An application for a 23-room hotel overlooking the threatened Wied Għomor was deferred for the umpteenth time on Friday as the Planning Commission instructed the developer to downscale his project since such massing on the valley bank was “not acceptable”.

The application is for the construction of a five-storey guest house on the site where the Planning Authority had already approved the construction of a villa with pool in 2015. 

According to present policies, the volume and floor area of the proposal cannot exceed the total floor area of the present building. But while the applicant is comparing volume and floor area with the approved villa which was never developed, the commission said this must be pegged against the existing floor area of the building presently on site. 

This application had originally been refused but the decision had been overturned on appeal in 2015 after the developer, John Bonavia, scaled down the proposed project to respect the topography of the valley.

It was already the second attempt to develop the site, with the first attempt to construct a block of apartments and underlying garage spaces turned down because it would have led to the creation of new residential development, contrary to PA policies.

Following the demolition of the existing structures in 2016, the applicant filed a request in 2017 to amend the approved villa and construct a guest house instead.

However, this was met with forceful objections from the Environment and Resources Authority and the Swieqi council which insisted that the development was on land outside development zone and would create urban sprawl overlooking an already heavily threatened Wied Għomor.

In a two-storey zone, a four-storey building would be seen from the street and a five-floor building from the valley.

A still image taken from Google Street View showing the structures on site in 2018, when the image was taken. A still image taken from Google Street View showing the structures on site in 2018, when the image was taken. 

Objections were also received from, among others, Nature Trust Malta, Front Ħarsien ODZ and Din l-Art Ħelwa.

In its objection, ERA said the proposed guest house with related amenities “exceeded by far the scale and massing” of the approved villa, both in terms of the height of the building as well as the overall scale.

This was the argument of Planning Commission chairman Martin Camilleri during Friday’s hearing. He said the proposed development exceeds by far the total floor area of the existing building and does not confirm with the policy.

On massing and the number of floor and design of the back elevation, in particular when viewed from the ODZ valley bank, the commission noted that this did not respect the character and rural setting of the area, and was therefore not in conformity with rural policies.

Camilleri referred to the tribunal decision which had said that the application had to be considered in the context of its surroundings and the project as proposed was not respecting this. 

The commission members agreed with this stance and were due to vote against the Planning Directorate which had recommended its approval but the applicant’s lawyer, Ian Stafrace, asked for a deferral to be able to address the point of contention raised during the meeting.

He also wanted to make written submissions on how the proposal was in line with the tribunal’s decision and insisted that the massing and floor area had to be compared to the approved villa. 

The application was put off for six weeks. 


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