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Townhouses outside urban conservation areas are quick to fall in developers’ grip

British-era Qui-Si-Sana dwellings to make way for sandwich bar and 12-apartment block. St Julian’s townhouse facing demolition

james
James Debono
23 May 2016, 10:30am
Characteristic buildings outside UCAs (clockwise from left, Sacro Cuor Street, Markizi Zimmerman Barbaro Street, and Birkirkara Hill) face a greater threat because applications to build up to 16 apartments on such sites benefit from the new “summary procedure”, shortening public consultation from three to two weeks and eliminating the need of a public hearing and a case officer report
Characteristic buildings outside UCAs (clockwise from left, Sacro Cuor Street, Markizi Zimmerman Barbaro Street, and Birkirkara Hill) face a greater threat because applications to build up to 16 apartments on such sites benefit from the new “summary procedure”, shortening public consultation from three to two weeks and eliminating the need of a public hearing and a case officer report
The fate of the lower part of Sliema’s Sacro Cour Street, which leads down to the Sliema Strand, may be sealed forever with the destruction of another three, characteristic two-storey townhouses, which will permanently change its streetscape. 

A heritage advisory committee within the Planning Authority had called for their preservation in 2001, describing the buildings as a “uniform terrace that is worth preserving”.

The street leads to a popular entertainment spot dominated by bars like the Black Gold and Chequers, and the proposal is to build 12 flats over six storeys, two penthouses and three underlying garage floors. The applicant is the company Kellar Ltd.

The local plan sets a maximum height limitation of five floors for this area but a six-storey block adjacent to the old townhouses was approved in 2000 while the rest of the street has remained largely intact. 

The case once again raises the issue of traditional streetscapes that are located outside the borders of the urban conservation area, and which enjoy no protection. While the individual buildings may not be worthy of protection, the loss of these traditional streetscapes is leaving a permanent mark on localities like Sliema and St Julian’s.

Another townhouse further down the road was demolished after the PA approved its replacement by a five-storey block in 2001. But the block still has to be constructed.

It was with reference to this application that the PA’s heritage advisory committee called for the preservation of the existing streetscape.

But the PA accepted the demolition on condition that the two demolished storeys be “a replica”, while three overlying ‘modern’ floors be receded by 1.5 metres.

The developers made several attempts to include an extra semi-basement level, for which they were granted a permit in 2014 when the case officer was recommending refusal because the development does “not respect the local context”.

Another controversial application in the pipeline involves the demolition of an old dwelling in Markizi Zimmerman-Barbaro Street in the Sliema neighbourhood, to make way for a sandwich bar and 12 apartments and a penthouse over five floors. The Sliema local council is objecting, insisting that the facades have an architectural value “largely of a style” reminiscent of the time when the area was popular with British services personnel. The council wants to retain at least part of the façade in the new development. 

Birkirkara Hill in St Julian’s, which also lies outside the urban conservation area, is another zone threatened by development.

A characteristic townhouse on the road that historically linked St Julian’s and Birkirkara, is set for demolition to be replaced by six apartments.

NGO Din l-Art Helwa is now calling for the inclusion of this area in the UCA so as to protect these buildings from “the aggressive grip of developers who are seeking to tear down historical buildings to replace them with far smaller apartments.”

Characteristic buildings outside UCAs now face a greater threat because applications to build up to 16 apartments on such sites will be subject to the new “summary procedure”, which shortens the period of public consultation from three to two weeks and eliminates the need of a public hearing and a case officer report.

A case officer who will simply issue a recommendation without preparing a full report will still assess these cases. The chairperson of the Environment Planning Commission, Elizabeth Ellul, will take the final decision.

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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