PA approves Villa Rosa development amid concerns on Harq Hammiem cave

Radical development of St George's Bay area green-lit by the Planning Authority

The Harq Hammiem cave stretches from the valley behind Villa Rosa to the ITS building
The Harq Hammiem cave stretches from the valley behind Villa Rosa to the ITS building

The Planning Authority has approved the massive ‘Villa Rosa’ project which will see development of a six-storey hotel and office space, and residential villas.

Just three board members from the PA board – NGOs’ representative Annick Bonello and Timothy Gambin – as well the council's representative, Albert Buttigieg - voted against, all expressing their concern on the development’s impact on the Harq Hammiem underground cave.

PA CEO Johann Buttigieg said the 30-metre buffer zone between the cave and the development would not preclude excavations in the area, but simply meant that studies had to be conducted before such works.

Photo of the proposed Villa Rosa project, on which the ERA based its report. A leaked design published earlier this year, presented a high-rise proposal
Photo of the proposed Villa Rosa project, on which the ERA based its report. A leaked design published earlier this year, presented a high-rise proposal

Labour MP and PA board member Clayton Bartolo expressed concern over the full demolition of the former hospital Moynihan House, calling for part of it to be retained, but did not insist in this being a permit condition.

Nationalist MP Marthese Portelli, the Opposition’s representative on the PA board, said the project underlined the need for a masterplan for the area and a national audit of heritage resources. She called for studies on the social impact of the project.

The chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority Victor Axiak was not present. 

Concern was raised from the public on the impact on the Harq Hammiem cave, particularly on the fact that the development impinges on the cave’s 30m buffer. Some works will take place 23m from the cave inside the buffer zone.

Developers Garnet Investments, which is owned by Anton Camilleri, cited reports from three geologists showing that limited chainsaw excavation can take place in the area. One report suggested works can take place within 15m of the cave.

The excavations will not take place over the cave itself, which is nearer to the Corinthia Hotel and ITS area.

A resident said the €100,000 bank guarantee was no deterrent against damage to the cave: “It is a fraction of the property value of the development,” said Sean Sciberras. The case officer’s report proposed a €225,000 guarantee.

Pembroke local council’s executive secretary Kevin Borg said the council asked for Moynihan House to be scheduled back in 1998, but the building was left to deteriorate instead of being protected. PA CEO Johann Buttigieg revealed that a decision was taken by the board in 2005 not to schedule the building.

Borg also referred to cumulative traffic impact from the neighbouring db Group project at the ITS, and also the Corinthia project, and questioned the piecemeal approach to development in the area.

The Villa Rosa development is set on different locations around St George’s Bay, over a 48,723 sq.m site and a floor area of 82,900 sq.m. Moynihan House will be demolished, and an underground car park is proposed under the Villa Rosa gardens, which will be restored and used for weddings, banquets and similar events.

The area adjacent to the Bay Street complex will see the development of a boutique hotel  commercial, offices and apartments, at a six-storey height and overlying penthouse.

The valley watercourse area is earmarked for 15 two-storey villas with private pools. Dolphin House will be demolished and redeveloped into commercial space for restaurants, offices and a language school, and a 56-room 4-star hotel over four floors below road level are proposed at Cresta Quay.

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