Press Release – 26th October 2013
NGO invokes Article 77 of the Environment and Planning Act
Din L-Art Helwa intends to stand its ground regarding the outline permit for the redevelopment of MistraVillage at Xemxija, a project which the organisation describes as ‘monstrous’. Din l-Art Helwa has written to the Mepa Board stating that the approval of the outline development permit, granted in 2008, was done in the absence of important and relevant information and should be annulled. The organisation is invoking Article 77 of the Environment and Planning Act 2010 claiming irregular process and ‘Error on the Face of a Record’, a procedure permitted by the Environment and Planning Act. Din l-Art Helwa is also requesting Perit David Pace, the Environment and Planning Commissioner at the National Ombudsman’s Office to carry out an investigation into the process which the organisation maintains was incomplete, dubious and misleading.
The decision sealing the fate of the picturesque ridge at Xemxija formerly occupied by the low lying and terraced houses of Mistra Village Holiday Complex is due to be decided by Mepa on Thursday 31 October 2013. If the application is approved six massive towering blocks of 12 floors requiring some 1200 car spaces will rise sharply and unnaturally from the edge of this picturesque ridge creating a monstrous and permanent blot on the landscape.
The heritage and environment NGO had campaigned throughout the process. There were several incomplete submissions, biased information and irregularities documented by Din l-Art Helwa which led to the drawing up of a misleading Development Permit Application Report (DPAR) presented to the Mepa Board at the time. This resulted in the board giving their approval to the project. A request for investigation was sent to the Audit Officer at Mepa, however states DLH, no reply was ever received.
LOCAL PLANS ALLOWED 4 FLOORS OR MAXIMUM 8 FLOORS IF FLOOR AREA RATIO POLICY IS APPLIED
The Local Plan for the area allows only 4 floors, however, in this application an as yet unapproved Floor Area Ratio policy allowing 8 storeys was applied. Furthermore the policy contemplated at the time expressly excluded Xemxija ridge from tall buildings a fact that was conveniently glossed over. Din l-Art Helwa notes that to this day the Floor Area Ratio Tall Buildings policy has not yet been approved or launched. Even taking this into consideration, 11 floors were actually granted by the Outline Permit, more than a small departure from an as yet unapproved policy.
XEMXIJA RIDGE REMOVED FROM FLOOR AREA RATIO POLICY
Since 2008, Din l-Art Helwa notes that the updated Floor Area Ratio Policy has been conveniently amended to allow high rise on Xemxija Ridge. This is a total divergence from the 2008 version of the Floor Area Ratio Policy which specifically mentioned Xemxija ridge, as a site where tall buildings are not allowed.
HERITAGE ADVISORY COMMITTEE CONCLUSIONS IGNORED AND NOT INCLUDED IN FINAL REPORT
Din l-Art Helwa noted that the Development Planning Application Report leading to the application being granted was also incomplete in several other instances.
Mepa’s own Heritage Advisory Committee had concluded that this application should be refused. This refusal was not registered in the Environmental Impact Assessment and in the final report making it incomplete and thus biased towards the developer.
The area was scheduled as an Area of Archaeological Importance, a fact which was also not brought sufficiently to the attention of the Board by the report.
MASSIVE IMPACT ON TRAFFIC AND TRANSPORT
The huge impact the excavation and construction process is to have for a number of years on traffic was not properly examined nor explained, continues Din l-Art Helwa. A traffic impact assessment was not presented to the board at the time although Transport Malta had always expressed grave concern on this issue. In spite of the scientific reports concluding that traffic is a major problem, the latest correspondence from Transport Malta in August 2013, stated that there was no objection to this project as the impact was minimal. This can hardly be the case, says the NGO, when 4 floors of rock have to be excavated to create space for parking and laying of foundations. The NGO has estimated that this represents a truck of rubble being carried away through single lane traffic every five minutes for two years on a road which is already congested and constitutes the main thoroughfare for traffic to Mellieha and Gozo.
ESSENTIAL PHOTOMONTAGES WERE NOT PRESENTED
The Environmental Impact Assessment in its Point 3 clearly states that this development was to have effect on the Mediterranean heath in the area and be of great impact upon the visual amenity and the landscape. Out of 12 assessed impacts in the EIA, 8 were registered as being of major impact and 4 of which needed further study.
Din l-Art Helwa maintains that in an area of such high landscape value, a development of such massive proportions should be interpreted through photomontages with supporting sections showing heights from sea level. These, if presented said DLH, would have clearly depicted the immense negative impact on the area from the most important public viewpoints.
The photomontages available within the EIA were misleading as they were taken with wide angled perspectives and without shadows, and in any case were not even presented to the Board despite several requests from DLH who was present at the hearing. DLH expressly requested that the board members view the photomontages made available by DLH before taking a decision. This request was denied and the board took a decision without even viewing them. The disastrous and everlasting effect on the landscape and on the adjacent ridges that these six massive apartment blocks are to have, certainly merited this consideration and still do.
DLH reservations were not fully registered in the Environmental Impact Assessment despite requirements for public opinion to be considered by the Mepa Board. All these serious reservations were raised by DLH in a letter to the Auditor of MEPA’s Board on the 6th June 2008. To date, DLH has received no response from the Auditor or from any of the officials who were also informed of these irregularities.
Considering the irregularities that preceded the MEPA Board decision to grant this Outline Permit and the incomplete and biased Development Permit Application Report, Din l-Art Helwa concludes that this approval was granted with misleading documentation. The organisation has invoked Article 77 of the Environment Planning Act asking for the Outline Permit to be revoked and for an investigation by the Environment and Planning Commissioner in the office of the Ombudsman to take place into the procedure that lead to its approval.
The serious allegations on the manner in which the Outline application was approved directly impacts the current process for Application No 6236/08 due to be heard by the MEPA Board on Thursday 31st October 2013. The proposal for 6 blocks (see elevation below of one of the blocks) at 13 floors from piazza level has only become allowable as a result of the Outline Permit. It is still hoped that a revocation of the Outline Permit would cause the developers to reconsider one of the earlier options they had proposed which consisted of 75% build up of the site to a maximum height of four floors. This was an option that Din l-Art Helwa, together with most of the constituted bodies consulted, including the Heritage Advisory Committee, have always maintained to be the more acceptable route considering this is a ridge site of immense cultural landscape value at a national level.