Works on a new restaurant underlying the old University Campus in Valletta were provisionally blocked after the university resorted to legal action to safeguard the historic building, its priceless treasures and the lives of all those at stake.
Trouble loomed when works kicked off to convert the use of the government-owned premises, currently managed by the Lands Authority, into a new restaurant underlying the university building on Merchants Street.
The building itself, constructed in 1595, is not only a historical and architectural gem but also houses various permanent exhibitions and works by Maltese renowned artists, including Edward Caruana Dingli, Richard England and Josef Kalleya.
In 2019, the government committed itself in terms of a memorandum of understanding to transfer the said premises to the university.
While that agreement is still to be finalised, works on the premises at 77 and 77A Merchants Street commenced to convert the place into a new Class 4D restaurant.
The works are being undertaken by Charles Foca, who is not the current lessee.
Though the situation with Foca is yet unclear, it appears he is occupying the premises without a valid title and that the works were being carried out in a “totally illegal” manner, claimed the university’s lawyer, Carlos Bugeja, in the application to obtain a warrant of prohibitory injunction.
There was no development permit, nor any approval on the part of the Lands Authority, the court was told.
Earlier on, the university had filed a judicial protest against Foca but to no avail.
The illegal state of affairs persisted and Foca simply carried on with the works “with greater speed and haste”.
Such “illogical” development, triggered by the purely speculative interests of a private citizen over public property, had to be stopped especially when such development lacked the necessary permits and supervision.
The projected restaurant posed a great danger not only to the structure itself but to all students, academics and staff, pointed out the applicant.
Plans were in place to store a large number of LPG cylinders within the closed space underlying the university, with no ventilation and with serious shortcomings with regard to fire compartmentation, as confirmed in a risk assessment report drawn up by an engineer.
In light of such circumstances, the university filed an application before the First Hall, Civil Court against Foca, requesting an injunction to stop the works which posed an “enormous hazard” not only to life but also to the “millions” of euros worth of treasures housed within the historic building.
The injunction was provisionally upheld and a hearing has been scheduled for next week.
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