Maltatoday, Sunday 3rd August 2008, by James Debono –
Government wants to reclaim the land occupied by the derelict Riviera Martinique Hotel in popular Ghajn Tuffieha bay through a new court application just filed by the Lands Department.
Filed last Thursday against Kevin Fenech of NMF Ltd – the owners of the site – the department is citing a condition in the contract which states that should the hotel be closed to the public for a year, the government would have the option of taking back the building site.
Parliamentary Secretary Jason Azzopardi reveals in an interview today that the breached contract will be the basis of the legal case to reclaim the land with a view to restore public land to its original state.
“The Riviera hotel poses a grave danger to the public,” he said. “The owners have also breached the conditions set in the emphyteutical deed which stipulated that the hotel should not be left abandoned for more than a few months.”
Azzopardi was appointed parliamentary secretary responsible for government owned lands following the election.
“The Prime Minister wants the land to be restored to the public in its original natural state so that the beach is enjoyed by the public. He asked me to intervene in this case and we have instituted legal proceedings to terminate the lease.”
According to the government architect’s report submitted in court, the terrain on site is extremely unstable, to the extent that parts of later additions to the hotel have collapsed and others are in imminent danger of falling.
The building’s interior floors have also collapsed while the façade ended up without any internal support.
“The present situation presents an extremely unsightly backdrop to this picturesque area as this area is extremely popular with tourists,” the architect’s report states. “In addition, there is a big danger to the general public, since the existing buildings and structure are on the verge of collapse.”
In the same interview, the parliamentary secretary also revealed that Lawrence Gonzi has asked him to start the process of terminating leases in two other areas which he intends returning to the public in their original state.
He also outlined plans for a fund for sustainable development. “The Prime Minister intends to create this fund through which the government would be able to expropriate unsightly sites in order to return them back to the public. This is the expressed wish of the Prime Minister,” Azzopardi told MaltaToday.
Funds for this fund will be derived from a reform of the joint office scheme which allows tenants to redeem leases by paying a sum of money.
The system has been prone to abuse because upon redeeming their property for a few hundred euros, the former tenants were selling their newly acquired properties to developers for a much larger sum.
“In one case in Sliema, a property was redeemed for just Lm500 according to the law. Just two months later the property was sold for Lm80,000 to be replaced by flats. This is not fair,” Azzopardi told MaltaToday.
The government now intends to stipulate that a percentage of earnings from these property sales should be recovered by the state.
In the same interview, Azzopardi also revealed plans to revise rents charged on establishments in prime commercial areas like Valletta by adopting a zoning system through which shops renting from the government would be expected to pay a rent according to the commercial value of the location.
“In Valletta we have 576 commercial tenements. From these, the state receives €1.5 million a year in rent. For comparison’s sake government spends €2.1 million in wages for the 141 employees in the government property division,” Azzopardi revealed.