White Rocks project hits the rocks

White Rocks luxury real estate development plans stall as government and consortium fail to agree on a price for the transfer of land

The call for 'Expression of Interest' was launched by economy minister Chris Cardona in June 2014
The call for 'Expression of Interest' was launched by economy minister Chris Cardona in June 2014

The White Rocks development could be set to remain a white elephant, as MaltaToday is informed that talks between government and the consortium interested in developing the White Rocks site has hit a snag, with parties disagreeing over the price tag of the prime site.

The government and the preferred bidder White Rocks Development Company have been involved in talks for over a year but MaltaToday was told by a source privy to the business deal that discussions have stalled.

The consortium was planning to develop 70 middle-to high-end villas with prices ranging from €1 million to €5 million but these plans could be shelved as the two parties have failed to agree a price for the transfer of land.

Attempts to contact economy minister Chris Cardona – who has tied his political career to the project – proved futile, while a member of the consortium refused to reply to questions, claiming that a non-disclosure agreement was agreed with government.

But in a brief statement on Sunday morning, Cardona categorically denied that negotiations with the White Rocks consortium have hit a brick all. “Contrary to what is being reported, the negotiations with the preferred bidder, White Rocks Development Company, are still ongoing and progressing,” he said. “I reaffirm the government’s commitment to maximise the economic, environmental and touristic potential of this long-abandoned and dilapidated site.”

Three years ago, Cardona said his political career was tied with whether the development of the former White Rocks complex in Pembroke proves to be a success or not. 

“Development projects such as White Rocks had been shelved under previous Nationalist administrations, but some really strong investors have now shown interest in investing in it and I am tying my political career with the success of its investment,” Cardona said on TVM’s Reporter in November 2014.

In September 2016, MaltaToday reported that White Rocks Development Company was expected to pay the government €22 million for the sale of the land.
However, following the controversial deal reached with the db Group over the transfer of land in St Julian’s, the consortium is reportedly seeking better conditions than the ones dicussed so far.

The original brief included a 65-year consession, however it is understood that the intention of the consortium is to negotiate a lower price or a longer period under the current conditions.

Announcing the international expression of interest in June 2014, Cardona said that after years of empty promises on White Rocks, the Labour government was committed to see this project through. “It is a prime site which has been left abandoned for years. This project will start during this legislature,” Cardona said.

A call for international expressions of interest was issued in June 2014 and government held initial talks with 11 bidders before choosing White Rocks Development Company as the preferred bidder.

The brief allows the development of real estate and luxury five-star hotels, luxury units, and ‘high-quality lifestyle community’ villages.

The White Rocks area covers 45 hectares (449,885 square metres) of land but only 38%, or 135,600 square metres of the project area can be developed.
The whole project will be financed, designed, constructed, and operated by the consortium spearheaded by Michael Bianchi, one of Malta’s most established businessmen who however keeps a low profile in his role as a middleman, bringing together foreign clients and local entrepreneurs.

The consortium also includes British property moguls Iand and Richard Livingstone, the Alpine Group headed by MHRA president Tony Zahra, Bonnici Brothers owned by Emanuel Bonnici, John Bonnici and Mario Bonnici; Mizzi Holdings Ltd, with Maurice Mizzi, Brian Mizzi and Kenneth Mizzi as directors; Sea Estate Ltd with Joseph Eucharist Vella of Karkanja Ltd; Elma Ltd with Dennis Baldacchino of Tal-Maghtab Construction Ltd, and Charles Ellul of Elbros Construction Ltd.