The Planning Authority this morning gave the go-ahead for a new underground car park in Paceville, the first part of a planned development incorporating a new 15-storey hotel close to the Intercontinental Hotel.

Gozitan Joseph Portelli is seeking to build a high-rise complex of studio apartments, retail outlets, office space and a hotel, as well as four levels of underground parking on Triq Santu Wistin.

The same developer is also behind a proposal for two skyscrapers, of 25 and 40 storeys, on the site of nearby Mercury House.

The Triq Santu Wistin development has been split into two phases,  the car park and the more contentious high-rise which will be decided separately at a later date.

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But the splitting of the two phases has irked the Eden Leisure Group and Diamond Resorts, which operates self-catering apartments within the Intercontinental.

They argue that assessing the applications separately prevents a holistic review of the entire project.

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“We strongly contend that the splitting up of the two applications… is no more than a stratagem adopted by the applicant and tolerated by the Planning Directorate to deflect the real and contentious planning issues that are intrinsic in the development as envisaged in its totality,” Eden Leisure wrote in an objection to the PA.

The objectors argued that the car park will not be enough to meet the potential requirements of the full development, creating further problems down the line.

But the Planning Directorate, which recommended the case for approval, said the car park was acceptable “irrespective” of the second phase of the development.

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The directorate said that if the car park turned out to be insufficient, a payment could be made to the Commuted Parking Payment Scheme if and when the high-rise was approved.

Eden Leisure  also raised concerns of potential damage to boreholes serving the Intercontinental Hotel, while Diamond Resorts said the eventual high-rise development would create a 15-storey blank wall, resulting in a negative visual impact from St George’s Bay and other angles.

“The proposed development will reduce a significant amount of air for our guests using the accommodation and furthermore will result in vastly reduced natural lighting to the building with the accommodation and roof top pool effectively plunging them into virtual darkness,” the group said.

The PA is currently conducting a social impact assessment on a long-awaited master plan for the Paceville area.

A first draft of the plan was revealed last September but sent back to the drawing board after widespread disapproval.

A second draft was originally scheduled for May, but appears to have been put on the backburner, although the government has committed to finalising the masterplan in this legislature.

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