The prehistoric Ta’ Ħaġrat temples in Mġarr are again under threat, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għall-Ambjent Aħjar, Heritage Malta and the Archaeological Society Malta have warned.
Their warning comes as the planning appeals tribunal will on Thursday be deciding on an application for the sanctioning of an illegal private car park and scrapyard in a field just 34 metres away from this World Heritage site.
The "illegal car park", which is within the Ta’ Ħaġrat buffer zone, serves customers of a mechanic operating across the street. The application was unanimously refused by the Planning Commission in June 2019 but the applicant lodged an appeal hoping to overturn the decision.
The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, the Environment and Resources Authority and Heritage Malta, as well as non-governmental organisations Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar and the Archaeological Society Malta are strongly opposed to the proposal.
As a state party to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention (1972), Malta is obliged to safeguard the site and its surroundings on behalf of the international community, the signatories said in their statement.
They added that Malta is also required to inform the world heritage committee before any decision that may have an impact on a World Heritage Site is taken.
“If the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal decides to sanction the unauthorised works that are degrading the setting of Ta' Ħaġrat, this would fly in the face of Malta's international obligations, and would need to be reported to UNESCO for any measures it may deem necessary,” they warned.
The temples have official Class A status, a level of protection reserved for sites that have universal and national significance due to their monumentality and rarity.
The buffer zone encircling the site is intended to prevent development encroaching too close to the monument, essential to maintain the natural setting around the monument, and to protect any undiscovered archaeological remains within the environment of the site.
Despite this, the buffer zone and sight lines around the temples are continuously under threat from construction.
They said that, if approved, the sanctioning “of this unjustified development” would create a “worrying precedent” allowing further development not only close to the temples of Ta’ Ħagrat, but possibly within other buffer zones of prehistoric sites all over Malta and Gozo.
They urged the tribunal to refuse the sanctioning application outright and demanded vigorous enforcement within buffer zones to protect and preserve these World Heritage sites.
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