The Metro consultation: taking us for a ride

In 2008 Professor Mir Ali from the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published a paper entitled “Urban Design Strategy Report on Tall Buildings in Malta.”

Professor Ali comments on the lack of mass transport facilities in Malta and links the functionality of tall buildings with the availability of mass transport facilities. He emphasises that: “Once there is a BRT or MRT system, integration of tall buildings with transportation can result in high efficiency, consolidation of services and a better urban life.” BRT signifies Bus Rapid Transit System. MRT signifies Mass Rapid Transport.

The need for a mass transport network has been felt for a long time. Greens in Malta have been emphasising that it is one of various solutions to address transport issues in the Maltese islands.

Government’s announcement last weekend on a three-route metro is just a first step. Greens definitely agree with the objective though not with the specifics proposed. As ARUP emphasised, government’s massive expenditure on long-term road building will not solve anything. Most of it is money down the drain.

Government’s announcement has only presented a sketch of a solution. The proposal needs to be much more detailed than that. While the identification of the routes as well as the location of the stations is definitely important information, we need more analytical information to digest.

ARUP identified potential routes and stations on the basis of studies. It is said that studies were also carried out on various options, as a result of which ARUP discarded the Bus Rapid Transit, the surface tram, the elevated light metro and combinations. We need to be able to digest these studies to understand why ARUP have discarded alternative solutions. All studies carried out by ARUP should be available for examination in the Metro public consultation. If this is not possible what is the purpose of a public consultation?

The proposal for a Metro should not be an excuse for developing open spaces as has already been pointed out with reference to the proposed B’Kara and Pembroke Metro stations. We already have too few open spaces.

Proposals have to be analysed within the wider context of transport policy in Malta.  Specifically private car use must be substantially reduced for any mass transport proposal to be economically feasible! This must be clear even at this stage. It is inevitable, but government is conveniently being silent on the matter! Has ARUP advised on the matter in its feasibility studies? We have a right to know.

It is the intention to utilise the stations to attract metro users from the surrounding areas. Some, living nearby, will come on foot. Others living or working slightly further away may come by private car, by bus or by bike.  Most potential metro stations do not have parking areas around them. This signifies that it is essential that more emphasis is laid on the interaction between the proposed Metro and local and regional transport.

The metro’s functioning has to be seen within the existing urban context. This is very relevant to the debate but unfortunately the detailed advice which government has received in this respect has not been divulged. Just one tit-bit of information has inadvertently emerged. When asked as to why the Metro will not make it to Gozo, it was stated that there is not sufficient population on the sister island. This begs the question: how come then that a tunnel is planned below the sea to link the two islands?

The announcement further informed us that most of the Metro will be underground with only a small stretch being above ground for topographical reasons.  Depending on the size of the tunnels between the metro stations this could generate a substantial amount of inert waste. An estimated excavation volume of 4.9 million cubic metres, presumably measured in situ, is indicated. Once excavated this would amount to around 8.6 million cubic metres after taking account of the increase in volume after excavation. This is a substantial amount of inert waste which, as already hinted, can only be utilised in land reclamation projects. For comparative purposes 8.6 million cubic metres of inert waste is close to the amount that was used in the whole Freeport project at Kalafrana for land reclamation purposes!

I am not aware of any land reclamation currently required in the national interest. We cannot be forced into land reclamation as the only solution to dispose of the inert waste generated by the Metro project.

Excavation of an underground Metro does not only generate excessive inert waste. It also endangers our historical heritage: in particular when excavating below, around or close to national monuments in Valletta, Mosta, Balluta and elsewhere. Excavation is also proposed next to ecologically sensitive sites.

This is definitely not on.

Proposed solutions above ground have to be examined in detail too and discussed as part of the public consultation. A hybrid metro-tram system mostly above ground, and/or a Bus Rapid Transit system, are other possibilities which should make it on the table of any serious public consultation. They do not generate inert waste, can be implemented in a shorter time frame from that proposed by ARUP and cost a fraction of the proposed outlay. In addition, substantially less environmental impacts are involved. Any selected solutions should respect our historical and ecological heritage.

