Updated 4.13pm - Adds statement by the Chamber of Architects

Workmen resumed demolition works at Villa St Ignatius in Balluta this morning, defying the Planning Authority which had stopped the works a few days ago.

The demolition works began at 6.30am this morning, with men wearing no safety gear seen on the villa's roof, hacking away at a rickety wooden structure perched on the corner. 

Workers chipped away at the structure, loosening it before sending it crashing down to the ground, two storeys below. 

Last Saturday, Times of Malta reported that workmen on the historic building were hammering at the masonry and knocking entire bricks down to the ground.

Residents who contacted the Planning Authority and police told Times of Malta that workers laid down their tools and left the building after being ordered to do so by a case officer - only to continue where they left off the moment the PA official left the area.

The PA issued a statement on Monday in which it suggested it was the responsibility of a court-nominated expert, rather than the authority, to ensure works on the villa were in line with the law. 

In its statement, the PA cited a July letter in which it granted consent to works to remove dangerous walls and beams at the property. In granting consent, the PA said that all works "shall be directed by the court expert who shall submit a report for record purposes to the Planning Authority on completion of works." 

The court-nominated expert, the PA said, was the sole person to dictate the extent of works needed to be carried out in accordance with the court decision. 

Read: Destruction of Villa St Ignatius shows anarchy looming - PD

Villa St Ignatius in Scicluna Street, St Julian’s, forms part of a larger property which once housed the first Jesuit College in Malta. The front of the old college is already scheduled, but no such protection has been extended to the villa, believed to be substantially older and already mentioned as a landmark building in an 1839 account of Malta.

DLH says applicant's architect should have known better

Din l-Art Helwa explained that Perit Stephan Vancell, on behalf of Environmental Management Design Planning of Eucharistic Congress Road, submitted a request for demolition of dangerous structures to the Planning Authority in July.

“The dangerous structures consisted of xorok between timber beams having collapsed - a common occurrence with historic buildings. However, the architects applied to extend the demolition from the removal of the remaining few cracked xorok to the request to demolish as follows: ‘Complete demolition of existing dangerous structure including slabs in xorok and internal walls and erection of temporary boundary wall’.

“On the strength of a few broken xorok, the entire wing of this early 19th century building is now being demolished with what seems to be the blessing of the Planning Authority, with the demolition order DS 00125/17. None of the walls were in danger of collapse and it is often the case that broken xorok are simply replaced,” the NGO said.

We expect ethical standards from all the architects that practice on this island but even more so from an architect who sits on a planning board

It also pointed out that the works were to be supervised, by Court order, by Perit Alan Saliba, who recently taken up the post of Commissioner for the Environment. However, DLĦ confirmed that he had not been contacted to overview the works, even though he was the sole person with the remit to dictate the extent of the works needed.

“This means that the Planning Authority knew that all demolition works on Saturday were illegal since this was a condition precedent and yet they have failed to stop demolition works. Furthermore, no signature showing Planning Authority approval is present on the plans.

Din l-Art Helwa also revealed that Perit Vancell works for the architectural firm ‘Environmental Management Design Planning’ of Mosta, whose principal owner is Perit Mariello Spiteri who also sits on one of the planning boards.

“We expect ethical standards from all the architects that practice on this island but even more so from an architect who sits on a planning board which has the power to approve or refuse applications,” it said.

Chamber of Architects, FAA concerned

The Chamber of Architects also expressed its concerns in a joint statement with environment NGO Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar and the Sliema Heritage Society.

"It seems that the demolition of part of Villa Ignatius was sanctioned by an approval issued under LN 258 of 2002, Development (Removal of Danger) Order. It is not clear whether the approval covers all the parts of the building which have been or are being demolished, because the relative drawings are not available on-line," the chamber said.

In any case, is said this legal notice does not allow any “remedial” works to affect the integrity of a historic building. It requires that any order under this legal notice can only be issued on the basis of a detailed site inspection, establishing the relative danger, by an architect “appointed by the Authority” and works have to be limited only to the removal of the danger – and this could be in the form of emergency propping.

"The Planning Authority has the responsibility towards society to ensure that the legal notices it operates under are fully respected, and especially to ensure that on-going development does not imperil our diminishing built heritage," the chamber said. 

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