While Gzira Mayor Conrad Borg Manche stands foursquare against the controversial Transport Malta capitanerie project destined for his locality, he insists that he got the best deal possible out of the powers that be who were bent on pushing the project through with or without the mayor’s stamp of approval.
The proposed capitanerie – which would see an area between Gzira Gardens and the yacht marina quay transformed into office space, a shop and a restaurant – has been described as “yet another assault on public open spaces,” by environmental NGO Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, amongst the numerous objections to the plans.
But while people are pointing fingers at Borg Manche for having apparently consented to the project – as well as some rumours doing the rounds that the developers had sweetened the deal by having offered him the use of the building’s rooftop for karaoke nights – the mayor is giving such rumours no quarter.
“If I had to be the decision-maker, there is no way I would put the capitanerie there when we don’t have open spaces in Gzira,” he told The Shift news when contacted about the rumour mill. “That was my first argument from the very beginning.
“I know that some people are interpreting my full-blast stance against the nearby petrol station and my different approach to this project as that I don’t care, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“The thing is that when you are dealing with the government, they have much more power than me,” the mayor, who was elected on the governing Labour Party ticket.
“So obviously I knew that they were going to go ahead with this project irrespective of whether I was in agreement with it or not.”
He described the rumour that he buckled to the developer after he was offered the use of its rooftop for karaoke nights as “utter rubbish”, saying, “I have never mentioned that, and I would never do that.
“What I did do was this. I knew they definitely wanted at least 500 square metres so I said, I know I can’t stop you but I am going to impose some conditions.”
Condition that €1.3 million is spent on refurbishing the garden
The main condition, Borg Manche explained, was that, “Whoever takes the capitanerie project will be obliged to finance the refurbishment of the entire garden, at a cost of more or less €1.3 million.
“On top of that, they will also pay for the garden’s maintenance, which we as a Council will manage but the capitanerie will pay for– some €35,000 a year – as well as 24/7 security to be provided by the operators.”
Other conditions the mayor secured dealt with the actual rooftop, where the developers are to install the latest in roof garden technology.
“It will be like a belvedere,” he said.
He went on to explain how he also negotiated a public convenience inside the building, which will be taken care of by the capitanerie itself.
“Now some are interpreting this as a sign that I am in agreement with the project. This is certainly not the case.
‘I knew that they were going to do it anyway, so I made sure Gzira got something out of it’
“The fact of the matter is that I know that they are going to do it anyway, so I made sure the people of Gzira got something out of it, and that’s exactly what I did.
“As for the petrol station that they want to relocate to a part of the garden, do you know what condition was placed on the operator? That they plant just six trees.”
The original plans had envisaged the building being located within the Council of Europe Gardens, but Transport Malta filed a new application for the restaurant on the stretch of promenade between the garden and the sea.
The one-storey building being proposed will include a 163 square metre restaurant, 162 square metres of office space, and 180 square metres of outside catering.
Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, for one, has strongly objected to what it describes as the “takeover of part of the Ta’ Xbiex seafront, a public open area, not a development zone, which Transport Malta is proposing in an application to build up as offices and storage, w.c. and shower amenities and a restaurant with outdoor catering area.
“This will be reducing the public’s enjoyment of its open area, blocking views of Valletta and setting a precedent for other restaurants and offices to be set up on the seashore,” FAA said recently of the proposed development.
The application – PA 680/22 – is for the “reconfiguration of the parking area, promenade extension and embellishment, and construction of capitanerie comprising Class 4A office space and storage, berth holder, w.c. and shower amenities, Class 4B outlet, and ancillary Class 4D outlet with ancillary outdoor catering area.”
“Transport Malta should be looking after the public’s transport needs,” FAA said, “and not applying for the construction of restaurants for the benefit of the few.”