The Experts DID decide the St. John’s Project – FAA

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New look St JohnsFlimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) welcomes the withdrawal of the St John’s Foundation underground museum, a decision which was indicated years ago by the MEPA heritage experts when they stated “The concept of excavations in the vicinity of the cathedral would not be favourably considered due to the risk these might pose to the structure of one of Malta’s foremost monuments and the art treasures within.”

FAA also welcomes the confirmation reported by correspondent Ivan Camilleri in Brussels that the EU funds earmarked for this project will not be lost, but go to another Maltese tourism-related project, as FAA has always maintained.

Along with architects and engineers who FAA consulted on this project, geologist Peter Gatt further reports some alarming facts about Valletta’s soft rock (globigerina limestone) :

“Tension cracks in rocks (joints) would be expected to be common at the top of Sceberras Hill where St John’s is located. If excavation exposes a sizeable joint oriented in a particular direction, an entire wedge of rock may fail, causing catastrophic damage to the Cathedral [similar to the] excavation of the Sliema car park, and Bugibba, when women died buried under rubble etc

Globigerina Limestone is a soft rock which may deform in a brittle as well as ductile manner. Even if we are spared mass failure, creating a void will alter stresses in the rock and cause slow deformation which will increase damage to the Cathedral structure in the form of tension cracks (kunsenturi) in the Cathedral. This may ruin Mattia Preti’s vault paintings.

The excavation will alter the local hydrology ie. pathways taken by rain water in rock and may result in a localised temporary build up of water along the walls of the completed (damp sealed) underground structure. This increase in humidity will be disastrous for the Cathedral, causing increased salt crystallisation.” – Click here to view full report

In fact, recent excavations carried out beneath the Monte di Pietà resulted in serious and widespread tension cracks (kunsenturi) along the walls. This was also the reason why excavations of the car park next to the Mosta Rotunda were immediately ruled out and not allowed to go to EIA stage. One wonders what pressure was put on MEPA to allow an EIA for an excavation outside St John’s when this was refused for the Rotunda, a more recent and less vulnerable structure which is not listed as a scheduled heritage monument.

Contrary to what was incorrectly reported in the Times, FAA never urged any MPs to vote in favour of the PL’s motion. The parliamentary motion was not mentioned anywhere on FAA’s petition, however this case inevitably poses a number of questions which require answers from the Authorities.

Since MEPA had immediately indicated this application as unacceptable, why was it being processed if Mepa’s scheduling of St. John’s Cathedral as a Grade 1 monument specifically prohibits the proposed structural changes?

Past acceptance of EU project proposals have required ownership of the site, however the ground under St John’s Square and Street does not belong to the Foundation. The Foundation’s application as an NGO is not valid as the Foundation is not a registered NGO. As such, how did the project qualify for funding from the Planning and Priorities Criteria Division within the OPM to the tune of nearly €14,000,000 from Malta’s Structure Funds?

Therefore notwithstanding Mr. Richard Cachia Caruana’s and the Foundation members’ statements on 12.02.2009, FAA reiterates that the Foundation board and Curator should immediately resign for the following reasons:

– The Foundation members all acted beyond their remit to ‘administer the Church and Museum in order to ensure its effective conservation and management as a historic and architectural monument as well as a sacred place of worship.’ This does not authorise the Foundation to launch expansion projects without prior clearance from Church and State. This cost the taxpayer €15,000 in press advertising for the project in addition to hundreds of thousands of euros more spent on public presentations, architects’ fees and trips to Monza.

– Systematically concealing this project from the public for over two years, (including only applying for a permit on the eve of the national elections when everyone would be distracted), could be considered a serious breach of ethics in a project concerning a scheduled public monument. Furthermore the Foundation allowed this application to be processed and obtained EU funding for the project in full knowledge that Government was carrying out re-paving costing hundreds of thousands of euros of public funds, which works would have been destroyed by the St John’s project.

– Systematically misinforming the public about different aspects of the project, including the myth that there would be no excavation under St. John’s and that if the project were cancelled, Malta would lose the EU funding.

– Gross irresponsibility in pressing on with the project in spite of being aware of many expert reports highlighting the grave risks of the project, including the MEPA Directorate declaration that “The project is a non-starter due to the fact that no mitigation measures can guarantee that the Cathedral’s foundations will not be affected”

Does this reflect the Foundation’s insistence that it “was only acting in the interest of St. John’s”?

FAA expects the Government to request the resignation of the members of the Foundation as this is a matter of mismanagement of Malta’s prime heritage asset and also of public funds. The public has the right to expect good governance from its public representatives, elected or not.

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