Proposed lateral extension at Mrieħel towers approved
● PA board members stress need for master plan
A proposed lateral extension to one of the Quad Business highrise towers in Mrieħel was approved by the Planning Authority Board yesterday, while members highlighted the need for some sort of master plan for the area given the effects on the skyline of development in the area.
In August 2016, the Planning Authority approved a controversial application by Tumas and Gasan holdings, who intended to invest €70 million in the construction of four towers in Mrieħel. The towers will be centred around a piazza. The original application’s total floorspace to be developed stood at 41,715 square metres. The total proposed developable gross floorspace above street level of the whole proposed development as per this recent application is now 50,977 square metres excluding terraces and bridges, according to the case officer’s report.
The applicant’s architect stressed that through this latest application, the heights have not changed and that the lateral extension is below the top floors of the building. He also said that some of the changes are architectural.
“The proposal involves relatively minor changes to the configuration of the north, west and south towers and mainly affects the plan volume of the east tower. While all four towers remain with similar building heights as previously approved, the proposal involves an additional site area of circa 1,200 square metres to be developed into a terraced extension of the east tower with buffer zones and landscaping along the adjacent third parties,” the case officer’s report reads.
The case officer notes that the extension of the east tower is located behind the mass of the same tower when viewed from Mdina or Valletta. Thus, since the increase in area is located in the line of view from Mdina to Valletta, the proposed increase in mass will be hidden by the previously approved mass of the east tower, the report reads. “All edges are rounded in plan to assist in minimising the impact of the mass of the building and the concept of permeability of the original project is maintained. The report concludes that the proposal does not change the introduced and established urban qualities and character appraisal of the previously approved development.”
The architect noted that the Quad Towers are aiming for platinum certification, which would rank it among the top one percent of all LEED certified projects. “LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts,” the case officer’s report explains.
The architect said that the number of parking spaces to be provided are above what is required by policy. Increased traffic generation through the project is considered to be low, the board heard.
Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Asciak highlighted the need for a master plan for the Mrieħel area, similar to what was previously proposed for Paceville, to see how projects effect the skyline. He said that this should be part of the Planning Authority’s responsibility. He complimented the design of the project, however highlighted the need for everything to be seen holistically.
Planning Authority Board chairman Vince Cassar noted that the difference between Paceville and Mrieħel was that there were many more applications in Paceville, to which Asciak said that at the very least there should be one to take the skyline in Mrieħel into consideration. Nationalist Party MP Marthese Portelli who sits on the board agreed with Asciak that the Planning Authority should be proactive, as this would even help developers know what is and what is not possible. She voted in favour of the extension but stressed the need for a plan for the area. The NGO’s representative also backed the need for a master plan. Labour Party representative Clayton Bartolo also said that the master plan was a good point.
The Planning Directorate proposed that the planning gain for this application be €231,550, thus the total Planning Gain for the whole project (including the previously approved application) would amount to €425,941.
The applicant’s architect, however, argued that in the original approved application, the applicant could have built up to 46,586 square metres but opted to apply for less (41,715sqm) for visual consideration, and for the planning gain to be reduced. The architect asked that the new amount up to the 46,586 square metres (aka 4,871sqm) which was not built be considered under the old planning gain mechanism which was in place at the time of the first application, which was far less than the current calculation. The current mechanism is calculated as €25 multiplied by floor area, whereas the old mechanism was €4.66 multiplied by floor area. His proposal was that the rest of the amount, between 46,586sqm up to 50,977sqm remains being considered under the new mechanism. This would mean that the planning gait for today’s application would be €132, 473, not €231,550.
The applicant’s request was not accepted and the €231,550 planning gain for this application was imposed.