The Malta Independent 14 November 2019, Thursday

What the PA doesn’t say

Tara Cassar Tuesday, 15 October 2019, 10:22 Last update: about 30 days ago

Scheduling of properties seems to have picked up somewhat these past two years after an especially dry spell that extended throughout 2013, 2014 and 2015, during which period only nine buildings were scheduled in total. The extent of how dismal that figure is can only be appreciated if compared with the number of properties scheduled in previous years when in 2012 alone 114 building were scheduled, and another 205 buildings before that in 2011.

ADVERTISEMENT

When the Planning Authority carries out the exercise of including properties in the list of scheduled buildings, it always makes every effort to inform the public of its work through all media platforms available including their quarterly publication SHAPES, as was done recently after 10 new properties where scheduled last month. This is all to ensure that the public is fully aware of the positive contributions made by the Planning Authority with regards to the state of our built environment, which Authority is also partly responsible for the preservation and protection of Malta’s heritage in addition to what generally comes across as its sole role as grantor of planning permits.

Unfortunately, after the initial hype, fanfare and positive press coverage has faded, some of the properties that would have just been scheduled are in fact later stripped of that protection. This is because, just like any other decision taken by the Planning Authority, scheduling of buildings can be appealed by the owners of those properties. The process is referred to as a reconsideration. The decision on the requested reconsideration is taken by the same Executive Council of the Planning Authority that would have approved the initial scheduling of the building.

The scheduling and subsequent descheduling of parts of Trafalgar House in Sliema is one example of this.

Trafalgar House is a nineteenth century corner townhouse overlooking Pjazza tal-Lunzjata in an area of Sliema that is (perhaps surprisingly) still largely untouched. The property and its formal garden were officially included in the list of scheduled properties by the Planning Authority’s Executive Council on the 16th January 2018.

The owner of this property was against its scheduling and in fact already in the process of applying for the building and its garden to be developed. The requested development included the addition of two floors above the existing townhouse and its conversion into a guesthouse as well as the development of the garden into an apartment block.

The applicant requested a reconsideration of the scheduling of the garden.  The Planning Authority’s Executive Council (again, the same body that approved the scheduling of the garden to begin with) complied, and just a couple of weeks after having been scheduled, the garden was descheduled and stripped of its protection.

The descheduling was not announced at any press conference or press release and was not given a mention in the Planning Authority’s SHAPES magazine publication. The decision to deschedule did not show up on the Planning Authority’s website and was not publicized on their Facebook page.

The Planning Authority eventually approved the request to develop this garden into an apartment block. The request to build two additional floors above the Grade 2 scheduled townhouse (that would result in the total deformation of the building) was also approved. This decision essentially rendered the ‘protection’ given to this building rather feeble. Residents from the area are appealing the Planning Authority’s decision to approve this permit in a bid to save the character and architectural harmony of the environs.

As it is, when a property or monument is descheduled very few people will be able to find out. Unfortunately, such critical decisions seem to not be deemed worthy enough by the Planning Authority to merit the same media exposure that the Authority reserves for the act of scheduling of properties. Unless you browse through the government gazette on a weekly basis, or happen to be following a planning permit on a specific site where descheduling is requested, you are very unlikely to ever know that the building you thought was protected was actually stripped of that protection by the same Authority that was gloating about scheduling it just a month prior.

Tara Cassar is an architect focusing on planning policies and environmental issues related to land-use, active with a number of local eNGOs.

[email protected]

  • don't miss