The Paceville Master Plan: a preliminary peek

paceville

 

In an event marking European Mobility Week, Transport Minister Joe Mizzi announced various initiatives which, if properly implemented would contribute to a reduction in the amount of congestion on our roads. Studies on the feasibility of a tram service, car-sharing and bike-sharing, as well as e-bike schemes are all welcome initiatives.

Barely 48 hours after Minister Mizzi had made his announcements, the Planning Authority published a draft Paceville master plan for public consultation which also contains a number of transport related initiatives. It is entitled Paceville. Malta’s prime coastal location. Development Framework. Given the almost simultaneous announcements, it is not known whether there was any consultation with the  Transport Ministry.

The proposed master plan seeks to establish parameters for the further development or redevelopment of Paceville in view of the high concentration of large-scale development projects in the area, most of which are still in the pipeline, including various proposals for the development of high-rise buildings. Readers will remember that, way back in 2008, a Professor Mir Ali from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign USA had advised the then MEPA on the urban design strategy to be adopted when considering the future of tall buildings in Malta. (Tall Buildings: the advice ignored by the Maltese authorities TMIS, 26 June)

Professor Ali had then emphasised the need to draw up a master plan identifying and addressing the impacts of tall buildings.  This advice was ignored when the Floor Area Ratio policy was drawn up by the Planning Authority. Likewise, it was ignored regarding development proposals currently under consideration in Sliema – notably on the Tignè peninsula.

The Mott-Macdonald draft master plan for Paceville is a vindication of Professor Mir Ali’s advice. Professor Ali stressed that Malta needed to pull up its socks on issues of public transport, irrespective of whether high-rise buildings are developed or not. An efficient, integrated and sustainable public transport system is essential in under-pinning the essential infrastructure for tall buildings. Way back in 2008  Professor Mir Ali had emphasised that this must cover the whole of Malta and Gozo and should not be limited to just Paceville!

The Mott-Macdonald draft master plan puts forward three options through which it presents two contrasting transport strategies for public discussion. The first option, entitled Sustainable Transport Strategy seeks to reduce the dominance of the car and places considerable emphasis on the pedestrianisation of Paceville (including the pedestrianisation of coast), cycling facilities and bike sharing schemes, and seeks to ensure that  public transport is within easy reach – not more than a four-minute walk away.

The second option, aptly labelled Car-Based Transport Strategy defends the car’s dominance on our roads and puts the emphasis on reducing congestion by improving road intersections and better traffic management through an intelligent transport system and also proposes the introduction of a tunnel to be bored beneath Paceville. The third option, misleadingly labelled as the Balanced Transport Strategy, is a mixture of the first two options with the proposed tunnel shifted to the edge of Paceville.

The Mott-Macdonald draft strategy suggests that the third option is the preferred option.

During the coming six weeks (the length of the consultation period) we will have the opportunity to dissect the different transport strategies as well as the other proposals in the draft master plan. The draft is over 200 pages long and deals with various development, transport and infrastructural options of relevance to the various Paceville development proposals and is to be implemented over a number of years.

It is right and proper that the impacts of the extensive developments projected for Paceville are examined cumulatively and in a holistic manner. Such an attitude and methodology, if maintained throughout, can only lead to workable solutions that will benefit everyone’s.

It does, however, inevitably beg the question: why is all this applicable to Paceville but ignored in respect of the Tignè peninsula in Sliema, as well as elsewhere else?

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday, 25 September 2016 

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Tall Buildings : the advice ignored by the Maltese authorities

Ali report

 

“Tall buildings cannot be avoided in our times. The choice we have is whether to control them or else whether to put up with their future growth.” These were the concluding comments of a report drawn up by Professor Mir Ali from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign USA after a visit to Malta in 2008 during which he met with and advised MEPA on the future of tall buildings in Malta.The report is entitled Urban Design Strategy Report on Tall Buildings in Malta.

Professor Ali’s report contains recommendations most of which are as relevant today as when they were originally drafted. Central to these recommendations, way back in 2008, was the need to draw a master plan addressing tall buildings and their impacts. “Lack of a master plan,”  Professor Ali stated, “results in uncontrolled developments and unpredictable impacts on urban life.”  The developed master plan,  Prof. Ali emphasised, should be “for Malta as a whole and for the selected sites for tall buildings, individually.”  Drawing up such a master plan with a reasonable level of detail will take time to carry out, a considerable portion of which should be utilised in consultation, primarily with the residents to be impacted. Certainly much more time would be required than the November 2016 target indicated by the government earlier this week.  A moratorium on the issuing of any development permit for high-rises until such time that a master plan has been discussed and approved would be a very reasonable course of action.

Professor Ali considered six sites, which were indicated to him by MEPA, as having the potential of hosting high-rise development. He proposed the following rank order : Qawra, Gżira, Tignè, Paceville, Pembroke and Marsa.  Such a ranking order by Prof. Ali is qualified by an emphasis on the substantial infusion of public monies which is required. Prof. Ali commented that if the number of sites are reduced to less than six it would be much better for Malta.

Professor Ali made a number of incisive remarks.

There is a need for an objective market and feasibility study for each project, which study should include the life cycle cost of the project. In view of the high vacancy rate of existing residential units, Prof. Ali queried the kind of occupancy expected of high-rises. Failure of high-rises will impact the economy of the whole of Malta which has no safety valve because of its size and lack of adequate elasticity, he stressed.

An efficient public transport is a fundamental requirement for the Maltese islands irrespective of whether high-rises are developed or not. But for the success of tall buildings “an integrated sustainable public transport system” is absolutely necessary. Yet, surprise, surprise, Professor Ali observed that “there is no efficient public transport system that is efficient and that covers the whole of Malta”

Sounds like familiar territory!

Infrastructural deficiencies must be addressed. If the existing infrastructure is inadequate or in a state of disrepair it must be upgraded and expanded to meet future needs. Tignè residents in Sliema have much to say about the matter, not just with reference to the state of the roads in the area but more on the present state of the public sewers! Residents of the Tignè peninsula are not the only ones who urgently require an upgrade of their infrastructural services. Residents in many other localities have similar requirements.

Social and environmental impacts of tall buildings must be considered thoroughly at the design stage. However Maltese authorities have developed the habit of ignoring the social impacts of development projects. In addition, it is very worrying that, as reported in the press earlier during this week,  Prime Minister Joseph Muscat does not seem to be losing any sleep over the matter.

People living in a low-rise environment consider high-rises as intrusive. Unless public participation is factored in at a very early stage through planned beneficial impacts on the community in terms of economic benefits, upgrade of services and the general benefits of the redevelopment of the surroundings, such projects do not have a future.

The upkeep of high-rises is quite a challenge which requires skills that are different from low-rise buildings. Notwithstanding changes to the relevant provisions of the law, there already exist serious difficulties in bringing together owners of low-rise multi-owned properties in order that they can ensure that maintenance of such properties is addressed. The challenge of high-rises is exponentially more complex.

The above is a snap-shot of Prof. Ali’s report. From what I’ve heard from a number  of people who met Professor Ali, he was more vociferous in his verbal utterances. Unfortunately,  his advice has been largely ignored.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 26 June 2016