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MALTATODAY 16 January 2022

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 16 JANUARY 2022 NEWS JAMES DEBONO MUSLIM worshippers who for years have lamented the lack of an alternative place of worship in Malta, have been proposed an industrial plot in Luqa for the creation of a religious and cul- tural hub. The mosque, meeting rooms, administrative offices, and administrative offices on a 2,142sq.m plot in Luqa's indus- trial estate are being offered to the Islamic Solidarity Malta or- ganisation, instead of a tempo- rary site of worship at L'Ospizio, in Floriana. The plot will be entrusted by way of a 'commodatum' (tem- porary possession) to Islamic Solidarity Malta, to continue exercising faith and socio-cul- tural activities after they vacate the Knights-era Ospizio in Hay- wharf, which has been used for prayers since 2016. Back then the government had reached an agreement with a part of the Muslim community in Malta, granting them an out- doors area within the Ospizio to hold Friday prayers in an open space until a permanent loca- tion is found for a new mosque. The agreement was reached af- ter Muslims started to gather in Msida outside the church parvis, after having been evicted from several meet- ing places around the island due to a lack of planning per- mits. A request to change the use of a large garage in San- ta Venera for worship had also been denied. Now the ministry for arts and government agency Festivals Malta want to free the Ospizio to facilitate the completion of the Malta International Con- temporary Arts (MICAS) com- plex. Instead the Islamic organiza- tion, which does not worship at the Paola mosque, is being granted temporary possession of land in Luqa on which the Planning Authority had already approved a cultural hub for a theatre, external performance space and rehearsal spaces for Maltese bands. But that site will now be incorporated in a pro- posed arts and cultural complex in Marsa proposed by Festivals Malta. Festivals Malta instead allo- cated the Luqa site to the min- istry's Stores and Maintenance Division, downscaling plans to alter and existing warehouse, to instead provide staff rooms and ancillary facilities to the Islamic community. The requisite planning permits will still be required for a mina- ret rising to 20m. The need for a second mosque has been a pressing one for the past years as the number of Muslims, both foreign and Maltese nationals, has grown in the past years. Muslims are expected to pray five times a day and Friday prayers are conducted collec- tively. Muslims who spoke to this newspaper have also point- ed out that it is has become impossible to accommodate so many people in one mosque. Second mosque in Luqa estate, 'bands' area moves to Marsa Islamic organisation granted land in Luqa industrial estate to vacate Ospizio site JAMES DEBONO ANOTHER major commercial and residential development is in the pipeline on the site of a former GO exchange building in Psaila Street, Birkirkara, which has been closed for the past year. A zoning application on the 3,628sq.m site occupied by the building which fronts two other residential roads outside a sec- ondary school, was presented in November last year by Excel Ltd, a company owned by Mer- cury House developer Joseph Portelli. No details are given on the development set to take place except for a description of the proposed use of the site as being both "residential and commer- cial". As stated in the application the site is still not owned by Portel- li's company. The zoning application pro- poses a public, pedestrianized piazza and a new access from Psaila Street for ambulances and fire vehicles, which will bisect the site and enable development around it. A new planning appli- cation will be required for the buildings set to replace the ex- isting offices. The site is not large enough to accommodate high-rise de- velopments through the floor area ratio mechanism, which is only applicable to sites over 4,000sq.m. Existing planning policies limit development on the site to five storeys. The application was present- ed by architect Maria Schem- bri Grima, who was appointed chairman of the Building and Construction Authority in April 2021. In the past months, companies linked to Joseph Portelli have also presented major develop- ment applications on the site of the Dolphin Centre in Balzan, where 100 apartments and var- ious shops are being proposed; and on another site opposite Villa Bologna in Attard, where 41 apartments are being pro- posed. Portelli is also behind a major office development ap- proved last year opposite the Decathlon centre in Qormi. Portelli behind major Birkirkara development on GO exchange

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