The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage has back-pedalled on its position that the historic Villa St Ignatius in St Julian's should be scheduled rather than turned into a seven-floor hotel, now saying it does not object to the development. 

The Superintendence had previously appealed to the Planning Authority to reject all development applications for the villa and schedule the building instead.

In 2017, environmental protection NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa made a formal request for the villa to be scheduled and, only days later, parts of the building were illegally demolished.

Villa St Ignatius, in Scicluna Street St Julian's and Old College Street Sliema, is part of a larger property that once housed one of the first Jesuit colleges in Malta and was mentioned as a landmark building as early as 1839.

Historians like Albert Ganado, Temi Zammit and Carmel Baldacchino have acclaimed the villa for its exceptional historic importance.

Perhaps the oldest extant structure in Balluta, preceding even the first Carmelite church the area which was built in 1858

The villa was originally known as Bel-Vedere, and was once the large country villa of John Watson, a wealthy English merchant. According to historian Edward Said, the villa is perhaps the oldest extant structure in Balluta, preceding even the first Carmelite church in the area which was built in 1858.

In 1846, the property was bought by the English Missionary Association to house a facility that would train Anglican missionaries, and the Malta Protestant College was born. 

This college remained in operation until 1865 and was soon purchased by three Maltese men who appeared intent on countering what they perceived as an undesirable spread of Protestantism in an overwhelmingly Catholic island.

They invited English Jesuits to run a college, paving the way for the opening of St Ignatius College in 1877. The church was completed four years later, along with extensions to the original structure to accommodate the school and boarders.

The college closed its doors in 1907, and a Birkirkara complex which housed young Jesuits in their formative years soon became its effective successor – St Aloysius College.

Villa St Ignatius remained vacant until 1915, when it became a military hospital treating soldiers injured during the Great War until it closed down in 1919.

While the church remained operational, the rest of the college was ultimately divided into residences.  

A computer-generated image submitted to the PA of what the proposed hotel would look like. Photo: PAA computer-generated image submitted to the PA of what the proposed hotel would look like. Photo: PA

What is the developer planning? 

According to PA plans submitted by architect Antoine Zammit on behalf of his client, developer Paul Gauci, four residences are currently still in use. 

Gauci has applied for a permit to turn the run-down 19th-century villa into a four-star hotel with 64 rooms and an additional three floors. He also proposed to restore the building.

The hotel will include a restaurant and breakfast/bar area, an outdoor heated pool and deck area, a spa, an exhibition space, two levels of multi-purpose hall area, an outdoor catering area within the front garden, and two levels of underground parking.

Gauci had originally applied to build a “public square” cutting right through the remaining part of the historic building. That application was eventually withdrawn.

When contacted, lawyer and nearby resident Franco Vassallo, who also represents co, said he was “flabbergasted” at the way the Planning Authority and the SCH were recommending the application for approval. 

“The PA ignores that the applicant irregularly demolished part of the villa with impunity and that there are a plethora of judicial proceedings pending concerning the villa. The authority also ignores that proceedings are pending to have the villa scheduled, which request is spearheaded by Din l-Art Ħelwa and, until some time ago, the SCH,” he said. 

The proposal goes against the local plan for the area which is listed as residential. No hotels are allowed in residential areas, as confirmed by the Court of Appeal on various occasions. 

“Considering the hundreds of objections and the fact that Malta has enough hotels, one wonders what influenced the PA to recommend for approval an application that breaches most planning laws, rules and regulations. Why should two speculators be allowed to ride roughshod over the law and the welfare of hundreds of residents,” he asked.

SCH ignored questions and repeated reminders to explain its U-turn on its original stance to schedule the villa. 

The case officer is recommending its approval against a €3,000 bank guarantee with the Building and Construction Authority, a €23,000 bank guarantee with the SCH and a payment of €29,000 to make up for the parking shortfall. The matter will be discussed by the planning board on June 6.

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