The Malta Independent 12 May 2021, Wednesday

Controversial Ġgantija apartment block application temporarily suspended

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 2 May 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 9 days ago

A controversial application for the construction of a block of apartments near the historic Ġgantija temples in Gozo has been temporarily suspended at the request of the applicant.

The application, filed in December of last year, has been met with over 1,500 objection letters, including from the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Xagħra Local Council. The site in question lies a couple of hundred metres away from the two temples which date back to between 3600 and 3200 BC. Ġgantija is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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The application proposes the demolition of an 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.

The heritage organisation has raised a number of concerns and called for revisions to be made to the plans.

The SCH said that there may be new archaeological remains in the area. In fact, 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 indicate the presence of megalithic structures, it said. "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.

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 organisation 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 Xagħra council also pointed out that the site lies less than 200 metres away from the temples. It said that the proposed excavation of a basement as currently being proposed as part of this project is "unacceptable."

While calling for the preservation of the existing building’s façade, it commented that the proposed building height 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, it continued.

On Tuesday, architect Samuel Formosa, writing on behalf of the applicant, Emmanuel Farrugia, asked the Planning Authority to "suspend this application for a few days until the required information is provided."

 

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