Fort Cambridge and Mistra, communities at risk
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In an unprecedented move, MEPA is going to decide on not one, but two major projects that are going to seal the fate of a town, a seaside community and a main thoroughfare, with irreversible impacts for all of Malta and Gozo.
The Fort Cambridge project proposes to add around 370 apartments to the Tigne peninsula; if the Fort Cambridge, Townsquare and the extra MIDI blocks are approved, it will mean the addition of over 1,800 new apartments in about seven years within the square kilometre of Qui si-Sana/Tigne, set in an area that has over 4,500 vacant homes.
These apartments will bring with them the additional traffic of about 4,000 cars, while the shops and offices will attract hundreds of daytime commuters in violation of Policy NHHO 03, as the North Harbour Local Plan admits that Sliema and St Julians have been developed beyond capacity. The developer’s Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) confirmed that the area already suffers from traffic jams at peak times; more traffic will obviously result in gridlock and a vast increase in toxic car emissions, to be inhaled by the residents already facing rising rates of cancer and respiratory problems.
Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) maintains that the approval of this application will certainly not honour MEPA’s commitment to protect and enhance Malta’s residential areas, as increased daytime traffic will trap children and old people in their homes, while movement and noise generated by night visitors to commercial, catering and entertainment premises will disturb residents’ rest.
Wind funnelling and open balconies at heights over ten stories are a serious worry for residents due to the risk of accidents. The proposed bank of tall buildings will block air and sunlight reaching residences even streets away. A recent Richmond Foundation Conference recently raised the issue that over-urbanisation contributes to mental illness and social isolation; are we to inflict this on our communities by approving projects simply to enrich developers?
Another of the serious concern to FAA remains the threat to Malta’s precious heritage. Specially designed as a new generation of low-lying forts, Fort Cambridge will be completely obliterated by the massive proportions of the blocks, which will be seen from all over the Island. This violates the MEPA principle of key protected vistas, just as it violates Valletta’s World Heritage skyline which will be punctuated by an increasing number of tall buildings which fall within its buffer zone. This will not only risk its world heritage status but also make the Islands less attractive to tourists and film companies, therefore impacting key sectors of our economy.
All the above scenarios are repeated in the Mistra mega-project application which is to be discussed in the afternoon. FAA maintains that it is not possible to justify a project to create 868 new apartments in an area having 9,000 empty properties. MEPA and ADT are well aware that both the Halcrow Report and the T10 study clearly state that Xemxija Hill is already overloaded with traffic and cannot support any increase. It is for this reason that neither a Tall Building nor any project that develops the site more intensively than the previous Mistra Village should be permitted considering the road’s limitations. Alternatives have already been explored and found to be unfeasible, therefore granting a permit which would increase traffic through Xemija Hill would be highly irresponsible of the MEPA Board.
Again the Mistra project would have a great negative impact on the landscape, both from sea and from land, especially as it is to be built on a ridge which is not allowed according to FAR regulations. The development will also imperils our heritage as the EIA stated that the unique Underground Flour Mill would be placed at risk by the building works which will involve the road that forms the ceiling of the mill.
Approval of these projects which have not taken into account the full energy/water efficiency 2007 regulations, will not only further deteriorate our climate change prospects but also expose the taxpayer to major fines for not conforming to EU Energy Directives. With emissions from particulate matter at some 38 times higher than the highest international recommended levels, Malta’s air pollution problems will also be aggravated.
Yesterday the MEPA Board published the outline of its highly positive proposals for MEPA reform. Approval of these projects in clear violation of scores of local and international regulations on the eve of MEPA reform will certainly ring hollow. It is of course not for the Prime Minister to interfere, but in taking on MEPA, he took on a leadership role. As such all the nation looks to him to ensure that regulations are not broken and that residents’ quality of life comes before developers’ profits.
Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar