The Augustinian provincial defended a controversial decision to lease out land to developers in Paceville, saying the revenue would mean the community may continue to invest in its religious, social and educational mission.

One of the last remaining stretches of land owned by the Order on St Augustine Street in Paceville had been negotiated to release it to the owners of the Bay Street Complex.

The land in question comprises a convent, a chapel, and a piece of derelict land.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna has asked the Church Environment Commission to look into reports that the Augustinian Order had leased the land in Paceville for a 12-storey extension of Bay Street. 

In a statement on Saturday, provincial Fr Leslie Gatt said the area in question was dwarfed by development, especially in the 1970s and 1980s.

The provincial's plan to develop the land was never executed and in recent years a number of developers approached the community to buy the land, including the chapel and convent. 

"The provincial started reconsidering the project while assuring that the convent and the chapel can continue serving their pastoral mission," Fr Gatt explained.

It was agreed to rent out the land to Baystreet Holdings Ltd, which applied for a Planning Authority permit. 

The permit is subject to conditions like the restoration of the convent and chapel,  that the piazza remains an open space, and the construction of an underground car park. 

The provincial reminded critics that the Augustinians were managing two colleges catering for 825 students and offering continuous support to the missions as well as catering for other social needs, including Paceville. 

Still, Fr Gatt pledged the Augustinians would provide all the details requested by the Church's commission.

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