Malta Independent - - NEWS - Neil Camil­leri

Marsas­cala Mayor Mario Calleja has de­fended a pro­posal that would see the con­struc­tion of three tow­ers, the tallest be­ing 44 floors, on re­claimed land on the site of the for­mer Jerma ho­tel.

The Malta In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day spoke to Mr Calleja on Thurs­day, one day be­fore the Plan­ning Author­ity said the project as pro­posed was a “non­starter.”

De­tails from the plans sub­mit­ted to the PA last week by Porto No­tos Ltd, a com­pany owned by Charles Camil­leri, known as il-Fran­ciz, and lawyer Pierre Lo­faro, were re­leased last week. The devel­op­ers want to dou­ble the foot­print with 25,000sq.m. of re­claimed land. Two-res­i­den­tial tow­ers, one with 44 floors and the other with 32, would be built on the re­claimed land while a third tower, a 22-floor ho­tel, would be built on ex­ist­ing land. The area would also in­clude a large la­goon with an ar­ti­fi­cial beach and prom­e­nade. The tallest tower would stand nine times taller than the ex­ist­ing Jerma struc­ture.

In 2014 Mr Calleja had told Mal­taTo­day that he dis­agreed with a new pol­icy that could see build­ings as tall as 10 storeys be­ing built in Marsas­cala.

But when con­tacted by The Malta In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day this week, he in­sisted that any form of devel­op­ment was bet­ter than the cur­rent di­lap­i­dated site.

Mr Calleja made it clear that this was his per­sonal opin­ion and that the lo­cal coun­cil had yet to dis­cuss the mat­ter. “Any­thing is bet­ter than the dump there is now. That is all I can say. I have not re­ally seen the de­tails and I’d like to go into more de­tail.”

‘Land recla­ma­tion will not be ex­ten­sive’

Pressed to say whether, in prin­ci­ple he agreed with the con­struc­tion of three high-rise tow­ers on the Jerma penin­sula, the mayor de­fended the pro­posal, say­ing that from the lit­tle in­for­ma­tion he had it seemed that the devel­op­ers “were very care­ful not to ob­struct the tower and the vil­las in the area”.

“I would be happier if they built up­wards rather than spread­ing out­wards and be­com­ing an ob­sta­cle to nearby res­i­dences. And at least if there will be land recla­ma­tion it will not be ex­ten­sive.”

Mr Calleja said he was speak­ing about un­ap­proved plans and that noth­ing had been set in stone. We pressed on and asked the mayor if a 44-storey tower was ex­ces­sive. “Isn’t the en­tire coun­try full of tow­ers? There are tow­ers in Paceville, Bugibba and Sliema.”

When we sug­gested that the tower would over­look sev­eral multi-mil­lion euro vil­las in the area, Mr Calleja said the struc­tures would be built on the coast­line, not in the vil­lage core, and the vil­las would not lose their sun­light. “Ob­vi­ously this is my opin­ion and not ev­ery­one will agree.”

‘Nowhere to ac­com­mo­date ex­change vis­i­tors’

Mr Calleja has stated re­peat­edly that Marsas­cala needs a ho­tel. The main rea­son, he said, is that the lo­cal­ity has a twin­ning agree­ment with some 27 vil­lages and cities in the EU and ex­change vis­i­tors have nowhere to stay in Marsas­cala. “We are ashamed to say that there is no ac­com­mo­da­tion for them. How can you have a touris­tic vil­lage with no ho­tels?”

He added that the econ­omy of Marsas­cala thrived when the Jerma was open, while to­day restau­rants were only do­ing well in the sum­mer months.

Right, so restau­rant own­ers will ben­e­fit from a ho­tel. But where do the res­i­dents fit in, we asked. “Ev­ery­one will ben­e­fit be­cause at least there will be a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment. Would you rather leave it as it is? I feel ashamed by the area,” Mr Calleja said.

