City Gate's regeneration will see 400 parking spaces lost, the investments ministry said, and not 2,000 as claimed by the Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises, GRTU.

The plans by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano will do away with the parking spaces in St James Ditch and Freedom Square, Valletta, an issue of concern for Valletta shop owners and office workers.

However, these will be replaced by an equivalent number of parking spaces at an enlarged park-and-ride facility in Blata l-Bajda, the ministry said.

A spokesman described the GRTU's claims on the number of parking spaces that will be lost as a "gross exaggeration".

"The whole of Valletta has around 3,000 parking spaces so suggesting 2,000 will be removed is equivalent to suggesting the City Gate project will be built over a third of Valletta," the spokesman said.

The ministry said it was good transport policy to create pedestrian areas in town centres while providing parking and efficient connections from the outskirts.

"This is mainstream town planning for historical town centres and consistent with the Local Plan for the area. The existing park-and-ride facility in Blata l-Bajda has proved popular and its service is deemed reliable by its users and there is no reason to believe this will not be the case once the service is extended," the ministry said.

The spokesman said there were no immediate plans for the construction of underground car parks in the environs of Valletta but she pointed out that the development plans for Grand Harbour and Marsamxett did propose underground parking in Beltissebħ, Floriana.

The Piano plans for Valletta's entrance would see St James Ditch transformed into a garden while the open space in Freedom Square would be replaced by a new parliament building.

Traffic would also be re-directed since the road that spans over City Gate will cease to exist. Access to the Marsamxett side of Valletta would have to be through the lower part.

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