Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna has expressed "disgust" at the fact that the façade of Zejtun's Palazzo Fremaux - the last surviving part of the building - was being pulled down yesterday.
FWA executive director Mario Farrugia said the building, which was used as a hospital in the times of the French, was even on the 1925 antiquities list, which meant it should have been protected. The list was in effect until the new Heritage Act came into force a few months ago.
"Even as far back as 1925, the palazzo's artistic, architectural, historical and cultural value was recognised," he said.
A Malta Environment and Planning Authority permit had been issued for a major development behind the palazzo, without touching the façade, Mr Farrugia said, adding that steps should have been taken to conserve the rest of the building, rather than considering the interests of the individual.
Mr Farrugia said that according to the 1990 Planning Act, the property was scheduled as a grade 2 building, which meant its interior could be altered, while the façade had to be kept intact.
At least, the streetscape should have been retained, rather than creating a "wound" in the middle of St Catherine Street, where it was located, Mr Farrugia continued.
Last year, the Museums Department had made known its position on the façade of the palazzo, saying it ought to be protected and suggesting it be incorporated in the development. However, it was overruled by the minister, the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, Tony Pace, said.
The issue was also raised in parliament yesterday by Labour MP Joe Mizzi, who asked how a permit came to be issued for the demolition of a scheduled building. He also called for an inquiry.
Replying, Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg said he could recall there was some controversy over the palace three years ago. He did not know about works having been started yesterday, but the authority's Development Control Commission had issued a permit which allowed some development work in the area before this legislature, and in terms of the law at the time, that could not be revoked. But he would look into the matter in more detail.
Mr Mizzi said the permit could have been revoked and he was asking the minister to investigate how the DCC had issued a permit for the demolition of the palace.
Dr Borg said he would investigate whether this was a new permit, or a permit issued in 1998 and what the circumstances were.
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