UNESCO consulting with local authorities over Excelsior extension

A visual of the proposed extension to the Excelsior Hotel.

The Planning Authority has put off its decision on an application for an extension of the Excelsior Hotel, allowing the applicant to revise the design and landscaping of the proposed project.

PA chairman Emanuel Camilleri expressed the board’s “serious concerns” on the design of the proposed extension and its impact on the Valletta bastions.

The proposed development, recommended for approval, is for an additional four-storey wing with 77 sea-view guest rooms connected to the hotel, the refurbishment of an outdoor area, including two new pools and a bar as well as restoration works.

The hotel’s architect, Ian Camilleri, explained how the new wing will be covering Great Siege Road which is essentially a retaining wall, and none of the bastions will be visually affected.

He said the Excelsior risked saturation point despite having 439 rooms and was not in a position to reach business conference demands, so clients were holding their events in neighbouring countries.

Camilleri added that the hotel was envisaging an increase in bookings on completion of the extension of the St John’s Co-Cathedral museum, insisting that the niche of tourists who visit it will want to stay close to the capital.

Several NGOs, including Friends of the Earth Malta, Friends of Villa Frere, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Moviment Graffitti and the Archaeological Society of Malta have objected to the proposed extension.

Friends of Villa Frere, among others, believe the proposed extension will impact the skyline of Valletta and Floriana and the vistas to and from both localities.

‘Architectural blunder’
Architect Edward Said told the PA board that the hotel was “an architectural blunder” committed in the 1960s when the hotel was originally built and that the board should seek to mitigate this mistake rather than make it any worse.

He explained how apart from filing an objection, Friends of Villa Frere had also written to the UN cultural organisation, UNESCO, which had started talks with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage on the proposed hotel extension:

“We are going to make this architectural blunder worse, instead of mitigating what has already been done. We were shocked that UNESCO was not even consulted on this when they are usually consulted on everything related to Valletta, including washrooms,” he said.

“UNESCO has expressed concern, and we are informed it established communication with the SCH. Before any decision is taken, we definitely need to have UNESCO’s position because Valletta is one of three world heritage sites in Malta,” Said added.

Heritage NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa also objected to the project, just like it had objected to the construction of the original hotel in the 1960s.

When the matter was open to discussion by the PA board, the chairman noted that he and the rest of the board were “still not satisfied with the design”.

“A better design is required to mitigate the structure against the bastions. The landscaping is to be designed in a way that the massing of the development is fragmented,” he said.

His deputy, Martin Camilleri, said that although the massing had been reduced heavily, the “design is lacking and should be more pleasing to the eye,” especially given the prominence of the hotel. He said the proposal had too much of a “squattish [sic] appearance”.

At the end of the discussion, the PA chairman said the board had two options: refuse or defer so that the applicant can revise its plans and address the concerns outlined by the board.

The board members opted for the latter and the application was deferred.

As per Times of Malta, 7 October 2022.