News | Sunday, 04 October 2009

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MEPA paves the way for Piano project

The Malta Environment & Planning Authority, in a document issued this week for public consultation, has proposed amendments to the Grand Harbour Plan in order to accommodate Renzo Piano’s plans for City Gate, Freedom Square and the Opera House site.
The document retroactively suggests ‘alternative uses’ for Freedom Square, which fortuitously coincide with the government’s declared aim to build a new house of parliament.
Similarly, the proposed amendments to the Grand Harbour plan include references to possible alternative uses for the former Opera House site: which again reflect Renzo Piano’s proposals for a roofless theatre.
According to MEPA’s proposals, Freedom Square should be reduced in size to respect the “human scale”. The document refers to the “discordant proportions” of Freedom Square, proposing “building and landscaping” between the square and Republic Street.
Without alluding to government’s plans for a new parliament, MEPA foresees a “legislative” and “institutional” use of this space, as well as “cultural, entertainment and leisure oriented” uses.
The document also envisages commercial and retail development in Freedom Square, specifying that shops should not occupy more than 20% of the “commercial floorspace”.
While deeming it “inappropriate to prescribe a specific architectural style,” the same document states that the architecture of any building to be erected on the Opera House site “should respond to the challenge of providing a contemporary statement befitting the 21st century.”
Apart from a “multi-purpose theatre”, the site of the former Opera House could also be used for “limited commercial and recreational uses”, which preferably have a “cultural orientation” – all this in a document which meticulous avoids any reference to the fact that Renzo Piano’s plans already match MEPA’s proposed brief to the letter.
Significantly, MEPA also proposes the removal of any reference to the development of a new bus terminus at City Gate, “to allow the reform of public transport announced in 2008 to develop over time.”
The policy also excludes the development of a car park under Freedom Square, and recommends an increase in pedestrian zones.


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