Updated 8.15pm, adds MIDI's reaction

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) is appealing the Manoel Island project's environment impact assessment, saying it is fundamentally “a rehash of a previous report" that was flagged for a conflict of interest.

The Manoel Island project's EIA was approved by the Environment and Resources Authority in June. It was the second time the regulator was assessing the environmental impact of construction plans on Manoel Island, after an appeals tribunal had annulled the project’s initial EIA.

That EIA had been nullified following NGO objections which noted that one of its principal expert contributors was the son of a MIDI plc director and sub-contractor to the same organisation.

But the eNGO says that little was changed for the second EIA, with no new terms of reference and therefore no public consultation phase required. It said on Friday that it is appealing the ERA approval with the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. 

FAA added that since the last EIA was submitted, MIDI made it known that their plans for Manoel Island had changed radically. If the plans have changed, then fresh terms of reference for the EIA are required, FAA said. 

“This casts a dark shadow over the integrity and quality of ERA’s decision to approve the plans. A totally different proposal requires a new EIA with its own terms of reference,” it insisted.

FAA's arguments for appeal

FAA is also basing its appeal on other grounds, arguing that the EIA report is based on regulations that were superseded in 2017, and that MIDI should have submitted a new planning permit application, as the original was filed in 1999 and never renewed. 

The eNGO has been very vocal in its opposition to the Manoel Island project, arguing that construction in the area will be an eyesore and block views of Valletta’s iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site fortifications from across the creek.

The organisation is also objecting to the destruction of chunks of the Gżira promenade to accommodate a new road bridge and the building of a 42-metre seafront roundabout.

Gżira, it pointed out, is one of Malta’s only towns that lacks a public square, and these open spaces are essential to public health in such a built-up area.

FAA said it is also protesting against the proposed construction of an extra floor on the Lazzaretto, ruining the aesthetics of the building and hiding the ramparts of Fort Manoel. 

It called on the authorities to reclaim Manoel Island, the only wooded area between Pietà and Salina, and turn it into a national heritage park.

MIDI reacts

Reacting, MIDI said that the revised masterplan aims to restore and develop Manoel Island into a mixed-use residential  development with 192,000 square metres of open spaces. 

The footprint of the new buildings in the new masterplan are being scaled down from 26% to approximately 10% of the site area and the gross floor area of the new buildings will total 55,000 square metres compared to the 95,000 square metres outlined in the government deed. 

With regards to the Lazzaretto, MIDI said that the task facing restorers is “considerably daunting”.

Parts of the original building which were either destroyed or dismantled are scheduled to be rebuilt in line with the original designs. Through the masterplan, the building will be completely restored and will continue to receive visitors for entertainment and hospitality purposes.

MIDI said that throughout the past years it has invested heavily to restore the heritage buildings and give them a new lease of life.

When it took over, Manoel Island was in a state of neglect and abandonment. Now, a number of these heritage buildings, including the Fort Manoel, have been restored to their former glory.  

The revised masterplan, it said, contemplates a pedestrian priority development with vehicles directed underground to ensure a safe environment for the public.

The building heights will be terraced from the seafront towards the centre of the island to create a varied architectural skyline that respects the island’s topography and the maximum height of the development will not exceed the height of Fort Manoel. 

MIDI said it was surprised that the FAA has appealed the ERA decision as its members failed to attend the ERA public hearing on June 4.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us