A bookshop which for years was synonymous with the University of Malta is set to be replaced by an 11-storey hotel, and its developer now wants to add an additional floor. 

Developer Mark Agius, known in his native Gozo as 'Ta’ Dirjanu’ is asking the PA (through application 05079/22) for permission to add another floor to the building, despite having already secured an additional two floors over-and-above the permitted maximum for the area in his original planning application. 

The upcoming hotel used to host the Mireva bookshop, which sold textbooks and academic literature to students and university staff for years before shutting down some years ago. 

The surrounding buildings are three storeys high. 

A PA case officer has yet to provide an assessment of that proposal, which Agius filed early in July. 

Area meant to prioritise ‘student-focused’ land uses

The proposed development is located just outside the gates of the University of Malta campus, which is a residential area designated as a Student Housing Area by local plans. 

Such areas must prioritise student-focused land uses, such as bookshops or stationeries, and not hotels, which are deemed to be tourism-oriented projects. 

Despite those land-use restrictions, in 2019 Agius filed an application (PA 04051/19) seeking to transform the entire building into a 37-room three-star hotel, complete with a rooftop pool. 

Proposal to extend hotel by an additional floor. Credit PAProposal to extend hotel by an additional floor. Credit PA

That application was approved by the Planning Board, despite a PA case officer recommending its refusal. 

In a letter included in that PA application dated May 30, 2019, MTA chairman Gavin Gulia told the PA that he deemed the hotel project “eligible for consideration in terms of the Hotel Heights Limitation policy”. 

That policy, devised in tandem between the MTA and PA, allows hotel developers to build an extra two floors higher than the site’s local plan allows. To justify its inclusion, Gulia noted that the hotel would include a pool as well as an all-purpose room suitable for activities such as “meetings, yoga sessions, fitness and a reading room”. 

The application’s case officer disagreed, telling the PA that the development’s height would negatively impact the site and its surroundings. 

The case officer’s recommendation to refuse Agius’ application was disregarded by the PA. 

Two years later, Agius filed a new application (08797/21), seeking to double the size of the proposed hotel. What was originally a 37-room hotel was now shaping up to be a 72-room one. 

The application was approved by the PA. 

Agius was represented by architect Maria Schembri Grima in all three PA applications.

‘Another nail in the coffin of this country’

As a sign of protest towards the development, one University lecturer stuck a section of a popular Maltese poem, with his own personal twist, on the site. 

Kurt Borg hung a section of Immanuel Mifsud’s environmental poem, Aqta’ Fjura u Ibni Kamra, next to the PA application permit, and apologised to the poet for adding a different line. 

“Aqta’ fjura u ibni kamra/ Aqla’ ħanut tal-kotba u tella’ lukanda/ Imxi metru, ibni villa/Tinkwetax...dak li sar sar,” the excerpt read. 

(The translation: Cut a flower and build a room/ demolish a bookshop and construct a hotel/ walk a metre, build a villa/ Don’t worry, whatever happened, happened.)

Borg replaced Mifsud's line, 'drop a tree and build a house' with 'demolish a bookshop and construct a hotel'. 

In his poetic facebook post, Borg said he was disappointed that the construction project went under the radar for the past three years and questioned how no one, including residents, university architects, lawyers and experts, were not vocal. 

He said the news of the hotel development comes days after the University's budget will be reduced by €1.1 million, as part of the government's spending review. 

"The hotel fiasco and the budget cut are two sides of the same coin, that is, a neoliberal politics that is barbaric in nature. A politics that extinguishes the book to give rise to ugly buildings that negatively impact the neighbourhood," he said. 

He pointed how even the University's own Campus Hub, has no space yet to allocate to a new bookshop. 

"Yet there was enough space for Burger King and Pizza Hut."

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