ERA does U-turn on Dingli tourism complex

Favourable verdict for tourism complex on site of former fireworks factory despite earlier objection to having tourist facilities on Natura 2000 site

The Environment and Resources Authority has dropped its original objection to a proposed tourist complex on the site of a former explosives factory in Dingli.

Although considerably downscaled, the project still does not address the ERA’s original concern about committing the disused factory to tourism-related development, which could attract such future development in the pristine area.

In a screening report on the current proposal, now proposed by Sunroute Hotels, the ERA said it favourably considers the 14-unit tourist complex as long as its impact can be mitigated. Sunroute currently operates Hotel Santana in Qawra, and is owned by the heirs of Albert Sant of JB Stores. The 14 units will be spread over 10, one-floor blocks, each with its own outdoor pool and deck.

The report said the downscaled design’s impacts are less significant and unlikely to warrant an Environment Impact Assessment. An EIA was already conducted on the previous proposal, which was considerably larger.

Originally, the ERA’s objection in 2017 to the proposal – originally by Dirk Hili’s La Toc Limited – was a warning against urban and commercial development being brought closer to an important stretch of coastal cliffs and the related protected areas.

Significantly, ERA 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.”

Even in its first reaction to the current development in September 2020, while welcoming the downscaling of the project, ERA said it did not support the principle that the development “should serve as a pretext for committing sites for further development.”

The project will now have 20 car spaces, over a total site area of 6,200sq.m but with a gross floor area of 1,600sq.m.

Although giving it its blessing, the ERA reminded developers that the site is potentially designated for a Dark Sky Heritage Area, and deemed the proposed illumination levels to be unacceptable. The explosives factory is also located within a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which is part of the EU’s network of Natura 2000 sites.

Originally, the project included two-floor units as well as a 64-car park. The new proposal has done away with a number of ancillary facilities, such as a water feature in the centre, a reception, restaurant, bar/lounge, kitchen, offices, gym and spa at the centre.

Indeed the ERA said this was incompatible with the overarching priority to effectively conserve the natural, ecological and scientific importance of this area, including its protected species.

Planners who spoke to MaltaToday are still concerned that the project establishes a commitment on a site which was only developed as an explosives factory since this had to be located as far away as possible from residential areas.

As ERA had warned in September 2017, “experience has shown that commitments for development such as this proposal are almost irreversible once they are allowed to become established”. For this reason ERA insisted that such developments should only take place in designated prime tourism sites which are already located close to the strategic road network.

As it happens, the infrastructure of the area is currently being upgraded through works being carried out by Infrastructure Malta.