The Planning Authority has approved the demolition of a hotel in Xlendi - in what campaigners warn is the the first stage of a massive development project that will change the character of the popular Gozo bay.
At a meeting on Tuesday, an application to demolish the Hotel Xlendi Resort & Spa was approved by a three-person planning commission chaired by Claude Mallia.
It is the first phase in a project by a group of Gozitan businessmen, who propose building a four-star hotel on the site that will be 13 storeys high.
Excel Investments Ltd group, whose directors are Mark Agius, Joseph Portelli and Daniel Refalo, also propose building another complex of 60 apartments nearby in a separate planning application that is pending appeal.
The approval of Hotel Xlendi's demolition was first announced by NGO Moviment Graffitti, who said the PA justified giving it the go ahead because it solely involves the demolition of the site.
“Everyone knows that this is a laughing stock and that the approval of the first phase will pave the way for the approval of the second phase,” the NGO said.
It was among those who called for the PA to reject a series of applications back in September, highlighting that the approval would destroy the bay’s 'quaint character'.
Ruth Mercieca, a member of Moviment Graffitti who was present at the hearing on Tuesday morning said that the vote took place within a few minutes of the session beginning.
“Just five minutes into the hearing, at one point, chairman Claude Mallia began counting the vote of who was in favour of the project,” explained Mercieca.
“At this point, residents and local council members had not yet expressed their own concerns or objections to the development."
She said that after the vote was taken, residents were allowed to voice their concerns, but at that stage it was "pointless".
She explained that any objections towards the development were not valid. “The case officer report explained that the concerns and objections are towards the second phase of the development and not in concern with the first phase.”
A note on the Planning Authority website said that no objections were raised.
A man who owns property in the area described the project as a "monster development".
“The scale and size of this development will truly destroy Xlendi and have an impact on the environment, parking and the residents' wellbeing,” he told Times of Malta
He said that the PA showed no interest in what the residents or local council had to say about the development.
“They did not hear anyone at the hearing and they made their mind up before it took place.”
“Recently there has been a lot of talk about having a ‘holistic’ approach to planning, and this is a clear example that there is no such thing.”
The board minutes from Tuesday's hearing show the development was approved by three members; chairperson Claude Mallia, Stephania Baldacchino and perit Anthony Camilleri.
The minutes state that all three members were present at the hearing.