Updated 2pm with PA decision

The Planning Authority on Thursday gave the go-ahead for a 200-apartment residential complex in Birżebbuġa, although the local council voted against the project due to fears for the safety of an important cave nearby. 

The development on Triq Għar Dalam and surrounding streets will include 178 apartments and 22 penthouses spread over seven floors, three of them receded, with three underground parking levels.

The PA board approved the plans with 10 votes in favour and only one against. Local council representative Carmel Cacopardo voted against the project after the board refused to take up his proposal of a €1 million bank guarantee to ensure the safety of the nearby Għar il-Friefet. 

The underground cave is a site of scientific significance and part of a greater of archaeological and geological importance surrounding Għar Dalam.

A geological report cited during the hearing had concluded that the cave was naturally unstable and that vibrations during the construction phase could affect the cave’s integrity.

The PA board voted down Mr Cacopardo's proposal as the developer could not be held solely responsible for safeguarding the cave, which is some 60 metres away from where excavation will take place, and traversed by an overlying road.

The board, however, insisted that all excavation be carried out with circular saws to minimise vibrations, and that geological monitoring takes place. A €50,000 bank guarantee was imposed to ensure the conditions were followed. 

The PA case officer had recommended the application for approval, noting that the area was zoned for residential use, while the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) had also deemed the plans acceptable, citing a lack of significant environmental impacts.

Residents, however, had voiced concerns over the noise and air pollution, as well as the parking problems, they say the development and its construction will bring with it.

Plans for the site have been on the cards since an outline development permit was granted in 2011.

A permit for seven blocks had been granted back in 1968 but only three were built, and after a cultural appreciation of Għar il-Friefet, the area was scheduled. The Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan designated a substantial part of it as a ‘green area’.

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