Watch: 'Phantom tunnel' scepticism as Pembroke residents meet ITS site developers

Watch: 'Phantom tunnel' scepticism as Pembroke residents meet ITS site developers

Angry questions and few answers as locals meet db Group representatives

No love lost between residents and developers. Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

Updated 10.30pm - Added video 

Developers of a large-scale development planned for St George's Bay skirted questions concerning a “phantom tunnel” they say will alleviate traffic congestion during a heated meeting with residents on Monday.

Asked repeatedly during a public meeting organised by the Pembroke local council whether the proposed tunnel will be built before or after the development kicked off, and who would be funding it, db Group CEO Arthur Gauci referred residents to the “public contracts”.

Residents got agitated when architect Darren Sciberras referred to traffic management proposals and said the group was suggesting building a tunnel that stretched underground across Triq il-Mediterran, avoiding a Natura 2000 site in the area.

A resident argued that had the developers been taking the traffic management seriously, the tunnel would be dug before the development kicked off.

READ: Do not 'bury us alive', Pembroke residents appeal

Mayor Dean Hili said he did not understand how traffic problems would be solved after, rather than before the development kicked off.

Graffiti activist Andre Callus meanwhile insisted that the developers could not propose a traffic management assessment based on a “phantom tunnel”. There was no existing plan by anyone – neither the db Group, other developers, nor the government – for such tunnel, he added.

Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaPhoto: Mark Zammit Cordina

“What will people be taking in return for the public land that they gave up? The answer is shadows… You will be burying people alive, in order to pocket millions of euros,” Mr Callus said.

When he was asked why the developers wanted to listen to residents’ concerns when all plans had been finalised, Mr Gauci said that the application process was in line with the law. He said the developers had filed amendments to the project whenever they realised they were not in line with the law.

One resident, cheered by fellow locals, accused the group’s CEO of not mentioning the residents even once during his address. He also asked the group’s representatives whether any of them lived in the affected area of Pembroke.

The fiery meeting, which began at 7.30pm and was still ongoing at 10pm was punctuated by shouting from angry residents, with a couple slipping into foul language. 

The massive construction project, including a tower and mega-hotel in Pembroke, has caused great angst among residents, who have continuously voiced concern about the clouds of dust, toxic traffic congestion and dismal quality of life the project will cause.

The project, which will consist of a 37-storey residential tower and a 17-storey hotel resort with 455 rooms, has stoked controversy, not least because it will overshadow an already densely populated area. The project will include a shopping mall measuring 24,000 square meters and a parking area with up to 1,800 car spaces.

Earlier plans for a second tower have since been dropped and the project will take two years and three months to complete.

Mr Gauci said the developers commissioned a survey between March 6 and 10, with site visits from 9am to 9pm, in the existing parking area at the back of the site.

Parking at the public place peaked throughout the day and decreased in the evening, meaning that it was used minimally by residents throughout the day.

The developers, he added, had identified an area in the vicinity, which could be rehabilitated, at the company’s cost, into a parking lot to be used exclusively by residents.

Green travel plan

The group is meanwhile proposing a green travel plan for prospective employees, once the project is completed. This would include the installation of 30 electric vehicle points and a minivan service for all city centre employees – the target is to reach 700 workers.

Former Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Arnold Cassola questioned how the developers had identified a public site, which the group did not own, to solve the parking solution.

He insisted that the traffic congestion will not be impounded just by the db project, but a cumulative result of all the proposed projects in the area.

During the meeting, residents were also shown footage of the shadow that will be cast by the hotel and tower on existing residential units. Although in June the shadows are narrow, the development will cast a long shadow all over the houses at the back of the project towards the end of the year.

While the developers’ representatives kept insisting that the residents will be worst affected by the shading in December, the residents said this was the time when the residents needed the sun’s warmth the most.

Nationalist Party MP Karol Aquilina asked the developers to scrap the planned development and respect the residents.

While it has not yet been approved by the Planning Authority, the project has been embroiled in controversy over the €60 million developers db Group paid for the public land, which by some valuations is worth €200 million. Objections with the planning authority can be filed until May 25.

A protest is planned for Wednesday at 6pm. It will start from Pietru D’Armenia Street at 6pm and head towards the ITS site.

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