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
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.