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MALTATODAY 2 October 2022

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6 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 2 OCTOBER 2022 NEWS JAMES DEBONO THE Planning Authority is set to decide on the controversial addi- tion of a six-storey wing consist- ing of 77 rooms to the Excelsior Hotel next Thursday, despite an appeal by heritage NGO Friends of Villa Frere, and architect Ed- ward Said, who asked UNESCO to assess the impact on Valletta's World Heritage Status. A decision on the proposed de- velopment was postponed last month, as plans had to be revised again following a contestation by third parties to the property boundaries which resulted in a minor reduction in the length of the new wing by 60cm. Plans were also slightly revised with the introduction of planters along the hotel terraces of both the new wing and the existing hotel described as a "green belt". The case officer is recommend- ing approval despite concern on the visual impact of the new de- velopment, which according to a visual study prepared by ADI consultants, will "pronounce" the hotel against the backdrop of the Valletta fortifications, especially when the hotel is viewed from Msida and Ta' Xbiex. In April, the Superintend- ence for Cultural Heritage had dropped its objections to the pro- posed extension after the number of rooms was reduced from 99 to 77 by removing two floors rising above Great Siege Road which would have obscured part of the bastions. As proposed the new wing will cover a retaining wall not connected to the fortifica- tions. But the case had been recently reported to UNESCO by archi- tect Edward Said on behalf of NGO Friends of Villa Frere in view of its presumed impact on Valletta's world heritage status. The NGO believes that the pro- posed extension will not only impact the vista to Valletta and Floriana but would enlarge a ho- tel which was already "a blight" on the historical view ever since the hotel was constructed in the 1960s. In its reply to Said, UNESCO confirmed that it is following the case by asking for the feedback of the Maltese authorities on the in- formation provided by Said. UNESCO director Lazaro Elounóou Assomo subsequently informed Said that the informa- tion provided "has been trans- mitted to the relevant Maltese authorities for review and com- ments" in line with the organisa- tion's operational guidelines. MaltaToday has asked the Su- perintendence for Cultural Her- itage whether it had consulted with UNESCO at any stage of the application, as it has done when it objected to an application by the Iniala hotel to regularise an ille- gally constructed terrace on top of the St Barbara bastions hotel. In its terse reply the Superin- tendence simply replied it had submitted its final feedback on the application in April. The Su- perintendence also confirmed that it had consulted the UNE- SCO World Heritage Technical Committee with regards to the Iniala hotel extension "follow- ing the appointment of the new world heritage technical commit- tee." The Superintendence for Cul- tural Heritage had firmly object- ed to original plans for a larger extension which would have risen above Great Siege Road covering the fortifications, but had described the latest plans as acceptable and an improvement over the original plans. It remains unclear whether the SCH has ever discussed the Ex- celsior extension with UNESCO. Questions by MaltaToday to UNESCO on whether it approves of the proposed hotel extension have remained unanswered. The case officer report describes the visual impact of the hotel as "acceptable" and one which will "positively contribute and merge with its immediate, medium and long-distance view context". The visual impact assessment carried out by ADI consultants concluded that the new hotel wing will change views of the harbour fortifications, which are designated as an Area of High Landscape Value (AHLV) from four points across Marsamxett Harbour. The most noticeable change will be in the views from the west, from Msida and Ta' Xbiex, where the new accommodation wing would be more exposed than when viewed from the east. The new wing will screen much of the retaining wall along Great Siege Road. "As viewed from Msida and Ta' Xbiex, the new accommodation wing will screen much of the retaining wall along Triq L-As- sedju Il-Kbir and will serve to pronounce the hotel against the backdrop of the Valletta Fortifi- cations," the study by ADI Con- sultants concludes. The north-facing façade of the new accommodation wing will also be noticeable from Manoel Island and Tigné, although it will part-screen the existing hotel and will serve to somewhat break up the mass and linearity of the ex- isting northwest wing of the ho- tel, which is a prominent feature in the views from the east. According to the study the hotel extension has already been rede- signed three times to further re- duce the height of the new west wing. The development of the Excel- sior was one of the first rallying causes for conservationist move- ment Din l-Art Ħelwa, founded in 1965 under the leadership of Judge Maurice Caruana Curran. Din l-Art Ħelwa vehemently op- posed the building of the Excel- sior, which tore a hole in Vallet- ta's fortifications. The original hotel was demolished in 1992 and initial work began to devel- op a 420-room hotel and a mari- na with berths for 20 yachts. By 1999, however, work on the site slowed down and came to a halt. In 2003 the hotel was bought by its current owner, Hong Kong-based Stewart Elliott, and reopened in 2007. Back then El- iott did not hesitate to point out "eyesore developments across the harbour, which marred the land- scape". Excelsior: extension set for approval despite UNESCO worry Case officer recommends approval despite objections by heritage activists who had reported the case to UNESCO

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