A number of jewellers in Valletta’s St Lucia Street are facing eviction as the foundation administering St John’s co-cathedral seeks to expand its office footprint and improve museum security.

The jewellers all lease building space from the government on one side of the street, which falls within the co-cathedral’s footprint. For years, the narrow street has been dubbed ‘gold street’ because of the number of jewellery outlets it hosts. Other businesses in areas around the co-cathedral, including a clothes outlet in Republic Street and a café near the co-cathedral’s entrance, are similarly facing eviction.

The co-cathedral is administrated by a foundation set up jointly in 2001 between the government and church.

Impacted businesses have in recent days started to receive eviction notices from the Land Authority, informing them that their leases are going to be terminated for public purposes, due to the foundation’s need to expand its operations.

Julian Galea, who runs Kantina Café, one of the outlets facing closure, said at least nine businesses are expected to be impacted by the planned evictions. He said scores of jobs could be lost if the evictions go through.

Galea said businesses owners in recent days started to receive eviction notices, giving them three months to vacate the leased properties.

He said the business owners are seeking ways to fight the evictions as a group. “We are going to put up a fight. This is our livelihood,” Galea said.

Scores of jobs could be lost if the evictions go through

This is not the first time tenants around the co-cathedral’s footprint have faced eviction. Galea said several other attempts by the foundation to evict them under both the Nationalist and Labour governments had been shot down by authorities.

The tenants are understood to have lease agreements with varying contractual terms and therefore will be meeting up, in the coming days, with a pool of lawyers to see if a joint defence is possible.

A preliminary meeting has also been held with the Chamber of Commerce, during which the business owners voiced their concerns.

The massive project to extend the cathedral’s museum has been ongoing for years, having faced significant delays.

The scope of the new museum is to use the buildings adjacent to the co-cathedral to accommodate the artefacts currently kept in storage.

The extension works include the rehabilitation of the existing areas within the basement level, the restoration of the Bartolott Crypt, the construction of a new tapestry chamber, the Caravaggio Wing, and a new entrance/exit and ticketing area from Merchants Street that will separate the museum from the church.

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