Planning Authority unleashes domino effect on Ta’ Xbiex housing townscape

Corner development paves way for six-storey buildings in Ta Xbiex’s quaint housing estate which Superintendence for Cultural Heritage wants protected

A permit allowing six-storey development in Ta’ Xbiex could unleash a domino effect for the terraced houses in the village’s housing estate, all built to similar design and proportions, with green spaces separating them.

But this unique character of Ta’ Xbiex has been imperiled by the Planning Authority’s green light for a six-storey development instead of a 1970s property at the corner of Triq it-Tajjar and Triq il-Kosbor.

The development by Fijo Masrija Ltd had been firmly objected to by the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage, which says the buildings in the area have a “degree of architectural value” as part of a legible streetscape. “These houses and apartment blocks are laid out with a evident degree of formality, juxtaposing open spaces and built volumes, with contained heights and standardised design, reflecting a clear and coherent vision for urban design.”

The SCH said this kind of urban design was a “significant aspect of architecture”, and reminded that landscapes and groups of buildings fall within the definition of cultural heritage as according to Article 2 of the Cultural Heritage Act.

But the Fijo Masrija development was approved following slight changes to the design, after the PA’s planning commission expressed concern that a proposed facade did not respect the street’s “existing design and rhythm”, running counter to the SPED. In a subsequent meeting, the development was approved following changes which retained the same height.

The approval is set to trigger the approval of another six-storey block proposed by mega-developer Joseph Portelli’s Excel Limited, by demolishing another terraced house in Triq il-Kosbor. Even this project is opposed by the SCH for the same reasons. The PA’s case officer is also recommending refusal because the glass railing proposed on the facade does not relate to the existing site context and surrounding area. But this problem has been addressed in new plans to replace the square apertures with arched ones.