The Planning Authority has unanimously rejected a proposal to partially demolish a historic townhouse, built in the 1800s, in the old part of Birkirkara.

The project, proposed by Grand Property Holdings, sought to develop the site into a garage complex of 10 units, a terraced house, two maisonettes and nine apartments. The project’s architect is former planning minister George Pullicino.

Located on Triq Santa Rita, objectors complained that the project would have negatively impacted the urban conservation area of the central town.

The Planning Commission upheld the recommendation by the Planning Directorate to throw out the proposal due to its impact on the urban skyline. According to the case officer’s report, the project breaches a number of policies, including the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development. 

One of the main objectors was the superintendence for cultural heritage, which insisted that the project should be refused outright. The property in question is of significant historical and traditional value located within Birkirkara’s urban conservation area and just 90 metres from the scheduled Grade 1 listed Collegiate Parish Church of St Helen.

It said this property, together with adjacent buildings, formed an area of architectural significance and high streetscape value. The superintendence also noted that World War II public air-raid shelters are located in the vicinity. Air-raid shelters are cultural heritage features and should be treated in keeping with the Cultural Heritage Act.

It said the existing building contained original architectural features which are worthy of protection and retention, including a niche of St Joseph that formed part of the main facade. Below the cornice is a metal hook and lamp and an inscription granting an indulgence by Mgr Antonio Mario Buhagiar in 1886.

According to the superintendence, the internal architectural features included double thickness walls, arches, wooden and stone beams which it said should be retained.

Pullicino told Times of Malta prior to the sitting that the original plans had been amended and that only partial demolition of the building was proposed. The historic niche and the entire front facade would be preserved and incorporated in the project, he said. 

“I definitely believe that for one to appreciate the discussed existing volume and the realities which it presents, one ought to visit the existing volumes to appreciate the huge limitations it presents to rehabilitate it,” he said, claiming that the reports had been compiled without any site visits.

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