A wedding hall in a protected valley in Żurrieq is set to be replaced with a tourist village of 12 bungalows with pools if an application recommended for approval gets the Planning Authority’s green light.

The applicant, Maurizio Baldacchino, is proposing demolishing the Garden of Eden wedding hall and an open-air discotheque to make space for the tourist accommodation outside the development zone and in an an area of high landscape value. The complex, which will have 35 guest rooms, also includes a car park for 13 cars as well as other amenities.

The site is a Natura 2000 protected site and located within an area of ecological importance. The proposed development spreads over a larger area that will impact the surrounding environment and will impact the natural habitat, objectors believe.

The site area is just over 12,300 square metres and 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 current built footprint totals approximately 1,661 square metres.

This is not the first time the owners tried obtaining a permit for tourist accommodation.

In 2018, an application was filed to construct cabanas with pools for tourist accommodation as well as ancillary facilities, a reception area, tennis court and car park. This application was, however, withdrawn.

The development is clearly intended, eventually, for stand-alone bungalows to be sold off or rented as separate units

The Environment and Resources Authority did not object to the new plan, noting a considerable downsizing from the previous withdrawn application and now being limited to the area taken up by the existing structures.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 volumes and the intensification of development which will negatively impact perceptions of the existing cultural and rural landscape.

However, following the submission of photomontages, the SCH noted 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.

On the existing farmhouse, the superintendence said it had no significant cultural heritage value warranting preservation and, therefore, withdrew its objection.

The case officer concluded that the proposed redevelopment and change of use was “deemed acceptable from a planning point of view”, since the redevelopment of an existing disturbed site is in line with the general principles of the PA’s Rural Policy and Design Guidance.

Objectors to the project argued that there were several illegalities on site, including the halls and discotheque built on public land.

“The development is clearly intended, eventually, for stand-alone bungalows to be sold off or rented as separate units,” they claimed.

They raised concerns on the irreversible visual impact of the proposed development on the landscape context and the natural habitat. Moreover, they said the boundaries of the site were close to an established fireworks factory, raising safety concerns.

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