Updated 2.15pm

The Planning Authority board put off a decision on the proposed Manoel Island mega-development on Thursday amid a lack of information on aspects of the project.

The PA had beenexpected to approve plans for an extensive residential and commercial complex on Manoel Island, including a hotel and casino at the historic Lazaretto, apartment blocks, retail outlets, yacht marina, streets and plazas.

But during the hearing, the board asked developers Midi to return with more detailed information on building heights and the difference between new plans and the original outline permit approved in 1996.

It also emerged during the hearing that the 8,000 square metres of building space the developers say they have cut from their plans may be transferred to Midi's development at Tigné Point.

Government representative Clayton Bartolo said that as this transfer would impact the Tigné masterplan, clarification was needed before a decision was taken.

During an often chaotic hearing marked by opposition from Gżira residents, the developers were unable to present drawings and photomontages requested by the board.

Questions were also raised over whether the latest photomontages - showing changes increasing the height of some residential blocks - had been made publicly available.

Objectors highlighted concerns over the visual impact, particularly from the Gżira promenade, and asked for guarantees that the open space included in the plans would not be eaten up by future applications.

Developers Midi are promising 80,000 square metres of new parks and family areas around Fort Manoel, which will itself comprise galleries, museums, shops, restaurants after earlier plans for a hotel were dropped.

The project will be largely pedestrianised and include two new bridges, one of which will be used only by pedestrians and cyclists.

It has been recommended for approval with the case officer praising open spaces, design and building heights, including late-stage changes increasing the height of several apartment blocks by one storey in exchange for a reduction in the built-up floor space. The case officer nevertheless noted that the cleared floor space would still be eligible for future development.

The project was originally marked by controversy and public protests over foreshore access and a widely-slated first draft master plan.

However, most objections were dropped after the signing in March of a guardianship agreement between Midi and the Gżira local council and NGOs, guaranteeing protection and public access to the island’s heritage buildings, foreshore and green areas.

University's 960-room student village gets approved

Earlier, the authority unanimously approved a student village at Tal-Qroqq. 

The 960-room student residence between the University of Malta and Mater Dei Hospital, incorporates six blocks rising to a maximum of 10 floors.

The project will include commercial space, a swimming pool and student amenities, a language school, lecture rooms, an office building and an underground car park catering for more than 450 cars.

The plans had originally faced staunch opposition from the Mater Dei administration, which warned of a negative impact on hospital patients due to noise and dust during construction as well as the visual intrusion of the finished complex, apart from security concerns.

The objections were later dropped following changes to the plans, with the hospital now insisting only on strict controls during construction to minimise the impact on patients.

The project architect said on Thursday the accommodation was needed to cater for the university's plans to increase its number of students and as the lease on the current student residence in Lija had expired.

He said the blocks' design included landscaped terraces to reduce the visual impact from Wied Għollieqa and that a rural building on site would be dismantled and rebuilt close by as requested by cultural heritage authorities.

Also included is a central garden and walking routes linking the student village to the university, hospital and valley.

The PA case officer noted that the building did not exceed the line between the highest points of the hospital and university and that no objections had been raised by the relevant authorities over the visual, environmental or traffic impacts.

The authority is also set to approve a residential complex in place of Swieqi’s Halland Hotel.

The plans for the Halland site include the demolition of the existing building to make way for 71 apartments and about 150 underground parking spaces, retaining the existing height.

The project has been recommended for approval despite opposition from the Swieqi, St Julian’s and San Ġwann local councils, together with local residents, due to its sensitive location at the tip of Wied Għomor and what they say is “gross overdevelopment of the site”.

“This proposal, incomprehensibly recommended for approval, makes a mockery of planning policies both past and present,” residents said in a statement yesterday. “It runs roughshod over all planning guidelines that were intended to control development and protect both the built-up and natural environment.”

However, the PA case officer noted that the local plan policy allowed for residential development on the site. Moreover, he said the current pedestrian access to Wied Għomor would not be hindered, with the project entirely limited to the confines of the existing hotel, inside development zones, after a planned protrusion into the adjacent ODZ was dropped from the plans. The design, described as “a waved building with setbacks in each floor”, was also considered aesthetically acceptable.

 

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