Approving MIDI’s Manoel Island project would violate UNESCO Valletta buffer zone, NGOs say

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 March, 2024 at 10:43 am by Andre Camilleri

The approval of MIDI’s latest set of plans for Manoel Island by the Planning Authority would violate the UNESCO’s Valletta buffer zone, two NGOs warned on the eve of the PA’s expected decision on the project. 

The Planning Authority Board will discuss MIDI’s latest application for Manoel Island, which is recommended for approval, on Thursday. 

NGOs Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and Moviment Graffitti said that the recommendation for approval comes despite “the fact that these new plans are significantly different to those approved in the outline development permit covered by an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) prepared in 2021.” 

The NGOs said that MIDI’s new buildings will now take up 7.3% of Manoel Island, up from 6% or 16,553sq.m in the plans of three years ago, plus a considerable 10,125sq.m increase in gross floor area of apartments compared to the masterplan, through reducing commercial floor area. Public spaces too will be reduced by 5,000sq.m, while private open spaces will be increased by the creation of a gated community of 12,500sq.m. 

“While the latest plans have shifted development away from archeologically sensitive areas, the original old plague hospital is to be exploited by turning it into a restaurant with an additional floor built on top, instead of respecting and valorising the Lazzaretto’s original historic role as other countries have done,” the NGOs said. 

“Despite this, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has approved the project that has already illegally demolished one of the heritage buildings, the Bovile quarantine cattle-shed,” they continued. 

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and Moviment Graffitti drew attention to fact that this development is wholly within the buffer zone proposed by the Ministry of Culture as part of the Management Plan for Valletta to preserve Valletta’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

“If this project is approved before the Valletta Buffer Zone is ratified, it would flout UNESCO’s communication with the Maltese authorities, where ‘UNESCO noted that in the masterplan for the proposed redevelopment of Manoel Island in the immediate vicinity of Valletta, was approved before the completion of the ‘Views and Vistas analysis’ and that the authorities should ensure that the ‘Views and Vistas analysis’ is finalised before the masterplan is approved,’” the NGOs said. 

However, this important Views and Vistas Analysis has been witheld from the public, and the Ministry of Culture has refused FAA’s official request to release the Views and Vistas analysis on which the plan is based, the NGOs said. 

“This study is vital as the MIDI project impacts the Views and Vistas analysis, as well as Valletta’s Buffer Zone. Is this why the Authorities are keeping the analysis hidden? Did Government drag its feet for 14 years since its 2010 proposed buffer zone was rejected by UNESCO, in order to first approve the MIDI project?” 

The NGOs noted that in the case of Ġgantija, the Superintendence eventually had to accede to UNESCO’s insistence on a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) due to the proposed development being within the World Heritage Site Buffer Zone. 

“Why is the SCH not calling for an HIA for the MIDI project which will be within the Valletta Buffer Zone?” 

“Why did the Superintendence and Ministry of Culture not evaluate the impact of this development in the Valletta Management Plan, when even UNESCO has spoken very clearly: UNESCO
‘encourages the State Party to continue to improve the Heritage Impact Assessments process by paying due attention to the indirect and cumulative impacts of the many projects under preparation, including … large-scale developments both within the property and its setting, such as the Evans Building and Manoel Island projects, based on a finalised ‘View and Vistas analysis’ … and to submit details of these projects with their accompanying impact assessments to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies before any decisions are made that may be difficult to reverse.’”

The NGOs said that the national interest would be to suspend any permits within the Valletta buffer zone and only consider such projects after the buffer zone is established. 

“Approving now, then establishing the buffer zone, would amount to shutting the stable door after the horses have bolted. Approval of the MIDI project without considering the Valletta Buffer Zone would be a slap in the face to UNESCO and jeopardise Valletta’s status as a World Heritage site,” they concluded.

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