14 June 2006

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Business Today

Reaching for the sky, MEPA identifies nine sites for high rise

James Debono

Just as everyone’s attention was gripped by the new development zones, which extend development in a horizontal direction, MEPA has identified nine sites as the appropriate locations for high rise development where buildings are set to rise above eleven storeys.
Three of these sites are earmarked for office use. These include the proposed Pembroke Business Park, the proposed Marsa Park and an area between the public garden and the Gasan show room in Gzira.
Qawra, Paceville and the Town Square project and Tigne developments in Sliema are identified as suitable for high rise tourism development.
The Luqa International airport is also identified for high rise commercial development. But for safety reasons the latter cannot be more than 35 metres in height.
Apart from these seven sites, two other sites, which include the area opposite the Marsa sports ground along the main road, as well as Ricasoli, have also been identified as potential sites for tall buildings.
Ricasoli, which in the MEPA document is identified as a site for hosting mixed residential and commercial development, has already been earmarked by the government as the site for the Smart City development.

MEPA defines a tall building as one which is more than twice the maximum building height limitation for the locality in which they are sited or which are higher than 10 floors (40 metres) when measured from the lowest street level.
In those areas like the Sliema Town Square project, where the statutory building heights allow for eight storey-buildings, tall buildings of more than eleven storeys will now be permitted.
The public consultation document on the floor area ratio, issued by MEPA identifies those areas deemed suitable for high rise and medium rise development.
MEPA considers the two public consultation exercises as complementary.
MEPA Chairman Andrew Calleja excluded a construction boom as a result of the current developments, when asked by this newspaper.
According to the authority chairman the high rise development envisaged by the consultation document is only indicated for sites which are strategic and few in number. “MEPA has for a number of years now applied policies for floor area ratio calculation. High-rise or medium rise buildings are already a reality and it is time that the Structure Plan policy is suitably substantiated so that development may be better guided.”
Yet if approved the MEPA document is set to alter the Maltese skyline as medium rise development is envisaged in a substantial part of the island.
For example in a large part of Marsaskala where present regulations limit development to three floors, medium-rise buildings of up to 6 stories will now be permitted.
Medium rise development is also envisaged in the entire urban conurbation covering Pembroke, Swieqi and St Julians in the north, San Gwann, B’Kara and Qormi in the centre and Fgura and Zabbar in the south.
More medium rise development is also set to be permitted in Xemxija and Tas-Sellum in Mellieha as well as the low lying new areas of Mosta.
Medium rise buildings are defined as being higher than the statutory building height limitation but are less than twice the statutory building height.

High rise free zones
Areas outside development zones, urban conservation areas and the historic core of the grand harbour area and its setting are excluded from the potential locations for medium rise or high rise buildings.
Gozo is being exempted from high rise development altogether. According to MEPA’s document the high landscape value and the small compact urban settlements limit the potential for high buildings in Gozo.
The setting of Mdina is considered of strategic importance and therefore high rise development is being excluded in towns like Mosta, Attard, Zebbug and Siggiewi, which are considered to be directly in the foreground of Mdina.
The document also claims that the Marsamxett Harbour could also be considered to be within the setting of Valletta.

Existing high rise buildings
So far three tall buildings have been built in Malta-Portomaso Tower in Paceville, the Fortina Tower in Tigne and the high rise residential block on the Villa Preziosi site in St Paul’s Bay.
Four other permissions have been granted in Malta, namely the Tigne redevelopment project, the three residential towers on the fringes of Paola, the redevelopment of the Gasan showroom in Gzira and the Ta’Monita site in M’Skala.
The only permission granted in Gozo was one for a 10 floor residential and retail block in Marsalforn.
The development briefs for Pender place in Paceville and the one for Fort Cambridge in Tigne also envisage high rise buildings.


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