Plans for a hotel and bungalows on Comino have been given the all-clear in an impact assessment drawn up by the environment watchdog.
On Friday, the Environment Resources Authority board voted to approve an assessment which did not object to the proposed project as long as a number of conditions are met.
The vote was held with six board members in favour and two against.
It was a follow-up to a previous sitting, which had last year found that the project could have a “severe impact” on the island’s ecology.
During a two-and-a-half-hour meeting, ERA on Friday heard how its directorate’s Environment Impact Assessment concluded it does not object to this proposal after it was amended by the applicant.
However, it noted that several issues related to terrestrial and marine ecology, landscape and visual amenity, as well as conservation of the surrounding areas, all need to be subject to strict protection measures.
The watchdog found that the project’s impact on the garigue landscape on the island had been improved with the scaling back of the development by some 1,600m2.
ERA imposed a number of conditions, including a bank guarantee, an environmental fund deposit, and detailed plans to be submitted and approved to cover the works, landscaping, lighting, infrastructure and other aspects of the development.
Application PA/04777/20, by HV Hospitality Limited, proposes the redevelopment of the existing 100-guestroom Comino Hotel in San Niklaw Bay and the bungalows complex in Santa Marija Bay, which date back to the 1960s.
The proposed hotel would have 71 guest rooms, with various amenities, while the Santa Marija Village, with its 19 “serviced” bungalows - down from the original 21 first proposed- would have a restaurant and a small general store.
Consultancy report presented
Earlier during Friday’s meeting, the board heard a presentation by consultancy firm ADI which was tasked with presenting a comprehensive impact assessment of its own.
Speaking on behalf of the consultancy, Adrian Mallia said consultations had been held with various stakeholders, including the Għajnsielem local council, and conservation NGOs such as Birdlife, Moviment Graffitti, Friends of the Earth, and Nature Trust.
Mallia said that following discussions with ERA, the entire structure of the proposed village had been pushed back from the coast, to minimise impact on the foreshore.
The project presents a number of operations difficulties, not least of which are related to the delivery of construction material as everything will have to be barged to the site.
Some 381 protected trees will have to be removed, but the landscaping scheme would see 1,200 specimens planted. This would have to be supervised by an ecologist, Mallia said.
The proposed hotel would need to have an educational program for guests to minimise trampling of the garigue landscape.
Measures will also need to be taken to control music and further lighting.
Objectors raise concerns over impact
The meeting also heard a number of interventions from the public.
On behalf of Movement Graffitti, Marie Claire Gatt raised concerns about the proposed residential bungalows, which are within the vicinity of a protected bird mating site, and
She also raised concerns about what could be done to control what people do on what would be their private property.
Others raised concerns about the transplanting of trees onto garigue, and the apparent “down-playing” of the impact the project will have on the ecology of the site.
Ultimately, ERA chairman Victor Axiak said the board would be voting on the final assessment by its own directorate.
The members voted on whether they agreed with the authority’s own impact assessment.
The project will still have to face other permit hurdles before it can get underway.
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