20 September 2006

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Business Today

Land transfer at Ricasoli backdated to day government sold Maltacom

James Debono

The land at Ricasoli earmarked for SmartCity has officially been transferred from Malta Industrial Parks Ltd, a subsidiary of Malta Enterprise to the Commissioner of Land as per legal notice published by government on Friday, which transfer is backdated to 17 May 2006. The backdated transfer date coincides with the day government sold its shareholding in Maltacom to the same Dubai investors currently in discussions with government over the SmartCity project.


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SmartCity is mired in controversy after sister newspaper MaltaToday had revealed that real estate and other commercial development unrelated to the promised IT village covered the larger footprint of the project. This was further confirmed last Sunday with the publication of detailed plans for the area.
IT-related office blocks only cover 19 per cent of the land area allocated to the project with the rest taken up by two hotels, four villa zones, residential apartments, a yacht marina, shops and other commercial outlets.
The legal notice eases the transfer of the former industrial estate from public hands to Dubai investors, TECOM.
The Ricasoli land includes Maltacom’s Innovate centre which was rented to Maltacom by Malta Industrial Parks.

On Monday, reacting to criticism that the primary land use of the SmartCity project is real estate, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi rebutted by saying that internet-related activities will be responsible for more than 60 per cent of the jobs to be created by the project.
Yet, government has not shed any light on why it is set to allocate 356,589 square metres of public land to private developers when the space required for the Internet city is a sheer 67,573 square metres -19 per cent of the whole land area.
The discrepancy in land use between the real estate and the ITC /media component emerges from plans submitted to the government which were first published last Sunday in sister newspaper MaltaToday.
The extent of commercial and residential development raises the stakes on what price the Maltese government will get in return for making 356,589 square metres of public land available to the developers.
The villa footprint alone without any development could be worth anything up to Lm27 million. The government has so far not revealed the final price tag of the area.
The heads of agreement signed in March, stipulates that the Maltese government will make available the land in exchange of 9% equity in the investment, an annual ground rent and a return through the significant investment in the public spaces to be made by the company operating SmartCity Malta.
Since the commercial details of the agreement will be subject to further negotiations, the parties agreed not to disclose this detail before the final agreement is submitted to parliament for its consideration.
The heads of agreement stipulates also that all public areas at SmartCity– over a third of the footprint of the development – as well as the Ricasoli foreshore will remain entirely accessible to the public.
On the occasion Minister Austin Gatt said “5,600 jobs are being conceived here today in a business stream that a decade ago barely existed in our country.”

Villas instead of sewage plant
A detailed analysis of plans revealed in last Sunday’s edition of MaltaToday shows that villas and luxury apartments will cover 70,557 square metres of the project with a total building footprint of 25,872 square metres. A further 74,293 square metres are earmarked for apartments.
While villa areas are set to rise up 2-3 floors, apartments are set to rise to 5 floors.
The most exclusive villa area is located on the shoreline in the area presently occupied by the Wied Ghammieq sewage outfall.
Originally the area was earmarked for the construction of a sewage treatment plant catering for 85 per cent of Malta’s sewage. If an alternative site is not found by March 2007 Malta will be in breach of a European Union Directive.
Instead of the much needed infrastructure the area is now earmarked as an exclusive shoreline villa zone.
The largest villa area occupying 18,969 square metres and a building footprint of 6,639 square metres lies at Ta’ San Pietru an area named after Saint Peter’s battery. A smaller villa area lies next to Fort San Rocco.
The two apartment blocks are located next to a yacht marina.

Smart hotels
The project also includes two hotels. A five storey hotel, planned next to the main plaza, which occupies a total area of 16,417 square metres and a building footprint of 4,925 square metres. Serviced apartments occupying 3,268 square metres lie next to the main hotel.
A second hotel located nearby is sited in the vicinity of the yacht marina. The hotel occupies a footprint of 4,257 square metres.
The project also includes entertainment establishments like cafes, shops, a six storey car park and other facilities. Five per cent of the entire project is earmarked for retail.
Open spaces and roads account for 33 per cent of the project’s land area.

Smart Offices
The area earmarked for six storey office blocks set to host the ICT/media cluster barely covers 67,573 square meters or 19 per cent of the entire land area. This area is set to host 3,000 jobs related to information technology promised by the government. The tourism and real estate components of the project are set to create the remaining 2,500 jobs.


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