Planning Authority approves db Group mega-project

The Planning Authority (PA) has approved the controversial db project in St George’s Bay, St Julian’s by 10 votes to 4.

In a tense meeting, with hundreds of people inside the school hall in Hamrun and hundreds more outside, the PA decided to approve the db Group’s 38-storey tower and 17-storey hotel located a few metres from Pembroke’s residential area.

Although the Labour-led Pembroke local council is sternly opposed to the project, government MP Clayton Bartolo voted for the project as did the Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak.

PA chairman Vince Cassar, Pembroke mayor Dean Hili, NGO representative Annick Bonello, PN representative Marthese Portelli were the four representatives to vote against the project.

Despite opposition from residents the project received the backing of the PA’s planning directorate but the outcome of the vote was still uncertain before Thursday’s meeting. 

Last year, government concluded a €60 million deal for the transfer of the 35,000 square metre site formally occupied by the Institute of Tourism Studies, to hotelier Silvio Debono of db Group.

The land was given to db Group on a 99-year emphyteusis, with the condition that the project be completed within five years of the planning permits being issued.

In real terms, db Group will be paying a €15 million premium payable over seven years, and €23.4 million for the redemption of ground rent on individual residences included in the project.

A further €11 million included in the €60 million price tag will not be actually paid, but represents the present-day capitalised value of ground rents that will be paid over 99 years.

The db Group’s plans to develop the former Institute of Tourism Studies site has been met by protests by residents, local councils, NGOs, Alternattiva Demokratika and Partit Demokratiku.

The project, which includes a 140-metre tower has been described as being “out of scale” by the PA’s Design Advisory Committee and the PA received more than 4,500 objections, the largest number for any planning application ever.

The plans include a €300 million project for a 315-room hotel under the Hard Rock franchise, as well as 209 residences.

The objectors have highlighted a number of concerns over the project’s scale and its impact on the residential community, including the shadows cast by the high-rise buildings,

The developers have argued that the project is “a strong (visual) statement signifying the commercialisation of the Maltese way of life.”

The meeting took place in a school hall in Hamrun where hundreds of people, mostly residents and civil society members opposing the project and a number of people supporting the project. These included db Group employees who were bussed to the meeting.

On Wednesday, Moviment Graffitti urged the public to attend the meeting despite the limited number of seats available.

“It is the right of everyone, especially registered objectors, to be present for this public meeting and object in person to this project,” Moviment Graffitti said in a statement.
“If there is not enough space inside the hall, we’ll still be able to make our stand clear from outside the premises.”

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