­merly Mepa) should be dis­banded al­to­gether.

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Astrid Vella

Ihad thought that im­per­fect as it was, the Plan­ning Au­thor­ity pre­vented Malta from sink­ing into un­con­trolled an­ar­chy. I was wrong. At the Lija apart­ments hear­ing of two months ago I re­alised that we are sink­ing into con­trolled an­ar­chy with a strong hand de­cid­ing who evades con­trol and who has to sub­mit to it.

Is that why in spite of an in­creased caseload, the two EPC Boards that used to de­cide cases have been re­duced to one, in or­der to en­sure full con­trol over the process? Not to men­tion the fact that the Devel­op­ment Con­trol De­sign Pol­icy 2015 work­ing group in­cluded some of the most no­to­ri­ous ar­chi­tects in prac­tice, in­clud­ing one who has twice faced court pro­ceed­ings for ar­chi­tec­tural mal­prac­tice and whose name is syn­ony­mous with plan­ning ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties? What was th­ese ar­chi­tects’ role on the board – that of en­sur­ing that the new pol­icy is elas­tic enough to ac­com­mo­date their needs?

The lat­est con­tro­ver­sial case con­cerns ap­pli­ca­tion PA3552/15, to add six floors to an un­sta­ble house dat­ing to the early 1800s along the Sliema Fer­ries seafront. The same project was re­fused in 2011, in­clud­ing by the Pan­ning Ap­peals Board and San­i­tary Board in 2014 as it vi­o­lated the san­i­tary law which does not per­mit an eight-storey build­ing in nar­row St Vin­cent Street. And yet the de­vel­oper ap­plied for the same project again, hop­ing for a more sym­pa­thetic board. The PA’s Cul­tural Her­itage Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee has stated: “The Panel con­sid­ers that eight floors on St Vin­cent Street would have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the streetscape and the char­ac­ter­is­tic build­ings in the said street. Since the ap­pli­cant’s prop­erty is not wide enough to in­clude ter­rac­ing on St Vin­cent Street, the Panel ob­jects to the pro­posal.”

Yet at the hear­ing the EPC Chair­per­son was very re­cep­tive to the de­vel­op­ers and im­me­di­ately after the ses­sion, the case of­fi­cer’s re­fusal was changed to rec­om­mended ap­proval in spite of the fact that this project also vi­o­lates the pol­icy re­gard­ing ‘Frontage Widths along the Sliema and St. Ju­lian’s Wa­ter­fronts – To avoid pen­cil devel­op­ment along the Sliema and St Ju­lian’s wa­ter­fronts, pro­pos­als for new high build­ings hav­ing a façade width that is less than 25m will not be per­mit­ted’. This build­ing fa­cade has a width of 5.11m!

In spite of the case of­fi­cer’s rec­om­men­da­tion to refuse once again, the PA EPC is to ap­prove this eye­sore this com­ing Fri­day, bas­ing its de­ci­sion on an in­valid prece­dent and in­cor­rect in­for­ma­tion sup­plied by the de­vel­op­ers. It is not sur­pris­ing that Sliema res­i­dents are dis­gusted and will be protest­ing on Satur­day 5 Novem­ber. PA Chair­man Vin­cent Cas­sar, CEO Jo­hann But­tigieg, Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary Deb­o­rah Schem­bri and Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat are called upon to look into this case to pre­vent yet an­other eye­sore and plan­ning scan­dal.

Astrid Vella, Co­or­di­na­tor, Flimkien għal Am­b­jent Aħ­jar

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