The Manikata church has been given the highest form of protection by the planning authority board, which approved the scheduling of the 50-year-old building, designed by Richard England, as a Grade 1 property.

The church was recently at the centre of controversy when a number of architects, including Prof. England, appealed to the authorities to protect it from a permit, granted on July 19, to build an attached store room and religious education room.

During yesterday’s hearing, Mepa chairman Austin Walker said any interventions on the church would now have to fall in line with the authority’s decision to schedule it.

“The scheduling will ensure that any future interventions that may be carried out on this site will fully respect the rich and unique architectural value of this building,” he said.

The authority issued a statement to say that the storage facilities and catechesis hall would be built under the church and include a number of significant amendments to the original proposal.

“The development has been restricted to within the existing footprint and the original design and appearance of the church is to be retained,” it said.

The architects and environmental organisation Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar had expressed fears that the development would ruin the church parvis and Prof. England said it would “definitely highly compromise” it.

The planning authority’s decision “wraps up more than two years of intensive research, studies and consultation by the authority’s heritage planning unit in the scheduling of most of Malta’s parish churches,” Mr Walker said.

The decision comes less than a month after the board gave the go-ahead to the heritage planning directorate to conclude the ad­ministrative work required for the Manikata church to be scheduled as a Grade 1 property.

Over the past few weeks, the authority also scheduled more than 50 parish churches – those built prior to the1900s were granted Grade 1 status while those churches built in the 20th century up until 1960 were given a Grade 2.

The Manikata church, which is dedicated to St Joseph, was mainly built in the 1960s but completed and consecrated in 1974. In designing the new temple, Prof. England broke away from the traditional church design and based his concept on both the then ongoing liturgical reforms, promoted by the Second Vatican Council, and the aspirations of the local rural community.