19 JUNE 2002

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A new urban centre at the island’s commercial heart

Ben Muscat, Chief Executive Officer of the MIDI consortium, speaks to David Lindsay, about the Lm140 million Manoel Island and Tigné Point development project, which is to breathe new life into relatively derelict yet central areas of the island

The Manoel Island and Tigné Point project being undertaken by the MIDI consortium is undoubtedly the largest development underway in Malta and is bringing a new concept in planning to Malta.

Tigné Point - due for completion ahead of Manoel Island - will provide a mix of residential units, entertainment and leisure facilities and is projected to be completed by the first quarter of 2005.

Meanwhile, the development of Manoel Island – with a projected completion date of 2010 - is more residential in focus and will comprise some 500 residential units, a commercial development and an exclusive marina.

Both development sites are to be completely pedestrianised and as such will provide a living environment and planning concept unique to Malta.

The next 12 months, MIDI CEO Ben Muscat explains, will be busy for the Tigné Point area, while developments at Manoel Island will become tangible some three to four years later.

The mammoth development, which got underway just two years ago, was a long time in the negotiating, having been on the table with government since the early 90s.

The two locations, which had been taken over from the British government in the 70s, have had a chequered history and the neglect that led to severe deterioration is only now beginning to be rectified, Mr Muscat explains.

"What happened is that over a long number of years places were pilfered, interesting features were stolen and squatters had moved in. The pity is that this state of affairs persisted even while negotiations were underway, although steps could have perhaps been taken back in the early 90s to safeguard these monuments. However, since there was no one to invest any funds to such an end, apart from the eventual developer, the sites were an open deck and anyone was allowed to do whatever they wanted."

Negotiations were eventually concluded and an agreement was signed with the MIDI consortium in June 2000. That was when MIDI first took possession of the sites and started the cleaning operations, while determining the best way to move ahead for the phasing of the project.

Of course a great deal of work had been carried out in the intervening years in terms of design, planning, consultancies, studies and analysis, but the next step was the detailed planning of the phases to be kicked off immediately.

As Mr Muscat explains, "Over the course of these past two years, the focus has shifted mainly to the development of Tigné Point, which is where the first phases of development are to take place. However, in the meantime we had to honour our commitment to the lease agreement vis-à-vis the rest of the sites that we took over.

"As such, we had an obligation to ensure that no further degradation to the historical fortifications took place and we had to identify those areas where emergency intervention works were needed immediately so the deterioration process would be slowed down until such time that we are given planning consent to start the permanent restoration.

"We have been this doing at Manoel Island for the past 12 months and works that are expected to be concluded toward the end of this month. We have basically been repairing and making good those parts of Fort Manoel that were in immediate danger of collapse.

"We have also been cleaning up the entire Fort, the surrounding ditches and their environs. In fact visiting Fort Manoel today, the environment is completely different than that in which we found it. In fact, while clearing up I don’t know how many hundreds of truckloads of debris and rubbish were lifted out of the ditches.

"In fact, today you can enter the vaults of the fort and begin imaging the potential uses of such spaces – such as studios, museums and restaurants.

"We had also done the same for Fort Tigné and truckloads of debris and rubble were relocated. However, as the area was not protected by the same security measures applied to Fort Manoel, people went in, vandalised and now we will have to spend more money to carry out a second phase of clearing. We had thought that having cleared it and having restored at least an aspect of decency to those spaces, that people would respect them. Now at least Tigné Point has been closed off so that won’t reoccur."

Tigné Point has been earmarked to witness the first tangible results of the groundbreaking project and at present there are three phases in which detailed planning was commenced last year.

With things coming to a head now, Mr Muscat expects two pending applications to be favourably processed in the near future - one by the end of this month and another by the end of next month.

MIDI is currently focussing on the area where the Sliema Wanderers kindergarten nursery football pitch was located, which is being loosely referred to as the Tigné Sports phase.

The phase comprises the clock tower block, which will at ground floor level and will house the hobby and sports clubs that were previously in Tigné. The Sliema Wanderers football pitch is also to be relocated to the roof of the building. Above the clubhouses and below the football pitch 12 apartments will be built to house the last of the original Tigné Point residents who were adamant on being given back housing on Tigné Point.

Mr Muscat explains, "Most of them [Tigné residents] had accepted alternative accommodation or a one time financial compensation from government. However, there were nine families who, very wisely perhaps, stuck to their guns and will now be given apartments on top of the clubhouses.

"The other element included within the Tigné Point sports phase is what we call the underground relief road. This is essentially part of the public roads system that will go underneath Tigné Point and peninsula and come out on the Holiday Inn side.

"The idea here is to redirect all the traffic that currently passes through the centre of Sliema once it is pedestrianised, which will obviously happen some years hence. This will serve as an alternative route for those travelling from St Julian’s to Sliema to Valletta and vice versa.

"The route of course always existed above ground but it has not been particularly popular, as people still persisted in passing through the centre of Sliema. The role of the underground road is two-fold and as such will serve both as an access for people wishing to come into Tigné Point and also as a through road to cross from one side of Sliema to the other.

"Tigné Point is to be a completely pedestrianised environment, accessed via through roads that lead to a system of underground traffic management routes that take commuters to any part of the complex they would want to go to. The underground road will also lead residents to car parks just underneath their flats.

"The construction of the public road, the clubhouses, the residences and everything that goes back to government is one of the obligations of the lease agreement and there is a specified time from the issue of the permit by which it has to be effective.

"The first tangible results will be the building and constructing of what is to go back to government, part of the relief road and any bits and pieces of restoration work that we are obliged to do."

