MIDI’s revised master plan for its Manoel Island project was last week welcomed by pressure groups, although concern about public open spaces remains.

In its new proposals, the company scaled down the gross area of the new buildings by a third and increased open spaces following new archaeological finds.

When contacted for its initial reaction, Moviment Graffitti said the updated plans were a clear improvement.

“However, this comparison, as well as comparisons to other urban public open spaces in Malta, sets the bar too low,” a spokesperson said.

As confirmed by the environmental impact assessment, residents looking over from Gżira and Ta’ Xbiex will still experience a significant negative visual impact because of the new development, he added.

“When considering that MIDI are being allowed to plan their profits from national heritage, the expected contributions to public well-being cannot be subpar.”

Graffitti, meanwhile, welcomed the proposal of unhindered access to the foreshore and Glacis Park, together with the reservation of Fort Manoel for cultural and community activities.

Nevertheless, it was “wary” that development of other historic buildings, such as the Lazzaretto, into high-end commercial facilities may limit their accessibility to the public in its entirety.

Concern over Lazzaretto was also flagged by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, which is still preparing its official submissions.

A spokesperson said that the addition of an extra floor on Lazzaretto was “totally unacceptable as it would totally bastardise” the unique heritage building. 

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar called for more clarity on the use of Fort Manoel and the management of the park and gardens.

“There needs to be ironclad commitment that these will remain open to the public and not given over to more construction or commercial interests as has happened in other, similar, projects,” the NGO said.

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar noted that the area which will no longer be built on, shown in the new plans as a green triangle, will not be a green public area but a food plaza serving the surrounding catering outlets, “similar to that at Tigne Point, which is neither green nor attractive”.

“The commercial exploitation of this area will detract from the concept of a peaceful oasis and attract even more cars to a congested area.”

FAA believes that the proposed positioning of the new road bridge and roundabout leading to the island will take up a substantial part of the Gżira promenade, which has already lost a large part to the private lido.

Over the past years, concern over the project has been flagged not only by NGOs but also by Gżira residents. Two years ago, the Gżira local council signed a guardianship agreement with MIDI with the goal of guaranteeing protection and public access to the island’s heritage buildings, foreshore and green areas.

A foundation was set up to act as a watchdog over commitments set out by this guardianship agreement.

Environmentalist and lawyer Claire Bonello, from the foundation, welcomed the changes that will see more green, open and unbuilt areas on the area.

“The guardianship deed seeks to ‘crystallise’ these open spaces and public enjoyment of them.

“Once the Planning Authority approves this master plan, the deed kicks in so that subsequent planning applications cannot be filed reducing the area of public open space or allowing the building of structures on this space,” she said.

In that eventuality, the foundation can take action so that the site is preserved as is.

“This way, there is a guarantee of some permanence for the retention of these spaces.

“This is a unique mechanism.  I am not aware of anything similar elsewhere where developers file one application after another always increasing development density and heights. We wish to avoid this fate for Manoel Island to preserve its uniqueness,” Bonello said.

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