MEPA upholds appeal against Windsor Terrace permits – FAA
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Following MEPA’s recent refusal of a permit to build flats which were permitted by the Local Plan but violated the streetscape of a Xemxija street lined by two-storey houses, MEPA has now refused a residential project comprising of 59 apartments and 74 garages which was proposed to be carried out on a large site behind the protected building and gardens of Villino Chapelle in St. Paul’s Bay. Although recommended for approval by the MEPA Major Projects Unit, the development was declared by the MEPA Board to be too cumbersome and intensive, resulting in unsustainable overdevelopment of this scheduled site.
The decision on Villino Chapelle is of great significance in that for the first time MEPA had taken into account the impact of overdevelopment, a grave concern that Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) has been highlighting for years.
It is now hoped that MEPA will similarly refuse the appeal to build a 5 storey block of flats in the buffer zone behind Villa Bologna, a Grade 1 scheduled site. The proposed development will have a very damaging effect on Villa Bologna’s potential to fund its restoration through its role as a film set and its plans to open the Villa and gardens to the public as a showcase of Malta’s national heritage.
Another planning landmark was set by the MEPA Appeal Tribunals decision in the FAA case against a permit issued in Windsor Terrace, Sliema. The permit granted to build a five-storey block of flats in this area violated the Local Plan limitation of two storeys. This project had already obtained both a full development permit, which is normally considered irreversible unless fraud is proven. In this case the MEPA Appeals Tribunal reversed the permit due to the drastic detrimental effect on the streetscape which was highlighted by FAA.
In addition to preventing new development from impacting historic buildings, MEPA needs to fulfil its duty as a heritage watchdog, ensuring that owners of scheduled properties carry out at least basic maintenance. This is especially true where these properties are owned by developers hoping that their neglect will result in the building collapsing. While MEPA has not been given the funds to carry out this duty, buildings like Villa Guardamangia, the Queen’s former residence, Villa Drago in Sliema, Australia Hall in Pembroke and Casino Notabile at Rabat are in an advanced state of deterioration. The latter Government property had been restored but is once again in a perilous state.
It is hoped that MEPA’s new commitment in favour of the holistic preservation of heritage buildings in their surroundings will be maintained and backed up by Government support in the form of tax incentives or assistance in maintenance and restoration works, in order to lessen the burden that owners of scheduled properties carry in preserving such buildings for the nation’s heritage.
Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar