Environment and planning decisions are 'worrisome' - church commission

Environment and planning decisions are 'worrisome' - church commission

'Bizarre' decisions in Sliema and St Julian's highlighted

A photomontage of the Fortina Hotel development.

A photomontage of the Fortina Hotel development.

"Bizarre” planning decisions could have been avoided if the Mepa split into the Planning Authority and Environment and Resources Authority had been better handled, the Church’s Environment Commission said on Tuesday.

Such decisions included the ongoing development at the Fortina Hotel site in Sliema, the approval of amendments to the Paceville Mercury House site and the db Group mega-project on the cards for St George’s Bay.

In the case of Fortina, the Environmental Resources Authority felt there was no need for an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) to evaluate the impact of an additional five floors on a 17-storey tower, the demolition of existing structures and the construction of a 15-storey block of apartments.

Instead, the ERA opted to allow the developers themselves to present a Project Description Statement assessing any environmental issues surrounding the project. 

In its statement, the Church commission argued that the ERA had failed to take the social dimension into account when waiving the EIA requirement, and said it was ironic that the regulator had launched new regulations for EIAs just as it reached this decision. 

Arbitrary exemptions from EIA regulations did not inspire confidence, the commission noted. 

Mercury House

When it came to Mercury House, the commission said it failed to understand how the Planning Authority had opted for a massive development in an area which, according to the authority itself, should be covered by a masterplan.

“Can it be that those who voted in favour of the 31-storey project on the site were reassured by the fact that the project would include 4,000 m2 in open spaces, and that the (miserable) sum of €50,000 was imposed on the developer as a contribution towards an artistic fund?”

The commission noted that three board members had voted against the proposal, but said it could not understand how both the representatives of the government and the Opposition voted in favour, while agreeing that the proposed development should have been presented in the context of a masterplan.

St George's Bay

In the case of the mega project at St George’s Bay, it was significant that while this project was being approved, the highest executive official at the PA was quoted as saying that it was a pity that there was no masterplan for the area.
Notwithstanding this, the project was given the green light.

The commission also expressed concern about various attempts by a number of developers at "redevelopment" on sites of significant cultural and historic value in the heart of urban communities.

“For the past 20 years, we have been experiencing the construction of hotels taking the place of 19th century historic structures, and even a watchtower built by the Knights of St John being engulfed by a modern hotel.

Furthermore, of little concern to the authorities seems to be the possible damage, as a result of construction, on protected sites such as Għar ta’ Ħarq Ħamiem in St George’s Bay,” it said.

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