‘Public were misled; they need to check the facts’

The applicant hoping to create a boutique hotel in Saqqajja Rabat, explains that the public have been ‘misled about what the application actually meant.’

Speaking with Newsbook.com.mt, Mr Keith Grima explained that the objections issued to the Planning Authority over PA/09516/18 were tainted by misconceptions of the true intended vision for the site.

He explains that opposition to the project stemmed from a ‘misleading and untrue’ complaint on Facebook which alleged that their application would demolish the two existing and abandoned townhouses, replacing them with a modern development of 7 or 8 storeys.

According to the architect overseeing the project Justin Spiteri, the application has so far received approximately 3,000 objections. Among those objecting were local residents, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar and Moviment Graffitti. Interestingly, this number of objections is much less than that provided by the Planning Authority to Newsbook.com.mt. When contacted, this number sat at over 4,500.  Spiteri outlined that there were only around 5 which he believed voiced real concerns for the project.

‘Those browsing through Facebook can see the comment but did not take the time to check the permit number and on the PA site to check was applied for. If they read into it, they will realise it’s misleading,’ Mr Grima says.

(Images showing the building with one and two additional floors. Images available from PA website.)

Additions and alterations

Newsbook.com.mt has been reporting on this proposed project in Rabat since December 2018.

At the time, the Mayor of Rabat has voiced his objection to the development, saying that it would be carried out over his dead body.

“Over my dead body” – Rabat Mayor

Last month it was also discovered that the development had been suspended by architect Mr Spiteri, owing to ‘additions and alterations’ to the plan.

Rabat hotel development currently suspended by architect

A Planning Authority spokesperson explained that, ‘The architect was requested further information in order to fulfill the requirements raised by the Planning Directorate and other consultees. In order to compile the requested info. the architect requested a suspension of the file in line with the provisions laid out in the Development Planning (Procedure for Applications and their Determination) Regulations, 2016’

When asked directly, Mr Spiteri explained that the suspension was intended to allow time for the various entities including the Design Advisory Committee to name a few, to assess the project and come to an agreement.

‘If I don’t suspend the file, these meetings don’t happen. Then you don’t get the clearance and it’s automatically a refusal.’

Rabat needs this

When asked for a reason why the boutique hotel was needed in Rabat, Mr Grima said ‘Rabat needs a project like this.’  He adds that while he intends to restore and protect the facade and structure of the building, it has the wider benefit of improving the local area and economy.

Since the publication of the original plan and its recent suspension, the project has taken on adjustments which they now conform with the demands of the different entities involved.

Spiteri explains that today the hotel is now classed under the Boutique Tourism Accommodation (class 3A). To conform with Malta Tourism Authority regulations, this saw the removal of the proposed construction of rooms in the garden area and maintaining of only one of two additional floors proposed for the two properties. This ultimately reduced the number of rooms from 47 to the required 30. This is also understood to have included the agreement of the PA’s Design Advisory Committee.  ‘The project is now two thirds’ of the original, Spiteri says.

The Planning Authority confirmed this information, adding that the applicant’s proposal also includes, ‘a store at basement level, a reception area, a dining area and kitchen, ancillary offices, stores, sanitary facilities at ground floor level.’ This is also understood to include a proposal for a pool area in the garden.

(Images showing the building with one and two additional floors. Images available from PA website.)

Being flexible

The applicant and architect also explained that the existing plan also called for the building of two receded floors. With the application still on-going, the applicant said that they were prepared to stick with just one additional floor and one receded floor, if need be.

The architect also emphasised that the proposal looks to respect the old and the new, respecting the apetures of the building and the inclusion of traditional stone and wrought iron railings to complete the facade.

‘This is a much needed project in Rabat. It will better the Saqqajja area and improve the economy. This is not just my opinion, entities in the area say that the project is needed. They agreed with the need, they just didn’t agree on the massivity of the development. It will be one floor built instead of two. We will be renovating and restoring the rest,’ Mr Grima explained adding, ‘People are not against the project. They are against a development which they think is going to destroy the area, which is not the case.’

In the next part of this story we’ll look at what the council had to say about the project.

(Correction: Heritage Malta was incorrectly mentioned in this article in connection with the project. The body responsible for vetting and expressing an opinion on planning applications is the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage.)