Hunters’ Tower restaurant in Marsaxlokk to make way for hotel after permit approved

All Planning Authority board members have voted in favour of a 112-room hotel that will replace an existing restaurant on ODZ land in Marsaxlokk

A photomontage of the proposed hotel development in the Magħluq area of Marsaxlokk
A photomontage of the proposed hotel development in the Magħluq area of Marsaxlokk

A hotel will soon rise on the site of the Hunters’ Tower restaurant in Marsaxlokk after the Planning Authority approved the development on Thursday.

The hotel will have 112 rooms and will be built over four storeys. The site is outside the development zone near the il-Magħluq marshland in the seaside village.

An outline permit committing the site for the development of a hotel of the same scale had already been approved in 2018.

All board members present during the meeting voted in favour of the development. NGO representative Annick Bonello was absent. Bonello had voted against the original outline permit.  Environment and Resources Authority chairperson, Victor Axiak also voted in favour.

The approval is the result of changes in planning policies carried out after 2013, which identified the area for hotel development.

A photomontage of the proposed hotel that will have 112 rooms and rise over four floors
A photomontage of the proposed hotel that will have 112 rooms and rise over four floors

In September 2013, barely six months after being elected to power the Labour government had instructed the PA to come up with a plan to facilitate hotel development in the area.

The brief, which was approved two years later, says the authority would “favourably” consider tourism-related uses, including “tourism accommodation” in the Hunters’ Tower area.

In 1998, the PA rejected an application for a three-storey hotel on the site, proposed by former Labour MP John Dalli.

In the latest plans the distance between the hotel and il-Magħluq nature reserve was increased from 7m to 14m.

Moreover, revisions were made to the design through the use of cladding to mitigate the visual impact. The design was also changed by introducing some features which break up the originally more homogenous design.

Various board members, including Martin Camilleri and Victor Axiak insisted on the introduction of a green wall due to a 12m-high blank party wall created by the top restaurant.

The project’s architect said that following discussions with ERA and Nature Trust the hotel owners were committed to invest in upgrading the surrounding environment and increasing surveillance in the area.  

The Marsaxlokk council agreed with the development, provided that the developer is tied to invest in the area around the hotel, particularly in the environment.  

One of the major issue raised in the meeting was the magnitude of the planning gain.

The Planning Directorate had set a planning gain of €202,666 which was calculated at a rate of €25 per square metre of the gross floor area, excluding the basement levels. The rate is applicable to all similar major projects.

But the developers objected to this. Lawyer and former PA chief Ian Stafrace disputed the way the planning gain was calculated, insisting that the hotel was not a major project since it had less than 200 rooms.

He also cited a precedent of an ODZ hotel at Kalanka also located in a very sensitive site, where no planning gain was imposed. He also argued that the hotel owners were already contributing by keeping a buffer zone with the il-Magħluq area.

Moreover, he argued that the project did not include any speculative development like apartments and was exclusively a touristic project.   

ERA chairman Victor Axiak insisted the project was a major one due to its proximity to the nature reserve which enjoys the highest level of protection. He insisted that in this way the developer would compensate for making economic benefit from the site.  

Marsaxlokk Councillor Daniel Zerafa also insisted on the full imposition of a planning gain insisting that the project had a major impact on the locality.  

PA chair Vince Cassar also indicated that the planning gain should be used for the rehabilitation of the nature reserve.

Ultimately, the board voted to impose the planning gain in its entirety and should be used for the rehabilitation of the Natura 2000 site and for an interpretation centre.

The only objections to the hotel came from two individuals from two different families, who claimed they are the real owners of the site and that the hotel owners were their tenants.

However, Cassar insisted that the Planning Board could not interfere with third party issues that had to be settled in court.

Environmental NGOs, which are normally vociferous on ODZ developments were absent from the meeting.