The architect behind a controversial proposed hotel on Saqqajja Hill has insisted the development will enhance Mdina’s World Heritage Site credentials, amid concerns from environmental and heritage authorities.

David Xuereb from the QP architecture firm told The Sunday Times of Malta he saw the project as one that would strengthen the old capital’s bid for inclusion in the Unesco heritage list.

“It is in our own interest to ensure that the building is as inconspicuous as possible and complements its surroundings, because the hotel’s patrons are above all interested in Mdina,” he said.

The application by Jeffrey Cutajar, owner of Tattingers nightclub, seeks to demolish the entertainment venue and two adjacent buildings, replacing them with a 110-room hotel over five floors, stepped to reduce visual impact.

Mr Xuereb said the hotel’s design would feature extensive vegetation in the form of vertical gardens or ‘living green walls’, to preserve the impression of Mdina as “floating on a bed of landscape” when seen from a distance.

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The hotel, he added, would not make use of a policy allowance for two additional floors over the height limitation, and would follow the streetscape line with respect to the taller buildings further up the hill, employing “the most conservative massing approach we could have taken”.

Moreover, the project will include the creation of a new public walking route into the Mdina ditch, using parts of an existing route through the ramparts. A stretch of bastion will also be restored.

Asked about concerns over the traffic the project may generate, Mr Xuereb insisted the overall effect would be a reduction of “thousands of cars” compared to when the nightclub was in operation.

He said the upmarket clientele the hotel hoped to attract would be unlikely to bring their own cars, while alternative transport measures would be put in place for staff.

Environment authority concerned about impact

However, in its first response, the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) warned that despite the stepped façade the hotel would “create an adverse impact on the urban skyline” from long-distance viewpoints and would “visually intrude the existing landscape”.

Apart from concerns over traffic generation and parking pressure, the authority also took issue with the extension of the project onto a small area of ODZ land at the back of the site, which it said would “would result in further sprawl into the remaining agricultural open gap”.

The project architect said the take-up would be offset by the hotel itself being set back from the road alignment.

Meanwhile, the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage (SCH) highlighted concerns over the proposed passageway into Mdina, which it said would require a new breach in a dry-stone wall associated with the bastions, as well as the increase in overall massing on site.

“The relationship between the fortified city of Mdina and its setting is an important aspect that should not be overlooked,” the heritage watchdog said.

It said the project would have to be subjected to an assessment by the National Technical Committee for World Heritage Sites before being considered further.

The application is one of two for new hotels in the area, with a second seeking two additional floors to two picturesque townhouses on Saqqajja Square to convert them into a boutique hotel.

The plans have already drawn criticism from the Democratic Party (PD), which said Rabat was under threat from applications “that are turning the village core into a slew of restaurants and entertainment venues with utter disregard to the physical and social milieu of the village”.

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