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Paceville masterplan left on back burner as 32-storey tower is set for approval

Impact of Mercury house project on views from Pembroke

A 32-storey tower consisting of 275 apartments proposed by Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli in the heart of Paceville is set for approval despite the absence of a masterplan for the area.

The Paceville masterplan was put on the back burner after it turned out that British consultants Mott Macdonald were acting as consultants for Portelli on the Mercury House project before commencing their work on the proposed masterplan.

Recommended for approval by the Planning Directorate, the permit to be discussed tomorrow is being made subject to a planning gain of €50,000 to be deposited in the Artistic Fund administered by the Arts Council for the creation of works of art for public open spaces by Maltese artists.

The fund, which obliges developers of high rise buildings to make a contribution of between €25,000 and €100,000, had generated controversy among the artistic community.

“The developer can see this as blood money which gives him or her carte blanche to continue to create less than beautiful buildings for people to live in, as he has paid his dues,” Chris Gatt, a theatre director and former director at St James Centre for Creativity, had said in 2015.

No such condition was formally imposed in 2016 when permits for high rises in Tigne and Mriehel were approved but the Office of the Prime Minister had said that the payments would be paid before the commencement of works on the two projects.

An update to the original EIA for an 18-storey development published in November confirms that the Mercury House development will have a major visual impact on the landscape. But the Design Advisory Committee-which advises the Authority on the visual aspect of new buildings said it was “not adverse” to the development.

Mercury House project as seen Valletta

The developments designed by the firm of the internationally acclaimed Zaha Hadid’s architectural firm also envisions a small hotel, and commercial outlets.

Photomontage of Mercury House tower as seen from Sliema

The original development brief for the Pender and Mercury House development approved in 2005 had earmarked most of this site for office development with a maximum building height of 15 storeys.

But in 2012 the Planning Authority had approved two adjacent office towers, one of 19-floors and another consisting of 18-floors in the same area.

Only the facade of Mercury House will be retained in both the approved and the proposed application.

The land in question was transferred to Penderville Limited on the basis of the approved development brief.  Pender Ville Limited had won the 2005 concession for the Pender and Mercury sites for Lm10.6 million (€24 million), seeing off the owners of the St George’s Park site as their main rivals for the concession.

Pender Ville, now Pendergardens Development, then sold 8,500 square metres of the Mercury House site to Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli, whose business interests have included the former Forum Hotel site in Ibragg, now an upmarket residential development, and the Hal Saghtrija development in Zebbug, Gozo.

Mercury House project as seen from Swieqi

Portelli was recently photographed with Minister Konrad Mizzi at the launch of his boutique hotel, Quaint, in Gozo.

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