Ghajn Tuffieha: PA refuses to sanction hotel illegalities

The Planning Commission has turned down plans to replace two containers near the dilapidated Riviera Martinique Hotel used as a store for a beach restaurant overlooking the beach

The new plans indicate the removal of the existing containers, which shall be replaced by one consolidated stone structure
The new plans indicate the removal of the existing containers, which shall be replaced by one consolidated stone structure

The Planning Commission has turned down plans to replace two containers near the dilapidated Riviera Martinique Hotel used as a store for a beach restaurant overlooking the beach.

Originally the application was one to regularise the containers as they stand, but plans were changed after the case officer recommended refusal.  But in the last sitting the Planning Commission chaired by Elizabeth Ellul hinted that it could issue the permit if fresh drawings with an “improved design” were presented. It also called on the applicant to present evidence that the beach bar formed part of the hotel.

The new plans indicated the removal of the existing containers, which were to be replaced by one consolidated stone structure.

The structure was meant to house a generator, as well as provide storage facilities for food and beverages, in relation to the restaurant. While the containers occupied an area of 40 sq.m the new structure will occupy an area of 50sq.m.

A small strip of landscaping was included along part of the perimeter of the site facing the cliff edge, while the boundary wall is proposed to be reconstructed in areas where it has been lost.

Both the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage (SCH) and the Environment and Resources Authority had insisted that the illegalities next to the derelict Riviera hotel are removed and not regularised, as requested by the owners.

In 2004, the PA had issued an outline permit for the demolition of the existing structure to build a three-storey building, incorporating a restaurant and multi-purpose hall. But a full permit was never issued.

A court case instituted by the government 11 years ago against the hotel owners, requesting their eviction from public land immediately beneath the derelict hotel, has been dragging on for the past decade.

During the court case owner Kevin Fenech reiterated plans for a luxury 40-room hotel, in court in a case instituted in 2008 by the Lands Department, but revealed that prior to 2013 Planning Authority officials had “made it clear they were not ready to consider a hotel because they wanted to reduce human activity in the area.”

But after 2013, Fenech contracted architects AP to present new plans for a luxury hotel aimed at tourists not being catered for by other providers. The hotel was to be located on the part of the land in Ghajn Tuffieha which includes both public land as well as land solely owned by Fenech.

So Fenech started negotiations with the government to exchange that part of the land, a Natura 2000 site, with “disturbed” public land which he promised to embellish through landscaping. But according to Fenech negotiations with the Lands Department had to stop after a new Lands Authority was appointed. “We then started talking with Carlo Mifsud. As soon as we were getting somewhere Mifsud was replaced by Deborah Schembri. We spoke to her, and started moving on… but then things changed again and James Piscopo was appointed [as CEO],” he said.

Fenech expressed frustration, saying he had found closed doors “sometimes because of an ant, a bird or because of light pollution… because of everything.”

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