Townsquare back to square one - Tribunal sends plans back to the PA
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Townsquare back to square one - Tribunal sends plans back to the PA

Calls for fresh assessment

Updated at 3.45pm: Adds AD statement

The Townsquare tower project has been sent back to the Planning Authority for a new decision after the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal accepted an appeal by NGOs against its approval.

The tribunal said a fresh assessment is needed in line with the Floor Area Ratio policy.

The Environment Authority also needs to re-assess the project on the basis of a new environmental impact assessment, a social impact assessment and a traffic impact assessment.  

The €100 million Gasan project was narrowly approved by the Planning Authority in September 2016 and is the subject of separate appeals by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), the Sliema local council and Din L-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar and other eNGOs. 

Claire Bonello, representing the FAA, said after the tribunal's decision that certain important studies had not been submitted or made public when the plans were considered by the PA and therefore a proper assessment of the plans could not be made. Now those studies would be made public.

Din l-Art Ħelwa described the decision as a positive one. 

The developers said they would study the decision but declined further comment. 

The developers had planned to build 159 residential units in the 38-storey tower, along with 750 parking spots, various retail outlets and leisure facilities around an open space accessible to the public on the 12,000 square metre site.

Opponents of the project have argued that the project will have an excessive visual impact, create traffic and congestion in Qui-Si-Sana and negatively impact the nearby residents’ quality of life. ERA chairman Victor Axiak, who was absent due to illness when the PA board approved the project by a single vote margin, described the environment impact assessment as a “sham”.

Excavation works on Townsquare kicked off late last year, prompting NGOs to accuse the developers of seeking to undermine the appeal process by presenting the project as a fait accompli. The developers countered that they had all necessary permits and objectors had not requested a suspension of works.

The two sides clashed again in March after Sliema residents complained of being choked with dust from the construction site, with the local council condemning the lack of supervision by the authorities.

Developers said they had gone to great lengths to contain dust at the excavation site, but had been thwarted by windy conditions. They had previously committed to mitigation measures, including water-spraying equipment and wheel-washing procedures, to minimise inconvenience.

Another high-rise proposal a stone’s throw away – the 40-storey Fort Cambridge tower – is undergoing PA screening following the publication of an environment impact assessment earlier this year. Meanwhile, an application to raise the height of the nearby Fortina tower to 23 storeys was approved in April.

PD statement

In a statement on Thursday, Partit Demokratiku welcomed the rejection of the project, which in its current form aimed to bypass high-rise policies through the denial of obligatory public space, it said.

The party praised NGOs Flimkien ghal Ambjent Aħjar and Din l-Art Ħelwa and the Sliema council for their appeal and said it appreciated the fairness of the decision.

Partit Demokratiku said it shall continue to fight for an empowered ERA, the closing of planning loopholes and a better quality of life and well-being for all Maltese and Gozitans.

"It is time that we shifted towards a sustainable and ethical economy," it said.

It said Malta desperately needed the national masterplan PD proposed in a Private Members' Bill in August last year. PD was the only party represented in Parliament that was against the project, it said.

AD statement

In another statement, Alternattiva Demokratika said Thursday's decision was a huge step forward. 

Chairman Carmel Cacopardo said AD was satisfied with the decision. "We are however aware that the process towards a final decision on the project is still long and full of obstacles and challenges," he said.

 

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