Through constructive criticism we can explore alternative solutions which are being deliberately shut out with a stage-managed consultation. We need more than PR stunts: logos and flashy video clips are not the information we need for a mature public consultation. Government must put all its cards on the table. The ARUP studies must be subject to public scrutiny. Otherwise, the public consultation is taking us for a ride.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 October 2021

Townsquare high-rise: an internal development

townsquare site


The public hearing by the Planning Authority prior to a decision regarding the issuing of the development permit for the Townsquare high-rise project was held on Thursday. The discussion was essentially channelled towards applying existing planning policy and explaining the conclusions of studies mostly carried out some eight years ago. However, as I submitted during this hearing, the proposal for the Townsquare high-rise project infringes existing planning policy.

It is known that the Floor Area Ratio Policy establishes that for a site to be considered for the development of tall buildings it needs to be surrounded by streets on four sides. In fact the expression “completely detached urban block” is used (paragraph 5.3) in the document  entitled A Planning Policy Guide on the Use and the Applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR).

It is clear that, when drawing up the Development Permit Application Report, the Planning Authority case officer adopted a very wide interpretation of the term “road” without realising that the context required a strict literal interpretation.  A  member of the Planning Authority even considered it appropriate to reply to my submissions by reading out to me the definition of the term “road” as contained in section 2 of the 2016 Development Planning Act.  I was informed – in open session – by this over-enthusiastic member of the Planning Authority that the term “road” means “any road, whether public or private, and includes any street, square, court, alley, lane, bridge, footway, passage or quay, whether thoroughfare or not”.

This bright spark is probably unaware that this definition is preceded by the words “unless the context otherwise requires”. This necessarily leads to the consideration as to what is meant by a  “detached urban block” and,  in particular, whether the creation of footpaths large or small on the Townsquare site itself serves to create such “a detached urban block”.

Various doubts were expressed at the voting stage by 6 out of the 13 members of the Planning Authority present for Thursday’s sitting, leading them to vote against the approval of the development of the Townsquare project, even though the Executive Chairman considered that he had to declare in open session that the proposal (in his opinion) did not in any way infringe the Floor Area Ratio policy. Unfortunately, however, no substantial discussion took place on whether the requirement of having “a detached urban block” as the site for the proposed high-rise was being observed.

The open space around the Townsquare high-rise is a result of the 50 per cent maximum site coverage determined by the Floor Area Ratio Policy. It is an integral part of the project and consequently does not serve to detach the project from the surrounding urban blocks. In fact, this open space borders the backyards of the bordering residential properties on all sides.

The proposed development at Townsquare can be said to have an elevation on only one street, Qui- Si-Sana Seafront, due to the development of the first part of the Townsquare project some years ago. It is shielded by other third party buildings on Hughes Hallet Street, Tignè Street and Tower Road.

Access to the proposed development will be through Qui-Si-Sana Lane, Tignè Street (next to the Union Club) and a small opening between third party property onto Hughes Hallet Street in addition to the reserved point of access on Qui-Si-Sana Seafront. There is no way that this can be construed as being “a detached urban block” but rather as an internal development primarily contained by third party development.

This is just one of many reasons on the basis of which the request of a development permit for the Townsquare high-rise should have been refused by the Planning Authority. Together with various other reasons, this can be a suitable basis for contesting the decision through the submission of an appeal to overturn it.

L-awtoritajiet lil min jiddefendu?

planning authority


Huwa sinjal ħażin meta l-għaqdiet ambjentali ikollhom il-ħtieġa li jmorru l-Qorti biex iħarsu l-ambjent. Għax dan minnu innifsu jfisser li l-istituzzjonijiet ma jnisslux fiduċja. Ifisser li l-għaqdiet ambjentali jidhrilhom li l-istituzzjonijiet li għandhom l-inkarigu tal-ħarsien ambjentali jew tal-ippjanar m’għandhomx widnejn li kapaċi jisimigħu.

Dan mhux xi ħaġa ġdida. Ilna biha s-snin.

Meta l-għaqdiet ambjentali riċentement marru l-Qorti dwar il-bini għoli propost għal Tignè u l-Imrieħel huma marru għax għad ma sarux studji bizzejjed biex jgħarblu l-impatti ta’ dan it-tip ta’ bini. L-impatti fuq in-nies, primarjament. Għax l-impatti ekonomiċi bla dubju ġew miflija bil-lenti.

Jidher li fil-Qorti ntqal li l-istudji li qed jilmentaw dwarhom l-għaqdiet ambjentali kienu waħda mill-materji li l-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kellu l-ħsieb li jinvestiga kieku ma kienx miżmum milli jiltaqa’ bil-proċeduri legali tal-għaqdiet.

