Residents and heritage NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa are up in arms about the proposed demolition of three 400-year-old townhouses in the Naxxar village core.
If the project is approved, the houses, adjacent to the parish church, will be levelled and replaced by catering establishments and overlying apartments.
The developer is expecting the planning authority to give the green light for the demolition of the derelict 17th century buildings with the final decision expected later this month.
DLĦ president Simone Mizzi lamented the regulator’s stand. “It is truly tragic that we allow traditional architecture in the heart of a village such as this to be lost to speculation,” she said.
The three dilapidated buildings are believed to date from 1640, roughly the same time the baroque church was built.
Ms Mizzi said the planning authority and the Government had failed in their role to defend Maltese heritage.
“Our ancient towns and village cores are coming under attack from speculators who see a financial advantage in every corner of Malta. This shows our leaders do not value heritage and are very short-sighted,” she said.
The Malta Environment and Planning Authority last week voted against Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee objections to the proposed demolition.
The committee had insisted that the development was in contravention of Mepa’s structural plan policy and not in keeping with urban conservation guidelines.
“It is our own planning authority that is allowing the loss of heritage sites by rejecting the recommendations of its own advisory committees. These are there to defend our heritage,” Ms Mizzi said.
Our ancient towns and village cores are coming under attack from speculators
The board’s decision followed the submission of a heritage report on the properties by the applicant, Carmel Bonanno.
The report, drafted by heritage consultant Hector Zammit, highlighted the buildings’ state of disrepair. Mr Zammit had insisted that in one of the cases the building was at risk of collapse.
Mepa put off a final decision on the project to the hearing scheduled for October 24.
Mr Bonanno feels the project is justified, arguing that similar developments were erected on the other side of the parish church.
A Mepa spokesman declined to comment on the board’s position, insisting that no decision had yet been taken. “This case isn’t closed, so one cannot say what the outcome will be,” he said.
Neighbouring residents fear the development could pose a threat to surrounding buildings.
“My house has wooden beams and old stone and so could be badly affected by this sort of development,” one irate resident complained to the Mepa board.
Another resident, Frank Bugeja, said he was taken aback by the proposed development. “I have lived in this area all my life. These buildings have been a part of this town since its conception. We would be destroying a part of its identity,” he said.
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