A proposed multibillion luxury hotel project in Watamu, Kilifi county is being fought for by Tourism cabinet secretary Najib Balala who has written to National Environmental Management Authority seeking to revoke a licence it had issued for the construction of the hotel.
Balala wants to stop the 61-storey project estimated to cost Sh28 billion on claims of environmental concerns, a move that has put him in direct conflict with Kilifi North MP Owen Baya.
“That the 61-storey skyscraper is to be developed on a small plot in Watamu must not be built! I have already given my objection to Nema. If they want to build such a skyscraper, they should do it in Nairobi or Mombasa, not on the beach of Watamu,” Balala insists.
At 370 metres, the building that is designed by Italian architect Lorenzo Pagnini will be the tallest building in the country. It will be 70 metres taller than The Pinnacle, currently under construction in Upper Hill, Nairobi.
However, Owen has told off the CS asking him to stop meddling in affairs of his constituency. The MP says Balala is driven by personal interests and not environmental matters, adding that the Tourism CS is fronting the interests of a few hoteliers in Watamu who fear that the mega project will dwarf their establishments.
“I’m aware that some foreign investors who fear that the proposed project will dwarf their small hotels and block them from the scenic Indian Ocean have sought the intervention of the CS to have the project stopped.
“But instead of Balala being straight forward, he has chosen to hide behind environment to fight the project on their behalf. This is nonsense!” the MP pointed out.
The legislator further says it’s absurd that Balala who is supposed to be at the forefront in boosting tourism ventures that helps create jobs for the youth was allegedly colluding with a few foreign investors to oppose a project that would transform lives of Kenyans.
The project trading as Palm Exotica to be undertaken by a group of investors led by Italian billionaire Franco Rosco will entail a 270-bedroom five-star hotel, a high end shopping mall, executive offices, apartments, a casino, and restaurants.
The luxury hotel will be operated by a yet-to-be disclosed global hospitality chain with several hotel floors reserved for presidential suites.
Environmental consultant who studied the project reportedly dispelled fears that the facility will have undesired effects on the coastal ecosystem. Nema seems to have agreed with the consultant’s report and ignored Balala protest.
“The project will be carried out on the second row from the beach and will therefore not interfere much with the nearby marine ecosystems like mangroves and coral reefs,” the experts said in the project’s environmental study.
The Kenya Urban Roads Authority has already given the developers its approvals for the expansion of the Turtle Bay Road leading to the proposed hotel area.