Paceville master plan turns into heated arguments between government and Opposition
The Paceville master plan debate in the Environment and Planning Development Committee in Parliament saw heated arguments between the government and the Opposition, with PN MP Marthese Portelli saying the government will be expropriating private land yet at the same time will have developers building on public land.
MP Portelli asked if accurate maps by the Lands Department representing what is public and private land have been submitted, as well as whether a list of government property and private property. “This exercise was meant to occur between the Lands Department and the Planning Authority.”
Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri said that Lands Commissioner Peter Mamo told her this information was already passed to the committee.
Marthese Portelli said she already highlighted that the map is not correct, saying some land is public when it is in fact private. “The Lands Department gave wrong information,” she said.
Dr Schembri said that Peter Mamo told her that the plans are small and thus there could be overlapping, and for what Dr Portelli wants, a survey that takes a lot of time would need to be conducted. “He said that all the GPD could pass over, given their resources, has already been passed onto this Committee.”
Dr Portelli said: “So we are saying the GPD can’t do it, and neither do they have the funds for it, yet the government has funds for a €300,000 payment to Mott Macdonald. If the Lands Department is not ready to do it, then who will? We are either here to help people, or lump many documents and shut people up.”
Dr Schembri said that at the end of the day “we must do things that are possible.” She said that the master plan is not about looking at who owns what, but it’s rather about a concept.
Dr Portelli stressed the importance of a list showing what is private and public land, as the plan indicated there will be a lot of private land that will be taken for open spaces.
Dr Portelli stressed that the master plan must go back to the drawing board. She said that through the plan, the government would need to pay for expropriated land. “It will take up a large amount of private property to make open space, yet at the same time there is public property being given to the private sector. So the government is paying private citizens for land, yet throwing away land giving it to private developers. I asked for this list in order to see this more clearly.”
Arguments over the questions posed
Both sides agreed that there is need for a holistic plan without any conflict of interest favouring one developer over another, one resident over another, etc.
Asked whether the Committee agreed that the infrastructure needs to be improved, both sides agreed, but Dr Portelli added that the same must be done to the surrounding localities, and PL MP Charles Buhagiar argued that the infrastructure projects must be done prior to development occurring.
Asked whether the committee agrees in principle that tall buildings can be built in the area while freeing up open space, the committee hearing quickly deteriorated into a heated argument. The PL members agreed, but PN MP Ryan Callus said that these questions should have been sent to Committee members beforehand. “I don’t think these questions should be imposed on us as though we are having an exam, like a show. This is not how mature politics is done. I expected that these questions be given to us beforehand, not handed to us here and now.”
Chairman Mercieca said that these are simple questions. “Do you agree with tall buildings or not?”
PN MP Callus said that his problem is not with the substance of the questions, but with the way things have been done. “Everyone knows this master plan is a disaster from start to finish. We are ready to find a common position, but this is not how things are done.”
Dr Portelli said that if the PN does not agree with tall buildings, the government will come out saying the PN does not agree. “If the PN says yes, when the new master plan comes out, and if we have objections to some of those tall buildings, the government will say we are contradicting each other. This is the crucial point. The crucial question was whether we agree with the concept of a master plan, and yes we do, with conditions. You can’t ask me about tall buildings as it depends which one, who would pay for the open space, etc.”
Asked whether there are any sites which are not ideal for tall buildings, Dr Portelli quoted from the Chamber of Architects, that the quantity of development proposed is accommodated without any analysis. PN MP Ryan Callus said this answer can be found, in black and white, in the objections put forward by the people.
Parliamentary Deborah Schembri said that the government will listen to the people and read their complaints. She said she will take decisions that are needed after hearing and reading all that the public is saying.
Dr Schembri argued that the Opposition was not giving a response, but time and time again, PN MPs said that the plan needs to go back to the drawing board, and a more holistic plan that does not prefer one developer over another, one resident over another, be drafted.
Chairman Mercieca then said: “To be clear, you agree with all of them but Mercury Tower,” to which all the PN MPs objected arguing that this is not what they said.
Dr Portelli argued: “If we want a holistic plan, then we should not choose one site or another, but all of Paceville.” She stressed that this is a plan of tall buildings not a holistic plan. “This is even shown in the questions you are asking us, which regard tall buildings.”
Dr Schembri argued that it is a holistic plan.
Dr Portelli then asked how the Floor Area Ratio worked, given that it benefited Mercury House. She said that all developers must be treated justly when it comes to this ration, and alleged that there is no level playing-field in the current plan.
Both sides agreed that there should be open spaces in Paceville, but PN Portelli said that the Mott MacDonald plan takes away land from private businesses for such space and does not take the small businesses into consideration.