Demolition of Fleur De Lys townhouses ‘unacceptable’ for heritage watchdog

Reacting to a proposed demolition of townhouses to make way for five-storey developments along Triq Fleur de Lys, heritage watchdog insists streetscape is worthy of protection and that such applications should be turned down

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage is objecting to requests for permits for two five-storey blocks threatening the Fleur de Lys streetscape, which is characterised by two-storey, early 20th century townhouses.

One of the applications, which the heritage authority described as “totally unacceptable”, foresees the demolish of two townhouses along Triq Fleur de Lys in Birkirkara, two blocks off the Carmelite church.

The application does not even contemplate the retention of the façade, but simply seeks to replace the building with a block of two maisonettes and six apartments over five storeys, one of which is receded. The application has attracted 70 objections, including that of PN councillors.

The Superintendence described the streetscape where the development is being proposed as an extremely well-preserved one along a prominent road leading to the Urban Conservation Area.

It said the building forms part of a “very significant and legible streetscape, dominated by two storey properties, built in similar style and proportions.”

An inspection by the SCH confirmed the cultural value of the two townhouses earmarked for demolition, notably their typical entrance halls, stone staircase and ceiling borne on timber beams and present in both houses. The SCH warned that total demolition as well as the additional storeys being proposed “would have an unacceptable negative impact on a significant streetscape which is worthy of preservation.”

The watchdog then shot down another application for the internal demolition of another early 20th century, two-storey townhouse in Fleur de Lys, and the addition of three additional storeys, which would break the area’s uniform skyline with a blank party wall on neighbouring townhouses.

The townhouse is located between Triq il-Madonna ta’ Pompej on one side and Triq Fleur de Lys, 170m from the Ġnien l-Istazzjon and in the vicinity of the Dar tal-Kleru. The developer wants to retain the townhouse façade but move the roof’s balustrades to a penthouse level. The proposed development will have eight dwellings and a ground-floor shop.

After reviewing the application, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage concluded that the townhouse, characterised by a typical entrance hall, stone staircase and timber beams has cultural value. “The total internal demolition of the existing building as well as the volumes and massing as proposed would have an unacceptably negative impact on a significant streetscape which is worthy of preservation.”

The Superintendence has no power to stop similar applications from being considered by the Planning Authority, but case officers are expected to consider its views when issuing a recommendation on whether such development can be permitted. Still, the failure to include these townhouses in the UCA deprives them of the protection accorded to buildings in historical centres.

Although not recognised as an UCA, the historical value of the townhouses along Triq Fleur de Lys has been repeatedly recognised by the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage, which had recommended the inclusion of these townhouses in the UCA and a list of protected buildings.

Commenting on another development in 2017, the watchdog declared that it “had already recommended that buildings along Triq Fleur de Lys are scheduled to preserve visual integrity of the historic streetscape.” It remains a mystery as to why this step was never taken.

The decision not to designate Fleur de Lys as a UCA was questioned again by the Superintendence in 2021, when it expressed “surprise and concern that the streetscape has not been given the protection due to the area as an Urban Conservation Area”, over a request for a garage and change of apertures on another property in the same street.