Planning Commission asks Labour MP to retain townhouse façade

The Environment and Planning Commission has called on Labour MP Clifton Grima to preserve the façade of a 19th century townhouse in St Julian’s which was earmarked for demolition to make room for 7 duplex apartments.

Clifton Grima must preserve the facade of the property
Clifton Grima must preserve the facade of the property

The Environment and Planning Commission has called on Labour MP Clifton Grima to preserve the façade of a 19th century townhouse in St Julian’s which was earmarked for demolition in a planning application presented by the MP.

The townhouse, located in Birkirkara Hill – the old street linking Birkirkara and St Julians – is one of two semi‐detached villas which were among the first to be built in the area. 

The property still retains a unique entrance porch with three arches and a three metre high garden rubble wall, separating the property’s garden from the street.  

The commission’s final decision, which was due on Friday, has been put off to 3 March. The case officer has been ordered to prepare reasons for refusal if the façade is not retained.  

In December, MaltaToday revealed that the case officer had recommended the approval of the application presented by Grima in July 2015, two years before he became an MP, replacing Leo Brincat. 

The case officer has been ordered to prepare reasons for refusal if the façade is not retained
The case officer has been ordered to prepare reasons for refusal if the façade is not retained

Grima, a former Labour mayor of Msida and candidate in the 2013 general election, was appointed  CEO of Mount Carmel hospital in 2013. He took Leo Brincat’s seat in parliament in October 2016.

When contacted and asked whether he intends to retain the façade as ordered by the commission, Grima replied that the matter is being tackled by the architect and he was not aware of the details of the project. 

He also pointed out that during the processing of the application nobody from the PA had pointed out the need to preserve the façade.

The 19th century house is set to make way for seven duplex apartments set over four floors. 

Heritage watchdog Din l-Art Helwa had described the application as “low quality development”, noting that the absence of such a basic amenity as a lift showed that the “developer is solely after squeezing in the maximum number of sub-standard apartments”. 

Din l-Art Helwa called on the  PA to include Birkirkara Hill in the Urban Conservation Area  to protect these buildings “from the aggressive grip of developers who want to tear down historical townhouses to replace them with smaller apartments.” 

Even if the façade is retained the proposal would still result in the elimination of a garden which is unique in being adjacent to the road from which it is separated by an old rubble wall. 

The Planning Authority’s case officer recommended the demolition because the building is not inside the urban conservation area (UCA) and because the height of the new building respects 2015 design guidelines. The design for a new façade was also deemed to respect the architectural character of the area. 

Din l-Art Helwa said the building was one of the first to be built in the area. The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage has not been consulted over the application.

The proposal takes advantage of recently introduced DC2015 policies for building heights in order to accommodate a new ground floor level. As proposed the ground level is primarily occupied by garages. Objectors insisted that this will destroy the streetscape of one of Birkirkara Hill’s characteristic corners.

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