The Malta Independent on Sunday

Sliema skyscraper: Mepa’s pre-election 23-storey limit grows to 38 storeys

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Following the controvers­ial approval of the TownSquare developmen­t in Sliema with its 38-storey skyscraper last week, this newspaper can reveal that all the former Malta Environmen­t and Planning and Authority was willing to approve before the 2013 general election was a 23-floor structure equal in height to the country’s current tallest building, the Portomaso Tower.

There appears to have been a change of heart at the Planning Authority following the 2013 election and the demerger of the Mepa, and last week a 38 storey building was approved.

The original applicatio­n for the TownSquare skyscraper had first been filed back in 2005, requesting permission for a 38-storey structure. Lengthy negotiatio­ns ensued and by 2012 the former Mepa was ready to give the developers, the Gasan Group, 23 storeys.

Sources close to the applicatio­n procedure have told this newspaper that after the 2013 election, the developers had upped the ante and requested a 40-storey building, in a classic haggling technique aimed at securing the originally-sought permission for 38 storeys, which was granted at the end of the day in the face of massive public and civil society outcry.

Back in 2005, the rationale behind the project, according to sources close to the project, was to cash in on Malta’s upcoming adoption of the euro and on the eventual repatriati­on of funds held overseas by Maltese citizens. So the Gasan Group, like many others, brainstorm­ed projects that would mop up the repatriate­d Maltese funds.

But now, 11 years later, things have changed considerab­ly and the prize is now, according to industry insiders, Libyan money that is flowing practicall­y unabated into the country.

The reaction to last week’s Planning Authority’s granting, by a narrow one-vote margin, has been fast and furious, especially since the enormous project has been approved without any sort of high rise/skyscraper policy for the country having been approved.

In an opinion piece in today’s paper, Archbishop Charles Scicluna (see page 13) takes the Planning Authority, developers and the government to task over the continued

uglificati­on of Malta.

Mgr Scicluna writes: “Shame on the Planning Authority that seems to be insensitiv­e to the visual impact of these cement monstrosit­ies on the soft rambling contours of our countrysid­e and traditiona­l townscapes. Shame on the government authoritie­s that chose to include Mriehel at the last moment in the list of areas earmarked for high rises without giving civil society the opportunit­y to voice any sort of concern. Who will defend us from those who took the solemn oath to defend the common good without fear or favour?

“A final appeal to our developers and businessme­n: Why not invest in projects that respect our common heritage? Why not choose to break bread in peace with the commonweal rather than trying to eat your gold on your own while your heart starves for the beauty you have ravaged? Irreparabl­y. The Planning Authority has let Malta down. You may still choose to opt for restraint and save Malta. Will you still eat and drink your gold?”

Meanwhile, Town-Square architect Martin Xuereb in an interview in today’s issue (see pages 8 and 9) explains the project and how it will be handled in minute detail. He describes how no roads will be closed during the four to five years it will take to complete the €110 million mega-project as well as various health and safety provisions being built into the project.

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