Marsa: a planning mess

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The Chamber of Architects has taken the Planning Authority to task on the piecemeal local plan reviews that it has been churning out, one at a time. The latest tirade was with reference to a partial review of The Grand Harbour Local Plan (originally published in 2002) specifically with respect to a Marsa Park Site.

We have just concluded a public discussion on a Masterplan for Paceville, which was shredded by public opinion and sent back to the drawing board.

Earlier, we had the Planning Authority itself contesting whether Local Councils, NGOs and the Environment and Resources Authority  had a right to contest the decision to permit high-rises in Townsquare Sliema and in Imrieħel.

To make matters worse, instead of consolidating the environmental regulatory functions of the state, this government has opted to deliberately fragment them, thereby ensuring their reduced effectiveness by design.  In a small country such as Malta, it pays to have one consolidated authority  directed by environment professionals through whom land use planning responsibilities should be accountable.

Land use planning needs to be more focused but holistic in nature. The Chamber of Architects aptly makes the point that focusing the efforts of the partial review of the Grand Harbour Local Plan specifically on “a Marsa Business Park” without considering this within the context  of a much needed regeneration of Marsa would be a futile exercise. The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity and this will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through comprehensive planning “which ought to include community needs, road transport re-alignment, environment improvement and flooding mitigation measures”.

These are the basic issues which should be addressed by a local plan review concerning Marsa. Tackling major infrastructural and social problems facing the Marsa community should take precedence over any proposal for the redevelopment of the Marsa Park site. It is the whole of Marsa that should be addressed and not just one tiny corner.

The partial local plan review is ignoring the local community, just like its cousin the Paceville Masterplan did some months ago. Many years ago we learned that “planning is for people”. This seems to be no longer the case as, according to the Planning Authority, planning is apparently for business hubs, high-rises and, obviously, for developers. They seem to be very well connected, thereby ensuring that they occupy the first items of this government’s land use planning agenda.

Marsa has been forgotten over the years. With the closure of the Marsa power station now is the appropriate time to consider the various accumulated impacts on the Marsa community in order that an integrated approach to addressing them is identified. Planning is for people. That means that the Marsa community should be actively involved when these plans are being formulated, including at the drawing board stage. Land use planners should stimulate the Marsa community to speak up and involve itself in drawing up a blue print for its future.

The regeneration of Marsa is an urgent matter which should not be left unattended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 January 2017

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Konsultazzjoni ħierġa minn widnejna?

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Bħalissa qed jikkonsultawna spiss. Jekk jagħtux kaz ta’ dak li ngħidu, imma, dik ħaġa oħra.

Kultant naħseb ukoll li ma jagħmilx ġid li numru ta’ affarijiet importanti issir id-diskussjoni pubblika dwarhom fl-istess ħin.

Bħalissa d-diskussjoni pubblika hi iffukata fuq ta’ l-inqas tlett affarijiet importanti: fuq il-budget, fuq il-Masterplan ta’ Paceville u fuq l-impjant tal-gass fil-power station ta’ Delimara.

Iż-żmien għal dawn il-konsultazzjoniet pubbliċi hu limitat.

Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar Paceville hi ikkumplikata minħabba it-tip ta’ proposti li ġew ippreżentati. Ir-rapport trid taqrah numru ta’ drabi biex tibda tifhmu mhux biss għax ikkumplikat minnu innifsu imma ukoll għax min kitbu qagħad jilgħab bil-kliem. Bil-konsegwenza li hemm numru ta’ proposti kważi moħbijin.

Min-naħa l-oħra l-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar l-impjant tal-gass tirrikjedi eżami ta’ dokumentazzjoni voluminuza imqassma f’madwar 300 file elettroniku. Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika ser iddum 4 ġimgħat: iktar kien jagħmel sens kieku kella iddum 4 xhur minħabba li biex issir sewwa tirrikjedi ħafna xogħol.

Meta wieħed iqis li ħafna drabi jkunu l-istess nies li jinvolvu ruħhom f’din il-konsultazzjoni pubblika malajr nifhmu id-diffikultajiet li jkollna għax il-ħin hu limitat għal kulħadd.

The Paceville Master Plan: a preliminary peek

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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