The developer who wants to carry out restoration work on an old theatre in Valletta has requested a two-month suspension of his application to be able to continue discussions with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage on how best to approach the project.

When the application was brought before the Planning Commission yesterday, the architect, Patrick Calleja, on behalf of the developer, Neville Agius, asked for its suspension.

Calleja explained that talks were under way with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, specifically about the antique stage that was on site. He said they required more time to see what changes had to be made to the original plans and make any changes as required.

The superintendence issued a conservation and protection order to safeguard a viewing gallery at Palazzo Caraffa, which housed a projection room in what is believed to be one of the first cinemas in the country.

The move followed a formal request by the Church’s Environment Commission. The 400-year-old palazzo is owned by the Church and the property enjoys maximum protection by law as it is a Grade 1 scheduled building.

Earlier this year, the Church had leased the property, which served as the premises of Circolo Gioventù Cattolica for many years, to a third party on condition it would be returned to its former glory.

Subsequently, the tenant filed a planning application to restore and embellish the dilapidated building.

But before any planning permission was sought, the developer removed a “historic wooden stage” which formed part of a theatre built during the interwar years.

He insisted that the structure was in a very bad state, while describing the theatre in general as an amateurish accretion to a historic building. However, this was disputed by the church commission.

Valletta resident Reuben Grima, who is also a member of the Church’s Environment Commission, welcomed the request to suspend the application for two months to give the experts time to carefully study the heritage found inside the palazzo and take appropriate action to protect what is left.

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