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

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The airport and its neighbours

3D aerial view of scheme.MIA 2015

 

Earlier this week, the management of Malta’s International Airport announced a €78 million investment programme, aimed at enlarging the terminal buildings, improving and upgrading existing facilities for the handling of passengers and  further developing a business hub.

The airport terminal at Gudja is Malta’s only such facility and so, to a certain extent, the further development of the existing capacity to handle the arrival and departure of passengers is essential. And yet, due to the limitations of size, the proximity of Gudja’s airport to the surrounding villages of Luqa, Gudja, Kirkop and Safi has to be borne in mind. Size limitations signify that even essential works will have an impact on the surrounding communities and thus have to be thought out carefully.

Its been over five years since MEPA has received a planning application for the consideration of an updated master-plan for Malta International Airport. PA5548/10 was submitted in November 2010. A previous version of the master-plan was approved in 1997 (PA5681/96) while another version, submitted in 2003 (PA5306/03), was withdrawn.

The latest proposed master-plan currently under consideration by MEPA includes provision for the enlargement of the terminal building to include additional facilities to handle passenger traffic as well as the construction of five new buildings for a range of commercial and leisure activities.

The proposed masterplan and the environmental planning statement (EPS) published late in 2014 for public consultation focus on the proposed business hub and emphasise that the well-established trend for international airports is to expand to “include ancillary business and retail facilities.”

The masterplan was fed by two studies commissioned by the Malta International Airport. The first – carried out by Locum Consulting – studied the office market in Malta and apparently concluded that the “high quality office stock supply” is limited in comparison to the existing demand.  An audit of the proposed masterplan was also carried out by Eriksson + Partner GmbH.

The EPS contains selective quotes from these two reports, but the reports themselves have not been made public. Both MEPA and MIA have resisted requests to publish these reports as they consider that they are commercial reports and do not contain information on environmental impact.

Malta’s only airport has its requirements. In particular, it needs to cater for the increasing number of passengers it handles. This year, the number of passengers handled has recently surpassed the 4.5 million mark. It will undoubtedly continue to rise and it stands to reason that the passenger-handling facilties, currently bursting at the seams, need to be upgraded.

What number of passengers is being planned for? What are the forecasts ? This information is not available as part of the documentation which has been published to date.

The inevitable increase in the number of passengers to be handled by MIA will have an impact on the surrounding area. The traffic generated, and the  emissions associated with this, will further deteriorate the air quality in the main roads leading to Gudja. There will also be an increase in noise pollution.

The Environment Planning Statement identified the Ħal-Farruġ Road/Qormi Road roundabout at Luqa as requiring upgrading  as a result of long-term traffic projections made. It did not, however, identify any other major traffic impact on the villages surrounding the airport. In particular, the EPS did not consider it relevant to consider that already, at this point in time, the residential area of Gudja – less than 50 metres away from the boundary of the airport carpark –  is being used by airport employees and passengers as an additional carpark, thereby creating an unnecessary burden on Gudja itself.

The current burden for the airport’s core functions, and the first phase of the Skyparks project, are primarily being borne by the communities of Luqa, Gudja, Kirkop and Safi.

Additional impact due to an increase in the airport’s core functions is unavoidable. But making matters worse through further development of the airport as a business hub is verging on sadistic. Gudja’s airport should not be compared to major airports when determining long-term functions, but rather to regional airports.

Given Malta’s size, practically all facilities are available within a 15-minute drive from the airport. It would hence make sense for the airport’s management to realise that the airport’s corporate social responsibility should not be limited to funding some restoration projects. It is about time that it focused on the fact that human beings reside in the surrounding villages. The airport’s contribution to Malta’s economic performance is welcome but this should not be at the expense of the quality of life of the surrounding communities.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 27 December 2015

X’inhu ġej fl-ajruport tal-Gudja fl-2016?

MIA project 2016

Il-bieraħ tħabbar “investiment” fl-ajruport tal-Gudja. Qed jintqal li ser isir investiment ta’ €78 miljun fil-ħames snin li ġejjin biex jitkabbar it-terminal, jinbena blokk ieħor ta’ uffiċini għall-kiri (Skyparks2), lukanda kif ukoll żieda fiż-żona ta’ parkeġġ.

Is-sena l-oħra kellna l-Masterplan tal-airport fl-aħbarijiet li fih kien hemm proposti iktar estensivi. Il-proposti dakinnhar kienu jinkludu ukoll supermarket. Dan is-supermarket ma ssemmiex il-bieraħ imma fir-ritratti ippubblikati xorta jidher!

Ħadd ma jiddubita li t-terminal tal-ajruport qed isir żgħir. Issa ilu użat 24 sena u bil-kwantità ta’ nies li ġejjin u sejrin minn Malta jidher li wasal iż-żmien li jikber.

Imma tajjeb li jkun hemm iktar informazzjoni dwar dak li hu ippjanat għat-terminal: x’inhuma l-miri dwar il-kapaċità tiegħu? X’effett ser ikollu dan fuq iż-żoni residenzjali tal-madwar, b’mod partikolari fuq it-toroq?

Huwa ippjanat li l-airport jintuża ukoll bil-lejl? Kif hu mistenni li dan kollu jeffettwa lil dawk iż-żoni residenzjali li minn fuqhom jitilgħu jew jinżlu l-ajruplani?

Intqal li hu mistenni li jkun hemm deċiżjoni dwar l-applikazzjonijiet neċessarji matul l-2016, u allura dawn jidhru li ser ikunu uħud mill-issues prinċipali quddiem l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar il-ġdida, s-sena d-dieħla.

ara ukoll fuq dan il-blog:  L-irħula madwar l-ajruport ta’ Malta.

L-irħula madwar l-ajruport ta’ Malta

ipp

Il-Malta Today illum irrappurtat dwar l-iżvilupp propost fl-Airport Internazzjonali ta’ Malta.

Hemm applikazzjoni pendenti għal Masterplan li tinkludi diversi binjiet.

L-impatti ikkawżati minn dan l-iżvilupp ser ikun sostanzjali fuq il-komunitajiet madwar l-Airport u ċjoe fuq l-irħula ta’ Ħal-Luqa, l-Gudja, Ħal Kirkop u Ħal-Safi.

L-iżvilupp propost ser jiġġenera ħafna iktar traffiku fid-direzzjoni tal-ajruport u per konsegwenza iktar tniġġiż tal-arja.

L-airport ta’ Malta hu airport ta’ pajjiż żgħir, daqs wieħed reġjonali fil-kontinent Ewropew,  u ma jagħmilx sens li jkun fih facilitajiet bħall-ajruporti l-kbar tad-dinja. Il-facilitajiet provduti għandhom ikunu kompatibbli mad-daqs żgħir tal-pajjiż. Għandhom ukoll jieħdu in konsiderazzjoni li tefa ta’ ġebla l-bogħod hemm erbat irħula li fihom hemm diversi negożji żgħar. Kif ser jiġu effettwati dawn in-negozji żgħar? Din mhix biss materja ta’ kompetittivita’, imma fuq kollox hi materja ta’ infrastruttura ekonomika u soċjali fl-irħula tagħna li bi proġetti bħal dawn ser titmermer b’rata aċċellerata.

Fil-ġranet li ġejjin jagħlaq iż-żmien ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar ir-rapport li jikkonsidra l-impatt ambjentali. Imbagħad ikollna ċans li niddiskutu dan il-proġett f’iktar dettall.

L-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna għandhom bżonn inkoraġġiment biex isaħħu l-infrastruttura ekonomika u soċjali. L-iżvilupp veru ma jkissirhomx iżda jagħihom is-saħħa.