Seven NGOs called for a halt of Hili Group’s Comino development plans, describing them as “commercial rape” which would lead to the island’s “disfigurement” at a press conference on Saturday morning.
The organisations demanded the Hili Group retracts its plans, calling them “unacceptable” and “incompatible” with Comino. They said, “the most sustainable possible development for Comino is no development”.
Representatives from Moviment Graffitti, BirdLife Malta, Din L-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Nature Trust – FEE Malta and Ramblers Malta attended the conference, universally expressing anger and disgust at the plans which garnered some 13,500 public objections.
Plans for the island include the demolition of both the existing hotel in San Niklaw bay and the existing bungalows at Santa Marija bay.
In their place, HV Hospitality, a Hili Group subsidiary, is proposing a luxury 140-bed hotel, and 19 individual bungalows. The bungalows would include facilities in the form of restaurants, bars, lounges, spas, and swimming pools.
Moviment Graffitti’s Marie Claire Gatt said Hili Group “does not have a sacrosanct right to do whatever they wish” and that they still have to abide by the country’s laws prohibiting them from disturbing the protected site.
Graffitti argued the project would cause “massive environmental impact” and “irreversible destruction of natural habitats” through the heavy machinery, construction equipment and material needed for it. The “obscene” increase in human activity would also damage the area.
BirdLife Malta’s Nicholas Barbara stressed Comino’s importance as a bird sanctuary, with the Natura 2000 site serving as a resting ground for several important migratory species due to its relatively undeveloped environment.
Barbara pointed out several uncertainties linked to the project apart from the risk to birds’ habitat, noting the hundreds of people and increased sea traffic it would bring and the undefined way in which the bungalows would be used.
Stephane Croce from Din L-Art Ħelwa, Malta’s national trust, said the plans would effectively introduce a new residential town to Comino. He said “the proposed disfigurement of the site” is cause for “serious concern”, joining the call for the Hili group to retract their plans.
Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) described Comino as “part and parcel of Maltese heritage”, condemning the “small group of people exploiting to the detriment of society at large” and calling the project the “commercial rape” of the island.
Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg also spoke at the conference, likening the proposed plans for Comino to the mega-development proposed at Ħondoq ir-Rummien bay in Gozo. As with the Ħondoq project, he called for the Comino plans to be denied, saying “the people need to rise and say ‘no’”.
The conference was held outside the Hili Group’s headquarters in Marsa and concluded with the organisations demanding once again for the plans to be dropped and stating that the public would do what is needed to see to it.
Hili Group’s public relations offensive
In response to public outrage at the project, Hili Group has published a number of statements pledging that it will “respect and uphold Comino’s Natura 2000 status”. It also said that it had no “intention or interest” in turning the proposed bungalows into a residential site.
It further stated that “committed to producing a world-class sustainable tourism product that respects the environment and stands up to close scrutiny”.
Following the NGOs’ press conference, Hili Group republished comparative images of the proposed development claiming they wished to clarify misconceptions surrounding it.
During the NGO conference, Moviment Graffitti described Hili Group’s previous publications supporting the project as “greenwashing attempts” aimed at downplaying the development in the public eye. They stated that the “reality is that buildings on the island will double”.
The Minister responsible had quoted a holistic approach for sustainable and protection to Comino’s attraction as a touristic destination!!!
Once the appropriate brown envelope passes hands, there will be no stopping this evil.
‘The people need to rise and say no’, says Qala mayor.
The people need to wake up first. They should have risen right from the very first hint of corruption as an ongoing roadmap with one scandal after another, sometimes on a daily basis.