Ma nafx jekk dan huwiex tad-daħq jew tal-biki.

Hemm numru mhux żgħir ta’ persuni impjegati fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Uħud minnhom f’karigi maniġerjali u eżekuttivi bl-inkarigu propju li jaraw li l-istudji neċessarji jkunu saru jew qed isiru. Bl-inkarigu jiġifieri li jaraw li l-awtorità jkollha f’idejha l-informazzjoni meħtieġa biex tkun tista’ tagħmel xogħolha sewwa.

Kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku t-tmexxija tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tassigura ruħha li ma jkunx inkoraġġit żvilupp qabel ma bħala pajjiż  inkunu ppreparati għalih u għall-impatti tiegħu. Imma l-awtorità sfortunatament ma taħdimx hekk. Għalhekk hemm ħafna mistoqsijiet li għadhom mhux imwieġba. Sakemm nibqgħu bla tweġibiet ser ikun ifisser li l-impatti tal-iżvilupp ta’ bini għoli fuq in-nies għadu mhux studjat biżżejjed.

In-nies huma inkwetati għax qed jifhmu dejjem iktar li l-awtoritajiet m’humiex tarka tagħhom imma huma tarka tal-industrija tal-bini u tas-suq tal-propjetà. Din hi l-problema rejali tal-awtoritajiet.

Għax il-ħarsien tal-ambjent fl-aħħar ifisser ħarsien tal-kwalità tal-ħajja tan-nies u mhux il-ħarsien tas-suq.

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

Torri ta’ 38 sular fil-qalba ta’ Tas-Sliema ser joħnoq lir-residenti



Flimkien ma Arnold Cassola Chairman ta’ AD u Michael Briguglio Kunsillier f’isem AD fil-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Tas-Sliema dal-għodu indirizzajt konferenza stampa dwar it-torri ta’ 38 sular li ser jinbena mill-kumpanija ta’ Gasan flok dak li kien il-Union Club

Huwa insult li l-iżviluppaturi ta’ proġett bħal dan jgħidu li ż-żieda fit-traffiku ta’ 4,000 karozza mhux se jkollu effett negattiv fuq ir-residenti.  Fil-fatt, l-approvazzjoni ta’ proġett bħal dan, flimkien mal-binja proposta ta’ 40 sular fis-sit tal-Forti Cambridge, se tkun tfisser iktar konġestjoni ta’ traffiku, iżjed tniġġiż ta’ arja, aktar riskji għas-saħħa, inqas postijiet fejn tipparkja, filwaqt li l-proġett se jkompli jkerraħ ix-Xatt ta’ tas-Sliema u l-veduta mill-Belt.

Filwaqt li l-impatt ta’ kull proġett individwali kemm fejn jidħol tnaqqis fil-kwalita’ tal-arja, żieda fit-traffiku, u iktar inkonvenjenza kemm għar-residenti kif ukoll għan-negozju huwa diġa’ kbir, l-impatt kumulattiv ta’ proġetti differenti ta’ żvilupp  ġewwa Tigne’ huwa ħafna agħar.  Meta wieħed iżomm f’moħħu dawn l-impatti kumulattivi, jistenna li l-applikazzjoni għal permessi ta’ żvilupp għal proġetti bħal dawn għandhom ikunu miċħuda.  In-numru dejjem jikber ta’ postijiet vojta mifruxa madwar il-gżejjer (mhux anqas ġewwa tas-Sliema) ukoll għandu jwassal biex naħsbu fil-fond fuq l-impatt li dawn il-proġetti qiegħed ikollhom fuq il-ħajja ta’ kuljum tar-residenti u tan-negozju  kemm fejn jidħol bejgħ kif ukoll fit-turiżmu. Kieku kellna nirriflettu bis-serjeta’, ma jistax ikun li ma naslux għall-konklużjoni li proġetti bħal dawn qegħdin inaqqru mill-kwalita’ tal-ħajja tagħna.

