The developers of the Fortina Hotel need parliamentary approval to build apartments on formerly public land they had bought years ago exclusively for hotel accommodation.

Meanwhile, they are seeking to do a deal with the Lands Authority. The Sunday Times of Malta is informed that negotiations between the Zammit Tabona family, on behalf of Fortel Group of Companies, and the government, aimed at trying to find a solution, have been going on for months but are expected to be concluded shortly.

Both the authority and the Fortina owners confirmed that discussions were taking place.

On its part, the government is insisting that any changes will need to be approved by a resolution in Parliament approved by simple majority.

Asked to confirm whether it was true that the Fortina development, approved a few weeks ago by the Planning Authority, cannot take place without the consent of both the Lands Authority and Parliament, Fortel’s CEO Edward Zammit Tabona confirmed this was the case.

Saying that all the land in the mega development is owned by Fortel, he said that parts of it, bought years ago from the government, is restricted in use. His company is seeking an end to the restrictions to be able to develop luxury apartments for sale.

I hope that now that public land is to be used for pure speculation, the public will be getting market prices in return

“Part of the apartments (at the rear) will be built on land bought from the government and to which restrictions apply,” Mr Zammit Tabona explained.

“We are in the process of negotiating a release of those restrictions with the Lands Authority. That negotiation includes, among other conditions, the opening up of a large tract of land which we own for public use.”

The need to have Lands Authority approval for the change in use of the land in question had been raised during the Planning Authority hearing, with some insisting that the permit should not be approved before an agreement with the government was reached. However, the PA’s executive chairman Johann Buttigieg intervened to brush off this objection, arguing that a preliminary clearance from the authority had already been given.

Industry sources told this newspaper that it would be interesting to know how much money the government was asking for to change the rules of the game.

“The Fortina developers acquired prime public land without any competition and on the premise that it be used solely to help the tourism industry,” a source said.

“Each apartment they will be building will sell at more than €1 million, considering the location. I hope that now that public land is to be used for pure speculation, the public will be getting market prices in return.”

Apart from the 15-storey residential tower, the developers have also acquired a permit to raise the hotel tower to 23 storeys and build a ground floor shopping mall as well as three levels of underground parking.

The Fortel Group is owned by Adrian, Julian and Michael Zammit Tabona.

The same group is currently also involved in another controversy. The company Islands Ferry Network Ltd, partly owned by the group, was selected to partner Gozo Channel in offering a fast ferry service between the two islands, despite the fact that it was formed only a few days before the announcement.

The decision is being challenged by Virtu Ferries, which argues that the selection is illegal as Islands Ferry Network does not possess the required experience or the technical and commercial means to offer the service as stipulated in the public tender.

Gozo Channel has now been asked by the public review contracts board to suspend its decision until the objections by Virtu Ferries are addressed.

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