A proposed redevelopment of the iconic Mellieha Bay Hotel is expected to make a ‘major negative impact’ on the surrounding landscape of one of Malta’s most visited tourist destinations, according to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on a project to demolish and rebuild the current hotel complex.
According to the 500-page study, currently up for public consultation before ERA gives its assessment to a development application filed by Mellieha Bay Hotel Limited, “the built footprint of the hotel project will increase almost two-fold, resulting in the building over of primarily soft landscaped areas.”
The report underlines that the project will also have a major negative impact on the landscape of the whole of Mellieha Bay.
“The major impact refers to the change in Il-Bajja tal-Mellieha Character Area, where the change is identified as a large change on a landscape of high sensitivity.”
“The project will replace an existing structure; however, the scale of the project will result in the feel of a larger, bulkier development on the coast.”
The change in landscape will also be significant from the back of the hotel, the Marfa area, although to a lesser degree than the view from Mellieha Bay.
The report states that vis-à-vis Marfa, there will be a “medium change effect” on a highly sensitive area.
“The scale of the project will result in a seemingly larger development, higher, increased number of buildings and on the coast”.
Hotel footprint to triple
As the Planning Authority is still screening the development application filed by Mellieha Bay Hotel Ltd – jointly owned by the Mizzi Organisation and Alf. Mizzi and Sons – the application and the studies detail the massive structural changes being proposed.
The current hotel – one of the oldest still in existence and which has been operating since 1969 – will be demolished, and a larger structure, occupying three times the current footprint, is proposed in a project which is expected to take at least two and a half years to construct.
The applicants are seeking to increase the hotel’s number of guestrooms from the current 313 to 421, incorporated into six different interconnecting blocks of between four to eight storeys each. This will alter the height of the current building by at least another seven metres and will extend the built-up area on the coastline significantly.
According to the studies, while the current area of the hotel and its facilities occupy a footprint of some 7,000 square meters, this is planned to triple to over 19,000 square metres.
The proposed increase in the density of the buildings to be erected is also massive as the application envisages a built-up gross floor area of more than 61,000 square meters, more than twice the current 26,705 square metres.
The project, if approved, will also mean the uprooting of hundreds of trees, most of them protected, as the new building is to spread into areas which are currently covered by open green spaces including old trees, shrubs or landscaping. Some of the protected trees are to be transplanted, but most would be destroyed.
The study identified several other potential negative environmental impacts both during construction and after the project’s completion.
These include damaging effects on mineral and natural water resources in the area, loss of potential agricultural land, loss of habitat and disturbance, and disturbance of resident wildlife.
A possible negative impact to the seabed and the marine ecology has also been underlined, due to a pipeline to be laid in the bay to release effluence from an onsite reverse osmosis plant.
Project years on the drawing board
Built on public land through a 150-year emphyteutic deed signed with Beaufort Investment Trust in 1963, as Malta was on the verge of transforming its economy and winning independence from Britain, the owners of the hotel have long been seeking to develop the full potential of the 147 tumoli of land they were allocated to use for strictly tourism purposes.
Unlike other business families who managed to lobby politicians and transform the use of public land into speculative residential projects, such as the Pisanis’, owners of Corinthia Group,with the Hal Ferh project and the Zammit Tabonas’ with the Fortina development, the owners of the Mellieha Bay have so far respected the original purpose of the public land afforded to them.
Some 12 years ago, the hotel owners applied to extend the current building, increasing the number of guest rooms and amenities. However, they recently changed their plans, opting for a complete demolition of the whole building – which some deem to have a significant historical importance – in order to construct an entirely new complex.
In view of this planned development, the hotel shut its doors at the end of 2019.
The application, which is now expected to be discussed by the Planning Authority, was filed by Brian Mizzi, one of the owners of the Mizzi Organisation, and lists Edwin Mintoff is the project’s architect.
Featured image: view of the Mellieha Bay Hotel proposal from Ghadira