The announcement by the co-chairmen of St Paul’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral Restoration Appeal that the cost of its restoration has soared to more than double the target of €3 million since it was launched 18 months ago has been unexpected but possibly not unanticipated.
Over the last 14 months, Architecture Project, the architects of the restoration project, have been engaged in an in-depth analysis of the state of the fabric of the cathedral, with particular focus on the structure of the iconic tower and spire and the roof and ceiling.
They worked with Italian experts using the latest technological advances to analyse and scrutinise the state of the tower’s stonework almost 60 metres above the ground. This has revealed that the spire was more damaged than expected, with one cause being the corrosion of metal banding that was placed inside the stonework 175 years ago to reinforce the masonry structure. Improved knowledge of the structural challenges has inevitably had a significant impact on the overall costs. Moreover, the construction boom in Malta over the same period has added a huge cost-push factor to the project. Although the actual figures will only be known when contracts are let, the estimates in the preparation of tenders have had to reflect the reality of Malta’s market place.
But the crux of the issue is that the project is not simply looking at the physical restoration of the fabric of the building – vitally important as that is in terms of Malta’s cultural heritage – but also at the effect the restoration will have on the social and economic regeneration of the area of Valletta where St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral stands.
The cathedral is at the very centre of the western side of Valletta between Fort St Elmo to the north and Mattia Preti Square to the south.
This part of Valletta falls under the government’s ambitious Grand Harbour regeneration plan as a priority area in encouraging sustainable urban development and enhancing its physical, social and economic regeneration.
As a historical and cultural heritage building and through its ongoing work as a communal hub, the cathedral already has a direct effect on the social, economic and tourism activity in the area. Its restoration will therefore contribute substantially to regeneration by turning the area into a thriving and attractive communal and tourism centre.
The cathedral, with its integral undercroft and visitor centre, will be the ‘social centre’ for the local community, related groups and third party users – including, importantly, tourists – for a range of activities, from musical concerts to meetings and exhibitions, lectures and seminars. It will add considerable value to the tourism product offered by Malta and, hopefully, also help stimulate employment and business in the area.
The restoration appeal has already raised €2.2 million towards its target (including €1.2 million from EU infrastructure funding). Now, the co-chairmen are in close discussions with the ministry responsible for EU affairs and EU funds to support their application for more than €5 million to complete this vitally-important project to save Valletta’s skyline and help regenerate this previously-neglected part of the city.
The manifest benefits to the country’s World Heritage City far outweigh the costs. It seems almost unthinkable that the case for EU funds will not succeed. Both Valletta and Brussels must ensure it does.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial