The Malta Independent 27 September 2023, Wednesday
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NGOs object to application proposing redevelopment of former Festaval Hotel Mellieha

Monday, 3 October 2022, 13:57 Last update: about 13 months ago

BirdLife Malta and Din l-Art Ħelwa, the two organisations responsible for the management of the Foresta 2000 Nature Reserve, have filed separate objections to the Planning Authority in relation to a planning application aiming to redevelop the site of the former Festaval Hotel in Mellieħa.

The application (PA4933/22) proposes the demolition of the existing hotel structure and re-construction of the same hotel. "The proposal includes external and internal changes to propose a hotel which is in line with today's standards and requirements. The proposed development will include 5 floor levels above ground floor, consisting of a reception area, hotel rooms, pool, restaurants, back of house, parking spaces and all other ancillary facilities required by a hotel," the application reads.

The site falls under the L-Inħawi tal-Għadira protected area.

In its objection, BirdLife Malta said that the site of the former hotel, even if in ruins, "was scheduled by MEPA in 2006 as a Level 1 Site of Scientific Interest and a Level 2 Area of Ecological Importance, while the area is located within the confines of a Natura 2000 site and a Bird Sanctuary."

"Since 2003, a large swathe of land between the Red Tower and Għadira Nature Reserve was dedicated for the realisation of the Foresta 2000 project which has seen the recreation of a Mediterranean woodland habitat. Despite some setbacks with vandalism in its early years, the site has now matured into an important green open space in Mellieħa which is open all year round to the general public and which BirdLife Malta jointly manages with Din l-Art Ħelwa and PARKS."

In a separate objection also filed on Friday, Din l-Art Ħelwa have in turn "objected to the attempts to justify developing a five-storey hotel within this environmentally sensitive site on the basis of a development from the 60s, which had been abandoned ever since, particularly since the area has since been designated as a Natura 2000 site. An unfinished development, abandoned for decades, cannot serve as a form of legal commitment to justify going against the protection status and related policies that were specifically given to safeguard this site and its wider context of immense environmental value from such intensive and conflicting development. The problem is not just the 'five-storey' volume, but the damaging impact that tourism activity will have on this Natura 2000 site."

Both organisations insisted that the proposed hotel development directly threatens the ecological, recreational, and educational value the site offers.

In recent years BirdLife Malta has been guiding various school visits to the site offering a unique nature-based learning experience. The site is also open to the public all year round, 24/7 and is a mecca for hikers, tourists and Mellieħa residents, both organisations said.

"This, especially during hunting seasons given the area is a Bird Sanctuary and the only site in Mellieħa where hunting and trapping is not permitted."

The organisations further argued that, "given the context of various hotel expansions in Mellieħa over the past years, this development is unnecessary and possibly also not economically viable given the latest study issued by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) which is pointing to a predicted overkill in hotel beds, leading to unsustainable tourism figures beyond the country's carrying capacity."

In its objection to the planning application, BirdLife Malta further appealed to the developers and architects behind the planning application to ensure the site is restored to its full natural potential, thus enhancing this green open space in Mellieħa, in line with the site's ecological designations. "The site's unique status of a Mediterranean forest protected as a bird sanctuary where hunting and trapping cannot be practised, wherein students are educated about our wildlife, and where the public can enjoy a stroll in one of Malta's unperturbed, yet limited open spaces, is something in need of protection and appreciation rather than development and speculation," it concluded.

Other environmental organisations such as Friends of the Earth Malta, The Ramblers' Association of Malta and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar have also submitted their objections, the statement by BirdLife and Din l-Art Ħelwa read.

In its comments about the project, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage advocates that "the existing structures are demolished, and that the opportunity be taken to rehabilitate this side of a prominent ridge, within a significant landscape, forming part of the immediate context of the Grade 1 scheduled St. Agatha's Tower that is surmounting the said ridge."

The application processing is currently suspended at the architect's request.

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