Il-Kunsill Lokali ta’ tas-Sliema qiegħed joġġezzjona għal dan l-iżvilupp għal bosta raġunijiet. inkliuż dak li ġie stabbilit minn studju xjentifiku ambjentali li sar mid-Direttorat għall-Protezzjoni tal-Ambjent. Dan jinkludi it-tfigħ ta’ dell fuq diversi spazji fosthom fi Qui-si-sana minħabba t-torri ta’ 38 sular u u bini ieħor, żieda ta’ eluf ta’ karozzi kuljum fl-inħawi ta’ Qui-si-sana u Tigne’ fejn diġa hemm problemi ta’ traffiku, u l-impatt negattiv fuq ir-residenti minħabba snin twal ta’ bini bla rażan.   Barra minn hekk, torri ieħor ta’ 40 sular qiegħed ikun propost ukoll ftit metri l-bogħod, fis-sit militari tal-Forti Cambridge, li wkoll qiegħed jikkawża tħassib fost ir-residenti ta’ tas-Sliema. Aħna nappoġġaw l-Għaqda Residenti ta’ Qui-si-sana u Tigne’ fil-ġlieda tagħha għad-drittijiet tar-residenti ta’ dawn l-inħawi.

Id-dokument tal-MEPA dwar il-bini għoli: bla ma sar SEA

tall buildings

Id-dokument li ippubblikat il-MEPA riċentment dwar il-kostruzzjoni ta’ bini għoli kellu jkun soġġett għal stima ambjentali strategika, dak li normalment nirreferu għalih bħala Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA). Dan huwa studju, li l-Unjoni Ewropeja tobbliga li jsir dwar il-pjanijiet (plans) li jifformula Gvern u dan biex ikunu identifikati b’mod ġenerali l-impatti ambjentali u b’hekk dawn l-impatti ikunu jistgħu jkunu indirizzati minn qabel ma jinqalgħu.

Id-dokument tal-MEPA dwar il-bini għoli jidentifika l-lokalitajiet u l-parametri permissibli għall-iżvilupp ta’ bini għoli (bini ta’ iktar minn għaxar sulari) kif ukoll ta’ bini ta’ għoli medju (bini sa għoli ta’ għaxar sulari).

In-nuqqas tal-istima ambjentali strategika (SEA) joħloq dubju dwar il-validita’ tad-dokument ippubblikat mill-MEPA. Fi ftit kliem jeħtieġ li ssir din l-istima ambjentali strateġika (jiġifieri stima ambjentali dwar strateġija) u jekk jirriżulta li jkun meħtieġ għandu jkun hemm it-tibdil.

Din il-gwida dwar il-bini għoli (u bini ta’ għoli medju) li ġiet ippubblikata mill-MEPA hi immirata b’mod partikolari lejn ir-riġenerazzjoni ta’ siti b’bini dilapidat jew propjeta’ li mhiex użata biżżejjed jew b’mod adegwat u dan meta din il-propjeta qegħda barra miż-żoni storiċi, barra miż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana (UCAs) kif ukoll barra miż-żoni għal-prijorita’ residenzjali.

Sfortunatament iż-żoni identifikati huma kbar wisq. Dan hu fatt li huwa rikonoxxut mid-dokument tal-MEPA innifsu meta dan jgħid illi ser ikunu meħtieġa studji addizzjonali għall-applikazzjonijiet li eventwalment jidħlu.

Filwaqt li l-gwida tal-MEPA tidentifika l-istudji li ser ikunu meħtiega biex jiġu eżaminati l-applikazzjonijiet għall-izvilupp ta’ bini għoli jew ta’ għoli medju, l-parti l-kbira minn dawn l-istudji, inkluż kemm studji ambjentali kif ukoll il-kriterji stretti li huma meħtieġa kontra l-ħolqien ta’ dellijiet (shadowing) fuq il-propjeta’ residenzjali kellhom ikunu applikati qabel ma ittieħdu d-deċizjonijiiet dwar il-gwida tal-MEPA. Bħala riżultat in-numru ta’ lokalitajiet identifikati bħala ż-żoni magħżula kienu jkunu ferm inqas.

Id-dokument tal-MEPA kellu jkun iktar restrittiv u dan billi jillimita l-iżvilupp ta’ bini għoli jew ta’ għoli medju ghal dawk iż-żoni li jeħtieġu riġenerazzjoni. Dan kien ikun ta’ incentiv għall-industrija tal-bini biex din tassorbi u tiżviluppa mill-ġdid bini li għamel żmienu kif ukoll bini ta’ kwalita’ inferjuri li hu sitwat barra miż-Żoni ta’ Konservazzjoni Urbana (UCAs).