Excavations under Times building could pose threat to Auberge de Castille

Extensive rock cutting for apartment block would be ‘unacceptable threat’ to Auberge de Castille

The former Allied Newspapers building in Valletta
The former Allied Newspapers building in Valletta

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage is objecting to “extensive rock cutting” proposed in a development project to replace the former Times of Malta’s offices in Valletta, with an apartment block, describing the works as “an unacceptable threat to surrounding monuments” which include the Grade 1 scheduled Auberge de Castille, and the underground Lascaris War Rooms and related tunnels and shelters.

“This excavation, which will involve extensive rock-cutting, is unacceptable in a UNESCO World Heritage Site and should be drastically reduced or eliminated,” the Superintendence said.

The Superintendence expressed its concern that the application was proposing a considerable increase in overall heights and volumes on a building “that is already one of the most massive in Valletta and is located at the highest point in the Sciberras peninsula, on which Valletta and Floriana are built.”

The heritage watchdog has called for a considerable reduction in the proposed volumes and height.

The Superintendence also objected to the proposed design, insisting that this is not an acceptable replacement for the existing building and not in harmony with the outstanding architectural value of Valletta as a UNESCO site.

“The architect is advised to extensively revise the design, lessening intensity of development and evoking traditional architectural value, to be in greater harmony with the environs.”

In reaction to the objections filed against the project, architect Martin Xuereb announced that the developers would revise their plans to “address the concerns and suggestions made by consultees and objectors” with the aim of achieving “a general consensus benefitting our capital city.”

The developers also intend to holding meetings with all those concerned.

The project by Hili Twenty Two Ltd, which acquired the building from the Allied Group, will develop 50 apartments on eight floors, two of which will be receded. The project includes five basement garage levels and a cafeteria, and promises to be the first major residential development in Valletta in a long time.

Unlike the present building’s rows of rectangular windows, the façade proposed by architect Martin Xuereb is characterised by a mixture of closed and open balconies with wrought iron railings.

The new building will see the number of floors increase from five to eight, with the actual height increasing by less than five metres.
Allied Newspapers moved its printing press out of the building to its new premises in Mriehel in 2011, with the Times of Malta newsroom and administrative staff vacating the Valletta building in the summer of 2017.

Strickland House was the largest, privately-owned building for sale in Valletta when Hili Twenty Two acquired it, with its unique location right next to Auberge de Castille, in close proximity to the parliament building as well as the city’s commercial and cultural hubs.

The building measures approximately 6,800sq.m.

Although Strickland House has stood on this site for the past 90 years, the existing structure was only built after 1979 when Labour Party thugs set the building on fire. Labour Party supporters who attended a mass rally in Valletta went on a rampage by first burning down Strickland House, while employees were still inside, and then ransacking Opposition leader Eddie Fenech Adami’s family home in Birkirkara. That fateful day – 15 October, 1979 – became known as Black Monday.

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