Farewell to Comino

Malta’s last precious outpost of sanity has fallen to the enemy. Comino, the tiny jewelled islet so far preserved in almost pristine state, is set to be ruined forever.

As if the horrific tsunami of concrete poured over the area around the Blue Lagoon earlier this summer wasn’t bad enough, we learn now, almost by chance, that the Comino Hotel renovation includes a residential element. The project’s 21 bungalows are to be sold to private owners.

Astonishingly, we only found this out after an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report related to the project was published. The proposal is for the existing 100-room hotel to be demolished and replaced by a 70-room hotel, plus the 21 bungalows, built on public land, intended for sale.

That’s a radical change for a location as sensitive as Comino. And yet, there was no discussion or debate of whether this kind of change should even be considered. There was no forewarning that the developers seeking to renovate the outdated old hotel would be attempting to turn Comino into a residential address for those wealthy enough to afford what would, if allowed, be extremely costly houses.

The lack of respect that big business and government have for the population of this country is shocking. In any normal, civilised, democratic country, an area of outstanding natural beauty, such as Comino, would not be left vulnerable to the predatory greed of businessmen for whom nothing matters but the euros piling up in their bank accounts.

In any normal civilised country, before any kind of proposals were even contemplated, a properly laid plan for the zone would be created, after proper consultation with the public was undertaken, and professionals in the field drafted in. Then, and only then, would developers be invited to submit proposals based on very strict guidelines.

Instead, here in Malta, it gets done the opposite way around. Developers do their sums and base their plans on raking in as much cash as possible. The public, far from being consulted, only finds out when the plans are leaked, or, as in this case, an EIA report is published. Then the debate starts. But too late, of course.

By now the concept has taken hold, and the developer probably already believes he has every right to build and sell 21 bungalows with their own gardens, on the idyllic little island of Comino.

This would be a monumental departure from what most of us expect for Comino, which, for the past four or five decades at least, has only had two or three permanent residents, descendants of the last farmers to work the small, but fertile, fields. Apart from them, the only visitors were short term hotel guests and the day-trippers at the Blue Lagoon.

But the bombshell contained in the EIA report, that the developers undertaking the renovation of the hotel are planning to sell bungalows to private owners will change all that.  These new owners, who’ll be able to live permanently in their properties, or rent them out, will, ultimately, alter the character and environment of Comino irreparably.

And, of course, how long will it be before 21 become 31, then 41? Because as we’ve seen with so many developments across Malta and Gozo, developers and their architects are among the slipperiest snakes in Christendom.

Permits are applied for based on a small, unobtrusive design. No one objects because, after all, it’s within the rules and the parameters and there’s no real basis to complain. But then, halfway through the works, another notice goes up: the developer has applied to add extra floors, or widen the footprint, or build further units. This time, people want to object. It’s no longer within the rules, no longer within the parameters of the zone.

But they’re not allowed to. Incredibly, because they failed to object to the original permit, they are barred from objecting to any later add-ons. So the amendments and additions go through, and rinse and repeat, over and over again, until they end up with a massive, sprawling project that looks nothing like the original plans that won them their permit.

Will the company that’s proposed this blasphemy resort to sneaky tricks like this? Impossible to say, of course. But the very idea that it could contemplate the violation of Comino by selling off bungalows and introducing the dangerous precedent of property speculation by future owners doesn’t augur well for their intentions.

The company behind the proposal is HV Hospitality Ltd, which is owned by Hili Ventures, run by Melo Hili, younger brother to Marin and Paul Hili (the two brothers are no longer involved in Hili Ventures).

Hili Ventures, a vast enterprise comprising shipping, restaurants (well, McDonalds), real estate, engineering, marine and IT businesses, is one of those commercial empires that exploded almost overnight during the 1990s/2000s from a solid, decades-old family shipping business, Carmelo Caruana Company, into an international-scale conglomerate with interests in a multitude of industry sectors and geographic locations.

Paul Hili has recently hit the headlines, for allegedly helping accused murderer and 17 Black owner Yorgen Fenech find a bank to cash the cheques no one else would touch with a barge-pole: the cheques his Dubai bank wrote to him when they closed his account and told him to take his money and scram.

Marin Hili’s company also has a real estate arm, Hili Twenty Two, which bought the Times of Malta’s iconic St. Paul’s Street building in Valletta in 2017.

Melo Hili’s Comino project, which has yet to receive full planning and environmental permission, is one of those critical issues that have the potential to devastate an area most Maltese have come to cherish as inviolable, natural, and truly belonging to the community.

The fury over the hijack of the Blue Lagoon by sunbed touts, and the supposed ‘repair’ of the dirt track in its vicinity ought to alert the authorities that any attempt to open Comino property up to speculative buying and selling will be abhorrent to most Maltese people.

