The Malta Independent 12 May 2021, Wednesday

‘Barbarians at Mdina’s Gates’, NGOs warn after hotel approval

Friday, 30 April 2021, 11:29 Last update: about 11 days ago

Heritage and environment NGOs Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and Moviment Graffitti have condemned the Planning Authority decision, to conditionally approve the construction of a 6-storey hotel on Saqqajja hill. 

The site is partly within the Area of Archaeological Importance of Rabat and Mdina (Class A scheduling)in the Urban Conservation Area of Mdina immediately in front of the scheduled fortifications around the historic city of Mdina and partly Outside Development Zone. 

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In spite of being modified, the massing and increased heights of this building within the Area of High Landscape Value of Mdina, will still have a massive visual impact on the entrance to Rabat and Mdina, obliterating Mdina’s bastions from the main approach to Rabat/Mdina, the NGOs said. 

The eNGOs expressed their extreme concern about what will happen when the buildings are pulled down and the rock cutting starts within the glacis of the scheduled (Grade 1) Fortifications of Mdina, which are notoriously unstable. 

“In spite of a recent major project to shore them up, the extensive excavations proposed pose a serious threat on the stability of the bastions”, they said. 

They noted that the proposed basement is several metres below street level so there is little doubt that archaeology will be uncovered. A MEPA Director had in the past stated that conditions attached to permits were simply a screen, since MEPA did not have the resources to ensure that the conditions were respected. To declare that archaeological monitoring will take place after the permit is granted, simply means that the findings will be recorded, covered up, built over or destroyed. 

“That is, if they are identified at all. Bulldozers and heavy excavators are not going to halt when valuable historical remnants are uncovered, Once the permit is given there's no stopping the construction”, they said. 

Objectors also flagged up the supposed cistern, an excuse for more excavation in the sensitive geological morphology of the area, does not exist. 

The numerous, studied objections were simply ignored by the PA Board, they said. 

 The PA presentation mentioned the railway tunnel, yet there was no mention of it on the application documents.  The two tunnels running underneath Saqqajja Hill, with an entrance immediately adjacent to the protected Logga tal-Palju connecting the hotel private parking to the hotel, run under public land and will doubtless reveal further archaeology.  The project has the clearance of the Lands Authority, which transfered the public land to the politically-connected hotel owner mysteriously behind closed doors, with no public call in a fair tender process. 

“The driving force behind the hotel proposal, the owners of the former Tattingers club with their long history of enforcements on that very land, are handed a lucrative new lease for a further profit spree, at the cost of Maltese cultural heritage. The heritage of Malta is yet again sold for private speculative gain”, they said. 

They noted that this project could have been within a style and scale proportionate to its position, in fact, the Board itself recognised that studies were insufficient and that the design was not adequate, but still issued the permit.  

“Malta is a small island with a fascinating geology, iconic and centuries old built heritage and landscape that is being ruined by unsuitable construction proposals. Malta’s politicians are repeating the same mistake as the Excelsior Hotel intruding on Valletta’s bastions, and like the Excelsior this will be a scar on our heritage landscape that future generations will forever curse.”

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