PA bends rules to allow new storeys above iconic Sliema ‘Ramel’ building

FAA appealing permit to add storeys to protected landmark building, in breach of rules protecting Category A property inside urban conservation area

The Ramel buildling on Tower Road, corner with Isouard Street
The Ramel buildling on Tower Road, corner with Isouard Street

The Planning Authority’s planning commission has totally ignored objections raised by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, as well as other rules protecting heritage buildings, to grant a permit to add six storeys on a landmark three-storey Sliema building.

Coming hot on the heels of the permit to ruin a turretted heritage building in Dingli Street, the same planning commission – made up Martin Camilleri, Frank Ivan Caruana and Perit Joel Fenech – granted the same architect, Elena Borg Costanzi, another permit that NGO Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar said will destroy the proportions and character of the landmark ‘Ramel’ building on Isouard Street.

The proposed storeys atop the Ramel Building in Sliema
The proposed storeys atop the Ramel Building in Sliema

The Isouard Street streetscape on the side of Ramel Building is protected by law and is untouched. “The PA is ignoring the protection given under the Local Plans,” FAA said.

“The Commission went so far as to claim that the project was approved by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, when just a month ago the Superintendence stated: ‘the proposed development is not acceptable from a Cultural Heritage perspective. The Superintendence finds that the transition of the proposed volumes towards the UCA into Triq Nicolò Isouard is not respectful and compatible with the remainder of the streetscape in the UCA. A more suitable transition, more respectful to the characteristics of the traditional townhouses within the streetscape, is required’.”

The Superintendence also said the design of the proposed extension was not adequate, and the transition between the old building and the new extension had to be improved vertically, apart from finding the massing to be excessive.

FAA spokesperson Astrid Vella insisted that such a Category A Landmark Building was already protected by the regulations that offer “strong presumption against any changes to the facades of the built fabric and ancillary open spaces, street alignment and the addition of accretions in these areas.”

These rules limit structural interventions to the replacement of deteriorated components, which should be carried out in materials and structures identical to the original, and the removal of incompatible accretions from the facades. Importantly, no additional floors or significant structures will be allowed over the existing Category A properties.

Objectors demanded to know what was the point of having regulations when the Planning Authority’s own boards ignore each and every one of them in this way.

FAA will be appealing the abusive permit, expressing disgust that NGOs and the public were spending their time and funds opposing “the Planning Commission’s collusion with philistine speculators”.

FAA called on the Chamber of Architects to look into this case in the light of its new role to “ensure that all members of the profession act responsibly and ethically, having due regard for sustainable development practices, the protection of the national, cultural, social and environmental heritage”  saying its regulatory role should extend not only to private architects, but also to architects on PA boards and commissions.

“FAA condemns the fact that members of the Planning Authority boards seem determined to destroy more of Malta’s built heritage than World War II bombings, destroying the very buildings that have enhanced our towns and villages for centuries, in complete disregard of the country’s Local Plans, and ruining residents’ quality of life.”