Updated 4.30pm with PN statement
Transport Malta wants to develop a section of open public space on the Ta’ Xbiex promenade into offices and a restaurant.
The plans, which the state entity filed with the Planning Authority last December and has dubbed La Capitainerie, were flagged as concerning by NGO Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar on Saturday.
If approved by the PA, they will see almost 600 square metres of space between Gżira Gardens and the yacht marina quay transformed into office space with meeting rooms, a shop, a restaurant and toilet.
The area targeted for development is designated as a public open space in local plans for the area.
Transport Malta had previously sought planning permission for a similar, albeit smaller development just metres away, but dropped those plans, which would have gobbled up a playground in the gardens, in late 2021.
It began the planning process for its La Capitainerie project a few weeks after withdrawing those initial plans. Both proposals were submitted by architect Antoine Zammit.
In February, the Environment and Resources Authority noted that the project may require interventions of projected trees and asked the applicant to provide details and plans about trees that will be impacted by the development
The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage told the PA that while the building would be visible from Manoel Island, it is located outside a buffer zone designated as an area of high landscape value for Harbour fortifications.
If it is to built, the Superintendence said, its roof must be maintained as a green roof and be free of all forms of services. The cultural watchdog also sought clarification about the types of pontoons to be constructed, noting that an archaeological evaluation may be needed.
Threats to Valletta's UNESCO status
FAA is strongly objecting to the plans, arguing that the area is part of the Gżira Gardens green lung and part of the Valletta Fortifications Area of High Landscape Value. If built, the structure would block views of Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage site, it said.
Blocking those views, the NGO argued, could eventually place the capital city's UNESCO designation at risk, as universal value - which includes views - is a key metric used by the UN agency when deciding on World Heritage sites.
It cited the example of Liverpool, which used to be a UNESCO World Heritage site, but was stripped of that title last year due to "irreversible loss" caused by years of overdevelopment.
FAA also fears that approving the project would also set a dangerous precedent that could lead to more of the Ta’ Xbiex seafront being gobbled up for development.
“Transport Malta, the applicant, should be looking after the public’s transport needs, and not applying for the construction of restaurants for the benefit of the few. There is absolutely no need for more restaurants in the area, as dozens of restaurants line the road from Gzira to Sliema, with two in the garden itself,” it said.
FAA noted that offices are also available for rent just across the road from the proposed development site.
“This project will reduce the much-used promenade linking Sliema to Gzira, Ta' Xbiex and Msida to a narrow 2m pathway, while two-way traffic will be funnelled into a 3m bottleneck. The design eliminates about 70 car spaces, thereby exacerbating an already desperate parking situation on Ta’Xbiex Seafront where there is an acute shortage of parking spaces for residents, berth holders to two marinas, office staff and clients in both Ta’ Xbiex and Gzira,” it said.
The application had attracted a couple of objections from residents as of Saturday. In one objection, a resident noted that the decision to build a lido nearby had completely obscured views of Valletta and that this proposed Transport Malta project would further cement this pattern.
“What's the use of having a Area Of High Landscape value when it is covered by buildings for private enjoyment,” asked one resident in his objection. “If you give these permits, what is to stop you from filling the whole Marsamxett coast with these monstrosities?”
A petrol station is already approved for construction in the garden, with those plans being fought in court and public by objectors, including the Gżira local council.
FAA urged the Ta’ Xbiex and Gzira local Councils, as well as the general public, to object to the application. Its coordinator Astrid Vella provided instructions on how to do so, along with suggested text to include in the objection, in a post on Facebook.
Pull the plug on the project - PN
In a statement, the Opposition called on the government to pull the plug on this project and to ensure that open spaces are left free for the public to enjoy.
The Nationalist Party said that Transport Malta's application to build offices and a massive restaurant on the Ta' Xbiex waterfront is "a threat to the public spaces that residents are already lacking."
"According to the local plans, the land is an open public space, and therefore should not be subject to development," the PN said.
"We hear a lot that we need to protect public spaces but we are seeing a discrepancy between the words and the facts,” the party added.
The PN highlighted that if this project goes ahead, this development will be blocking the shore and will continue to worsen the traffic and parking problems in those areas.