The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has made another appeal to the Planning Authority to reject all development applications for Balluta’s 19th-century Villa St Ignatius and instead schedule the property.

The Superintendence said the historic villa was “a property of undeniable architectural and historical value” that required scheduling.

It was making representations before the Planning Authority for yet another application to “carefully cart away existing debris and dismantle existing structure at ground and first floor level”.

Plans show the rooms proposed to be demolished are in the same area of the villa targeted for demolition in illegal works last year, days after the early 19th-century building had been proposed for scheduling.

The pending application was filed despite a pending court action over the illegal pulling down of another part of the historic building last year.

A planning application was submitted by developer Paul Gauci who, along with his architect Stephen Vancell and the Planning Authority’s enforcement chief, are facing contempt of court proceedings over the works which were found to have breached the conditions of a dangerous structure  permit – under which they were supposedly carried out – and a court order.

The PA is separately facing court action from Din l-Art Ħelwa over its failure to act when notified of the demolition, instead issuing a statement claiming that the works were in line with the court order and permit conditions.

Despite the pending action and a conservation order issued by the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage, the same developer has since applied to create a “public square” cutting right through the remaining part of the historic building.

The Design Advisory Committee of the Planning Authority met last week to discuss the latest proposed development but this was inconclusive:

“The committee considered drawings and notes that the site is the subject of two dangerous structures applications, a court order and a pending court case [among others], in view of which it would not be prudent to express any opinion until the conclusion of judicial proceedings.”

In its remarks, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage noted “with grave concern” that the proposed development was “an attempt to regularise unauthorised and damaging works already carried out on site. This proposed development would result in further demolition of Villa St Ignatius”.

It said that the works as carried out so far “exceeded both the letter and the intent of the court order and the Dangerous Structure Order”.

“The architect is to devise a methodology for the stabilisation of the surviving structure, for the recovery of material and for the reconstruction of the demolished structure. This methodology is to be subject to approval and monitoring by the Superintendence and by the Planning Authority’s Heritage Planning Unit,” it said.

The Sliema Heritage Society has vowed to fight “tooth and nail” to protect the historic property, saying the Sliema/St Julian’s area has already lost too much with the approval of the “unforgiveable destruction” of The Cloisters and a corner house on the Telgħa tal-Kirxa.

Villa St Ignatius in Scicluna Street is part of a larger property which once housed one of the first Jesuits College in Malta and which was mentioned as a landmark building as early as 1839. The villa had been used as a hospital during the war.

Historians like Albert Ganado, Temi Zammit and Carmel Baldacchino have acclaimed the villa for its exceptional historic importance.

matthew.xuereb@timesofmalta.com

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