Dingli Cliffs hotel set for refusal after PA board postpones decision

Hotel outside development zones instead of pyrotechnic factory set for refusal after PA board indicates intentino to overturen case officer’s recommendation

A photomontage of the proposed hotel on the site of a disused explosives factory on Dingli cliffs. The PA board is set to refuse the permit
A photomontage of the proposed hotel on the site of a disused explosives factory on Dingli cliffs. The PA board is set to refuse the permit

The Planning Authority board has indicated its intention to refuse the permit for the construction of a hotel instead of a disused explosives factory on Dingli cliffs.

The proposed hotel would be built outside the development zone on the site of a long disused fireworks factory that was granted permission in 1987. The factory was allowed to be built there not to be sited in the vicinity of residential areas and on condition it will not be turned into holiday flats.

A final decision will be taken in another board meeting as happens in those cases where the planning board intends to overrule the recommendations of the case officer. The case officer had recommended approval for the hotel project.

Seven board members namely ERA chairman Victor Axiak, Planning Board Chairman Vince Cassar, Dingli mayor Raymond Schembri, NGO representative Annick Bonello and board members Omar Vella, Duncan Mifsud and Saviour Debono Grech indicated that they disagreed with the Planning Directorate’s recommendation to approve the project.

Objectors warned that the project sets a precedent for tourism development in an environmentally sensitive area.

The proponents of the project and the PA’s case officer, who defended the development, argued that it would represent a visual improvement over the explosive factory.

The proposed 14-unit hotel, built in ten separate blocks with a communal 96sq.m pool area, was recommended for approval despite the strong objections of the Dingli local council, the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage, and over 500 individual objections.

Project architect Joe Grech described objections to the hotel project as “online blackmail” insisting that it should be judged according to policy. 

He also dismissed claims that the project will increase noise and traffic in the pristine area arguing that harm is being caused by picnics in garigue. He also dismissed the idea that no construction can be allowed in Natura 2000 sites.

 “There are no habitats to protect on this site as it is already developed.”

 Grech even criticized the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage for “going outside its remit,” by not sticking to cultural heritage considerations.

John Paul Cauchi from Moviment Graffitti condemned the architect’s denigration of objectors, insisting that objectors, who have no financial interests, have a crucial role in the planning process.

He described the application as one, which ridicules existing policies against ODZ insisting that this area is not a touristic one.

“People will not be simply making a picnic there. They will be living there, something which increases noise and light which has impact on birds,” Cauchi said.

He also condemned Infrastructure Malta for laying out the infrastructure to provide services for a private development.

 “What we have here is a small touristic village consisting of 14 bungalows instead of an explosives factory which had to be located there by necessity,” Claire Bonello warned.

Local councillor David Vassallo noted the contrast between allowing a hotel and the council’s constant efforts to reduce light in the area.

“We are constantly faced with demands to introduce more light in the area. But we refuse these requests because we want to protect the site.  What will stop the developers from making a pool party?” Vassallo asked. 

The Superintendence expressed concern at the intensification of development as proposed, which would inevitably result in the formalisation of this significant rural and cultural landscape Outside Development Zone. 

“The Superintendence finds that such works are unacceptable in principle and strongly objects to this development application as proposed,” the agency said. It also called for the “rehabilitation” of the landscape. 

Nicholas Barbara from Birdlife criticized ERA’s u-turn on the application and the lack of any information on the project’s environmental impact which had been exempted from presenting an EIA.

The Environment and Resources Authority changed its stance on the development: originally objecting to the change of use of the building when the development was proposed by Dirk Hili’s La Toc Ltd, it subsequently accepted a downscaled version proposed by Sunroute Ltd, which was also endorsed by the Malta Tourism Authority.  

In fact, in its original objection ERA had warned that in the future it would be difficult to contain the development within the committed area as the project would create a demand for ancillary development to support the intensified use such as “utility services and drainage systems, and longer-term development pressures to extend the established development.” 

But ERA chairman Victor Axiak while acknowledging that the Authority’s go-ahead for the project reflected the reduction in the scale of the project, he remained personally against the project, arguing that there is no need for tourism development in this location and that it makes more sense for tourists to be accommodated in the village itself.

Various speakers referred to the condition imposed in 1987 against converting the explosives factory in to “holiday flats” but PA chairman Martin Saliba described this condition as a “standard condition.” 

A condition to preclude the sale of hotel rooms as individual residential units, ensuring the complex operates as one functional unit and not sold or transferred separately was recommended by the case officer.