Mdina’s fortification foundations could be placed in jeopardy if a planning permit for an 81-room hotel on Saqqaja Hill is approved by the Planning Authority later today.
In its objections, the Mdina local council said this application was of “extreme concern” because any geological disturbance in the area would “definitely affect” the foundations of the bastions and cause damage to the existing buttressing system of the fortifications built by the Knights and put in place after the earthquake of 1693.
“The proposed development will create an immense precedent which will pave the way to further development in this area, putting at risk one of Malta’s most iconic landscapes of Mdina and Rabat, and having immense impacts on the surroundings which can never be reversed,” the architect appointed by the Mdina local council said, urging for the project to be “outright refused immediately”.
The hotel, which will replace the old Tattingers nightclub, will require deep excavation on a particularly vulnerable and historic site.
Despite many objections, the Planning Authority’s case officer has recommended the permit for approval, though it insisted that elements of the excavation should be kept as a “reserved matter” for further approval at a later stage.
Beyond sound pollution, traffic issues, height objections and the design itself, the major public concern is that excavation could cause a serious geological disturbance.
Mdina, which is built on clay, has had to be buttressed twice to avoid sloping.
Last year, a part of the road on Saqqaja hill collapsed, raising further concerns about the geological fragility of the area.
In its reactions to the project, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Culture Heritage Advisory Committee declared strong reservations about the development.
They noted the “extensive ground disturbance in an area of considerable archaeological potential, with a very high risk of disturbance or destruction of archeological remains”. They also found the submitted Method Statement for excavation works to be “inadequate and lacking in necessary detail”.
A letter of objection by the Mdina and Rabat local councils, insisted that the proposed development be subject to a thorough geotechnical survey due to the well-known critical geological formation of the terrain in that location.
“Furthermore, a study of the foundations of the nearby historical structures should be carried out by an independent team of experts to ensure that this proposed project will not affect the foundations of the bastions and the fortifications of Rabat and Mdina.”
The councils also pointed out that a large cistern shown on the existing plans is actually “inexistent” to their knowledge.
“Thus, no deep excavation should be allowed for a similar proposed structure which will jeopardise the geological formation of the area concerned as well as the foundations of the adjacent historical buildings.”
Interestingly, one of the objections listed in the case file is that of a concerned resident, worried about the demolition process.
“The buildings on this street tremble when a bus passes by, so you must imagine our concern regarding the demolition. I am not objecting your project but I do want a guarantee that my family will be safe during construction. I don’t want us to suffer tragedy as the one that happened in Msida. I have been living here for 40 years. When Telemalta was being built, a big rock fell next door and it felt like an earthquake,” the resident wrote.
The applicant of the project is Jeffrey Cutajar and LandMark Architects, which was founded by former Nationalist minister Jesmond Mugliett.
Do you think the development application should be approved?