The Planning Commission has ordered the forfeiture of a €2,300 bank guarantee covering illegal works at the former Barracuda and Piccolo Padre restaurants in Balluta Bay.

The board decided on Friday that the developer had breached conditions for approved works on the protected Grade 2 building.

The case was brought before the commission after the Planning Authority last month issued a stop and enforcement notice over the illegal works, which included the removal of traditional Maltese wooden balconies on the façade.

The contravenor, Carlo Stivala, did not speak during the hearing but his architect, Ian Falzon admitted that “a mistake had been committed” and that his client would accept the commission’s decision on the forfeiture of the bank guarantee.

The abusive works had been flagged by St Julian’s Mayor Albert Buttigieg on New Year’s Day. They continued into the next day, a Sunday, until they were stopped on Monday afternoon.

Buttigieg maintained three days were allowed to pass before action was taken and the delaying tactics allowed the developer to complete irreversible damage on the façade and interiors of the landmark seafront property.

The PA has denied accusations of collusion with the applicant.

Stivala is a development tycoon with multiple property interests across Malta. He received properties valued at more than €81 million when he split from his family business in 2020.

The enforcement unit wrote to the planning commission noting that the conditions attached to permit PA 6075/16, which the PA approved in October 2017, had not been respected. The approved work included the sanctioning of a temporary steel structure to prop up and link side balconies on the façade following the collapse of the terrace between the balconies and the sanctioning of a platform and canopy of the lower terrace.

One of the conditions stipulated that the developer informs the PA about the commencement of works and that the works must always be monitored by the PA’s Heritage Planning Unit.

The bank guarantee had been imposed to ensure that this condition is complied with, and that the approved restoration method statement is followed.

Commission chairman Martin Camilleri said that according to the enforcement officers’ report, the illegal works carried out on the Grade 2 scheduled building “went beyond the development approved”.

Buttigieg asked the commission to request a detailed report on the illegal works carried out without a permit to see which can be reinstated and which cannot. But Camilleri replied that the commission’s mandate was to determine the requested forfeiture of the bank guarantee.

The enforcement notice issued over these works is still in force and the developer is receiving daily fines of up to €50, until the site is reinstated.

Timber balconies, apertures and wrought iron railings were removed from the façade as were extremely rare traditional patterned tiles from the first-floor level of the scheduled building. These were thrown in a dumpster.

A separate application (PA3863/21) for the change of use from offices to a restaurant as well as internal alterations and alterations to the facade is currently suspended.   

Following the uproar, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage had said that it will be inspecting the site to assess the works carried out and determine any remedial action required.

This process will include an assessment of the cultural heritage value of the balconies, apertures and any other fixtures that have been removed without permit, the cultural heritage watchdog had said.

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