The Malta Independent 7 August 2020, Friday

The truth about Kalkara’s cart ruts

Tara Cassar Tuesday, 7 July 2020, 06:13 Last update: about 30 days ago

Much outcry arose last Friday following the hearing of a controversial planning application for the construction of 18 apartments over five storeys within a Class B archaeological site in Kalkara. During the hearing, the microphone of activist Karen Tanti was muted whilst she was still putting forward her arguments against the proposal. The Chairman of the Planning Commission, Simon Saliba, had apparently heard all he’d needed to hear, and so proceeded to the vote.  The application was unanimously approved.

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Appalled by Simon Saliba’s treatment of objectors, Moviment Graffitti took to Facebook to denounce the Chairman’s behaviour. The Planning Authority [PA] was quick to rebut Graffitti’s statement claiming that the Chairman simply closed the discussion once "the Planning Commission had heard all the representations and the discussion was exhausted”. The PA also stated that an archaeological evaluation of the site was carried out, through which “none of the alleged cart-ruts had been identified”, and justified the approval of the development on a Class B archaeological site on this ground.

We need to take a step a back and consider what the PA is actually saying, or implying, through its statement on the ‘alleged’ cart ruts.

Firstly, NGOs and residents objecting to the case never ‘alleged’ that cart ruts existed within the site itself.

The issue was, and still is, that the site proposed for development is only 15 meters away from known, documented cart ruts that, as can be verified from the Planning Authority’s own website, are protected as a Class A archaeological site. Of even more concern is the fact that the road through which the eventual development being considered would be accessed, has not yet been built. The construction of this new road would require works to be carried out only 5 meters away from the documented cart ruts themselves.

This was all made exceedingly clear to the Planning Commission during the first hearing held in January. I know this because I was amongst the objectors putting forward these arguments. On that occasion, the Chairman Simon Saliba attempted to ‘address’ objectors’ concerns by deferring the hearing and allowing the developer time to carry out an archaeological investigation of the site proposed for development. This requested measure meant to supposedly address concerns, completely missed the point.

In truth, objectors’ concerns were distorted by shifting the focus on the site itself and ignoring the documented Class A cart ruts located less than a stone’s throw away.

To add insult to injury, the developer seems to have considered the request to carry out an archaeological investigation as ‘permission’ to demolish the vernacular building that stood on the site and clear the entire area.  With no permit in hand, no insurance, and no clearance from the Building Regulations Office, all these works were subsequently carried out illegally.

Residents reported the illegal works to the Planning Authority and the Building Regulations Office. The Planning Authority eventually stopped the works, but never got round to issuing an enforcement order.

The information in-hand at the first hearing held in January should have already been enough to warrant concern about the impact of the proposed development on the state of the existing Class A cart ruts and provided ample reason to reconsider approving the development as proposed. Instead the PA (with the blessing of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage that also seemed to be unfazed by the site’s vicinity to the Class A cart ruts) proceeded to give the project the go-ahead by conveniently focusing on the fact that no archaeological remains were found within the site’s boundary through the investigation carried out.

Simon Saliba’s mishandling of the proceedings of the case is not limited to his dismissal of the serious concerns raised, nor his contemptuous attitude towards objectors. The development should not have been approved last Friday because the request being made no longer reflected the situation on site. The developer had already carried out illegal works, by demolishing the existing vernacular structure and clearing the area. The developer should have been applying for the sanctioning of these illegalities before attaining a permit for further works, and certainly not be rewarded with a permit for 18 apartments.

This in itself may come across as a trivial detail, however, in truth, it is exceptionally telling of the Planning Commission’s seeming indifference for legal procedures regulating development. It also illustrates a certain casualness in the Planning Commission’s attitude towards individuals who’ve carried out illegal works, by subsequently having allowed them to do so without having to face any consequences for their actions. This is a far cry from how a deciding body representing a government authority should act.

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]

 

 

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