PA transfers €7 million earmarked for 6 localities and intends to use them for university car park
● PA says project will benefit the localities
The Planning Authority has decided to transfer €7 million which were earmarked for possible future projects in six localities, and placed them in a reserve fund which could be used for university parking facilities, with some mayors not fully aware of what was going on when contacted.
The €7 million was taken out of the Development Planning Fund for six localities. Should Councils, prior to 31 December 2018, present proposed projects to make use of the funds, they can still make use of the allocated money that has been committed to the reserve fund.
“The Development Planning fund promotes improvement and embellishment work in urban areas, such as landscaping, traffic management and other urban projects which are considered beneficial
to the wider community,” the PA website reads. “The fund is made available to all local councils, government agencies, NGOs or private individuals but the proposals would need to be submitted through the respective local councils where the initiatives are intended to be implemented.” While the local councils submit the proposals, the fund is administered by the PA Executive Council.
The fund for each locality is mainly financed through mandatory contributions by developers for inconvenience caused, such as when not providing enough parking spaces in their development and a planning gain is imposed.
This newsroom had filed a Freedom of Information request for the amount held in the fund by each locality in Malta in January 2018 and in July 2018, which showed a drop in funds held by a number of localities. Sources explained that the drop in some of the localities was due to this particular situation.
Sources said that, as at July, both Sliema and St Julian’s had €2 million of their Development Planning funds transferred into this reserve fund. Gzira had around €1.2 million, Msida around €850,000, San Gwann around €815,000 and Ta Xbiex €140,000 transferred, the sources explained.
The PA, in replies to questions sent by this newsroom received yesterday afternoon, said that the main challenges of areas in the central part of Malta are most definitely traffic congestion and parking issues. “In fact, local councils in these areas continually raise these two issues as the biggest problems for their locality. Over recent years, no local council has been forthcoming with proposals for projects that can address these challenges, both individually and as a region.”
“Recently, the Authority’s Executive Council discussed a proposal to create a University Park reserve fund for the future development of a sizeable car park within the site of the University sports facilities. Given that a number of localities may be affected by this proposal, the Executive council identified the localities of Sliema, Gzira, St Julian’s, Msida, Ta’ Xbiex and San Gwann from where existing funds will be transferred to the reserve. Given that local councils may have long term projects for their locality, the Executive Council also decided that should a local council prior to 31st December 2018 present proposed projects, they can still make use of the allocated money that has been committed to the reserve,” the PA said.
This newsroom contacted a number of the mayors whose area would be affected.
St Julian’s Mayor Guido Dalli confirmed that a December deadline was given. By this time, he said, those councils who had a portion of their funds from this fund moved have to present evidence that they plan to use them for a major project and if not they will be lost to that council.
Dalli said that the St Julian’s council was going to spend the PA funds on road works. Three roads are complete and three more roads have been contracted to start in two weeks’ time. Quotations were given for another 10 roads, but due to the creation of Infrastructure Malta, this request will in most probability be refused, he said. As such, the council is making plans for a Spinola Square project – the survey has been completed – and to help with the San Giljan and Neptunes waterpolo pitches. The council sent an email to the PA to ask if it is permissible to help them and are waiting for an answer. If refused, the council will need to make other plans in order not to lose the funds, he said.
He said that he wants a guarantee that, if the council presents some form of evidence, like a signed statement by an architect, of the projects the council intends to undertake, that the funds would be returned to the council.
He also expressed some concern that this could create a precedent, but highlighted that some localities would struggle to spend the amount of funds they have in the Development Planning fund, arguing that it could only be used for certain things like major projects. He said it might be a good idea, given that this fund is there to help improve the locality as well, further expand the possible uses of the fund.
What was contracted for the roadworks, three are being done and work on three will start in a few weeks’ time.
This newsroom also contacted Sliema Mayor Anthony Chircop, who said that this fund was intended to help compensate areas with heavy development. These funds would then be used to improve the locality. He said that the idea behind the fund was to help build gardens, parking areas and other such projects.
Chircop explained that Sliema already has a number of projects that would qualify for financing through this fund. “For us to use the funds allocated to Sliema, any project needs approval from the Planning Authority and if the project involves public land, one has to apply for the devolution of that land to council, before submitting your application to use the fund. We had a number of such projects, one of which was a big underground car park, but since they are still in the application and consideration phases, and thus could not apply for this piece of land to be devolved to us, we could not put in our request for funding. It does not mean to say that the funds were there and we are ignoring them. It’s just a situation where you have to have planning approval and other bureaucratic obstacles.”
He said that Sliema still has a number of projects for which they want to request funding. He questioned how funds could just be appropriated like this by the PA. It is pertinent to note that in such projects that utilise this fund’s financing, the councils would have to pay for the project themselves and reimbursed from the fund, he added. He stressed that the conditions regarding applications for funding were changed recently and explained that councils cannot recuperate the full amount for projects from this fund anymore, stating that councils need to pay a portion of the final expenses from their own internal funds. They would also need to show evidence that the council can provide this portion of funds prior to the start of a project, he said.
Sliema local councillor Michael Briguglio, who also teaches at University said that local councils should be kept fully informed about the funds held at the PA, and that they should be given all the information in terms of funds moved between accounts involving localities. He said that he cannot see how the car park would help Sliema, and that funds should be spent locally if generated locally. “Every local council should decide for itself how these funds are to be spent for urban improvements.”
Msida Mayor Margaret Baldacchino Cefai was not aware of the funds being moved into a university car park reserve fund, and is checking to see what is going on.
Gzira Mayor Conrad Borg Manche is looking into the situation. He said he has commitments in terms of projects as well. He said that it does make a bit of sense as it does not make sense to have €2 million lying around when things can be done. He said that he had heard something about the situation, and asked the council’s executive secretary to ask about it. The secretary told him that the funds will probably go back to the council since they had commitments. However, the mayor was surprised when this newsroom read out the amount in the Gzira fund from the Freedom of Information request.
This newsroom managed to contact PA Executive Chairman Johann Buttigieg yesterday, and asked him how this car park would affect the various areas. He said that the car park will affect them directly.
“The idea is to have that car park, together with others, linked together to serve as a park and ride system for the whole area between Paceville, St Julian’s, Sliema, Msida, Gzira, Floriana and so on.”
He explained that there will be a park and ride system between a number of car parks.