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MT 18 September 2016

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maltatoday, SUNDAY, 18 SEPTEMBER 2016 8 News JAMES DEBONO THE Turkish embassy has ap- pointed a Maltese architect to for- mally object to the development of a petrol station and a car wash instead of a disused factory in the vicinity of the Turkish cemetery in Marsa. The petrol station is being pro- posed by Cassar Fuel Service Sta- tion and will be constructed on 3,300 square metres of land where part of the disused Multigas fac- tory already abuts on the cemetery. Citing the prohibition in the pre- sent policy regulating the develop- ment of new petrol stations, which bans such developments within 50 metres' distance from listed or scheduled sites, architect John Attard has called on the Planning Authority to refuse the applica- tion. The cemetery enjoys the highest level of protection by the PA. Moreover he pointed out that the site is located on shallow land which experiences severe flooding during inclement weather, some- thing also foreseen in the policy which excludes petrol stations in flood prone areas. Attard also refers to the fact that the Turkish cemetery itself has to go through a number of structural repairs caused by vehicular acci- dents. According to the architect the proposal will make the area located in an intersection between the main road and the exit road from the industrial estate, more susceptible to traffic accidents. If approved the development will result in a situation where heavy vehicles exiting the industrial es- tate will have a narrower lane to manoeuvre out onto the main road. In his submissions, architect John Attard described the cem- etery as a "a jewel of Maltese archi- tectural creativity", and refers to extensive restoration works which are being financed by the Turkish government. He also claims that the proposal is detrimental to the heritage as- sets in the area, which include the Turkish military cemetery and a Jewish cemetery on the south side. Architect Emanuele Luigi Galizia who was commissioned by Otto- man sultan Abdulaziz in 1873 de- signed the cemetery. The Turkish embassy claims to be the "rightful custodian" of the cemetery, which according to At- tard is "frequently visited by high officials of the Turkish govern- ment whenever they attend activi- ties in Malta." THE Environment and Re- sources Authority (ERA) says a hotel being proposed on the grounds of the Hunters Tower restaurant at Marsaxlokk requires an environment impact as- sessment (EIA) due to its location within a Natura 2000 site, which includes the Maghluq coastal wet- land. Restaurant owner Jon- Jon Dalli wants to demol- ish the existing restaurant and construct a 125-room hotel on the 4,163 m2 site – which includes the land- scaped garden area around the restaurant. The three-storey hotel includes a 40-space underground car park, outside pool and bar area. The place is under an enforce- ment order issued in 1995 against additions to the Hunters Tower restaurant, but is still pending "di- rect action" by the Planning Au- thority (PA). The hotel grounds would border the wetlands, which are granted maximum protection (level 1) while the existing restaurant is lo- cated in the buffer zone, which is granted level 3 protection, which normally precludes any major de- velopment on site. The whole area forms part of the Natura 2000 site il-Ballut ta' Mar- saxlokk, under protection by the EU's Habitats Directive and des- ignated as a Special Area of Con- servation and Area of Ecological importance. This means any development in such an area has to be assessed through an Appropriate Assess- ment (AA). Moreover, the ERA's preliminary report says excavations for the un- derground car park "are not likely to be feasible" in view of the site's geological features and its proxim- ity to the wetlands. The ERA wants Dalli to present a Project Development Statement, on the basis of which a decision will be taken whether to conduct a full EIA. Since the project "may lead to possible impacts like habitat deg- radation, changes to the hydro- logical regime and disturbance through noise and light" the AA will have to be conducted of the EIA. The ERA has already issued the terms of reference for this study. A management plan for the Natura 2000 site already proposes extending the existing lagoon into adjacent land. This means an AA from the developers will have to "clearly illustrate" how the lagoon can be extended and safeguarded if the hotel had to be built. In a separate submission, envi- ronmental group Din l-Art Helwa called on the PA not to consider the application, as it is in breach of local plan policies which exclude tourism development in this area. Labour's nod for hotel? However, a development brief for the Marsaxlokk Inner Harbour Area issued for public consultation back in December 2014, does allow for tourism development in this area. Indeed, the government instructed the PA to come up with a plan to facilitate hotel development in this area in September 2013, just six months after being elected to power. The brief, as yet not approved, says that the PA would "fa- vourably" consider tourism- related uses, including "tour- ism accommodation" in the Hunters Tower area. But proposals cannot exceed the current two-storey height limitation. It would have to include a visitor and interpretation centre to cater for the saline marshland, and a soft land- scape buffer zone between the hotel and marshland to minimise noise and light pol- lution. Back in 1998, former La- bour MP John Dalli applied to demolish the Hunters Tower restaurant and construct a three-storey, 93-room hotel. The application was later downscaled to 59 rooms. The permit was refused because it infringed upon the existing Mar- saxlokk Bay Local Plan, which states that the area is identified "for limited tourism-related ancillary facilities such as restaurants" – but not ho- tels – and because it infringed "the ecological interests of the area" at il-Ballut. A tribunal chaired by Dr Kevin Aquilina in October 2000 turned down Dalli's appeal, upholding the view that the traffic generated by the development would impact the ad- jacent salt marsh. Turkish ambassador objecting to petrol pump next to Muslim cemetery Marsaxlokk hotel could impact on Maghluq wetlands, ERA warns Turkish embassy says it is "rightful custodian" of the cemetery Environment and Resources Authority demands ecological studies for Marsaxlokk hotel owned by former Labour MP John Dalli The cemetery, commissioned by Ottoman sultan Abdulaziz in 1873, was described as a "a jewel of Maltese architectural creativity" 2012 aerial photo shows Hunters Tower hotel proposal in yellow and scheduling boundary in blue

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