Decision on Manoel Island development postponed following UNESCO concerns

The Planning Authority has postponed its decision on whether to approve the construction of a residential and commercial complex on Manoel Island pending further consultation with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage following UNESCO concerns.

The SCH is expected to provide an indication on whether the development would breach a development buffer zone for Valletta, proposed last year in requirements to preserve the Valletta’s UNESCO World Heritage status.

The complex would comprise more than 320 apartments across an area equivalent to almost three football fields and was expected to be approved in a decision on Thursday morning.

In an unexpected turn of events, the board noted concerns raised by NGOs Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and Moviment Graffitti on Wednesday regarding the buffer zone and deferred the meeting to a later date.

The hearing will be held pending a consultation with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage regarding the issue.

The referenced buffer zone was proposed at the end of last year as part of the documentation required for Valletta to retain its UNESCO World Heritage status.

The prestigious recognition was at risk of being lost because of government failure to provide a management plan required since 2011.

UNESCO drew attention to the proposed development on Manoel Island and called on the authorities to ensure that the Views and Vistas analysis required as part of the management plan would be completed before MIDI’s proposal was approved.

Work on the new Vistas and Views Analysis was only commissioned by Culture Minister Owen Bonnici last summer, expected to be completed this month.

The MIDI development has drawn criticism from several NGOs and residents for its visual impact and land take-up, considered by many to be one of the few accessible and relatively undeveloped green spaces in the area.

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage had previously given its go-ahead to the project, with no mention of a possible breach of the proposed buffer zone.

The Planning Authority board included board chairman Emanuel Camilleri, PA commission head Martin Camilleri, Saviour Debono Grech, Aimee Brincat, Chares Hili, Joseph Zammit, Marica Borg, Andrew Ellul, Mario Borg and Joseph Tabone.

Manoel Island’s development was granted to MIDI with that of Tigné Point in 1999. A 2021 master plan for the project resulted in its down scaling to 6% of the area.

Following archaeological discoveries, new plans were submitted to the Planning Authority last year which saw an expansion of the design up to an area of 20,400 square metres (almost the size of almost three football fields).

The new plans will also see public space cut down by some 5,000 square metres when compared to 2021 figures.

The planned 323 apartments would be spread across three multi-storey building clusters occupying most of the southern side of the area up to Fort Manoel.

Environmental NGOs have strongly opposed the project, lamenting further development on the relatively undeveloped islet and noting its potential to serve as a crucial green lung for the highly developed surrounding area.

For years following the government’s granting of a 99-year lease to MIDI, public access was blocked. In an act of protest in 2016, this was restored through direct action by Conrad Borg Manché, Gżira’s mayor at the time part of the Labour Party, Moviment Graffitti and residents.

                           

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