Updated with decision at 12.50pm

Plans to raise the Fortina Hotel tower in Sliema to 23 storeys and build a new 15-storey residential complex were approved by the Planning Authority on Thursday.

Eleven members voted for the development, three against. Those voting against were Opposition representative Marthese Portelli, NGO reprepresentative Annick Bonello and Sliema council representive John Pillow.

They argued that the floor area ratio policy which governed high-rise development was not adhered to as the development was not surrounded by streets on four side as required by the policy.

During the hearing, Sliema councillor Paul Radmilli also raised concerns over whether the conditions of the transfer of land from the government to Fortina allowed for residential development and insisted that this should be established before any vote was taken.

But PA executive chairman Johann Buttigieg said that the preliminary clearance by the Lands Authority was sufficient in this case.

Residents who attended raised further concerns over the loss of natural light and the noise and dust caused by demolition work, which have been ongoing since January.

The permit is demolish the existing four-star hotel and spa wing of the five-star resort and build 109 apartments over 15 floors, as well as a ground-floor shopping mall and three levels of underground parking.

It will also add five extra floors to the existing hotel tower, and build a new 13-floor hotel block in place of the spa wing, with restaurants at the plaza level.

Read: 22 high-rises over 10 storeys planned

Around 2,500 square metres of public open space will be created at the back of the residential block and maintained by the hotel.

The Planning Directorate case officer noted that “the proposed redevelopment project is being considered as an opportunity to improve the skyline”. The proposal, the case officer said, created a “smooth transition” between the existing conventional development and the approved/existing high-rise structures present in the immediate vicinity.

The application was recommended for approval against a planning gain of €596,250 as well as a €50,000 contribution to a fund administered by Arts Council Malta, for the creation of public art.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has raised no objections as it deemed significant impacts to be unlikely as long as appropriate mitigation measures were taken.

It noted, however, that “the absence of a clear plan-level picture of the development capacity of the surrounding area of influence, such case-by-case assessment of individual development proposals has important limitations vis-à-vis proper evaluation of the actual cumulative air quality impact”.

The project had stirred controversy after it was exempted from a full Environment Impact Assessment. Instead, the assessment was based on the developers’ Project Description Statement, which the ERA said “considered the environmental issues in a sufficient manner”.

Further concerns were raised by the Partit Demokratiku in October over the fact that the public land on which the existing hotels sat had been granted on a soft ground rent intended for the hotel industry.

The inclusion of a residential complex, the party said, was a clear change of use from that stipulated in the original contract, and would “necessitate a rethink of the ground rent, which is an insignificant cost in light of the huge amount of money set to be made”.

The demolition of the current structures has already been approved.

Work has been ongoing since January but has drawn complaints from various residents due to the excessive dust and debris they say the work has generated.

Security at PA tightened

Following the confrontation by activists, a few weeks ago, as the authority discussed building a huge fuel pumping station on pristine land, security at the authority's offices has been tightened.

Two security guards have been placed outside the PA offices and the bags of the public attending meetings were being checked and placed through a metal detector.

Another two police officers were inside the building.

A security notice was also stuck to the door.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us