The Cospicua council is among  the objectors to plans by the American  University of Malta to turn a public car park in the locality into student dormitories and accommodation.

According to the new plans, submitted by architect Edwin Mintoff on behalf of the Sadeen Group, the Jordanian construction company that owns the AUM, a public car park at the back of the campus, next to the Palumbo dockyard, is set to be dug up. 

Instead, the AUM wants to build a private underground car park over which several storeys of student dormitories will be constructed. The plans include a large rooftop swimming pool.

Representations made during the ongoing consultation process lamented the “takeover” of public space.

Cospicua mayor Alison Zerafa Civelli said her council would only support the project if there was a guarantee that 50% of the new 180 car park spaces would be reserved exclusively to residents, who would be able to use them free of charge. Half of the parking slots at street level should also be given to residents, she added.

Noting that it was not against the proposed project, Ms Zerafa Civelli said her council was very concerned about the impact on the traffic flow.

“The acute parking problem in our city is a reality that cannot be ignored,” she said, adding the council would only give  its support if specific conditions were “strictly” adhered to.

Parking problem in our city is a reality that cannot be ignored

Apart from the controversial car park, the AUM’s application includes the refurbishment of the Knights’ Building on Dock 1 and its use as part of the university, the building of a new wing covering most of the bastions in the background and the alteration of a public staircase that was built using EU funds.

Some objectors feel height limitations for the area are not being respected, noting that the designs submitted did not match the historic surroundings, given that  this would be an extension to the  Knights’ Building.

This opinion is shared by the Planning Authority’s design advisory committee, which described the student accommodation building, which also sports a rooftop swimming pool, as “having a negative impact on the skyline”.

Announced in 2015, the AUM project has so far struggled to take off because, despite a significant investment in the building of its Cospicua campus, the project has attracted fewer students than originally forecast.

The AUM was also mired in controversy, with many of its former academic staff  filing court action against the Jordanian owners, accusing them of ending their employment just days before the lapse of their contractual legal probation period.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, an ardent supporter of the project, said a few weeks ago the AUM would only start building a new campus at Żonqor Point, Marsascala, once it managed to fill all its student vacancies in Cospicua. This statement is not reflected in the public contract entered into between the government and Sadeen Group.