NGOs oppose demand for redevelopment of former Festaval Hotel Mellieha
BirdLife Malta and Din l-Art Ħelwa, the two organizations responsible for the management of Foresta 2000 Nature Reserve, have filed separate objections with the planning authority regarding a planning application to redevelop the site of the former Festaval hotel in Mellieha.
The application (PA4933/22) proposes the demolition of the existing hotel structure and the reconstruction of the same hotel. “The proposal includes external and internal modifications to provide a hotel that meets today’s standards and requirements. The proposed development will comprise 5 storey levels above the ground floor, consisting of a reception area , hotel rooms, swimming pool, restaurants, scullery, parking spaces and all other ancillary facilities required by a hotel,” the application reads.
The site is under the L-Inhawi tal-Ghadira protected area.
In its objection, BirdLife Malta said the site of the old hotel, although in ruins, “was listed by MEPA in 2006 as a Level 1 Site of Scientific Interest and an Area of Significant ecological level 2, while the area is located on the borders of a Natura 2000 site and an ornithological reserve.
“Since 2003, a large strip of land between the Red Tower and the Għadira Nature Reserve has been dedicated to the realization of the Foresta 2000 project which saw the recreation of a Mediterranean wooded habitat. Despite some setbacks with vandalism in its first years , the site has now become a major open green space in Mellieħa which is open all year round to the general public and which BirdLife Malta jointly manages with Din l-Art Ħelwa and PARKS.”
In a separate objection also filed on Friday, Din l-Art Ħelwa in turn “objected to attempts to justify the development of a five-storey hotel within this environmentally sensitive site on the basis of development over the years 60, which had long been abandoned”. since, especially since the area has since been designated a Natura 2000 site. Unfinished development, abandoned for decades, cannot be used as a form of legal commitment to justify going against the protection status and related policies which have been specifically donated to safeguard this site and its wider context of immense environmental value resulting from such intensive and conflicting development. The problem is not only the volume of “five floors”, but the detrimental impact that tourist activity will have on this Natura 2000 site.”
Both organizations have insisted that the proposed hotel development directly threatens the ecological, recreational and educational value of the site.
In recent years, BirdLife Malta has guided various school visits to the site, providing a unique nature-based learning experience. The site is also open to the public year-round, 24/7 and is a mecca for hikers, tourists and Mellieħa locals, the two organizations said.
“This, especially during hunting seasons, given that the area is a bird sanctuary and the only site in Mellieħa where hunting and trapping are not permitted.”
The organizations further argued that, “given the background of various hotel expansions in Mellieħa over the past few years, this development is unnecessary and also perhaps not economically viable given the latest study. published by the Malta Hotel and Restaurant Association (MHRA) which indicates an expected overcrowding in hotel beds, leading to unsustainable tourism figures beyond the country’s carrying capacity.”
In its objection to the planning application, BirdLife Malta has further appealed to the developers and architects behind the planning application to ensure that the site is restored to its full natural potential, thereby enhancing this open green space in Mellieħa , consistent with the site’s ecological designations. “The site’s unique status of a protected Mediterranean forest as a bird sanctuary where hunting and trapping cannot be practised, where students are educated about our wildlife, and where the public can walk in one of the undisturbed but limited open spaces of Malta, is something that needs protection and appreciation rather than development and speculation,” he concluded.
Other environmental organizations such as Friends of the Earth Malta, Malta Walkers Association and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar have also submitted their objections, according to the statement from BirdLife and Din l-Art Ħelwa.
Commenting on the project, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage advocates that “existing structures should be demolished, and the opportunity taken to rehabilitate this side of a prominent ridge, within a significant landscape, forming part of the context immediate of the planned Grade 1 Tour Sainte Agathe which surmounts the said ridge.”
The processing of the request is currently suspended at the request of the architect.