In its praise of recent amendments to the Manoel Island master plan, the Planning Directorate confirmed that the unused floorspace is eligible for future development, undermining assurances against mega-development on the Island.
The Shift News had raised this as a possibility weeks ago, a possibility that has now been confirmed by the Planning Directorate. The present master plan, coupled with an unstable policy in high rise development, offers no security that Manoel Island won’t become another monster.
Controversy arose when MIDI plc, the developers granted the concession for Manoel Island, published plans to increase building heights across some of the buildings. The plans came with what seemed to be a compromise: the reduction of floorspace from other parts of Manoel Island.
The Manoel Island Foundation, a guardianship set up to safeguard the terms of an initial agreement, responded strongly against the new proposals. Labour mayor Conrad Borg Manché reacted to the news with a firm “don’t play games with Manoel Island” (m’hemmx logħob dwar Manoel Island).
Borg Manché had protested vehemently during the protests held two years ago when access to the foreshore was cut off from public access. The protests were followed by an act of civil disobedience: wire cutters tore through the fence.
The Foundation’s members are Borg Manché and Ralph Mangion on behalf of the residents of Gzira, MIDI CEO Mark Portelli. It is chaired by lawyer Claire Bonello.
Prime Minister Muscat had lauded the organisation as “a model for the relationship between the community and the investor”. The widespread support it received helped Borg Manché’s transformation from a political lightweight to a rising star in politics.
The response to the amendments, endorsed by the Planning Directorate, was initially a hard, cold ‘no’. The Foundation, as well as the Local Council, intended to register their objections against the amendments. Yet, at the same time, they were satisfied with the overall low rise model.
Inews, the portal owned by the Labour-leaning General Worker’s Union, reported the Foundation’s chairperson, Bonello, saying that she would prefer one block of five stories than two blocks of four.
In the same statement, the Foundation said it would object unless it adhered to the overall low rise model. The next day, Mark Portelli denied the model would be rising above the five-floor limit.
At face value, this might seem reasonable. But the compromise of the first block leaves open the possibility of its development later in the future.
With Gzira being a designated high rise area, given 14 East and the Golden Harvest development in the pipeline, the actual ‘compromise’ reached by MIDI in reducing the floor plan on one side could in fact have been a speculation venture to maximise the development on the island.
Tigné was built along a similar premise. Residents learned only too late that their luxury village was going to see the rise of yet another block, each one progressively different to the original plans. This was expedited by the Planning Authority’s flexibility with permits.
The new Manoel Island master plan plays on what has already happened at Tigné. With a prima facie compromise, it seems the Foundation was presented with a red herring while the Planning Directorate facilitated the prospect of further development.