Statement by Hili Ventures Hospitality added: 5.50pm

Activists gathered in Valletta on Saturday to protest the redevelopment of the old Comino Hotel, a project that they claim lacks common sense and has been pushed to the public through misleading stats and advertising.

“We have already seen what has happened to Malta and Gozo. Are we going to do the same to Comino,” environmental scientist John Paul Cauchi asked the crowd.

Speaking outside the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta, seven organisations staged a counter-exhibition in response to developer Hili Group’s proposed plans and recent claims that the project will be conducted sustainably.

On Friday, Hili Ventures CEO Melo Hili announced that the company had signed a deal with luxury hotel brand Six Senses to operate a hotel at Comino's San Niklaw bay and luxury short-let villas at Santa Marija Bay, where the previous hotel's bungalows were. 

The company highlighted Six Senses' focus on sustainability and being close to nature. 

Activists who oppose the plans say the developer is greenwashing. The project's planning proposal has attracted more than 13,500 objections.

“All six senses will be there,” Cauchi quipped on Saturday, “except for common sense.”

“You can see with your own eyes that there will be more buildings,” Cauchi said, pointing at a graphic that highlights the increase in villas and space that will be taken up in Santa Marija Bay.

A top-down graphic that shows the increased footprint and volume of proposed villas. Photo: Moviment GraffittiA top-down graphic that shows the increased footprint and volume of proposed villas. Photo: Moviment Graffitti

Cauchi said the building volume at Santa Marija Bay would be increasing by 49 per cent if the developer's plans to build 19 villas, each with their own pool, were to be approved. 

“There is a bay right there, yet they want to have a pool in every villa. Can you explain to me how this is sustainable?”

The bay will also feature a new pier that will only increase traffic and will transform the currently tranquil area into an elite village with year-round occupancy, Cauchi said. 

The project will increase the bay’s developed footprint by 12.6 per cent, which does not include the “connecting space” between the villas which, he said, Hili Group has conveniently not defined. 

Cauchi rhetorically asked if the space between the villas will be paved or if will it be kept as is, “with flowers and butterflies?”

“We want a quiet and protected bay, one available for the public,” John Paul Cauchi said. Photo: Moviment Graffitti“We want a quiet and protected bay, one available for the public,” John Paul Cauchi said. Photo: Moviment Graffitti

He also highlighted the irony that those who are asking to create the damage are speaking of sustainability and mitigations.

“A solar panel on a roof does not make a sustainable project.”

“We want a quiet and protected bay, one available for the public,” Cauchi said, one left untouched or, better still, preserved and protected and not made for rich tourists.

“They don’t want us resting there,” Moviment Graffitti’s Marie Claire Gatt said, arguing that companies such as Hili make their money off the common person instead of for them.

In Friday’s interview, Hili pledged that no plastic will be used in the operation of the hotel while also stating that the hotel will use local products in its menus.

“You can see with your own eyes that there will be more buildings,” Cauchi said, referencing this graphic. Photo: Moviment Graffitti“You can see with your own eyes that there will be more buildings,” Cauchi said, referencing this graphic. Photo: Moviment Graffitti

“So what,” Moviment Graffitti’s Andre Callus retorted when asked about the plastic-free promise.

“If you are ruining it without using plastic, it is still ruined. It is insignificant.”

“Don’t think we will let this go quietly,” Callus said as he made his own promises that the organisation in tandem with other NGOs will not give up.

“We will fight, there will be a battle,” he said to applause.

The public presentation was organised by Moviment Graffitti, Din l-Art Ħelwa, BirdLife Malta, Nature Trust Malta-FEE, Friends of the Earth, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, and Ramblers’ Association.

Statement by Hili Ventures Hospitality

In a statement sent on Saturday, following an exhibition opening on the proposed development, Hili Ventures Hospitality (HVH) highlighted how the project would involve the greening of Comino and enhancement of the Natura 2000 site.

More than 55,000 endemic trees, plants and shrubs would be planted if the proposed development is greenlighted, and alien and invasive species removed, a HVH spokesperson said.

The project’s team was already growing 1,500 mother plants from cuttings and seeds which were harvested under the guidance of the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA), he continued.

Regarding the destruction of garigue, he said it would be recreated using the construction waste from the demolition of the current site and will cover all the roofs and terraces.

During a presentation of the project, the architectural team also explained that paths around the buildings would not be paved with concrete but would try to recreate the natural land as closely as possible, using permeable soil and stone pathways that assist with rainwater harvesting.

The project would also aim to reuse 100% of water which will be recycled for flushing and irrigation.

Turning to the buildings, the spokesperson pointed out they would be designed to maximise energy efficiency and reduce the need for air-conditioning, while lighting was being kept at a minimum to preserve the night sky and protect the flora and fauna.

The HV Hospitality spokesperson also reiterated that the footprint of the regeneration project would be smaller than the current site's, the hotel would accommodate fewer guests than it used to, and the bungalows would be lower than they are today.

The exhibition, entitled ‘Comino Hotel Reimagined – A Sustainable Vision’ is open to the public at the Girolamo Cassar Hall at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta, seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until May 9.

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