Planning Authority board chairman Vince Cassar hit out at the loss of Malta’s traditional streetscapes as plans to convert a 19th-century Sliema townhouse into an apartment block were turned down.
The proposal would have seen the addition of two extra floors and internal demolition of a two-storey building in Cathedral Street, within the Sliema Urban Conservation Area, that is part of a well-preserved row of five commissioned by the Mdina Cathedral between 1870 and 1886 for clergymen from renowned families.
During a PA board hearing on Thursday, Mr Cassar lamented the fact that traditional streetscapes were being destroyed and insisted mistakes made in the past could not continue to be used to justify new damaging developments.
The decision to turn down the plans was welcomed by the Sliema local council and heritage groups, who have long called for the protected building – granted Grade 2 scheduling status in 2017 together with the neighbouring properties - to be safeguarded.
The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage had also objected to the development, noting that the house contained various internal architectural elements which demanded preservation.
“This townhouse is of cultural heritage value and deserves to be restored and retained, since it represents an era of architecture which is practically lost in Sliema,” the Superintendence wrote in its comments to the PA.
The proposal was recommended for refusal by the PA’s case officer despite amended plans reducing the number of additional floors, among other changes.
However, the latest plans were still deemed unacceptable by the case officer, who concluded that the internal alterations were “excessive”, the design of the additional floors alien to the building’s surroundings, and the proposed height incompatible with planning policy for the area.
Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa and the Sliema Heritage Society all sustained their objections to the project, highlighting the architectural significance of the building and streetscape and calling for it to be preserved for posterity.
During the hearing, Sliema local councillor Paul Radmilli also argued that approving the application would set a precedent for other Grade 2 buildings by implying that only buildings with the very highest scheduling status could be protected.
The project architect, meanwhile, argued that the proposed height was in line with planning policy in light of a taller building further down the same row, and that the new plans proposed a stepped transition as had been requested by the authority.
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