Downsize Saqqajja hotel, ERA says in warning on increased traffic in Rabat

Environment and Resources Authority said that the development of a hotel will result in the loss of an extensive agricultural area. It has called for the development to be downsized

The hotel at Saqqajja hill will not harmonise with the character of the existing historic and rural setting – ERA
The hotel at Saqqajja hill will not harmonise with the character of the existing historic and rural setting – ERA

The environmental watchdog said that the development of a hotel on Rabat’s Saqqajja hill will result in the loss of an extensive agricultural area along Triq l-Infetti, by being hard-surfaced for an entrance for cars to the hotel.

This would entail uprooting trees for the hotel area, which, as developers are proposing, will be transplanted to the rear of the site by the swimming pool.

This emerges from a screening report issued by the Environment and Resources Authority for the proposed five-star, 110-room hotel on five terraced floors that will replace the former, three-storey Tattingers disco.

Although exempt from a full environmental impact assessment, the ERA said the project’s negative impacts should be addressed by a “substantial downsizing of the proposal”, and by confining the development and ancillary structures like pools to the curtilage of the existing footprint.

75% of the land earmarked for the project encroaches on land outside the boundary of the Saqqajja area and the increase in built footprint and scattering of outbound buildings would result in an urban sprawl in this area.

The ERA also warned that facilities such as a large, detached kitchen and breakfast area, decks and swimming pool and a garden would require excavations and soil levelling in an area that is already scheduled for its archaeological importance.

Meanwhile the larger demand for car parking a hotel brings with it, would simply intensify the pressures in the area.

“The existing parking facilities already barely cope with current peak demand and off-street parking is bound to increase further beyond the area’s carrying capacity as a result of the proposed development,” the ERA said.

This scenario becomes all the more significant when considering the cumulative picture, in view of the existence of another hotel at Triq ir-Repubblika, and a proposed hotel 100 metres from the site in question at Triq is-Saqqajja.

Whilst acknowledging that the buildings occupied by the former club, as well as apartments, showroom and garages at the edge of the site, are not aesthetically appealing, the ERA has described the proposed hotel as “obtrusive on the skyline considering its prominent location at the main entry point to Mdina and at the edge of the boundary of the Saqqajja settlement.”

It said the hotel would not be not a suitable replacement building as it will not harmonise with the character of the existing historic and rural setting. “In view of its scale, massing and encroachment onto nearby undeveloped land within a landmark site the visual intrusion into the surrounding landscape will actually be intensified.”

ERA is also concerned with the precedent that would be set for more future development, opening up for “future pressures to accommodate similar extensions to the nearby plots.”

And there is also a possible impact of excavation works on the stability of the Mdina hill side. “This particular flank of the hillside is known to be prone to geotechnical instability, and this had in fact resulted in structural subsidence of a segment of the Mdina fortification walls and collapse of part of the old buildings at the rear of the magisterial palace,” the ERA said.

A Project Development Statement submitted by the developers has described the development as a contribution to the cultural heritage of the area “through the promotion of restoration works and the use of traditional features, as well as the use of the hotel grounds by the public to experience the restored areas and the walking experience to Mdina”.

They claim that a key benefit is the “opportunity of a direct connection from the public parking right into Mdina, through the landscaped hotel grounds”; and that it will require considerably lower parking provision in comparison to the former nightclub, which could generate a requirement of circa 1,000 parking spaces in one night.

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