The Malta Independent 21 November 2018, Wednesday

PA ‘ignores aspects worthy of conservation unless property is scheduled’ - Chamber of Architects

Wednesday, 6 December 2017, 17:05 Last update: about 13 months ago

The Chamber of Architects has shown concern over recent controversies revolving around historic buildings.

Over the past two weeks the Chamber of Architects together with various NGOs have issued a number of statements regarding the destruction of two specific buildings of architectural, historic and cultural value, namely the ex-Sea Malta / NAAFI building in Marsa, and Villa St Ignatius in St Julian's.

Residents of St Julian's fumed Monday as demolition works at at Villa St Ignatius resumed. Demolition works on the old property started on Saturday but stopped when PA officers showed up. According to reports, the works continued as soon as the officers left. The workers were back at it Monday morning, with footage showing an old wooden structure come tumbling down into the front garden.

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The Chamber said that the most worrisome aspect of the ex-Sea Malta and Villa St Ignatius cases is "the fact that the demolition works were carried out with the blessing of, or at best the ineptitude of the Planning Authority, in direct violation of its legal obligations in a manner which manifests complete disregard of procedure and a propensity for resorting to false statements and half-truths to defend its own decisions."

The Chamber said that Villa St Ignatius suffered the onslaught of the demolition crew."

In this case, Chamber said that the PA authorised works to be carried out strictly in accordance with a Court order issued earlier this year, however once works began on site and were reported to the Authority, the latter failed to issue a stop notice and an enforcement notice and failed to declare the Dangerous Structure permit null and void.

In the case of the ex-Sea Malta building, the Chamber noted that the PA permitted the demolition of a substantial part of the building. "The only justification provided was that the condition of the building was such that 'remedial measures to strengthen the existing building are clearly not financially feasible' If financial feasibility starts to become a justification for accelerated demolition approvals, we are truly headed towards the obliteration of our built heritage."

The Chamber noted that the above two examples are nothing short of alarming. "The Planning Authority has the responsibility towards society to ensure that the legislation it operates under is fully respected, and especially to ensure that on-going development does not imperil our diminishing built heritage."

The Chamber was concerned that unless a property is specifically scheduled, "the Authority appears to ignore any aspects worthy of conservation when it is the Authority itself which is responsible for scheduling, and when it should be part of the due consideration undertaken by it at application stage to assess whether there are any parts worthy of preservation. Sadly, the lack of scheduling appears to be considered as a licence for wholesale destruction and obliteration of our fragile heritage, which goes well beyond the formal list of scheduled properties."

"This country has many rules and regulations on paper, often uncoordinated; it is therefore easy for such rules and regulations to be ignored with impunity."

"In other countries, when heritage buildings are destroyed in defiance of regulations, the Courts order a reconstruction! We expect that immediate action is taken to ensure that the situations outlined above are reversed, and that the necessary measures are taken to safeguard our built heritage from further destruction under the guise of permitted development."

The Church Environment Commission in a separate statement referred to the demolition works at Villa St Ignatius, which it described as a high value building, adding that it's architecture is still original despite interventions over the years. "The Villa is the oldest building of calibre ever constructed in Balluta. The Commission also mentioned the building's historical value due to the ties to prominent people in Malta's history. "

The Commission joined NGO Din L-Art Helwa in its appeal to schedule the building. "We urge the competent authorities to act before it is too late."

The commission warned that as long as cases like this continue, and those who are responsible take no action based on facts, one would have reason to believe that similar abuses are acceptable within the construction industry. 

PA statement

The Planning Authority strongly denies the accusations levelled against it by the Chamber of Architects (KTP). The Authority called on KTP to substantiate its accusations of 'false statements and half truths'.

The Authority reiterates that works at Villa Ignatius in St.Julians were ordered to be carried out by the courts. The Authority on its part was very clear when it gave its consent for works to be carried out in accordance with the court sentence.

"As for the former Sea Malta building in Marsa, the Planning Authority reconfirms that the condition of the structural foundations were in such a poor state that it was posing a risk in the eventuality that parts of the building collapsed. The Structural Appraisal Report which was prepared by third party consultants showed ample evidence that the quay structure on which the rear part of the building is built had not only deteriorated but in certain parts collapsed."

"In fact the Authority requested that the front end of the building which includes the clock tower was not to get demolished as it is not in imminent danger of collapse."

"The Authority concludes that if the Chamber of Architects is to be credible about these and other similar accusations, it should start to report and take action against individuals within its own profession who are responsible for such works."

 

DLH press conference

Din l-Art Helwa held a press conference outside Villa St Ignatius in this morning. 

Executive President Maria Grazia Cassar highlighted the fact that DLH, together with neighbours, the St Julians and Sliema Local Council, and the Society of Jesus, had requested the planning authority to schedule this villa, for its important architectural and historical value. It dated to the early 19th century, and has been claimed by experts to be the first Neo-Gothic building in Malta, being also the Jesuit College which gave the street its name.

“A few days after this appeared in the press, demolition works started on the first floor of the building. When these were reported, the PA replied that they were covered by a Dangerous Structure Permit, and no attempt to investigate or stop the works was made. It transpired that the DS 125/17 related to remedial works on a mezzanin floor, to stop water ingress into a garage below,” DLH said.

“These were detailed and specifically described in the court appointed architect’s report, who was to be advised before commencement of the works.  Notwithstanding that the permit had expired, works to demolish the mezzanine floor proceeded, and a whole wing of this historic site has disappeared, in flagrant defiance of the law.”

DLH urged that a Stop Notice and and Enforcement Order is issued immediately and questioned how nothing was done when the PA was first alerted. “The Emergency Conservation Order issued last night by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage  was a step in the right direction, but unfortunately extensive damage and loss to the original fabric of the villa, had already taken place.”

“DLH has legal advice that the Planning Authority issued the dangerous structure permit DS 125/17 against specific provisions of the law regulating dangerous structures (Legal Notice 258/2002) In any case the demolisher did not even abide by the conditions of such a flawed permit. Consequently, the PA’s decision not to declare the said permit as being null and void and its’ decision not to issue an enforcement and stop notice on the site further justifies DLH’s position that the Planning Authority is failing in its duty to protect our cultural built  environment. The Planning Authority is urged to rethink its position and issue such an enforcement and stop notice with immediate effect.”

 

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