New guidelines on assessing development applications close to scheduled buildings and monuments have been welcomed by the Chamber of Planners as a positive step towards ensuring heritage buildings are giving the protection they merit. 

In a statement, the Malta Chamber of Planners said it hoped that decision-taking bodies adhere to the spirit and the guidance provided in the Planning Authority’s circular. 

The chamber said it had often spoken on how guidance and policies were being ignored by deciding bodies to the detriment of the locals’ quality of life as well as to the detriment of buildings and sites which merit protection.

Despite previous guidelines, many decisions were taken “without any concern or attention to the context”, particularly where rural areas are concerned, they said.

There were situations where the context has been significantly altered, such as in Sliema and St Julian’s, where scheduled buildings remain in place surrounded by such structures.

“Where new developments are proposed in such areas, the importance of the context should play a minor role with the protection of the scheduled building being given greater importance in the assessment of the impacts of the new development. In such instances, the approach should be how to create new structures which will enhance the setting of the scheduled building and seek to improve the context/setting rather than further ‘uglify’ the area,” the chamber said. 

The chamber added that the varying degree of scheduling did not make any difference to the way the applications are considered whether surrounded by Grade 1 or Grade 2 buildings. It also said the PA had to finalise the creation of a Grade 2* scheduling which has been in the pipeline for years. 

Regarding the proposed mitigation measures suggested in the PA’s circular, it expressed concerns that this was a half-baked solution that will still adversely affect the scheduled buildings. 

“If impacts are significant such that the scheduled building may be severely compromised, then it should be refused outright. There is a history of examples where mitigation measures to reduce the impact of development still resulted in unsightly structures significantly altering the streetscape, the chamber said. 

It insisted that the advice of the Superintendent for Cultural Heritage should be given more importance, adding that it was ironic that the PA issued such a circular when its board was giving the green light to a Valletta development to which the culture watchdog had objected. 

“One would obviously conclude that despite these good words in the guidance, decision takers will still decide according to their own whims. If this is the case, then one can only pity those professionals who are abiding by the detailed procedure set out in the guidance and carrying out all the required impact assessments to finally see all their rigorous work being overturned by board members at the raise of a hand, “ the chamber said. 

“Disgusting precedents are not to be used to continue abusing the system and raping our cultural heritage through other processes such as regularisation applications, which result in irreversible damage on a grand scale such as what happened at the Mtarfa Barracks. Appropriate planning and fiscal measures are to be put in place to encourage the proper rehabilitation and utilisation of such scheduled buildings,” it added.

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