Superintendence wary of Valletta excavations under Times building

Two basement floors from five, and seventh floor removed from Strickland House plans, but watchdog wants further scaling down

Strickland House in Valletta
Strickland House in Valletta

The prospect of extensive excavations in the vicinity of historical buildings may still pose an obstacle for the development of a six-storey high residential project replacing the Times of Malta’s former premises.

In its reaction to the latest plans submitted by Hili Twenty Two, the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage has warned that “the proposed extensive rock-cutting is unacceptable in a UNESCO World Heritage Site” and should be “drastically reduced or eliminated”.

After withdrawing an application foreseeing more extensive development, the developers have submitted a new application which foresees the construction of three basement garage levels, 45 apartments and a Class 1A house over five floors and one receded sixth floor.

The original application presented a year ago foresaw five basement garage levels, 50 apartments on six floors and two receded floors from Melita Street, and a cafeteria.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage described the proposed design as “a considerable improvement on that initially proposed in the first application.”

But the heritage watchdog is still concerned with the visual impact of the project, saying it will results in a considerable increase in overall heights and volumes on the highest point in the Sciberras peninsula. “Any change in the skyline at this location is not acceptable,” the SCH said.

The SCH is recommending that excavations are limited to monitored rock-trimming.

While noting that the proposed excavation will spare underground wells which have been identified, the extensive rock-cutting would create a precedent for extensive excavation within an area of very high cultural heritage sensitivity.

The Superintendence has also called for a rethink of the design through the introduction of stepping, to lessen overall height and to follow the lie of the land, as well as a more traditional treatment of the balconies.

Strickland House building is located within the Urban Conservation Area of Valletta (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and also in the immediate vicinity of historical and scheduled properties, including the Auberge de Castille. The building was rebuilt in an austere style after being damaged in an arson attack by Labour party thugs in October 1979.

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