An un­sus­tain­able mess

In the past three weeks, the Sliema Plan­ning Au­thor­ity file con­tained the fol­low­ing stag­ger­ing num­bers of devel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tions – 177 new units spread over de­vel­op­ments on 72 dif­fer­ent sites, which in view of a lack of on-site park­ing avail­abil­ity will

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Paul Rad­milli is a PN Sliema Lo­cal Coun­cil­lor. paul.rad­ Paul Rad­milli

These fig­ures were drawn from an anal­y­sis car­ried out on the file’s ap­pli­ca­tions for the dates 7th of Oc­to­ber un­til the 31st of Oc­to­ber. While not all ap­pli­ca­tions have been ap­proved, as sure as the sea is salty, prac­ti­cally all will be ap­proved. This level of devel­op­ment is go­ing to have an im­mense detri­men­tal ef­fect on cur­rent res­i­dents as well as prospec­tive res­i­dents in terms of park­ing avail­abil­ity, the daily night­mare of nav­i­gat­ing through the con­struc­tion may­hem, and the gen­eral de­gen­er­a­tion of the town which risks com­ing to a stand­still.

With re­spect to aes­thet­ics, few read­ers may be aware that the Plan­ning Au­thor­ity ac­tu­ally has a De­sign Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee headed by one of Malta’s most pro­fes­sional ar­chi­tects whose work per­tains to that rare breed of Mal­tese ar­chi­tects who seek har­mo­nious, in­no­va­tive de­sign.

The DAC’s role is more vi­tal than ever be­fore in plan­ning, as the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion no longer wants to live in towns where ma­jes­tic houses are de­mol­ished to be re­placed by dull blocks of apart­ments de­void of any char­ac­ter.

Fur­ther­more the most re­cent pol­icy, ab­bre­vi­ated as the DC15, lays great em­pha­sis on the de­sign of build­ings and goes as far as ne­ces­si­tat­ing that at plan­ning stage the so­cial con­text and the streetscape vis­ual is taken into ac­count.

I have yet to read any pro­nounce­ments by the DAC to en­sure that new de­vel­op­ments meet the high stan­dards out­lined in DC15.

I shall use two ex­am­ples from the Oc­to­ber mess I en­coun­tered in re­search­ing this ar­ti­cle to painfully il­lus­trate my point.

The PA2499/16 devel­op­ment will re­sult in four­teen more apart­ments on what ar­guably is the ugli­est blocks of apart­ments in Malta. The case of­fi­cer in a two pages and a half su­per­fi­cial re­port states the fol­low­ing: ‘the pro­ject­ing parts are sim­i­lar in de­sign to the ex­ist­ing closed bal­conies on the lower floors. The pro­posed de­sign is thus deemed as a con­tin­u­a­tion of the un­der­ly­ing floors, (…)’. Why does the PA en­cour­age the ‘con­tin­u­a­tion’ of such poor aes­thet­ics?

The sec­ond is PA1035/16 which will re­sult in an un­pleas­ant hotch­potch of three styles. The ex­ist­ing closed bal­cony in gold alu­minium and ter­ra­cotta ren­dered tiles, the open bal­conies in gold alu­minium and the new four floors plus pent­house of white alu­minium and glass. Both blocks have no un­der­ground park­ing, no swill room for in­ter­nal waste dis­posal and no rain­wa­ter run off har­vest­ing.

Isn’t it high time to stop per­pet­u­at­ing ugly de­sign and un­sus­tain­able blocks of apart­ments with no con­sid­er­a­tion for park­ing and waste dis­posal once we are ap­proach­ing the 5th decade of such devel­op­ment? Shouldn’t the PA be en­cour­ag­ing the de­mo­li­tion of gold alu­minium blocks to have them re­con­structed with some sem­blance of de­sign and cru­cially the ameni­ties re­quired for to­day’s day and age?

When devel­op­ment takes place on build­ings which do not pro­vide on­site park­ing the Com­muted Park­ing Pay­ment Scheme comes into play. This sys­tem has a num­ber of la­cu­nae and anom­alies.

If a devel­op­ment takes place where there are garages on site, then the new devel­op­ment is ex­empt from such CPPS. In such cases the PA does not bother check­ing the avail­abil­ity of the ex­ist­ing garages. In one case the PA cal­cu­lated a short­fall of 16 car park­ing spa­ces, yet ex­empted the ap­pli­cant in view of an on site car park. This short­fall amounts to a con­sid­er­able num­ber, thus the ac­tual avail­abil­ity of such places should have been ver­i­fied.

