The Planning Authority has approved an outline application for the conversion of the Garden of Eden wedding halls complex just outside Żurrieq into 12 bungalows with pools. It also approved a separate request for the site of an illegal car park to be restored to its original state.

The car park was illegally developed on a 4,900 square metre area of garigue and an enforcement notice was issued in 1998. 

Architect Ray Demicoli, on behalf of the Baldacchino family, also owners of the San Lawrenz Kempinski resort in Gozo, explained that only 1,889 square metres of the 12,300 square metre site of the wedding halls complex is currently built up and the new project will further reduce that area to 1,562 square metres.

The clifftop site is currently occupied by two reception halls, a nightclub and a car park. There is also a derelict farmhouse covering an approximate area of 173 square metres.

The Planning Authority's case officer explained that the project had been considerably downsized from the original proposal which covered the entire area of over 22,000 square metres.

Objectors argued that the proposed development would impact the surrounding environment and the natural habitat. The PA received some 800 representations about the proposal.

This was not the first time that the owners had tried to obtain a permit for tourist accommodation.

In 2018, an application was filed for the building of cabanas with pools for tourist accommodation as well as ancillary facilities, a reception area, a tennis court and car park. This application was, however, withdrawn before reaching the decision stage.

The NGOs' representative on the PA board, Romano Cassar, remarked that the new project would attract more people to the area than the previous wedding halls and nightclub as there would be people living there around the clock. Moreover, the Malta Tourism Authority had said that the country had enough bedstock for the number of tourists it attracted.

He was the only one to vote against the project.

The Environment and Resources Authority did not object to the new plan, noting a considerable downsizing from the previously withdrawn application. It said the current plan involved development was limited to the area already taken up by the existing structures.

“In view of these proposed revisions, the revised proposal can be considered further subject that the area illegally developed and currently used as a makeshift car park is kept free from development and restored back to its pristine state in line with a method statement approved by ERA,” ERA said in its submission to the PA.

It demanded a project description statement and a study on the increased traffic generation.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage at first objected to the proposal, expressing concern about the proposed increase in building volume and the intensification of development which would negatively impact perceptions of the rural landscape.

However, following the submission of photomontages, the SCH said that the visual impact from Blue Grotto and Wied Babu was “relatively limited” and was further minimised by the breakdown of the massing and the revised design.

Lobby group Moviment Graffitti had insisted that the application for the bungalows should not be considered before the site of the illegal car park was restored to its original state. 

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