Unesco is concerned about the impact of Renzo Piano’s City Gate plans on Valletta’s World Heritage status and intends to send a team of experts to Malta to assess the project, Times of Malta has learnt.

Unesco’s Petya Totcharova said the concerns were about the potential impact of new development on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of Valletta, for which it has been inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Unesco is in contact with the Maltese authorities, said Ms Totcharova, chief of the Europe and North America Unit at the World Heritage Centre in Paris.

City Gate is in the process of being transformed, in an €80 million project commissioned by the previous government and designed by renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano.

The project includes a new Parliament building and the conversion of the bombed-out Opera House into an open-air theatre. It is expected to be completed next year.

Ms Totcharova confirmed that Unesco intends to send an “advisory mission of experts” to Malta to assess the state of conservation and potential impact of the project on the city and its OUV. The visit is likely to happen in the “near future” although no date has been confirmed, according to Ms Totcharova.

Unesco intends to send an advisory mission of experts

The assessment team will be made up of experts from the International Council on Monuments and Site (ICOMOS), an advisory body to the World Heritage Committee.

If a threat is identified, the mission report should include a list of conclusions and recommendations for the Maltese authorities.

Furthermore, if a serious existing or potential threat is identified, the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS may present a state of conservation report for examination by the World Heritage Committee at one of its next sessions.

According to Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, signatories should inform the World Heritage Committee of their intention to authorise major constructions which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of World Heritage sites.

Notice should be given as soon as possible and before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse, so that the Committee may assist in seeking appropriate solutions to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the site is fully preserved.

Asked if Malta had informed Unesco of the City Gate plans in advance, Ms Totcharova replied that the project was discussed during a visit of a Unesco official in 2011. Works began at City Gate in April 2010.

The project has also proved to be controversial among the Maltese since it was announced in June 2009. There has been criticism from some sections of society about the decision to build a Parliament instead of something for the people, as well as the failure to build another Opera House.

Questions sent to the Parliamentary Secretariat for Culture were unanswered by the time of going to print.

Capital’s World Heritage status

Malta’s capital Valletta was officially recognised as a World Heritage Site in 1980.

With 320 monuments within an area of 55 hectares, Valletta is “one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world” according to the Unesco website.

Unesco, a branch of the UN, stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Following the establishment of the 1972 World Heritage Convention, member states were able to submit both naturally and culturally significant sites for inclusion on the World Heritage List.

World Heritage sites have to satisfy at least one of 10 criteria to demonstrate that they have outstanding universal value to humanity that must be protected for future generations.

Besides Valletta, Malta’s other Unesco World Heritage sites are the temples at Ħaġar Qim and the Hypogeum.

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