On a far­ci­cal note in one ap­pli­ca­tion the PA took into ac­count a garage of a third party. Other anom­alies are that it you build a two-bed­room apart­ment at roof level you are con­sid­ered to re­quire two car spa­ces, while if you build a two-bed­room at a level lower than roof level you need one car.

There is then the abu­sive in­ter­pre­ta­tion as is the case with PA3813/16 and PA1035/16 where CPPS con­tri­bu­tions were waived. For the for­mer the Au­thor­ity in­formed the Coun­cil that this de­ci­sion fol­lowed a com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the ar­chi­tect, while for the lat­ter the case of­fi­cer refers to a 2006 pol­icy which is no longer ap­pli­ca­ble. When it comes to CPPS clearly some de­vel­op­ers are more equal than oth­ers. There is also the de­vi­ous trick that on plan some rooms are marked as ‘gyms’ when they are clearly bed­rooms.

In the month of Oc­to­ber we reached rock bot­tom with re­spect to park­ing rights of res­i­dents and vis­i­tors to Sliema with the first per­mit granted in line with Labour Govern­ment’s new pol­icy for out­door cater­ing ar­eas pub­lished in June.

In P8, the pol­icy states that ‘the Au­thor­ity will con­sider re­quests for ex­tend­ing the Out­door Cater­ing Area over park­ing spa­ces’.

Read­ers, like me, will think com­mon sense dic­tates that one doesn’t place pa­trons hav­ing cof­fee on one of the busiest roads in Malta.

It is also per­ti­nent to point out that the over­ar­ch­ing plan­ning guide­lines known as the SPED laid a lot of em­pha­sis on the im­por­tance of man­age­ment of park­ing spa­ces and how ur­ban traf­fic is ex­ac­er­bated by per­sons cir­cling to find a park­ing space to the detri­ment of res­i­dent’s health.

But the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­pects of the SPED pol­icy are in a deep coma and while one naively hopes that the En­vi­ron­ment and Re­sources Au­thor­ity will re­act to this en­vi­ron­men­tal mess created by re­mov­ing more park­ing spa­ces, it may be more sen­si­ble to brace our­selves for more re­moval of park­ing.

PA1338/16, a café near Old Col­lege Str has been granted a per­mit for a plat­form on 6.84m of car park­ing bays. An­other ap­pli­ca­tion 4626/16 will see three park­ing spa­ces re­moved from the Strand. This wave is to be seen in the con­text of the fact that 18 park­ing spa­ces are to be re­moved by the Town­square project should it win the mul­ti­ple ap­peals.

A fi­nal point con­cerns the sus­tain­abil­ity of the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the con­struc­tion of such sites. If in re­search­ing the to­tals for Sliema’s per­mits for just three weeks of Oc­to­ber one finds that 72 dif­fer­ent sites are to be de­vel­oped, then the ac­tual num­ber for the whole of 2016 runs into hun­dreds.

The prob­lem is that the Plan­ning Au­thor­ity only plans how to dish out per­mits and gives scant, if no con­sid­er­a­tion at all, as to what hap­pens at con­struc­tion phase. Such devel­op­ment re­quires a pro­fes­sional or­gan­ised ap­proach in which zones for devel­op­ment are iden­ti­fied within strict time­frames where var­i­ous sites use the same crane and where traf­fic is rerouted to cause min­i­mal dis­tur­bance. We sim­ply can’t have the piece­meal ap­proach of clos­ing roads when­ever a new per­mit is is­sued.

The lack of re­spect for res­i­dents’ rights by the PA is un­prece­dented. In one ap­pli­ca­tion the res­i­dents of a block of apart­ments on which an­other floor will be added pro­vided ev­i­dence from the ar­chi­tect of the block that struc­turally the block can­not sup­port fur­ther floors. The re­ply by the PA was that the per­mit is be­ing granted safe­guard­ing third party rights by which is meant the PA gives the per­mit, then it is up to the res­i­dent who suf­fers dam­ages to seek rem­edy in court. At which point are the rights of the res­i­dents to be safe­guarded, when the res­i­dent is, God for­bid, buried un­der rub­ble?

This con­struc­tion mess needs to be planned sus­tain­ably at ev­ery stage and the Au­thor­ity needs to shy away from Prime Min­is­ter Mus­cat’s po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tion of seek­ing to ap­pease the nar­row in­ter­ests of the few. Labour’s motto of ‘friendly to busi­ness’ has to be ur­gently cur­tailed. Park­ing spa­ces in pub­lic ar­eas be­long to the pub­lic and have to re­main so.

It is for the above rea­sons that I will be join­ing the FAA res­i­dent’s protest to take place to­day at 11am in Sir Adrian Dingli Street.

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