The Smart City project, which was marketed as Malta’s attempt to create a state-of-the-art tech hub, is instead slated for alternative development after Smart City Malta Ltd filed a new planning application – for permission to convert a 15,184sqm site into an eleven-storey residential and commercial complex.
The site, which currently consists of a temporary parking area, previously undeveloped land, and a small area of undeveloped land, would instead be used to build a residential block consisting of between 95 – 128 units and an adjacent hotel with ancillary facilities. The plans show that the project’s maximum height stretches to 60m above sea level.
Should the proposed development be approved, two underlying floors for underground parking would also be built. The proposed development was designed by architecture firm AP Valletta, which lists David Felice and Konrad Buhagiar as its executive directors.
According to plans available on the Planning Authority’s (PA) public registry, the site in question, which amounts to almost three full-sized football pitches, would be situated on the side closest to Triq Dawret ix-Xatt, right on the border of Xgħajra.
While the application (PA/3920/22) is yet to be processed by the Planning Authority and is so far limited in terms of publicly available data, an adjacent, substantial residential development a few metres down the road is currently awaiting a recommendation from a case officer (PA/1222/19).
PA/1222/19 is seeking permission from the Planning Authority to demolish existing dwellings situated in the junction between Triq Dawret ix-Xatt and Triq Wied Glavan and instead build 125 apartments, 21 penthouses and a shop, along with two basement garages.
Should both of these applications go through, the area would see a massive increase in its urban footprint and density.
Questions have been sent directly to Smart City Malta Ltd’s CEO Edmond Brincat to determine whether the development proposed on the Smart City site is the same one which was promised to the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS) following the closure of its premises in Pembroke to accommodate DB Group’s other massive project in that area.
In its responses, Smart City Malta Ltd said the ITS project is not related to PA/3920/22 and that it is subject to an entirely different planning permit, PA/3575/16, which is still awaiting a recommendation from a case officer seven years after it was filed.
“PA/3920/22 was submitted by Smart City and refers to an outline development application for a mixed-use development – the main component of which is an upscale full-service hotel, including conference facilities,” a spokesperson for Smart City Malta Ltd said.
“This application follows an extensive evaluation and exchange with various leading international hotel operators to ensure that the proposed hotel development is in line with the latest requirements of major hotel brands, in terms of its scale and facilities. This will not only be Smart City’s main hotel, but also the main hotel in the South of the island,” the spokesperson added.
The proposed hotel will overlook the open sea and the existing Laguna, “Smart City’s most prominent location”, according to the spokesperson’s description.
Overall, the Smart City project remains a far cry from the original pitch sold to the public way back in 2007, the same pitch which had led to unanimous parliamentary approval for the conversion of a grand total of 316,000sqm of land in exchange for the creation of 5,600 jobs and a €300 million investment, neither of which ever materialised.
Following the transition of power in 2013, the Labour government had appointed disgraced former chief of staff to the prime minister, Keith Schembri – now accused of money laundering and fraud – as one of the directors of Smart City Malta Ltd .
Currently, the board of directors of Smart City Malta Ltd consists of UAE nationals Jassim al Abdool, Khalid al Malik and Majed Mohammed Khamis Sabt Alsuwaidi, along with Malta Enterprise CEO Kurt Farrugia.
The shareholders of Smart City Malta Ltd are UAE-registered Smart City Dubai FZ-LLC and Malta Government Technology Investments Ltd, which is owned by the Government of Malta.
In September last year, The Shift reported how works on The Shoreline, another multi-million-euro residential project in SmartCity which will feature around 400 ‘luxury’ apartments when finished, were accompanied by the construction of a small shanty town that was likely built to house Turkish workers brought in for the project.
Developers, as well as the authorities, had not provided clear answers as to whether the workers would be housed in “temporary” structures that included roofed metal sheds, mobile homes and containers, with a spokesperson for the PA claiming that the workers would not be housed in those containers.