Tower rises instead of rubble in Gozo

A modern version of a knight’s tower has been built in place of a pile of rubble in Zebbug, Gozo, after the Planning Authority approved the 'reconstruction' of a two-storey building

The new tower which has risen in the countryside instead of the pile of rubble
The new tower which has risen in the countryside instead of the pile of rubble

A modern version of a knight’s tower has been built in place of a pile of rubble in Zebbug, Gozo.

It was MaltaToday which a year ago had revealed that the Planning Authority had approved the “reconstruction” of a two-storey building in the middle of the Zebbug countryside in Gozo… instead of a pile of rubble which is what is left of an older structure. 

The controversial approval was made possible by a policy included in the rural design guidelines – issued in 2014 – which include a provision allowing the Planning Authority to grant permission for “the total redevelopment” of any pre-1978 agricultural building as long as the same floor space is retained.

The draft policy issued for public consultation in 2013 had originally excluded “ruins” from benefitting from this policy, but this provision was removed in the document approved by the government in 2014 – and this is now allowing the merest of derelict structures to be brought back to life. 

By approving the new building in the area known as Ta’ Kenga, the PA’s Environment Planning Commission, chaired by Elisabeth Ellul, ignored the objection made by the environment protection directorate (EPD) and the natural heritage advisory panel (NHAP). Biologist Charles Grech was the only board member to vote against the controversial approval. 

The applicant, Nicholas Vella, was represented by architect Alexander Bigeni and proposed the reconstruction of a two-storey structure over a footprint of 25 square metres. 

The new building has a floor space of 50 square metres, connecting the two storeys through a spiral staircase. It is unclear how the upper floor can be used as an agricultural store. 

The site is being proposed for designation as an Area of Ecological Importance and an Area of High Landscape Value. 

The EPD warned that “the ruins” should not be used “as a pretext for a new agricultural room on the site.” 

It also expressed concern on the proliferation of buildings in the countryside and also strongly objected to the height proposed, insisting that a two-storey development was unacceptable. The EPD’s stance was reiterated by the NHAP. 

But the case officer report argued that the building could be approved thanks to a policy approved in 2014 which allows the redevelopment of any agricultural building constructed before 1978. Aerial photos dating back to 1978 showed “structural remains” and the two-storey height of the building was deduced “from the shadow of the structure.” Old photos of the structure were also submitted “showing remains of the tall façade of the old agricultural store.” 

PA approved demolition of old building

In the meantime, a vernacular structure known as Qbajjar Cottage in Triq ix-Xwejni in Zebbug has been recently demolished after its demolition was approved in May 2013.

In 2011 the Heritage Advisory Committee had objected to the demolition of the old house. But the PA’s Heritage Planning Unit approved the demolition of the building after concluding that the existing building was dangerous and unusable due to cement plaster covering the original stone. 

The demolition will make way for a three-storey block of flats and an overlying penthouse. In May 2016 the PA approved minor amendments to the development and works started a few weeks ago.

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