The Malta Independent 8 August 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Heritage buildings - Herrera is right

Wednesday, 26 February 2020, 09:31 Last update: about 6 months ago

National Heritage Minister Jose Herrera made quite a statement yesterday regarding heritage buildings on the island, and hopefully his words will be listened to by other government ministers.

Minister Herrera said that there need to be stricter rules on the protection of scheduled buildings. He spoke of the need to “put our foot down” and “preserve our village cores, our prestigious buildings and heritage.”

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Environmental and heritage NGOs have been making these arguments for many, many years, and it is about time that the government takes action.

The minister admitted that he is not happy with how things have been going for the past few years. “We have given too much emphasis and importance to the economic side of things, without preserving either our environment or heritage.”

Indeed the government’s policy over the last few years has seen so much development that today’s Malta is far different to what it was 10 years ago.

As Environment Minister, Herrera was criticised for not doing enough to protect Malta’s environment, but in truth he did quite a bit. As an example, Herrera organised quite a few afforestation projects, and introduced better waste separation on the island, just to name a few.

One hopes that he would have the backing to make the necessary changes in policy when it comes to scheduled buildings.

Far too often do we read about applications for scheduled buildings to be torn down and have floors built above, just having the façade retained. Far too often do we hear of applications pertaining to the garden of a protected building. Far too often do we hear of applications to tear down buildings in village cores, in order to build up.

Part of Malta’s character lies in its village cores, and they need to be protected.

Indeed, the government’s economic policy, basing economic growth on population growth is partly to be blamed for this, and a change is needed. Indeed the minister’s statement seems to indicate to this issue as well. There is absolutely nothing wrong with foreign workers coming to Malta, and indeed they must always be welcomed with open arms, but basing growth mainly on that factor without proper long-term planning to go hand-in-hand with it has resulted in many, not least of which are infrastructural ones and the uglification of the island through the rampant construction of medium and high-rise buildings, replacing Malta’s houses of character.

If we do not come up with stricter policies protecting village cores, stricter policies based on protection Malta’s skyline, and stricter policies banning the ability to construct villas on ODZ land… well then what will Malta look like?

Tourists don’t come to Malta to see high-rise buildings. Malta is not Hong Kong. Tourists don’t come to Malta to walk through a construction site. This industry could be impacted if the island gets a bad reputation.

But more importantly than that, what kind of Malta do the Maltese want to live in? Do we want to live in a hotch potch of mis-coloured, mis-matching buildings that look like something out of a third-world country? Do we want to live in a high-density island with little or no green areas in our urban environment, having to travel out of the heart of the island to see any greenery? Do we want to look up and feel claustrophobic? Do we want Malta’s heritage buildings, the traditional townhouses, the buildings that give our village character, gone?

The Planning Authority has failed this country. Past governments failed this country. Robert Abela, it is now on you.

 

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