Comino Hotel owners formulating ‘development plan’

Natura 2000 management plan warns of environmental risks but does not rule out expansion of hotel

The plan warns that development could affect the protected habitats and species in Comino
The plan warns that development could affect the protected habitats and species in Comino

The owners of the Comino holiday complex have been seeking to redevelop their properties for the past several years, and are now currently in the process of formulating “a development plan for the area” – according to a management plan for Comino’s Natura 2000 sites.

The plan warns that further development could affect the protected habitats and protected species on the unpopulated island.

“If development is to be considered at all, it needs to take very strong cognizance of the location of these properties and respect the surrounding protected land and the impacts that urban development may have on such sites,” the management plan states.

In fact, the newly issued plan does not rule out further expansion of hotel facilities in Comino, but simply states that both the environmental and planning authorities should ensure that any development permit applications for further urbanisation, including further development of roads, paths and other infrastructure, are accompanied by an appropriate assessment. 

The assessment will have to take into account the habitats and species present on site, as well as the management and operational objectives contained in the management plan. 

The Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED), which replaced the Structure Plan approved in 1992, includes specific proposals for tourism development on “previously developed land in Comino”.

An application for the extension of the Comino Hotel was presented 15 years ago and suspended by MEPA in 2003, when the architect failed to submit the required documents within the legal timeframe. 

How hotel changed ownership

Historically, the island was leased for 150 years to Comino Development Co. Ltd, a company owned by John Gaul, at the annual rent of £100.

The Borg Olivier government negotiated a new deal to reduce Gaul’s ownership to the area presently occupied by the Comino Hotel, at San Niklaw Bay and the bungalows at Santa Marija Bay.

In the late 1960s, Cecil Pace acquired the Comino Hotel but when the banker was arrested over misappropriation of funds and his BICAL bank licence suspended, the hotel was indiscriminately returned to John Gaul.

In 2007, entrepreneurs Joseph Gasan and George Fenech bought a share in Kemmuna Ltd, which runs the Comino Hotel, by acquiring a stake in Ropes Services Ltd in November 2007, a company registered in the Isle of Man. Mizzi Associated Enterprises, owned by property magnate Albert Mizzi, also owns a stake in Ropes Services.

The local plan for Comino accords the island the status of Special Area of Conservation and nature reserve, and only allows developers to “upgrade” the existing tourist complex and hotel if it is “compatible with the sensitivity of the surrounding context”.