The old Tattingers nightclub at Saqqajja hill in Rabat is set to be demolished to make way for an 81-room five-star hotel despite geological concerns the works could damage Mdina’s fortifications and impact the skyline of the silent city.

The planning board voted to grant the application an executable permit with the condition that geotechnical studies are carried out and fulfilling all conditions set out by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and Planning Authority.

The applicants have six months to carry out the study and present the findings to the board before being allowed to proceed with the development.

Board members Annick Bonello, Chris Cilia and Omar Vella voted against the application, while Duncan Mifsud, Vincent Cassar, Martin Saliba, Peter Sant Manduca, Victor Axiaq, Martin Camilleri, Joseph Brincat, Sean Mangion and Saviour Debono Grech voted in favour.

The planning authority case office recommended approval despite strong objections from NGOs, residents and the Mdina council, as well as concerns raised by the Environment Resources Authority and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage on how the development will negatively impact the area.

As proposed, the hotel will have 81 guest rooms spread over four terraced floors and one receded floor, including ancillary facilities such as restaurants, conference area, a pool at roof level, landscaping works, an entrance forecourt and service areas.

The proposal also includes an ancillary underground service area under the entrance forecourt and a small parking area across the road, two pedestrian tunnels underneath the roads and a sunken LPG tank.

Representing the applicant, architect Jesmond Mugliett said the development as proposed would be a marked improvement in the area and serve as a “fitting entrance” for the majesty of Rabat and Mdina.

Mugliett said the development posed no more visual impact on Mdina than the current dilapidated structures in place and that the hotel's design posed a more united and flowing building that is ultimately "more interesting and positive".

A number of objections were raised by NGOs and members of the public, chiefly on the implication that excavation works might have on Mdina’s historic fortifications.

Representing Din l-Art Ħelwa, architect Tara Cassar raised the point that the Tattingers basement was between 60 to 70 square metres while the proposed excavation would see over 1,000 square metres of floor space excavated, with plans indicating that excavation works could go down as deep as 11 metres close to the fortifications.

“It is not acceptable to endanger historic structures and heritage material that could be found in the ground just to accommodate the applicant’s desire to have more rooms. If we truly want to be sensitive in this location then we cannot propose excavation of this extent in Mdina,” she said.

“Yes, granted that certain buildings need to be changed in the area but this is not the solution.”

Representations against the development were also made by the Rabat and Mdina councils, lawyer Claire Bonello, Archaeological Society president Patricia Camilleri, Jorg Sicot on behalf of Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar and Maresca Damanuele on behalf of Moviment Graffiti.

Other concerns were raised about the demolition of two 19th century houses which activists said were still intact and are of heritage value, the noise and light pollution that may be caused as a result of the hotel’s eventual commercial activities, as well as the impact on traffic congestion in the area.

In 2019, an application to transform two historic landmark townhouses in Rabat’s Saqqajja Hill into a luxury boutique hotel was unexpectedly withdrawn.

The project had attracted massive opposition including a petition signed by over 3,000 residents.

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