Malta
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Birkirkara hotel back to the drawing board

Plans for the construction of a controversial hotel in the back garden of a historical building in Birkirkara’s town centre are on hold. 

The developer has asked for a suspension in the processing of the application since new plans were being drafted. 

The application drew more than 500 objections and has served to unite politicians. Birkirkara MPs Randolph De Battista and Edward Zammit Lewis from the Labour Party and Justin Schembri and Adrian Delia from the Nationalist Party, along with Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer protested the plans. 

Moreover, after expressing strong reservations on the proposed development the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage has announced it is in direct communication with the project’s architect, Karl Ebejer, and is  awaiting an amended proposal. 

The proposal according to the SCH must “be more appropriate to the context of an Urban Conservation Area” and must “adequately preserve and integrate”  the surviving historical structures present along Triq Mike Pulis. 

The SCH said the garden earmarked for the new extension includes within it the ruins of a historic building, possibly dating to the late medieval period, which merits preservation. 

The planning application was submitted by E&TM Company Ltd owned by Thomas and Emmanuel Mifsud. It proposed the transformation of a residential palazzo in Birkirkara’s urban conservation area into a hotel housing 38 rooms. 

While the application  envisaged the restoration of the palazzo fronting Triq Santu Rokku without adding any additional floors on top of it, it also  proposed  a pool and a four-storey extension in part of the building’s back garden opposite the parish church. 

Following an inspection of the site and a review of submitted plans, the Superintendence immediately expressed its reservations on the height and massing of the development, as well as reservations on the proposed design, especially in the context of the scheduled parish church 

The site of the proposed development is entirely within the Urban Conservation Area (UCA) of Birkirkara, and  approximately 15m from the church of St Helen. The house has evident historical and architectural value, being scheduled even because of a historic muxrabija on a tower-like structure to the rear of the building. As proposed, this structure would be hidden from view by the proposed development. 

Questioned about this application during a radio programme in August Prime Minister Robert Abela had refused to go into the specifics of the case while strongly hinting that the application was a “non-starter”. 

“Applications that do not conform to the regulations should not be submitted. This serves only to anger and antagonise the community,” Abela had said. 

The back garden where the hotel extension is being proposed is zoned in the local plan as part of Birkirkara’s primary town centre where commercial development is only allowed at ground level. And while hostels are allowed, hotels are not included in the list of commercial developments which can be approved in this part of the locality.