The Malta Independent 15 December 2017, Friday

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

Thursday, 7 December 2017, 09:13 Last update: about 8 days 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.

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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.

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. 

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