The environment watchdog, two local councils, NGOs and scores of residents have objected to a proposal to turn a site previously earmarked for a 26-floor hotel into a nine-storey block of offices, shops and residences, situated at the edge of the protected valley of Wied Għomor, in St Julian’s.

The objectors say the site, though within the development zone, is designated as a public open space in the local plan and ought to remain so.

The site sits just outside the Regional Road tunnels.

Landowner Carmelo Borg has submitted a ‘development control’ application to change the zoning of the site and allow mixed-use development.

He is proposing four floors of parking spaces at basement level and offices, shops and a residential development on top.

One level would include sports and community facilities.

The land has belonged to Borg family for generations and part of it was expropriated in the 1960s for the construction of the Regional Road.

Last year, Borg entered into a promise-of-sale agreement with TUM Invest Limited, which had planned to build the multi-storey hotel. The plans fell through after a barrage of objections and the company had a change of heart.

The 3,000 square metre plot lies in the development zone. However, in the local plan it is not designated for development but rather as a public open space.

St Julian’s mayor Albert Buttigieg argued that the project was “inappropriate”.

The 2006 local plan specifically stated that the locality lacked public open spaces, at a time when “the situation was less chaotic and crowded than it is today”.

“St Julian’s is stifled, overdeveloped and congested. It desperately needs open spaces – green open spaces – and not a surfeit of further commercial and residential developments.

“There is a large supermarket and commercial complex a few metres away from the site. The rezoning will lead to an intensification of development and increase in density,” Buttigieg wrote in his objection.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) said it has “reservations” and recommended the site remain an open space. It said it would be in a position to make further comment if more detailed environmental screening is required.

Swieqi mayor Noel Muscat said the valley of ecological importance needed to be protected at all costs “not just from inappropriate developments within the valley itself but also on its banks”.

“The sacrifice of land allocated for public open space, to be enjoyed by the public in general, in favour of property for the enjoyment of a few, will set an unfortunate precedent which will lead to the further decimation of open spaces available to the public. This cannot be allowed,” he added.

Environmental NGOs, including Din l-Art Ħelwa, argued that the loss of open spaces, increase in development density and introduction of conflicting activity through the mixed-use element “would have a debilitating impact on the environs”.

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