Scheduling is last redoubt for urban areas under assault

100 properties awaiting scheduling but PA does not divulge properties since ‘external influence’ could hamper process

The three are deco houses on Hughes Hallett Street, Sliema - once one of the most pictoresque streets in the Aui-Si-Sana neighbourhood - which could be demolished very soon. The Same fate has already fallen on houses which made way for apartment buildings
The three are deco houses on Hughes Hallett Street, Sliema - once one of the most pictoresque streets in the Aui-Si-Sana neighbourhood - which could be demolished very soon. The Same fate has already fallen on houses which made way for apartment buildings

The Planning Authority is presently considering the scheduling of around 100 properties, a spokesperson for the authority confirmed, but the list is confidential and the authority will not divulge the properties being considered for protection.

According to the PA, publishing the list of buildings proposed for scheduling would result in  “external interference that may hamper the scheduling process.”

MaltaToday is informed that a large number of properties proposed for scheduling by experts in the authority’s Heritage Planning Unit, have been waiting for scheduling for years. 

The law only obliges the PA to publish the list of these buildings when these are approved by the Authority’s Executive Council.

Over the past weeks the Authority created controversy over the development of 15 apartments, two penthouses and 57 underground parking spaces in Hughes Hallet Street which will replace three art deco townhouses. 

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage was not informed about this application.

Last year, when faced by a similar application, the Superintendence had called for Grade 2 protection for a townhouse in Pace Street which was proposed for demolition to make way for the development of a maisonette, 11 apartments, a penthouse and office space. 

According to architect Edward Said, of the Sliema heritage society, these three houses are the last few examples of art deco style which these Qui-Si-Sana streets were known for, and built around 1920.

The facades of these buildings were demolished because Qui-Si-Sana does not form part of Sliema’s Urban Conservation Area (UCA). Although not directly scheduled, buildings in the UCA generally benefit from extra protection. In such cases the authority generally obliges developers to retain the façade when adding extra storeys to these buildings.

Last year the Sliema Council also formally asked the Planning Authority to schedule the British barracks in Fort Cambridge nearby. The building, whose façade is being retained, has been earmarked for a 40-storey hotel. The snag in this case was that the policy regulating hotel heights excludes high-rise hotel development on scheduled sites.

Heritage NGOs have also recently expressed concern on the proposed demolition of a Gozo townhouse, which sits on Triq il-Kastell, just outside the Cittadella, to make way for a car park.

In a recent representation to the Planning Authority the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage called for a full archival and architectural study in order to establish the level of protection which this building merits. It described the architecture of the building as a “pastiche of various classical, medieval and other eclectic decorative motifs” which have  not adequately recorded in the documents presented by the developer (The Gozo Ministry).

While the building has been attributed to renowned architect Guze D’Amato who also designed the Xewkija and Paola parish churches and the MUSEUM headquarters at Blata l-Bajda, the Superintendence has called for further research on its paternity in view of a 1951 planning application which shows O. Rizzo as the architect and architect Joseph Refalo as the architect of a plan for an extension presented in 1953.

Can the public get much loved buildings scheduled?

Article 57 of the Development Planning Act 2016 regulates the scheduling of such properties in Malta.

Once a property is assessed and considered to contain heritage significance it is then ranked according to the degree of protection. The ranking is determined by the item’s importance. 

Not all buildings enjoy the same level of conservation.

Grade 1 properties and their surroundings enjoy maximum protection and Grade 2 properties are largely protected from demolition but may be subject to internal alterations, while parts of Grade 3 properties may be removed.

But these grades of protection are only indicative. According to the PA there is “no one way to define what works can be carried out to a protected (scheduled) property. This is determined on a case by case basis”.

The Heritage Planning Unit (HPU) is the unit in the PA responsible designating heritage assets for legal protection. 

According to the law the scheduling of buildings is the responsibility of the PA’s Executive Council, which is chaired by the authority’s Executive Chairperson. 

Whenever the Executive Council is considering scheduling it is also legally obliged to invite the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage for its meetings. 

According to the law the list of scheduled buildings can include buildings, structures and remains of geological, paleontological, cultural, archaeological, architectural, historical, antiquarian, artistic or landscape importance.

The list of scheduling orders, and any additions or amendments to it has to be published in the Government Gazette and in a local newspaper. The Executive Council also has to notify any one of the owners of any property subject to a scheduling order of its inclusion in the list. A notice has to be affixed on site. The owner of a scheduled property may request the reconsideration of any scheduling of his property. 

The PA’s criteria for scheduling buildings include historical significance, architectural significance and social significance, research significance and their uniqueness.

Items which demonstrate strong associations to “past customs, cultural practices, philosophies or systems of government” can be eligible for sanctioning, regardless of the intactness of the item or any structure on the place. Any item with strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group in Malta for “social, cultural or spiritual reasons” can also be scheduled. So are buildings deemed to be  “the only example of their type”.

Scheduled buildings presently include within the PA a total of 50 parish churches, all scheduled as Grade 1 monuments. A number of private residences have also been scheduled over the years. These include Grade 2 scheduled villas like those in Wilga Street in Paceville.

In 2010 examples of modernist architecture like a number of buildings within the University of Malta complex at Tal-Qroqq, The Lodge at Ta’ Xbiex, Villa Mediterranja/Flora and Rosal-Inn/Clunaird in Attard, Villino Grech in Birkirkara, Villino Sushine in Ta’ Xbiex, Church of the Risen Lord (All Souls Church) in Tarxien, Mount St. Joseph in Mosta, Muscat Motors in Gzira and three bus shelters in Marsa, Floriana and Hamrun were sanctioned.

A building can also be removed from the list of scheduled properties following an assessment by experts and approval by the Planning Authority and the responsible minister.