Paceville and Mrieħel are among six localities earmarked for high-rise buildings taller than 10 floors, under a new policy published by the planning authority yesterday.

Commercial towers will be considered in Marsa, Gżira and Mrieħel, while the Qawra peninsula, Paceville and the Tigné peninsula have been earmarked for tall buildings used for residential or tourism purposes.

The policy was launched for consultation in November when the area was still under the responsibility of Michael Farrugia, who then turned over the sector to Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon in the January reshuffle.

Originally, Pembroke was earmarked for high-rise buildings but it was dropped during the consultation. Mrieħel was introduced instead, specifically on the government’s request.

Developers will have to forfeit half of their land and turn it into a public open space. On top of that, only sites that are completely detached – surrounded by existing or planned streets – will be considered.

For the first time, the policy also bans any high-rise development in Gozo, urban conservation areas, such as village cores, land that falls outside development zones, and ridges.

The inclusion of ridges in the list of places out of bounds for tall buildings comes in the wake of a public outcry at the approval of a 15-floor mega development on the Xemxija ridge in Mistra.

Need for quality design emphasised

The planning board argued that it had its hands tied by a previous preliminary permit, which actually approved a 17-storey building. The authority’s Ombudsman had disagreed, saying Mepa was within its rights not to issue the permit but nothing came of that.

The government, however, pledged to ban tall buildings on ridges from then on.

The policy generally also emphasises the need for “quality design” such that high rises can become “icons of architectural quality”. However, past experience has shown that this is a very subjective exercise and similar language in previous policies regulating towers rarely translated into reality.

Besides tall buildings, the policy also sets new parameters for medium-sized buildings and the use of what is known as the floor area ratio policy. This is a formula which allows developers to build higher than the limit established in the local plans, as long as they forfeit a part of their land to landscaping.

Medium-sized buildings, defined as being less than 25 metres or approximately eight to nine floors, will be allowed in St Julian’s, Sliema, Gżira, Msida, Pietà, Marsa, the urban areas of Buġibba, Qawra, St Paul’s Bay, Marsascala and the Freeport area. Moreover, the use will be restricted to offices.

The Opposition’s representative on the Mepa board, Ryan Callus, generally welcomed the policy, pointing out that a number of points he had lobbied for were taken on board.

“We insisted that the landscaped areas around tall buildings should be public space, for instance, and I’m happy to note this was taken on board.” He also welcomed the ban on tall buildings in Gozo and conservation areas.

However, he was critical of the inclusion of Mrieħel. “We feel that tall buildings should be concentrated in specific places for the sake of Malta’s skyline and the inclusion of Mrieħel goes against this because there are no high-rise blocks there,” he said.

Moreover, the industrial area was included on the government’s request after the consultation was over.

“I think, the process should have been followed better and people should have been consulted specifically about this,” Mr Callus said.

mmicallef@timesofmalta.com

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