The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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NGO Ghawdix seeks scheduling British Barracks at Fort Chambray as a protected site

Wednesday, 10 July 2024, 08:31 Last update: about 7 days ago

NGO Ghawdix on Wednesday said it is calling on the Planning Authority and Superintendence of Cultural Heritage to schedule the British Brracks at Fort Chambray in Gozo as a protected site.

On 26 June, the NGO said in a statement, the National Audit Parliamentary Committee (on which both PL and PN representatives sit) unanimously decided to transfer extensive areas of Fort Chambray to new investors.

That same day, the Government Gazette listed development Application PA/02454/16, proposing the demolition of most of the historic British Barracks (the only one of its type in Gozo), with only the facade to be preserved, if dismantled to be relocated Article 16 (Repair and Maintenance) of Motion no. 162 - Transfer of Government Land Fort Chambray (the 2004 agreement) clearly stipulates that site owners were to spend a maximum of Lm200,000 on fortification restoration, after which the Maltese government was obligated to complete the remaining work.

Although it should be good news that during the same Parliamentary Committee meeting, the Maltese Government has finally taken full responsibility for any future restoration and maintenance of the fortifications, including securing the necessary permits, funding the works, and ensuring they are completed within six years from the permit issuance, it is shameful that various governments have neglected this duty for these last 20 years, the NGO said.

The Labour Party's inconsistency is particularly concerning. In 2004, when the then PN government agreed to transfer Fort Chambray and counterscarp land between the fort and the Għajnsielem to Victoria road to Michael Caruana, the Labour Opposition fiercely criticised it as a ‘direct betrayal of the people.’ Now, two decades later, after being in power for eleven years, the Labour Party has shown itself reluctant to reverse the former Nationalist Government’s concession of public land, or else to abide by the agreement which was passed in parliament. The recent restoration commitment is nothing but a desperate attempt salvaged by the new developers, and we will do our best to keep them accountable to their promise.

The present Opposition Party is equally culpable, as all the promises and plans they made 20 years ago for the fort seem to have been conveniently forgotten over time. Their support for the amended agreement continues to reflect a worrying degree of complicity. Their silence and justifications are riddled with inaccuracies and lack of accountability. Additionally, the shadow minister of Gozo's claim that the fortifications will remain public while restoration falls to the new owners is misleading, obscuring what he himself voted for during the National Audit Parliamentary Committee, where the government retains financial responsibility for the restoration and stabilisation of the site.

This situation represents a significant failure of leadership and accountability from both political parties concerned, meanwhile putting our heritage at considerable risk. The rehashed 2016 application had never progressed beyond the screening stage and was not validated. However, the Planning Authority's recent publication of development permission applications included PA/2454/16 with a validation date of June 26, 2024.

The official reception date for this application is recorded as February 19, 2013, over 11 years ago. This irregularity suggests a deliberate attempt to facilitate this application process under questionable circumstances. Fort Chambray, a Grade 1 scheduled site of significant historical and cultural importance, is being treated as an infill building site in application PA 3884/23.

This proposal intends to dismantle the ‘British Barracks screen’, namely the south-facing portico of the British Barracks, but demolish the rest of the structure. Describing the barracks as ‘derelict’ is misleading, as they could be easily restored and preserved as Gozo's only British Barracks, the NGO said.

Importance of Conserving the British Barracks

The British Barracks at Fort Chambray hold significant architectural, historical, and cultural value. They are the sole example of British military architecture in Gozo. The British Army’s initiative in the late 19th century to provide married quarters for soldiers and their families marked a significant reform, improving soldiers' living conditions and welfare. The Married Quarters Barracks at Fort Chambray were among the first in the British Empire, further highlighting their historical importance. In Malta, most British barracks buildings have been granted scheduling protection, many of which are of later date and of lesser merit than those of Fort Chambray.

This makes the lack of protection for Fort Chambray’s British Barracks even more perplexing. Scheduled barracks include Mtarfa Barracks, Pembroke Barracks, and St George’s Barracks, all recognized for their architectural and historical significance. Despite requests for the scheduling of the British Barracks from various parties, these appeals have been ignored by successive governments. The destruction of the Fort Chambray Garrison Cemetery in the mid-1980s to make way for a tourist complex is a stark reminder of the consequences of neglecting our heritage. We must not repeat these mistakes.

Preserving the British Barracks is not just about protecting a building; it is about safeguarding our history and cultural identity for future generations!

To this end, the NGO called on the PA and SCH to immediately schedule the British Barracks at Fort Chambray as a protected site. This vital step will ensure that our heritage is preserved, and that this historical building is safeguarded from further neglect and destructive development. We demand that both the Maltese Government and the Planning Authority take swift and decisive action to rectify past failures, honour their commitments, and protect our cultural and architectural legacy for future generations. Furthermore, we strongly urge the Planning Authority to refuse Development Permission Application PA/2454/16. Approving such a proposal would not only set a dangerous precedent but also signify a blatant disregard for our cultural heritage. The demolition of the British Barracks would be an irreversible loss to Gozo’s historical landscape. We must stand firm against such shortsighted and destructive actions.

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