Once completed, Tigné Point will become what is known in planning as a ‘new urban centre’, comprising the makings of a new high quality village with a lifestyle unique to the Maltese Islands. Unique in that the entire project has been pre-planned and there is no infrastructure whatsoever located above ground, effectively eliminating the prospect of power and telephone cables, and the perpetual digging up of roads as everything is routed through underground ducts through shafts and straight into the apartments.

Tigné Point’s main residential area, Tigné South, comprises 192 apartments split into two sets of blocks - five floors on the front and nine floors behind, which are expected to come onto the market this October.

According to Mr Muscat, "What this will offer potential residents is being away from the busy Sliema area while still being close by. As far as the Tigné South development is concerned, it is a relaxed environment with lots of courtyards, open spaces and landscapes with tremendous views of Valletta, Marsamxett Manoel Island etc…

"One design feature we paid particular attention to is that you never have a corridor within the complex of apartment blocks that leads nowhere. Essentially if you had to look at each and every flat, each one has a façade and a side that gives full daylight. So in effect what you have is a situation in which daylight is coming in from everywhere in each apartment. Even in the second row of flats you get scenic side views.

"Again, there is a lot of space between the front and back blocks, due to the unorthodox way in which we have planned the architecture and elevations of the apartments. The front apartments actually terrace away, at the back, from the back apartments so you have a situation where the further up you go, the further the two blocks are from each other. As such, you don’t have two building rising vertically and facing each other in the way that most people build – one goes straight up while the other falls away and creates a series of terraced gardens at the back for the apartment holders.

"This design means that residents can have daylight even between the buildings to the deepest areas at some time of the day at every time of the year. This is one area in which we invested a great deal of time in that the architects carried out very detailed investigations with respect to the movement of the sun vis-à-vis the orientation of the apartments at any time of the day and at any time of the year.

"Tigné South will also hold numerous gardens and a promenade open to public, all of which we will be realising at our expense, and which we hope will be maintained properly by the authorities."

Tigné Point will also house a major retail and leisure facility with a retail mall, a large health and leisure facility, squash courts, a nine hall multiplex cinema, supermarket and studios. In effect it will be an underground mall located under the rooftop football pitch and directly accessed by parking underneath.

As Mr Muscat explains, "It’s a large retail and leisure mall, permission for which should be forthcoming by the end of the month. The idea is to create a situation, again unique to Malta, in which you drive in, park and you are where you want to be. There are 1,000 parking spots under the sports and plaza complex for public."

A sizeable pjazza is also on MIDI’s blueprints for Tigné, despite the fact that such an open space is traditionally frowned upon by developers, given that they occupy precious empty space that could otherwise be filled with buildings and shops that generate revenue.

But as Mr Muscat explains, "One advantage that we have with respect to this development is space. Building on the basis that what we want to create is a new village that would eventually host a community, a pjazza or plaza is very important to any community.

"To give an idea of the scale of the projected area, the plaza is to be approximately a third larger than Valletta’s Pjazza Regina. As such, it will be a nice large open space where people can meet, have a meal, coffee, or whatever. It faces the front and the ground floor of the shopping mall, with boutiques at ground level and duplex apartments on two floors.

"Again, there are open spaces at the front and back to give an added sense of openness. The plaza will basically provide the retail experience of the mall, extending to boutique shopping around the plaza and with terrace dining around the parameter. The idea is to create as vibrant an environment as possible."

A good deal of funding has been injected into the restoration of Fort Tigné, with a view to developing the various spaces avaliable within the Fort to a use compatible with the history and heritage of the Fort and compatible with what is going on around it. As such, Mr Muscat envisages it being developed into exhibition spaces, a heritage museum, art studios and as hosting other such cultural activities.

According to Mr Muscat, "What Tigné Point will do is give Sliema a new space that did not exist or was not of quality. Yes, we will be competing with the rest of Sliema in terms of attraction, but at the end of the day it will increase the potential of the total Sliema offering.

Asked what the green fields concept of planning is all about, Mr Muscat explains, "Both Tigné Point and Manoel Island are there for us to develop from scratch, although there certain no-goes in that there are certain monuments that cannot be demolished and certain areas that cannot be used for development.

"If you look at Manoel Island, for example, out of the land that is in our possession we are only allowed to develop approximately 22 per cent of the area. The rest is either Fort Manoel itself - a major restoration worth millions of pounds – and green areas.

"The concentration of building with respect to the footprint of Tigné Point is higher, in the region of 45%, but again, some 60% of the land we are paying for cannot be touched.

"Manoel Island has a higher concentration of residential units as opposed to commercial outlets. Another thing about Tigné Point is that there is a substantial office development potential as well. In fact, we perceive one end of the pjazza as a sizeable business centre offering self contained amenities, parking and other facilities."

At Tigné Point it is estimated that a combination of residents, and workers in the offices and retail outlets will contribute to a high concentration of people – some 3,000 to 4,000 at any one time. However, detailed planning has been carried out in such a way as to strategically separate Tigné Point’s residential units from the commercial and leisure areas of the development, from both a visual and noise pollution standpoint.

While Manoel Island is much more residential in focus the major commercial development there is the marina, for which Mr Muscat has high expectations for business potential, given its potential to attract the larger, more expensive boats to Malta. The marina will be coupled with the establishment of a casino, waterfront dining and yacht clubhouses. However, the commercial element at Manoel Island will be limited to the needs of residents and the boating community.

Copyright © Network Publications Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07, Malta
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt