Five environment NGOs are objecting to a planning application seeking to demolish and reconstruct the abandoned Festaval Hotel in Mellieħa.

BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth Malta (FoE Malta), The Ramblers’ Association of Malta and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) have all submitted separate objections to the application.

The Mellieħa local council also objected to the plans saying that due to the ecologically sensitive nature of the area, reconstructing the hotel was not a possible way forward for the site.

Mizzi Estates filed a planning application last month seeking to demolish the abandoned hotel and reconstruct “the same” hotel structure “in line with today’s standards and requirements”.

According to the application, this will include five above-ground levels consisting of a reception area, hotel rooms, a pool, restaurants, back of the house, parking spaces and other ancillary facilities that may be required by the hotel.

Abandoned for decades, the property was originally a self-catering holiday complex designed by Richard England, nestled in the landscape of the Mellieħa countryside just below the iconic Red Tower.

'Site within Natura 2000 area'

In its objection filed on Friday, BirdLife Malta insisted that the site of the former hotel, even if in ruins, was scheduled by MEPA in 2006 as a Level 1 site of scientific interest and a Level 2 area of ecological importance. The area is located within the Natura 2000 site and close to the BirdLife bird sanctuary.

It said the development ran counter to various designations relating to the natural and amenity value of the area, as well as counter to a number of policies and plans set out for the area in past years.

Since 2003, a large swathe of land between the Red Tower and Għadira Nature Reserve was dedicated to the realisation of the Foresta 2000 project which has seen the recreation of a Mediterranean woodland habitat.

Despite some setbacks with vandalism in its early years, the site has now matured into an important green open space in Mellieħa which is open all year round to the general public and which BirdLife Malta jointly manages with Din l-Art Ħelwa and PARKS.

In a separate objection also filed on Friday, Din l-Art Ħelwa objected to the attempts to justify developing a five-storey hotel within this environmentally sensitive site on the basis of a development from the 1960s which had been abandoned ever since, particularly since the area has since been designated as a Natura 2000 site.

An unfinished development, abandoned for decades, cannot serve as a form of legal commitment to justify going against the protection status and related policies that were specifically given to safeguard this site and its wider context of immense environmental value from such intensive and conflicting development, it added.

Both organisations insisted that the proposed hotel development directly threatened the ecological, recreational and educational value the site offers.

'Enhance ecological value of site instead'

In recent years BirdLife Malta has been guiding various school visits to the site, offering a unique nature-based learning experience. The site is also open to the public all year round and is a mecca for hikers, tourists and Mellieħa residents.

The organisations further argued that given the context of various hotel expansions in Mellieħa over the past years, this development is unnecessary and possibly also not economically viable given the latest study issued by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) which is pointing to a predicted overkill in hotel beds, leading to unsustainable tourism figures beyond the country’s carrying capacity.

BirdLife Malta appealed to the developers and architects to take the opportunity of re-utilising such a site to enhance its ecological and amenity value for nature protection, which contrasts heavily with the already developed areas of Mellieha Bay, and the large swathes of land donated for bird hunting purposes in Mellieha over the past years.

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