Land reclamation is “not on the table” as part of a proposed Corinthia Group mega-development project in St Julian's, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi said on Monday.
Last month Times of Malta reported that the government had granted unlimited rights to the Corinthia Group to reclaim the seabed around the peninsula it occupies at St George’s Bay and build on it.
According to a draft deed, which has still to be approved by Parliament and signed, the Corinthia Group can reclaim land and then use the newly claimed area to build apartments, offices and retail space for purely commercial purposes.
On Monday, Dr Mizzi told parliament's Environment Committee that both sides had agreed that land reclamation was not on the cards. It would not be considered for the duration of the emphyteusis, he said.
During Monday's session, Dr Mizzi gave an extensive overview of the ongoing discussions between Corinthia and the Government.
The project, which will include a six-star hotel as well as various apartment blocks on the St George’s Bay peninsula, has been a bone of contention with several stakeholders decrying the deal.
The project had been proposed by the Corinthia Group as an alternative to intensifying touristic development on the site, which was permissible under the previous agreement.
The hoteliers, he said, wanted the ground rent agreement and certain development conditions (the exclusion of real estate development) to be waived.
At least 50 per cent of the area would be dedicated to touristic development, while the rest would be soft and hard landscaping available to the public, the minister said.
Minister assures real estate sector
Dr Mizzi also highlighted how the Developers’ Association had raised concerns that the flooding of the real estate market with apartments could negatively affect the market leading to price fluctuations.
On this, he said that Corinthia Group was ready to commit to not putting any more than 25,000 square metres of real estate on the market at any time.
This would be staggered in a system of phasing over a period of 25 years, so that the market was not affected.
Another bone of contention was the possibility of the foreshore being declassified, which would allow construction up to the water’s edge - something that Dr Mizzi said was not on the cards either.
Corinthia would not be allowed to sell any part of the project during the period of the emphyteusis, and once this had expired the land – excluding the residential development – would pass back to the public.
A joint monitoring committee would be set up to oversee the various stages of the projects.
“I am sure the project will be a success and Pisani family [the investors behind the project] are committed to having their flagship hotel here and seeing this through,” he said, later adding that he was sure that the country would one day look back and say what a success the project had been.
Opposition demands copy of MOU
The session was triggered by a request by lawyer Claire Bonello who wrote to Chairman Alex Muscat on behalf of residents, local councils, NGOs and other stakeholders.
The start of the lengthy and heated session saw the Opposition members insist on being given a copy of the preliminary Memorandum of Understanding reached between the government and Corinthia – a request which was repeatedly shot down.
While declining to publish the MOU, Dr Mizzi said the final contract would be made public.
Shadow Environment Minister Jason Azzopardi put forward a series of questions. Had traffic impact assessments been carried out? Were as many as 12 tower blocks being considered, as had been reported in the media? And, why was the land being transferred at much less than it was valued?
Alternattiva Demokratika’s Arnold Cassolla said some people needed a reality check. A six star hotel was all well and good, but the surrounding neighbourhood was far from six star.
Veteran environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino said the Minister’s presentation had given a lot of financial information, but not so much on the environment.
There would certainly be a negative impact for residents, and tourists who visit during construction period.
Din l-Art Ħelwa’s Maria Grazia Cassar said her greatest concern was the apparent lack of planning.
The authorities appeared to be reacting to developers and not the other way around.
Local plans had not been updated and yet the project appeared to be going forward, she said.
The session is ongoing.