Government de-lists Marsaxlokk building

Although dilapidated, the building was protected from demolition as proposed in a development application presented in 2002 and later rejected in 2011.  

The government has removed a building on Zejtun Road, Marsaxlokk from the list of protected buildings which cannot be demolished. 

Although dilapidated, the building was protected from demolition as proposed in a development application presented in 2002 and later rejected in 2011.  

The building, which includes an internal garden, is adjacent to four other listed buildings whose level of protection was not changed by the latest designation. 

The five adjacent properties and their internal gardens were scheduled in 1995 as interesting examples of 19th century vernacular architecture that contributes to the character of the streetscape of the road leading up to Marsaxlokk church.

According to a MEPA spokesperson the part of the building (Number 15) that was de-scheduled had been last inspected in 2002. “Although its facade was consistent with the streetscape, its interior was found to bear no significant architectural features,” the spokesperson said. 

The request for de-scheduling was made by the owner of the building.

But the Grade 2 scheduling status was retained for the rest of the properties, 16, 17, 18 and 19, despite the owners’ request for de-scheduling.

Last year the newly appointed Environment and Planning Tribunal revoked a refusal of the development of the residential complex and ordered the case file to be sent back to the planning authority to wait for the minister’s decision on the de-scheduling of the building.

The scheduling of the buildings in question was one of several reasons why MEPA had rejected an application for the development of a three-storey high residential complex in 2011. The plans included underground parking and the application involved the demolition of part of the Grade 2 listed buildings.    

The development was also deemed to remove the “existing open space (green lungs), which is vital” due to the removal of an internal garden located in the scheduled buildings, and to aggravate traffic problems in the area.

The proposed development was considered “incompatible” with the area’s characteristics, urban design and its surroundings. It was also deemed to “detract from the traditional urban skyline” because buildings higher than two storeys were not allowed in the area, the MEPA said.

In 2005 the Integrated Heritage Management unit of the planning directorate recommended lowering the scheduling of properties 15 and 16 to Grade 3 from Grade 2. A Grade 3 designation allows the partial demolition of a building as long as its replacement respects the streetscape.

Subsequently in June 2005 the MEPA board recommended the de-scheduling. But the necessary authorisation from the government was not forthcoming.

The applicant was formally informed of this recommendation in November 2005, pending the minister’s approval.

But during a planning board meeting in 2009, the recommendation to reschedule was refused as the “members commented that the re-grading is tied to the proposal and the proposal is not considered to be sufficient. The proposal did not appear to be workable even with the de-scheduling”.

The tribunal did not find any notification or correspondence in the files showing that the applicant had been informed of the decision and, in 2011, the planning board turned down the development application.

The Tribunal condemned MEPA for not informing the developer of its decision not to reschedule the building.  

The Tribunal also accused MEPA of assuming the power that was vested in the minister when it refused the recommendation.

 “The authority had no role to reconsider its own recommendation and take a decision, which was never communicated to the applicant, who was under the impression that it was still with the minister,” the tribunal said.