A new phase of development has finally gotten underway at Fort Chambray, a fort in Gozo dating back to the 18th century, after years where work was stalled amidst cries that the fortification was crumbling from neglect.

According to the Planning Authority, a commencement notice issued in January allowed developers to clear the site of previous buildings. The works are in preparation for a new five-star aparthotel and unspecified numbers of apartments and serviced apartments.

Source: Planning Authority

In a story published in July 2023, Times of Malta quoted a source close to the planning process saying that this latest phase of development “envisages a 63-room hotel with the British barracks serving as its base, 50 serviced apartments spread around the hotel and more apartments covering the rest of the area.”

Although the planning application for the clearing of the site (PA/3438/23) has been approved and works approved to start, the other application, which would involve the construction of the buildings, is not yet complete. The PA website returns the following statement for PA/3884/23: “The application has not yet been fully submitted. Once the application is considered complete, all relevant details will be made available online.”

Source: Planning Authority

The fort had been used as a mental health institution in the 1960s and 70s, and passed into private hands prior to the 1987 election when the Zammit Tabona family took over the property. It is unclear what happened in the following five years, but in 1993, the Government gave it as a 99-year concession while retaining a stake though its Malta Government Investments equity holding vehicle. Roberto Memmo, the Italian businessman who held the 51 per cent stake, granted the sub-emphyteusis to two companies, but 10 years later, the development was at a standstill.

Following the intervention of the Government at the time, the entire holding passed to Michael Caruana, a Gozitan businessman who formerly headed the Gozo Business Chamber, and his family.

While works then proceeded steadily, with around half of the fortification built up as luxury residences – which remain in use – the other half has remained neglected, as have the bastions.

The dilapidated bastions of the historic fort (Source: Għawdix)

Last month, Gozo heritage NGO Għawdix said it “urgently calls on all responsible entities, especially those contractually obligated, to initiate the necessary actions. Gozo is rapidly losing its heritage, making the preservation of Fort Chambray critical to safeguard Gozo’s unique history and architectural legacy.”

In October 2023, The Shift reported that a new set of businessmen are set to take over part of Dr Caruana’s concession to build apartments and a hotel. The publication identified these as: “Ninu Fenech and his sons, who head TUM Invest; Vince Borg, known as Censu n-Nizz of V&C Group, also involved in road construction and tarmac batching plants; Mario Gauci of Burmarrad Commercials; Oliver Brownrigg of the BT Group and Francesco Grima, known as Il-Giegu.”

There has been no official confirmation of this deal by any of these companies or individuals, nor by the Government. However, the contractual organisation is likely to be a headache due to clauses inserted into the 2004 deal that saw the concession pass into Dr Caruana’s hands.

The conditions were meant to avoid a situation like the one that characterised the preceding decade, where the concession holder and the developers were different entities. In signing the agreement, Dr Caruana agreed that he “would not transfer the development to any third person until the development is completed (save for the sale of completed apartments) and they will similarly not transfer shares in the companies which will be the shareholders of the development.”

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