This type of underhand trickery must not be allowed to go ahead. The idea of turning Comino into speculative real estate must be cut off at the source. Otherwise, experience has shown us too many times, we can all just bid farewell to the unique beauty and historic charm that is Comino.

                           
                               
guest
16 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brian Borg
Brian Borg
25 days ago

This has to be nipped at the bud!

Thomas Hjelm
Thomas Hjelm
25 days ago

Why do they kill the golden goose? Same thing happens in all over Gozo as well.

TONY GEE
TONY GEE
24 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Hjelm

It’s not their goose so they don’t care!!

Austen Lennon
Austen Lennon
25 days ago

I was actually quite surprised at the complacency of the Maltese people when it came to protesting against the ugly politician’s palace in the middle of Valletta. I thought they were a strong and determined peoples but the weakness of the protests and the acceptance of the decision still astonishes me. So, I expect little to be done to protect Comino if the people don’t care about their islands.

Maria Tanti
Maria Tanti
25 days ago
Reply to  Austen Lennon

AUSTEN LENNON, with all due respect, you have the wrong impression about the Maltese people!!! Of course we CARE about our ISLANDS!!!If you read the article about Comino and what’s been going on in Malta and Gozo under this corrupt government, you will know what we are going through! Those in power and the developers don’t give a damn about the people. They only think about their pockets. Their greed for money is absolutely disgraceful!! It seems like they have taken full control of our once beautiful Malta 🇲🇹 Gozo and now Comino 😢 There were many protests against several projects but unfortunately to no avail.
Our only voice is the vote!!!

M.Galea
M.Galea
24 days ago
Reply to  Maria Tanti

Ohh please Maltese people do not care about their country,all they care is investing in rubbish of appartments. You were right in saying that the only voice is the vote, because Maltese people are coward!

Michael Mifsud
Michael Mifsud
25 days ago

Where next? Filfla?

Paul
Paul
25 days ago

The proposed bungalows would replace the current ones that are in St. Mary’s Bay and not next to the hotel, which is in a different bay. Although still on fragile Comino, it does matter to your readers that they are informed correctly.

M.Galea
M.Galea
24 days ago
Reply to  Paul

But they are to be sold! The present bungalows belong to the hotel owners!

Joseph
Joseph
25 days ago

Il-covid 19 taghthom ic-cavetta li jaghmlu li jridu bla l’icken msthija li jista jkolu bniedem minghajr kuxjenza. Arukaza min jadurhom dawn l’allat foloz. Ma inbidlu qatt dawn il-politikanti min naha Tal-Lejber. Niftakar li fi zmien Mintoff, xi hadd ma nafx jekk kienx il-PN jew xi gazzetta ohra, kien ghamel karikatura Mintoff bil-mazza f’idu jaghti fuq mappa ta’Malta.

T. P.
T. P.
25 days ago

If I am not mistaken, the land had been granted by the government specifically for the building of a hotel/amenities for tourist accommodation at a time when tourism was in its infancy.

Furthermore, the annual lease was at a reduced rate (as was the case with other land granted for hotels at that time). Most probably the rate was even lower than other leases in view of the fact that, at that time, Comino was a ‘deserted’ island.

Circumstances have now changed in that tourism is now far from being in its infancy.

Therefore, apart from the change of use, perhaps the authorities ought to verify whether any modification of the original conditions had been (contractually) approved.

Perhaps now is the time to verify how the effluent is being disposed of including that of the chalets at Santa Maria Bay.

Paul Sullivan
Paul Sullivan
24 days ago

Where next? Anybody interested in St Paul’s Islands. Fejn naqlu bajda, naqlu tnejn.

M.Galea
M.Galea
24 days ago

Ghalhekk t triq tal konkos! Preparata diga ghat trakkijiet u gafef! X misthija w jaqq ta gvern!!

Edward Mallia
24 days ago

I think people are being very “unfair” to the authorities in both the writing and the comments on this article. Today the Ministry of the Environment is to sign a “guardianship deed” for Comino with FoE(Malta), of which I am a member incidentally. It is not yet clear what aspect of Comino we are to “guard”. It could be the Hili bungalows for sale possibly. If that were the case, it is not yet clear exactly what or who the bungalows need guarding from. On the other hand, this “deed” could just be a large blotch of the usual green wash.

Steven Cilia
Steven Cilia
24 days ago

Meta ser immorru nipprotestaw quddiem il PA?

Related Stories

Because she wrote
The four years that have passed since Daphne Caruana
Your vote: how to have it both ways
They’re at it again. The two major Parties are
Support investigative journalism that speaks truth to power.