The Malta Independent 14 April 2021, Wednesday

Proposed apartment block near Ġgantija temples raises concerns for Heritage watchdog, Xaghra council

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 4 March 2021, 17:31 Last update: about 2 months ago

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Xaghra local council have raised serious concerns over the proposed development of an apartment block close by to the Ġgantija temples.

The site is located on Triq il-Parsott, Xaghra. The application (PA00570/21) proposes the demolition of the existing dwelling and the construction of 20 garages at basement level and 31 overlying apartments on four levels above. The topmost level is indicated to be a setback floor.


Many hundreds of objections have been filed over the past few days.

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has weighed in on the proposal, highlighting a number of concerns and objecting to the current version, calling for revisions to be made.

It said that the site is partly occupied by a vernacular building while the remainder is composed of agricultural fields. "The extensive soil cover increases the possibility of surviving archaeological remains." The heritage watchdog said that the site is also within 11m of archaeological remains identified during the recent project. "Geophysical surveys carried out in the olive grove area, immediately adjacent to the site proposed for development, by a multi-national archaeological team, indicate the presence of megalithic structures. These structures provide important insights into the nature of the environs of the main Ġgantija temple structure."

"Consequently, views and vistas to and from Ġgantija are to be preserved and enhanced and no excavation or rock cutting is acceptable at this location." The Superintendence objected to any rock cutting within the site due to the irreversible impact this would have on the landscape within the buffer zone of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. "This consideration effectively precludes the extensive basements as proposed."

The Superintendence also expressed concern at the intensity of development being proposed.

"The Superintendence objects to the total demolition of the existing building and to the overall height as currently proposed. The existing facade (excluding the garage) as well as significant elements of the building, are to be retained and integrated in a revised proposal."

In order to further assess the application, the Superintendence asked the developer to submit a number of photos.

The watchdog said that, should the proponents wish to proceed with the application, the soil-covered areas will need to be archaeologically evaluated to guide planning decisions. The discovery of cultural heritage features may necessitate amendments to the proposed drawings.

The Superintendence has also said that prior to the issuing of a development permit on the site, it is to be subjected to an archaeological evaluation. "The Superintendence will comment further on this development application on conclusion of the archaeological evaluation and on receipt of a proposal revised in keeping with recommendations."

The Xaghra local council has also weighed in on the proposed development, and submitted its objection. Perit Edward Scerri filed a submission on behalf of the council. The submission highlights that the site lies fully within an area of archaeological importance surrounding the Ġgantija Temples, which lie less than 200m away from the site itself. "Any development application has to be considered within this context and the input of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage in this regard is crucial and cannot be ignored by the Planning Authority."

Like the argument made by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, the council also said that in its opinion, the proposed excavation of a basement as currently being proposed as part of this project is unacceptable.

In terms of the building that currently exists on site, the council explains that it contributes positively to the streetscape. It also urged the Superintendence as well as the Planning Authority to analyse whether the building in question should be demolished at all.

In terms of the proposed building height, the council argued that allowing such a height within such a particularly sensitive site "would jeopardize the integrity of the Temples protective buffer zone and might also jeopardize the UNESCO status of the Temples as a World Heritage Site. The visual appearance of the proposed building does not fit in with the surroundings which are characterized by rather low lying buildings consisting either of terraced houses, vernacular buildings or small apartment blocks. This should also be considered when assessing this application."

The council also said that when approving such applications of medium to large apartment blocks, the Planning Authority is "ignoring the cumulative effect" such developments are having on the quality of life of the village residents.

Lastly, the council argued that the development, as proposed, goes against a number of policies, and objected to the application.


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