The Villa Rosa project approved last week poses absolutely risk to the large subterranean cavern at Ħarq Ħammiem, just off St George’s Bay, the developer has said.
Following the controversy that erupted over possible damage to the protected cave after a permit was granted for the development, The Shift News spoke to Anton Camilleri ‘tal- Franċiż’ to enquire on the risk and mitigation measures.
Mr Camilleri said: “The cave lies entirely outside of our site boundary and will not be touched by the Villa Rosa project. What I am telling you is 300% correct”.
“During the course of the application process we were required to engage archaeological experts who have confirmed that our project will not pose a danger to the cave,” he added.
An Environmental Planning Statement (EPS) published in 2014 considered threats to the cave from both the Villa Rosa project and the ITS project nearby, which led to concerns when the Villa Project was approved. A more recent EPS for Silvio Debono’s ITS project, called City Centre, shows the cave lies directly under that development.
The City Centre project is being built on public land granted to Debono in a controversial deal.
A more recent EPS published in October 2017 that focuses solely on the ITS project, known as City Centre, notes that the larger of the two chambers of Ħarq Ħammiem cave is located beneath the project site. The part of the site overlying the cave would be open space part of which would be occupied by a swimming pool and the other by part of the public plaza.
For this reason, the architects propose to trim the rock in order flatten the slope of the site in order to accommodate both the pool deck and the plaza. The latter is considered an important component of the development as it is expected to connect the shopping mall with the rest of Paceville.
It states that any rock excavation over Ħarq Ħammiem cave and its buffer zone should be made with special attention. The cave roof within the Site has a minimum thickness of 16 metres below sea level at the project site. In this case, special attention would need to be taken by the excavation contractors to avoid vibrations that can destabilise the cave which is known to have a maximum roof span of circa 32 metres under the site.
The Ħarq Ħammiem cave is a unique natural feature – no other feature remotely like the cave is known in the Maltese Islands. It consists of two chambers found on different levels and an interconnecting narrow corridor leading from the upper chamber to the lower fully submerged chamber.
The cave overlooks St.George’s Bay and has a Level 1 degree of protection. It is surrounded by a buffer zone with a Level 4 degree of protection.
The EPS for the City Centre project includes a survey of the cave. It was shown to consist of two large chambers, an upper chamber that is 42 metres long and a lower submerged chamber that is 53 metres long. The cave chambers continued to expand vertically and laterally by roof and sidewall collapse, according to the EPS.
The City Centre project proposes a multi-use development, including a five-star hotel (455 rooms), 158 residences, commercial office space, a shopping mall and restaurants as well as a car park.
* Ħarq Ħammiem cave photo by Niki Caruana – nic media