The Times of Malta published an article (‘St Julian’s residents resolve to defend old streetscape’, March 20), about an attempt by a ruthless developer, aided by unscrupulous architects, seeking a permit, by devious means, to destroy two two-storey old terraced houses in one of Malta’s prettiest and historic streetscapes and to replace them with an eight-storey block of unsightly concrete flats.
The article highlighted the determination and actions by residents and lovers of Malta’s heritage to set up a fight.
What was not brought to the readers’ notice at the time was the fact that the permit to demolish, excavate and build had been sought through what is known as the summary procedure. The attempt to use such a procedure in this case was certainly intended to speed up the process and to avoid having to report the case to the Heritage Superintendence (our watchdog and protector). Such a procedure is not normally permitted when demolition and excavation work is included in the plan, nor when a permit is sought within an urban conservation area.
St Elias Street, in St Julian’s, and the permit in question do not fall within these parameters and, yet, the developer, his architect and advisers decided to attempt to pull a fast one and seek to bypass the rules in a brazen attempt to flout the law.
With the help of Front għal Ambjent Aħjar experts, the residents immediately filed over 85 complaints with their first request being that of having the permit denied and also to ensure that, even if it were to be considered, it should do so under the normal full transparent procedure.
If we can show the powers that be there is truly a nation-wide sense of anger and that enough destruction is enough we can turn the tide
We have just learnt that the Planning Authority has heeded the complaints and obliged the applicant to refile the application under the normal procedure, allowing a full six-week process to restart on Wednesday with a period of representation lasting until June 10.
The application number is PA/02134/19.
I hope this contribution will encourage as many people as possible who are enraged at and worried about the ever-growing encroachment of our beautiful traditional village cores around Malta and Gozo to file their own complaints and make their own representations on this particular case.
If we can show the powers that be there is truly a nation-wide sense of anger and that enough destruction is enough we can turn the tide.
Government thinking that people want open spaces and playgrounds, taken from outside development zone virgin land, in exchange for more inner-village core de-struction is utterly wrong.
People want to put a stop to encroachment, to cranes, to excavations, to dust, to increased traffic, to loss of gardens, to loss of streetscapes, to towers overshadowing our churches and our lovely streets in towns and villages everywhere.
Please join us in this national campaign.
Those investors who have bought old houses in urban conservation areas and hope to destroy them should know that time is over. They should not be compensated if they have invested in protected areas. That is the nature of investments: they are risky.
If this national campaign puts a stop to more destruction and encourages PA officials to do their duty and apply the law, those investments will have to be lost unless, of course, the investor refurbishes the houses in question and resells or lets them as beautiful modernised Maltese village houses.
The profit to the developer/investor would be less than hoped for but the gain for Malta and Gozo would be the greater.
We would, once more, find the peaceful life our towns and villages have afforded our parents and ancestors.
We would be doing something worthwhile for the next generations.
This would improve our streetscapes.
John Vassallo is a former ambassador of Malta to the EU.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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