Updated 5.05pm - PD wants authority to be held criminally liable
A Balluta landmark believed to be the first neo-gothic building in Malta has been refused protection by the Planning Authority, heritage NGO Din L-Art Ħelwa has said.
In a statement issued on Friday, the NGO said that it had received a letter from the PA's executive committee on Thursday informing it that the PA had turned down a request to schedule Villa St Ignatius.
"Clearly the Authority has the ear of the developer and the development lobby only and is acting to enable the developer to demolish this house for speculation," Din L-Art Ħelwa said.
"Our legal set up for the protection of our heritage is being abused by the very people put in power to protect our heritage."
PA 'criminally liable' - PD
News of the PA's refusal to sanction the historic villa prompted a strong reaction from Partit Demokratiku deputy leader Timothy Alden, who said the authority should be held criminally liable for violating the Constitution.
Chapter II of Malta's Constitution, the party statement noted, required the state to "safeguard the landscape and historic and artistic patrimony of the Nation."
"It is about time that this became justiciable, and the culprits behind the rape of our nation are made to answer for their actions," Mr Alden said.
Workers hacked at villa
Locals were up in arms last December when workers appeared at the villa and began hacking at the masonry. Times of Malta highlighted the destruction, with one local sending in footage of labourers shaking and destroying an old wooden balcony.
Residents told Times of Malta that workers had initially stopped the destruction when a case officer appeared, only to pick up their tools again once the PA official had disappeared.
Following further uproar, the Planning Authority had issued a statement washing its hands of responsibility, stating that works were being carried out following a court order and that it was the court-appointed expert who was responsible for ensuring works stuck to the rules.
Historic building housed Bolshevik refugees
The 19th-century building dates back prior to 1839 was the only building dominating Balluta Bay for much of that century. The building was used as a hospital during World War I and housed several Russian refugees fleeing the Bolshevik revolution, among them artist Nicholas Krasnoff, who depicted the villa in one of his paintings.
Its extensive gardens are reportedly to be of a similar calibre to those of Villa Frere in Pieta', which is scheduled Grade 1 and 2, and the villa also housed Melita Football Club for many years starting from the 1930s.
Din L-Art Ħelwa noted that the PA letter came on the same day that conservation architect Edward Said delivered a lecture about the Balluta villa.
No PA officials attended the lecture, despite being invited to do so by Din L-Art Ħelwa.
"The reason for non-attendance became clear when interventions from the floor were being made," the NGO noted, saying it was at this stage that news of the letter was revealed.
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