Foreign investors ‘fuming’ over SmartCity’s new plans

The proposed new ITS hotel at SmartCity.

The proposed new ITS hotel at SmartCity.

Members of a group of large foreign investors, led by an Italian hotel giant, are fuming over a request by SmartCity to change the area’s master plan.

They fear such a move would open the doors for high-rise real estate development in what was originally planned as an ICT and media city.

A representative of the consortium recalled that, in 2015 and 2016, they held discussions with the top management of SmartCity and the government, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, to invest about €100 million in a project consisting of an upmarket hotel, luxurious sports facilities and other entertainment amenities.

“We were really eager about this project, particularly as it was going to operate alongside the proposed private hospital in the same area. We only decided not to continue with the talks when we were told point blank by the government we could not build above seven storeys as this was the maximum height permitted. This made the project not viable and we opted to invest in France instead,” he said.

The representative admitted the syndicate members were dismayed to learn that SmartCity requested a change in the master plan to be able to build a new 14-storey ITS hotel and a private real estate development expected to stand 11 storeys high.

“We are really concerned about what is happening in Malta because it seems there is one rule for the majority and another rule for the chosen minority,” he added.

“We were never told about the possible change and that is why we did not pursue our investment. Now we learn that the government itself is breaking the rules to build a 135-bed hotel competing with the private industry and is trying to change the rules for other investors to build apartments. This is not a serious country where one can invest in. There is no level playing field,” he complained.

Questions to both the government and SmartCity on why they had told the investors in question they could not go higher than seven storeys but changes were now being proposed were not answered.

The Times of Malta reported yesterday that the owners of SmartCity, who were granted 316,000 square metres of public land in 2007 to develop an ICT city, are negotiating land to be turned into real estate.

To accommodate this, SmartCity has applied with the Planning Authority to make substantial changes to the 2007 master plan for the area.

Ricasoli Projects Ltd has already started selling on plan luxury apartments in a 411-flats mega-project dubbed The Shoreline even though Planning Authority permits have yet to be issued.

The master plan in place does not allow such a development to proceed.

The government is a minority shareholder in the SmartCity project and is represented on the board of directors by Keith Schembri, the Prime Minister’s top aide.

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