Developers’ hunger for Ghadira a 20-year saga

In 1997, MEPA said the Costa del Sol development was outside development zones in an area where no hotel development was foreseen by the Structure Plan and the draft local plan issued in 1995: what changed?

Some see a sandy beach, others a multi-million opportunity.
Some see a sandy beach, others a multi-million opportunity.

Plans for a 250-room five-star hotel at Għadira bay is at an advanced stage of consideration by the planning authority, the Times reported yesterday.

MaltaToday reported back in January 2014 that the owner of the Costa del Sol restaurant, Anthony Curmi, was proposing a brand new 7-storey hotel on the site of an existing car park on the northwestern shore of Ghadira beach.

The project has been ‘scaled down’ to six storeys, and includes taking over of public land used as a car park next to the building and developing the area next to the beach. 

Curmi says the project is a €40 million investment to “transform this area into an upmarket destination” and that he sees “no valid reason” for the development not to take place.

His company in fact states on its website that the government specified conditions that the hotel must be five-star, offer a 300-space car park, and public conveniences to replace the one that will be demolished.

Curmi is not the owner of the entire site because the car park on which most of the development is being proposed is government-owned land. However, the application presented to MEPA states that the government has been notified of the application and has “granted consent to such a proposal”.

The development will require the felling of trees and would alter vehicular routes.

The permit for the Costa del Sol restaurant was issued in 1979. In 1983 Curmi applied for the construction of a first floor and garages, but the permit was never issued. Curmi had presented an application to develop a 260 room four-star hotel on the same site in 1994. But the authority considered the application a non-starter.

The original proposal also foresaw shifting the arterial road leading to Cirkewwa towards the west to increase the site area of the hotel. The case officer had pointed out that both the entire Costa del Sol beach club and the site of the proposed hotel belonged to the government.

The North West Local Plan does not envision the development of a hotel on the site.

In 1994, the nearby Mellieha Bay hotel objected to the proposal because of the massive scale of the project. They also pointed out that they also have an interest in the land on which the proposed hotel is located, which is government property and that no public tender had been issued.

The Planning Authority refused the application on 5 December 1997; which coincided with the two-year Labour administration.

In its decision, the authority argued that the development was located outside development zones in an area where no hotel development is foreseen by the structure plan and the draft local plan issued in 1995. 

The case officer also pointed out that the project would involve the transfer of a considerable stretch of coastal area from public to private ownership and would detract the scenic value of the area.

Subsequently, the developer appealed arguing that the development was set to take place on degraded land and that he had no intention to hinder public access to the beach.

In 2000, the Planning Appeals Board – composed of Simon Micallef Stafrace, Lino Bianco and Samuel Formosa – took note of “procedural errors” in MEPA’s processing of the case and ordered the authority to start processing the case again. In fact, the local plan approved in 2006 took note of the appeals board decision asking MEPA to reconsider the application.

But plans for the area were put on hold MEPA pending decisions on the EU-funded Ten-T road project. One of the options considered by the previous government was the relocation of the arterial road from the foreshore to an inland location, converting the existing road into a pedestrian priority area. One of the proposals directly impinged on the car park area. 

The controversial proposal was shelved following protests by environmentalists and the owners of the Mellieha Holiday Complex.

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