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Delimara hotel developer: ‘I won’t privatise Kalanka beach’

Kenneth Abela’s proposed hotel in Delimara has attracted 450 objections. Unfazed, he tells James Debono why he is adamant on a tunnel to connect the hotel to the remote Kalanka beach

james
James Debono
23 August 2017, 12:00pm
Photomontage of hotel as proposed, compared to present situation
Photomontage of hotel as proposed, compared to present situation
Kenneth Abela is seeking approval for his redevelopment of the former Delimara Bay Hotel’ into an “ecological boutique hotel” of 13 luxury suites, three ‘superior deluxe’, and one ‘presidential’ suite. Apart from the typical lounge, bar and restaurant, gym, spa and outdoor pool, he also wants to add toilets and showers to the public beach facilities at il-Kalanka t-Tawwalija.

Abela insists that the overriding public benefit of his project is providing these public facilities for the public beach, with his ultimate aim to turn the remote cove – a no-go area replete with trapping illegalities – into a blue flag beach.  

And that is also the reason he is not budging on his idea to tunnel all the way from his hotel to the beach, despite serious concerns from environmental consultants that the excavation will undermine the cliff’s stability.

An impact assessment has suggested “the omission of the tunnel and beach facilities would considerably mitigate the impact of the scheme in respect of the geomorphology of the area and the stability of the cliff”.

But Abela insists the tunnel was conceived after meetings with the Malta Tourism Authority, Nature Trust and the National Commission for Disability and that it is vital to his ultimate aim of securing a “beach of quality status” for Kalanka as the first step in securing blue flag status.

For blue flag status requires that beach facilities are accessible for all, including disabled people who would be allowed to use the tunnel for beach access. As things stand it is accessible through a 30m staircase, which Abela says is “unacceptable” given that only one bay in the south of the island is accessible to disabled people. 

The only alternative would be an unsightly lift connecting the beach to a bridge to the hotel, he says, while the tunnel  and proposed beach facilities would be beneath the hotel, underground.

So why not leave the beach as it is today instead of introducing beach facilities, which will attract more people to what is today… a remote beach?

“Just visit the beach at the weekend and see with your own eyes the waste some people leave behind… What is best, leaving everything as it is or have proper management to keep the beach clean and up to standard?” Abela replies.

“The question is whether it is worth building a tunnel to achieve this aim. If yes the only way to achieve it is through a tunnel because the other alternatives are worse.”

But Abela also downplays the geological risks to the cliff-face, saying the excavation would not encroach within 2m-3m of the cliff line, and that excavations would use a drum excavator, or a quarry chainsaw, so as to disturb the rock as little as possible. Samples of the cliff indicate that the globigerina rock face can withstand the proposed works. “I would be the main loser if the cliff collapses as I would lose my whole investment.”

Abela rules out completely the fear that he is effectively privatising the beach. “How can I do that when the Public Domain Act specifies that the first 15 metres of the coast should be public domain?”

He even rules out putting sun beds on the beach, saying this is precluded by the topography of the site. “You don’t need to own a hotel to put sun beds on a beach. Sun beds in Armier and Comino were not put out by hotel owners… the beach will remain as it is today with the only difference being the new public facilities.”

The Environment and Resources Authority says the built-up area will increase from 343 sq.m to 561 sq.m with concrete terracing to the west of the building replaced with landscaping. Abela says an existing one-storey high, 707 sq.m concrete terrace is not being included in the footprint of the existing hotel. “When the concrete terrace is taken into account, the project as proposed reduces the footprint by 100 sq.m.”

Yet photomontages show that the project will have a marked visual impact. The new hotel will be far more visible than the present structure. Even the Malta Tourism Authority which was largely supportive of the project, expressed reservations on the proposed height of the hotel. The EIA warns that the scheme will result in a large change in the rural and natural landscape with the introduction of a larger, modern and taller hotel building.

Abela says his project must retain “viability”, and that feasibility studies show that anything less than 17 rooms will not make a return. “I could have opted for a smaller structure with fewer rooms and then applied for an extension at a later stage after the hotel opened using the excuse that as approved it is not viable. Instead I want to lay all the cards on the table rather than opting for piecemeal applications.”

Abela was forthcoming with a solemn commitment not to seek any extension of the project in the future, if his project is approved in the first place, but was adamant on not reducing the scale of the project as proposed.

But what would the general public gain of a fully functional hotel in this remote site be, ultimately? The EIA report itself warns about the impacts of “more commercial activity in the area, which is currently remote and not highly frequented by people”.

Abela replies by asking: “what does the public gain by keeping the derelict building as it is?... people will be relaxing and taking a coffee on the terrace of the hotel, and the site which presently is only frequented in summer  will be used all-year-round use of the site." The other public gains are the public beach facilities and "greater surveillance in the area.”

Abela denounced the illegal poaching that has rendered Delimara a no-go area, justifying a massive 1.8m wall that was approved by the PA to encircle the derelict hotel, which according to him only obstructed the views of squatters and trappers.

So wouldn’t everyone be better off if the derelict hotel is simply demolished and the area restored to its pristine state? Abela says that when he bought the building in 2015 it was no garden, but a property with a permit for a restaurant. “I have already paid a price for land which is deemed developable,” he said, and then referred to Nature Trust’s hostel and interpretation centre, also located in a protected area. “What is the difference between the proposed hotel in Kalanka and this hostel?”  

Even if his hotel is not approved, Abela will not stop there. “Instead of a hotel, I will apply for a residence – something permitted by the PA’s rural policy.”

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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