Rabat residents ‘up in arms’ against Saqqajja hotel

Residents of Rabat, backed by the Local Council and a number of NGO’s are up in arms against the proposed development of a 30 room boutique hotel in Rabat.  The Local Council has said that they are ‘unanimous’ in their objection to the proposed project.

A council spokesperson stressed that, ‘as this is a residential area of not more than two storeys height. The area is dominated with beautiful rows of  houses of character which we are not ready to lose to speculators and entrepreneurs.’ The house about to be developed forms part of a series of houses designed by Andrea Vassallo (1856-1928) having bay windows overlooking parapets on Is-Saqqajja and formal gardens on St Augustine Avenue, Rabat. The site lies within an area of archaeological importance between Is-Saqqajja which marks the entrance to Mdina  and St. Augustine Avenue, an iconic avenue which is unique in its setting and location.

Totally out of sync

While the project remains suspended awaiting more updates from the relevant entities, one local resident speaking to Newsbook.com.mt voiced their concerns that the project was ‘totally out of sync with the architecture, context and character of the area.’

The resident who wished to remain anonymous explained that residents and NGOs, were concerned that the boutique hotel would have a ‘high impact on the residential character and fabric of the location.’

The resident explained that the introduction of commericial services and supplies to the area would transform it completely. This was added to the additional storeys which they said ran contrary to the Urban Conservation Area regulations.

Newsbook.com.mt informed the local resident about applicant and architect’s desire was to actively restore the building and the wider impact for the local economy.

The reply was that restoration as they understand it and the restoration envisaged here were two different interpretations.

Non-starter 

The resident said that the original application contemplated a 48 room hotel including four/five storeys in the garden. Following receipt of over two thousand objections, the developer reduced the intensity of his original proposed interventions but residents claim that even the thirty room hotel as is now proposed and the voluminous development and amenities which come with it is totally incompatible with a residential area.

The local resident stressed that the introduction of the second proposal which saw the reduction in floors and rooms to conform with feedback and the Malta Tourism Authority, was a ‘strategic move. The first proposal was a non-starter.’

‘Now there is effectively a one storey outside and 4 storeys on the inside. A 4 storey development along with substantial development in the garden.’

Among the developments proposed for the garden is a swimming pool.

“Over my dead body” – Rabat Mayor

When Newsbook.com.mt reached out to the architect ahead of publication of this follow up story, we were informed that the proposed pool has been moved from the garden to the roof. They explained that only around 10% of the garden would be developed as a result. They argued that the concerns about the pool were strange given that residents close to the site had pools constructed and approved by the authorities.

Newsbook.com.mt is informed that  the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage objected to the pool. Residents told us that only two houses have a swimming pool in the area. They noted that there is a difference between a swimming pool for a private house and a swimming pool that wil be used by the occupants of a thirty-room hotel.

No formal meetings

The Local Coucil  also told Newsbook.com.mt, that there had been no official meetings between the local council and the applicant and architect on the project connected with the Permit PA/09516/18. Instead, they were of the understanding that a meeting had been held outside of the local council but included the presence of a number of councillors which included former Mayor Mr Sandro Craus.

When the applicant and architect were asked about this, they confirmed that such meetings had been held at the Planning Authority and Mr Craus was present. This meeting is also understood to have included Mr Rudolf Grima and local residents.

Rabat hotel development currently suspended by architect

They added that they had had a number of meetings with these individuals about this project. Following the first meeting and additional advice from other organisations like the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage and the Design Advisory Board, they agreed to reduce the number of additional floors from two to one, along with the removal of all rooms from the garden. They state that the SCH, DAC and other bodies involved, were happy with the subsequent changes made to the original plan.

Rabat’s local council spokesperson told Newsbook.com.mt that they had, ‘discussed this issue in great detail and objected for this boutique hotel on the basis that such development is going to be higher than the adjacent building scheme in a very sensitive area which is also a Urban Conservation Area and protruding out at the back onto the Vjal Santu Wistin which is the stretch of road leading to Mdina from St Mark church.’

“Helping the Rabat economy”

In the previous segment of this story, Newsbook.com.mt was told by the applicant and architect that the project there were presenting, restored the property as well as giving something towards the Rabat economy. The applicant also said that the 2,000 objectors including NGO’s – Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Moviment Graffiti, Malta Archaeological Society and Din l-Art Helwa – “had been fuelled by misleading information.”

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

For the time being, the project is understood to be suspended while on-going discussions with the relevant authorities are held. Mr Spiteri, the architect overseeing the project said he was positive that their project would get support and clearances from the entities involved. ‘I am 100% sure we are on the right track with this proposal,’ Spiteri told Newsbook.com.mt.