Rabat should be afforded the same level of protection as neighbouring Mdina, its mayor has insisted with the Planning Authority.

Sandro Craus insisted that his locality had a lot to offer visiting tourists and locals and this was being threatened by development plans that risk ruining what’s left.

He was speaking during a recent Planning Commission hearing discussing a proposal to turn a restaurant, 13 metres from St Paul’s Catacombs, to a 11-room boutique hotel, with the proposed addition of two floors overlooking Wignacourt Museum.

“We’re seeing loads of developments which are spoiling the authenticity of the village. We need to protect heritage and what there is in Mdina, which is being protected, needs to be extended also to Rabat. We are all for business but it needs to be in line with the context,” Craus said.

“We need to preserve the historical context of the area. The proposal is excessive, especially on the back part over Wignacourt Museum.”

Through PA0167/20, Michael Mizzi is proposing the conversion of Grapes Restaurant, in Triq il-Katakombi, into a boutique hotel, with several internal alterations and an extension by joining two buildings.

The original proposal was for the hotel to have 19 suites.

The site is located in Rabat’s urban conservation area and within the area of archaeological importance of Rabat and Mdina.

It abuts a scheduled area and is just a few metres away from St Paul’s Catacombs, scheduled as Class A.

The site consists of a building now used as a restaurant, an adjoining building of vernacular value that appears dilapidated and a third building further up the street.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage did not object to the proposed boutique hotel, despite noting its proximity to the heritage sites and despite saying that “the likelihood of the discovery of similar features (catacombs) in the site in question is highly likely”.

It said any development on site will be subject to archaeological monitoring and that the discovery of cultural heritage features may require changes to approved plans.

The superintendence also requested a €7,000 bank guarantee to cover the internal alterations and the restoration of façades.

Craus noted that other boutique hotels in Rabat respected the context of the village and its surrounding heritage.

One objector referred to a recent study by auditing firm Deloitte on boutique hotels that are opening, finding that the country would require 4.7 million tourists for them to be sustainable businesses.

The commission chairman pointed out the cultural heritage watchdog’s non-objection but stressed that the proposed additions to the buildings was excessive, insisting there should be no new blank party walls on the back side of the building.

The commission’s members agreed, saying there was room for improvement with a reduction of building height and massing.

The hearing on the application was put off with the project’s architect, Etienne Magri, told to revisit the plans and remove the proposed extension on the third floor level.

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