The Malta Independent 24 October 2017, Tuesday

WRDC to develop White Rocks into villas, apartments, shops and hotel

Rachel Attard Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 08:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

White Rocks Development Company, a consortium made up of a number of local and foreign companies, is the preferred bidder for the White Rocks project in Pembroke, well informed sources told The Malta Independent.

The government and the consortium are holding discussions intended to lead to an agreement on how the project will be developed.  The proposed investment by the consortium could reach €200 million depending on the formula agreed between the government and the bidders.

If the project is lopsided towards real estate it wouldn’t have a major impact on job creation other than the construction works until the project is finalised. If, on the other hand, a five-star de luxe hotel with amenities is built, it could serve the upper-market tourist industry which is close to non-existent in Malta. The project will also have retail outlets which generates jobs that highly depend on the economic trends and liquidity.

The sources said that the consortium is made up of: London & Regional Holdings, which includes Livingstone Brothers (Richard and Ian Livingstone) with a net value asset of the group of €5 billion; Alpine Group, with MHRA President Tony Zahra as one of its directors; Bonnici Brothers, which is a construction company owned by Emanuel Bonnici, John Bonnici and Mario Bonnici; Mizzi Holdings Ltd owned by Maurice Mizzi, Brian Mizzi and Kenneth Mizzi; Michael Bianchi who is an investor in various companies and is one of the directors in Airport Investment Ltd; Sea Estate Ltd whose sole director is Joseph Eucharist Vella who also owns Karkanja Ltd; and Elma Ltd whose directors are Dennis Baldacchino, who owns Tal-Maghtab Construction Ltd, and Charles Ellul, director of Elbros Construction Ltd.

The sources said that initially this consortium had no intention of building a hotel but the government demanded its inclusion as per Expression of Interest brief.

Earlier last month Economy Minister Chris Cardona had told this newsroom that discussions were being held with the chosen bidder after a call for international expressions of interest was issued in July 2014. 

During the launch for the EOI Minister Cardona had said that the brief will allow the development of five star hotels, luxury units and “high quality lifestyle community village.”  Minister Cardona said that the 135,600 square metres of the White Rocks complex would only cover 38% of the project area, which is 45 hectares (449,885 square meters) in total. This will be solely financed, designed, constructed, and operated by the private sector, he had said. Dr Cardona at the time had made it clear that that the government was not considering land reclamation and not all proposed footprint would be built up. Although White Rocks has proved to be Malta’s white elephant that never took off, Minister Cardona had pledged that, “the government is committed to see this project through.”

The sources told The Malta Independent yesterday that for this investment, WRDC are committed that no ODZ land will be touched and that the footprint will remain the same. Environment NGOs had expressed concern about the project and said that the complex should not extend into adjacent areas of pristine garigue and cultivated land.

The sources added that the government could pocket €22 million for the transfer of land if the deal reached would be for the time stipulated in the original brief, that of 65 years. However it is understood that the intention of the consortium is to negotiate a longer period under the same agreement.

Seventeen investors had expressed an interest in the project following the international call. Each paid €10,000 non-refundable collection fee. Six were dropped, and the government held discussions with the remaining 11 bidders before choosing WRDC.

 

White Rocks timeline:

1960: Construction on the complex began in 1960 to serve as the Bahar ic-Caghaq Married Quarters for the British Forces a mere four years before Maltese Independence in 1964

1979: Following the departure of British forces in 1979, the complex was converted into a holiday resort.

October 1995: The Planning Authority released a ‘White Rocks Development Brief’ that divided the area into three zones. Zone 1 covered the White Rocks site; Zone 2 covered the underlying garigue land extending to the sea; and Zone 3 including parts of the adjacent fields.

1999: A public tender was issued based on the previously mentioned Development Brief.

2003: A Consortium had previously expressed interest, but after the 2003 general election came and went, nothing came of the project.

2010: The government seemed to have a change of heart, with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi suggesting a sports and leisure village. An article in July 2010 read: "Following the events of 9/11 and the SARS epidemic, a tourism complex alone was not deemed viable and the consortium had asked for amendments to the project brief, allowing for the development of real estate. Prime Ministers Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi had rejected the request. Subsequently, the consortium never signed an agreement with the government and the project was shelved until 2010, when the sports complex project was announced.” However, discussions with the British consortium still led nowhere.

July 2014: Economy Minister Chris Cardona launched an International Expression of Interest by which interested parties could submit applications for possible development of the site.

June 2015: Economy Ministry answered questions posed by TMI stating that an advanced request for proposals was being ‘worked on’.

April 2016: Chris Cardona confirmed to TMI the government was holding talks with the preferred bidder.

 

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