The Malta Independent 21 November 2018, Wednesday

Proposed Saqqajja 5-star hotel will not affect views of Mdina, proponents say

Neil Camilleri Thursday, 8 November 2018, 09:00 Last update: about 13 days ago

The proponents of a luxury, 110-bed hotel at Saqqajja Hill say the development would not affect views of the Silent City and, on the contrary, could help Mdina’s bid to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In a presentation to The Malta independent, architect David Xuereb, CEO of QP Management, said that safeguarding of the old city is actually in the best interest of the project.

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“The developers could have opted for a residential project, which would have generated a higher return on investment, but the idea of the project is that of quality tourism that would actually help Mdina’s UNESCO bid,” Xuereb said, adding that the area lacked quality accommodation. 

He also said that the 5-star hotel project will reduce traffic travelling up Saqqaja Hill and will open up a new public access point to the medieval city.

The proposed site encompasses the Tattingers nightclub and two other buildings. The project applicant is Jeffrey Cutajar, the owner of Tattingers.

Xuereb explained that the hotel’s height will not exceed the existing predominant streetscape. While hotels are usually allowed extra floors, the developers in this case were aware of the sensitivity of the site and made sure not to alter the visuals of the area.

The proposed building footprint would take up a small area of ODZ land at the back but the developers point out that, from the front, the new building will be receded and set back to widen the existing road.

Perit Xuereb explained that, when looking at Mdina from the fields below, it looks as if the old city is ‘floating.’ This effect is due to a band of greenery below the city. The proposed hotel will not alter this effect, he said.

The hotel per se will be built with full respect towards the surrounding area, incorporating traditional features such as wrought iron and the traditional Maltese balcony, as well as green building concepts, such as green walls.

The developers want the building to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, is an internationally recognized green building certification, Xuereb explained.

Rather than going for the traditional singular hotel building,  the architects have designed the façade to give the impression that one is actually looking at a number of different adjacent buildings.

There will be no excavation, Xuereb said, since the hotel will not have a basement or underground car park. However, the applicants are trying to establish, my means of cleaning, what lies beneath the buildings. The process is being carried out in conjunction with the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage.

The old railway tunnel lies under some 20 metre of rock and will not be affected, Xuereb said.

The hotel’s outdoor area would be developed over some agricultural fields that form part of the same parcel of land owned by the applicant.

Asked about the traffic impact, Xuereb explained that the project is envisaged to reduce traffic going up Saqqajja hill. “Since this will be a luxury hotel we envisage that most guests would make use of taxis or other forms of chauffeured transport. The hotel will have a lay-by area, within its boundary, where guests can be picked up and dropped off without disturbing traffic flow on the main road. The lay-by will also be used for goods deliveries,” Xuereb explained.

The developers are also proposing that the government renovates and manages the public car park just across the road. While the car park would remain public, the developers are proposing opening up an access passage that runs through the property and leads up to the Mdina ditch. This would be open to the public, thus creating a new public access point to the city. This would also serve to reduce the number of vehicles going up Saqqajja.

The developers are also encouraging the government to restore the bastions that lie behind the site which, for some reason, were left out of past restoration projects. 

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