The three 400-year-old townhouses earmarked for re-development in Naxxar are on “the cultural extinction list”, according to the former chairman of the Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee.
“I can’t believe the planning authority would allow a development over these buildings. They need protection not a permit to turn them into apartments,” Michael Ellul told Times of Malta.
Last month, the planning authority overruled CHAC’s suggestion to preserve the three townhouses beside the Naxxar parish church.
The proposed development would replace the dilapidated 17th century buildings with catering establishments and overlying apartments.
Mr Ellul said he was taken aback by the overruling.
“These types of houses are on the cultural extinction list; we are rapidly running out of what used to be one of Malta’s typical buildings. This is why CHAC suggested they are protected in the first place,” he said.
The authority’s ruling had followed the submission of a heritage report on the properties by the applicant.
The report, drafted by heritage consultant Hector Zammit, highlighted the buildings’ state of dilapidation and disrepair. Mr Zammit had insisted that one of the houses was at risk of collapse.
No matter how complementary the facades are, a new building will always contrast with such old ones
A Mepa spokesman agreed with the report, adding that the buildings offered little in the way of cultural heritage. At least one of the townhouses, he added, was a relatively recent development, he said.
“The style of one of these houses indicates that it is not as old as others have argued. The other two buildings are seriously dilapidated,” he said.
An objector to the development had told the Mepa board that the dilapidated buildings are believed to date to 1640, roughly the same time the parish church was built.
Experts contacted by Times of Malta supported the estimated date.
The demolition of the two buildings and the redevelopment of the other neighbouring townhouse are set to be given the green light by the planning authority later this month.
CHAC had claimed the development would run against the authority’s Structural Plan Policy and Urban Conservation Guidelines.
Residents and heritage lobby group Din L-Art Ħelwa also raised concerns over the development, claiming it would detract from the locality’s architectural charm.
The planning authority, however, insisted the development would be in keeping with the surrounding area.
“In a few years one won’t be able to notice the difference between these buildings. Once they are operating it will create a new dynamic for the area,” the spokesman said.
Mr Ellul, however, maintained that the newly erected buildings would clash drastically with the surrounding area.
“No matter how complementary the facades are, a new building will always contrast with such old ones.
“These should be preserved and not destroyed,” he said.
The authority’s spokesman, on the other hand, said that even if the buildings were renovated, they would not be compatible with modern living requirements.
He insisted that the lack of appropriate sanitary facilities and several safety concerns meant the buildings would not be suitable for inhabitants.
But Mr Ellul attacked the authority’s claims.
“If these buildings don’t have the features of modern buildings, one can adapt.
“Obviously new features will have to added, but the matter remains that demolishing these buildings should not be an option. It’s ridiculous,” he said.