BirdLife Malta and Din l-Art Ħelwa file objections to redevelopment of former Festaval Hotel

Friends of the Earth Malta, The Ramblers’ Association of Malta and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar also objected to the redevelopment

Google Map showing the proposed development area (Photo: BirdLife Malta)
Google Map showing the proposed development area (Photo: BirdLife Malta)

BirdLife Malta and Din l-Art Ħelwa have filed separate objections to the Planning Authority in relation to a planning application aiming to redevelop the site of the former Festaval Hotel in Mellieħa.

Both organisations are responsible for the management of the Foresta 2000 Nature Reserve, which serves as the backdrop to the now-derelict hotel.

The application (PA4933/22) proposes to develop a new five-floor hotel with pool, restaurants, parking and various amenities within the “L-Inħawi tal-Għadira” Natura 2000 site.

The ruins of the former hotel (Photo: BirdLife Malta)
The ruins of the former hotel (Photo: BirdLife Malta)

In its objection filed on Friday, BirdLife Malta insisted that the site of the former hotel, even if in ruins, was scheduled by MEPA in 2006 as a Level 1 Site of Scientific Interest and a Level 2 Area of Ecological Importance, while the area is located within the confines of a Natura 2000 site and a Bird Sanctuary.

Since 2003, a large swathe of land between the Red Tower and Għadira Nature Reserve was dedicated towards creating the Foresta 2000 project. This project has seen the recreation of a Mediterranean woodland habitat.

Despite some setbacks with vandalism in its early years, the site has now matured into an important green open space in Mellieħa which is open all year round to the general public and which BirdLife Malta jointly manages with Din l-Art Ħelwa and PARKS.

In a separate objection also filed on Friday, Din l-Art Ħelwa objected to the attempts to justify developing a five-storey hotel within this environmentally sensitive site on the basis of a development from the 1960s, which had been abandoned ever since, particularly since the area has since been designated as a Natura 2000 site.

“An unfinished development, abandoned for decades, cannot serve as a form of legal commitment to justify going against the protection status and related policies that were specifically given to safeguard this site,” argued the association.  

Din l-Art Ħelwa also explained that the problem is not just the “five-storey” volume, but the damaging impact that tourism activity will have on this Natura 2000 site. Both organisations insisted that the proposed hotel development directly threatens the ecological, recreational, and educational value the site offers.

The organisations argued that, given the context of various hotel expansions in Mellieħa over the past years, this development is unnecessary and possibly also not economically viable.

They pointed towards a study issued by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) which is predicting overkill in hotel beds, leading to unsustainable tourism figures beyond the country’s carrying capacity.

In its objection to the planning application, BirdLife Malta further appealed to the developers and architects behind the planning application to ensure the site is restored to its full natural potential, thus enhancing this green open space in Mellieħa, in line with the site’s ecological designations.

“The site’s unique status of a Mediterranean forest protected as a bird sanctuary where hunting and trapping cannot be practised, wherein students are educated about our wildlife, and where the public can enjoy a stroll in one of Malta’s unperturbed, yet limited open spaces, is something needy of protection and appreciation rather than development and speculation,” it concluded.

In recent years BirdLife Malta has been guiding various school visits to the site offering a nature-based learning experience. The site is also open to the public all year round 24/7 and is a mecca for hikers, tourists and Mellieħa residents. This, especially during hunting seasons given the area is a Bird Sanctuary and the only site in Mellieħa where hunting and trapping is not permitted.

Other environmental organisations such as Friends of the Earth Malta (FoE Malta), The Ramblers’ Association of Malta and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) have also submitted their objections.