Fleur de Lys townhouse row under threat again by five-storey block

Left out of Birkirkara UCA, heritage watchdog tells PA traditional houses face the chop as developers eye five-storey blocks

Another early 20th century townhouse along the traditional streetscape of Fleur De Lys road is being eyed for demolition for five-storey development, in yet another threat of blank party walls to the street.

Owners of the other half of the building in question are objecting to the blank party wall that would result from the development.

The townhouse forms part of a row of similarly constructed buildings, which according to the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage “merits to be part of the Urban Conservation Area of Birkirkara.”

Triq Fleur-De Lys was controversially excluded from the UCA in local plans approved by the Nationalist government in 2006. Now faced with proposals impacting on this historical part of the town, over the past years the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage has repeatedly called for the inclusion of Fleur-De-Lys in the UCA.

Under this present request, the house façade will be retained, which according to the SCH has a certain degree of architectural value, especially in the context of the surviving streetscape.

But the developers – Mamma Ma Limited – are proposing internal demolition, excavation for a basement, and the construction of three full floors behind the façade with two new receded floors.

The SCH is objecting to the demolition of the building, saying it is totally unacceptable and warning that it would “disrupt this rhythm and thus be incongruous within the existing streetscape” because the volumes and massing would bring an “unacceptable negative impact on a significant streetscape which is worthy of preservation”

The owner of the other part of the building is also objecting, saying the demolition would “disrupt the original character” of the building itself and the wider streetscape.

But back in 2017 the PA itself created a dangerous precedent by approving the partial demolition of a neighbouring dwelling, retaining its existing facade and allowing a receding floor and pent-house despite the objections of the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage.

Over the past years the streetscape along Triq Fleur de Lys has been marred by the addition of washrooms and penthouse developments, and by new blocks emerging from neighbouring streets and plots, like one massive block erected on a plot near the Dar tal-Kleru.

The SCH recently reiterated its objection to the proposed demolition of another two-storey town-house located 12m away from the Carmelite church, despite the presentation of new plans retaining the existing façade but adding three new storeys. The SCH also shot down another request for three additional storeys on a townhouse between Triq il-Madonna ta’ Pompej on one side and Triq Fleur de Lys in the vicinity of the Dar tal-Kleru.

The SCH does not have the power to veto applications, although in some other cases developments were scaled down in response to its objections.

But it is only by including Triq Fleur de Lys in the UCA, that the PA would have the power to rule out the complete or partial demolition of these buildings.

The demolition of old townhouses and their replacement by apartment blocks has been facilitated by the infamous Annex 2 in the 2015 development guidelines, which made it easier to fit more floors in the height limitation established in local plans, by effectively converting the 3-storey height limitation in local plans into a metric height of 17m so that developers can fit five storeys.

But in its electoral manifesto the Labour Party has not ruled extending existing UCA to include new areas. The party says it is committed to “introduce buffer zones around UCAs to ensure a gradual transition from the development zone to protect the characteristics of towns and villages” while also mentioning the possibility that UCAs “are extended to new zones.”