Work starts on massive Balluta development
Project approval jars with recommendation in local plans - FAA
An old villa in Balluta valley will soon disappear as a massive 96-apartment development inches closer to it.
The house, Villa Rockyvale, will be demolished to make way for Balluta Terrace, a massive apartment complex on 12 floors, which was given the green light by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority last June.
The site is next to Le Meridien hotel and stretches well into the side of the valley. The complex also includes office space and 76 garages in a large underground car park.
Work on a section of the development has already started. Last week preparations were being made for the rest of the block - which will lead to the villa and adjacent land being cleared.
According to the local plans the buildings should not be higher than six floors. But in this case the developers reduced the size of each floor to fit in the equivalent maximum height - a trick of the trade which has become almost standard with large-scale developments.
But despite its size and scale, the project largely went undetected on environmentalists' radar.
The only objection filed was by a neighbour who took the matter to court. His issue with the project was, however, settled out of court when the developers bought his property, increasing the size of their footprint in the process.
Previously, Mepa had refused two applications for much smaller developments in the area, but last June it approved the project with hardly any reservations.
The case officer recommended the project for approval and even appeared to be impressed with the design: "The resulting configuration of the proposed development makes for a rather interesting, wedge shaped block," he said.
Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar spokesman Astrid Vella said the development's approval jarred with a recommendation in the local plans covering the area.
She quoted from a passage in the document which states: "Away from the waterfront, there is a major lack of open space and continued speculative demand for dwellings as an asset investment, which results in the construction of large inappropriately sized apartment blocks in relation to the scale of the street and the surrounding road infrastructure.
"Many of these properties remain vacant for long periods... Approximately 62 per cent of the plan area is built up compared with a national average of 21 per cent and eight per cent for Europe. In localities such as Sliema and St Julian's further development would increase noise, traffic, overshadowing, sense of enclosure and degradation of the public realm...
Many of the coastal belt residential areas are over-developed and thus require a restrictive approach to further development."
Ms Vella asked whether the Mepa board considered that its approval of over 90 new apartments on this previously unbuilt green area respected its own policy guidelines.
The Sliema and St Julian's area already had over 5,000 empty housing units and a serious air pollution problem that impacted negatively on residents' health, she said. Furthermore, it had registered air pollution levels that exceeded EU limits by 25 per cent.
The project involves Azzopardi Brothers directors Charles and Tony Azzopardi, Dhalia real estates, financier Norman Spiteri and a prominent architect who is not new to controversial developments, Joe Bondin.