The mayor said that the day when the for­mer ho­tel is de­mol­ished could not come soon enough but added that the coun­cil would never al­low the con­struc­tion waste to be trans­ported over land in trucks. “So if they in­tend on re­claim­ing land, maybe they should just go ahead and dump the ma­te­rial into the sea straight­away” (as part of the land recla­ma­tion process).

Asked why the coun­cil had not sup­ported a mo­tion – moved by PN coun­cil­lor Char­lot Cas­sar and sup­ported by PL Deputy Mayor De­siree At­tard – call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to buy the land and turn it into a na­ture park, Mr Calleja said this did not make sense be­cause all the projects the gov­ern­ment was em­bark­ing on were pub­lic pri­vate part­ner­ships. “The gov­ern­ment would never take such a risk and dish out money to buy the place only to leave it as it is.” But should the coun­cil not have at least tried, we asked. “We did not agree with that mo­tion be­cause it makes no sense to leave the area as it is. I be­lieve that the area should be de­vel­oped.”

100 per cent un­ac­cept­able Deputy Mayor De­siree At­tard

Con­tacted by this news­pa­per, the Marsas­cala deputy mayor had an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent opin­ion.

“My opin­ion has not changed at all,” she said. Ms At­tard said a few months be­fore Char­lot Cas­sar’s mo­tion, the coun­cil had unan­i­mously ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion say­ing it would not sup­port any project which was not strictly tourism-re­lated. “This meant we would not ap­prove any form of res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment.”

She con­tin­ued: “My opin­ion is that this land should be turned into a na­ture park, just like Char­lot and I had said in the mo­tion. But see­ing that there seems to be no choice and that some form of devel­op­ment will have to take place – I com­pletely dis­agree with the cur­rent pro­posal. I don’t agree with a high-rise devel­op­ment in Marsas­cala which, in any case is not al­lowed un­der cur­rent plan­ning poli­cies. I es­pe­cially dis­agree with land recla­ma­tion as this would have a dis­as­trous ef­fect on the coast. There are salt pans there and we do not know how th­ese will be af­fected. The en­tire project as pro­posed is 100 per cent un­ac­cept­able for me.”

The deputy mayor said, how­ever, that any fu­ture pro­posal which was strictly touris­tic in na­ture would have to be con­sid­ered in line with the coun­cil’s res­o­lu­tion. “But I will still not sup­port land recla­ma­tion and high-rise.”

Asked whether she agreed with sweep­ing state­ments such as “the res­i­dents of Marsas­cala want a ho­tel”, Ms At­tard said her con­stituents cer­tainly did not agree. “I do not see the need for a ho­tel in a town where con­struc­tion is so rapid. Busi­ness is also quite pros­per­ous and restau­rants are full on week­ends. What we need is a lung, some­where where peo­ple can go for a stroll along the coast and re­lax. The Jerma site would be ideal for that. We have al­ready lost an­other lung at Zon­qor.”

Pro­posed project ‘a non­starter’ PA

The Plan­ning Author­ity said on Fri­day that the project as pre­sented is a non-starter. “Al­though the author­ity has held sev­eral pre-sub­mis­sion meet­ings over the past months with the de­vel­oper and clearly in­di­cated that the project as pre­sented was not ac­cept­able, the de­vel­oper still de­cided to go ahead with the same pro­posal,” the author­ity said.

A few weeks ago the PA is­sued an en­force­ment no­tice in re­spect of the site, which has been ne­glected for sev­eral years. The for­mer ho­tel, which is owned by the Mon­te­bello broth­ers, is ex­pected to be auc­tioned off by ju­di­cial sale but the process is cur­rently sus­pended.

This news­pa­per asked the PA why the project was deemed as a non-starter and to specif­i­cally state which parts were un­ac­cept­able – the high-rise el­e­ment, the land recla­ma­tion or the res­i­den­tial use. In re­ply a spokesper­son said: “Given that the pro­posed ap­pli­ca­tion has yet to be val­i­dated, the Author­ity will not com­ment fur­ther.”

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