The Malta Independent 19 May 2022, Thursday

‘Illegal works’ in Birzebbuga above rock-cut chamber decried by heritage NGOs

Saturday, 14 May 2022, 12:34 Last update: about 5 days ago

Din l-Art Ħelwa and The Archaeological Society Malta on Saturday decried the "abusive and illicit ongoing works" threatening the stability and safeguarding of a rock-cut chamber of historical interest in the area known as Tal-Papa in Birzebbuga.

In July 2021 the Planning Authority issued a permit for the partial excavation of rock directly above a rock-cut chamber believed to be of historical significance in order to make way for the development of a 5-storey apartment block, the NGOs said in a statement.

Residents from the area appealed the Authority's decision and even proceeded to request that the application be suspended until the appeal is decided. The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal shot down this request arguing that since all works were approved on condition that there be monitoring by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, the works posed no threat to cultural heritage.

Despite these permit conditions, works have been ongoing unabated without constant monitoring being carried out. The contractor (also developer) not only ignored the permit conditions but proceeded to cut and excavate the rock above the chamber beyond the boundary of the site subject to the planning permit. 

The illegal works spill over onto a site subject to another permit, an outline planning application, which is also being appealed by Din l-Art Ħelwa, The Archaeological Society Malta and residents, the statement said. No works can be carried out under an outline permit since outline permits only approve the proposal in principle. Developers would still be legally bound to apply for a full development permit before any works can be executed.

Again, this did not deter the developer from cutting the rock above the chamber entrance and destroying part of the contextual setting of this historical site that eNGOs and residents are fighting to preserve. Graffiti believed to date back to WWII has also been partially destroyed due to the illegal cutting of the rock.

According to the Development Brief that applies to this site, at least 20% of it was to be retained as public open space and located around these features of historical interest for the public's enjoyment. The Planning Authority unashamedly disregarded these policies and proceeded to approve the monstrous development that if realised will engulf the rock-cut chamber and destroy this historical landscape.

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and Planning Authority's Enforcement Unit have been notified of the ongoing illegal works threatening the stability and safeguarding of the rock-cut chamber of historical interest, the statement concluded.

 

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