dB-ITS project permit stands, as court rejects request for retrial filed by NGOs

The objectors had requested the revision of a decision that gave the go-ahead for the development of the former Institute of Tourism Studies site into a hotel, retail and residential complex

Photo montage of the City Centre project proposed by the DB Group on the site of the former ITS in Pembroke
Photo montage of the City Centre project proposed by the DB Group on the site of the former ITS in Pembroke

The First Hall of the Civil Court has rejected a request for a retrial of the objection filed by NGOs against db Group’s St. George’s Bay project at the former ITS site.

The decision, handed down by Mr. Justice Lawrence Mintoff this morning, means that the permit now stands.

The objectors, which include several environmental NGOs, and the local councils of Pembroke and Swieqi had requested the revision of two decisions handed down by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti that gave the go-ahead for the development of the former Institute of Tourism Studies site into a hotel, retail and residential complex.

The appeals, one of which had been filed by residents and NGOs, including Moviment Graffitti, Din L-Art Helwa and Friends of the Earth Malta against DB, the ERA and the PA, and a second appeal filed by the Pembroke St. Julians and Swieqi Local Councils together with the same NGOs and residents, had been filed after their objections were rejected by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal in December 2021.

db Group had accused NGOs of doing the bidding of their competitors by seeking the retrial of their objection to its St George’s Bay project, and of remaining silent on neighbouring projects. It said the objectors were refusing to accept the verdict and that they were, “effectively defying the judgement.” 

Last May, the Chief Justice handed down two decisions ending a years-long battle by NGOs and residents to stop the development from moving forward.

Proposed in 2017, the plans for the site include the construction of 386 room 5-star hotel rooms in a 12-storey hotel, as well as 179 residences housed in two towers, 17 and 18 storeys high. The plans also included office space, a shopping mall, restaurants and a car park.

Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Ian Stafrace appeared for DB Group. Lawyer Claire Bonello assisted Graffitti.

Db Group happy to be “fully and unquestionably vindicated”

Reacting to the decision, the db Group said it was “deeply satisfied” to have reached the end of what it described as an “8-year process of intense media, procedural and legal scrutiny,” with had resulted in a “definitive validation that our project is in line with all established laws, regulations, norms and good practices. Quite simply, the db Group has been fully and unquestionably vindicated.”

“Never has a project in Malta been subjected to this extent of evaluation. This is not meant to express rancour. On the contrary, we believe that this arduous process made our project better and even more unique. For this, we heartily thank everyone, even our harshest critics, for helping us reimagine, rethink and refine where necessary, making a very good thing even better. We have accepted all reasonable requests and criticism. As we promised all along, we listened, we acted.”

The group said the time had now come for them to complete the project “in the shortest time possible and with the least inconvenience to residents.”

Moviment Graffitti: ‘We will hold these authorities to account’

Moviment Graffitti said it has taken note of the judgement and is considering further avenues to defend residential wellbeing in the area. “This development will result in a monstrous impact blocking out sunlight and creating traffic havoc,” the group said in a statement.

“We highlight the fact that both the Tribunal and the Court of Appeal have ruled that no business or activity may operate from the site until Transport Malta certifies that the infrastructure is adequate to sustain such an intensive development. The Court of Appeal said that there will be consequences if this is not provided,” it said.

“We are holding Transport Malta to this, although we do not have any faith in the authorities - the same authorities which have not put a stop to the tipper trucks are being parked facing the wrong way, on pavements, on double yellow lines, bus stops and “at every corner” of Pembroke at all times of the day.”

“We will hold these authorities to account - come what may.”