The Planning Authority is set to give the green light to the construction of a 23-room hotel overlooking the threatened Wied Għomor, despite objections by the Environment and Resources Authority, several eNGOs, residents of the area and the local council.

The application is for the construction of a five-storey guest house on the site where the Planning Authority had already approved the construction of a villa with pool in 2015.

This application had originally been refused but the decision had been overturned on appeal in 2015 after the developer, John Bonavia, scaled down the proposed project to respect the topography of the valley.

It was already the second attempt to develop the site, with the first attempt to construct a block of apartments and underlying garage spaces turned down because it would have led to the creation of new residential development, contrary to PA policies.

Following the demolition of the existing structures in 2016, the applicant filed a request in 2017 to amend the approved villa and construct a guest house instead.

However, this was met with forceful objections from the Environment and Resources Authority and the Swieqi council which insisted that the development was on land outside development zone and would create urban sprawl overlooking an already heavily threatened Wied Għomor.

In a two-storey zone, a four-storey building would be seen from the street and a five-floor building from the valley.

The mass of the building will dominate the rural character of the valley

Objections were also received from, among others, Nature Trust Malta, Front Ħarsien ODZ and Din l-Art Ħelwa.

In its objection, ERA said the proposed guest house with related amenities “exceeded by far the scale and massing” of the approved villa, both in terms of the height of the building as well as the overall scale.

The ERA also said that it is concerned about incursion onto Wied Għomor.

“ERA considers that the acceptance of this proposal would constitute a precedent for similar development on existing vacant plots within this area,” it said.

The proposed development lies at the edge of the valley dividing St Julian's and Swieqi.The proposed development lies at the edge of the valley dividing St Julian's and Swieqi.

The Swieqi local council noted that none of the PA’s policies allowed commercial developments of that sort.

“The proposed guest house is clearly a commercial development which cannot be allowed, according to PA regulations, outside development zone.

“ODZ areas, and valleys in particular, are to be protected from commercial developments if the government’s policies on the conservation of these areas are to be respected,” the council said in its objection.

Plans for the villa did not include any semi basements so the addition would require excavation into the ODZ valley bank, it said.

“The mass of the building will dominate the rural character of the valley,” Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat wrote in his objection.

The Planning Directorate is recommending approval “in view of the existing commitments on the site, since it complies with the requirements of the PA’s Rural Policy and since it also meets the requirements of the local plan”.

In view of the shortfall of parking spaces, the developer must pay almost €10,500 towards the Community Payment Parking Scheme.

When the planning commission met to discuss the application on Thursday, it deferred the decision to July to give the architect time to address excessive timber cladding on the rear side, overlooking the valley, and submit new drawings.  

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