Bulldozed: Knights-era ‘replica’ on Qormi mall irks watchdog

A Knights-era farmhouse opposite the Maltapost headquarters in Qormi has been demolished instead of being carefully dismantled and reconstructed as specified in permit conditions for the new Centreparc shopping mall

The Planning Authority had already intervened to stop the developers from demolishing the farmhouse back in January 2018, during excavation works on the site
The Planning Authority had already intervened to stop the developers from demolishing the farmhouse back in January 2018, during excavation works on the site

A Knights-era farmhouse opposite the Maltapost headquarters in Qormi has been demolished instead of being carefully dismantled and reconstructed as specified in permit conditions for the new Centreparc shopping mall.

The Planning Authority had already intervened to stop the developers from demolishing the farmhouse back in January 2018, during excavation works on the site.

The permit conditions, approved in October 2018, specified that the farmhouse was to be carefully dismantled, with the building blocks being numbered and stored in an approved store; and then reconstructed, preserving the original plan and layout, using the original materials.

The developers had to deposit a €50,000 bank guarantee and submit a method statement on how they would relocate and reconstruct the mill-room and farmhouse on the site of the Qormi mall.

The guarantee can only be released after the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage certifies that the works were carried out in line with the method statement, otherwise it will be forfeited.

Originally, the project included a landscaped roof
Originally, the project included a landscaped roof

 

But the developers’ method statement instead proposed the construction of a replica. And as it turns out, the demolition of the original structure was confirmed during a site inspection by the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage last month.

None of the original materials, except for Grand Master Pinto’s coat of arms, were salvaged.

“This is not acceptable,” the Superintendence said in a memo presented to the Planning Authority.

“It is in clear breach of the approved conditions, since it is not in keeping with approved methodology and the Superintendence had not consented to its replacement.”

According to the restoration method statement for the replica’s construction, the farmhouse was demolished due to “the purportedly heavily deteriorated state” of the building.

But this issue was never mentioned in the original method statement, nor was the matter ever raised during monitoring of works, the Superintendence said.

The Superintendence described the reconstruction of the historical stone features in concrete and cladding with stone as a “pastiche” which is “not an acceptable practice as it does not preserve the historical fabric and traditional techniques”.

During the site inspection it also transpired that the site identified for the relocation of another historical building, an old mill room, had been compromised and is currently committed to a different use.

Qormi’s Knights-era farmhouse had to be reconstructed with original stone and with due care on site of new Centreparc mall, but the developers ignored the conditions of their permit, claiming the stone was unusable, and rebuilt a replica
Qormi’s Knights-era farmhouse had to be reconstructed with original stone and with due care on site of new Centreparc mall, but the developers ignored the conditions of their permit, claiming the stone was unusable, and rebuilt a replica

The Superintendence is not informed of the current state or location of the structural remains of the mill room, which were to be dismantled and stored.

Changing goalposts for a shopping mall

The retail complex is developed by Centre Park Holdings, a company owned by Paul Caruana’s Quality Holdings, Anthony Fenech’s Tum Invest and V&C Developments, which is owned by Charles and Vincent Borg.

The 2006 local plan had zoned this rural enclave opposite Maltapost as “a soft landscaped area with underlying warehouses”.

Originally, the warehousing development had to have a large landscaped area at roof level. But the zoning was changed to a retirement complex in August 2013, when the site belonged to another owner. Back then, the old corner building on site – the Knights-era farmhouse – had to be conserved as a community centre and the area above the development was to be retained as open space. Development was also limited to a maximum floor space of 10,800sq.m.  

In 2017 the zoning was changed again from a site for an old people’s home, to one for retail development.

The new zoning still foresaw the relocation of the farmhouse, to be dismantled and relocated to another part of the site. The developer was obliged to protect archaeological remains on the site and to pay for the upkeep of a public open space area on the roof of the development.

Yet the PA is also considering yet another policy revision: doing away with a public open space on the roof of the new development, to allow its developers to increase building heights by 11 metres along the Qormi road.

The PA launched a public consultation on the revision of the local plan, with the declared aim of deleting the condition for the soft landscape of the roof area.

The PA has already approved the Centreparc retail centre, which according to approved plans, had to ensure that an underlying Roman tomb is integrated within the new complex so that it remains visible to the public as a heritage feature through laminated structural glazing.

The farmhouse, now demolished, had to be relocated to the roof of the retail centre to serve as a ‘security residence’, complete with kitchen and bedroom for security guards.

Planning Authority reaction

Replying to questions by MaltaToday, the Planning Authority confirmed that it is considering the the forfeiture of the bank guarantee of €50,000 but no reply was given to MaltaToday's question on whether the PA intends to issue a planning enforcement and whether the permit for the retail mall is still valid.

The PA spokesperson explained that condition 3 of the permit required the submission of a detailed method statement on the  dismantlement and relocation of the farmhouse  and the subsequent approval by the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage (SCH). The original method statement presented by architect Charles Buhagiar had envisaged the careful reconstruction of the farmhouse using the same material. But after the permit was issued a revised Method Statement was submitted to the Planning Authority and was referred to the SCH accordingly.

"The approval of the Method Statement, subsequent monitoring and certification of the works carried out are within the remit of the SCH. Since this procedure was not followed, the SCH is recommending the forfeiture of the bank guarantee of €50,000 (tied to condition 3). This will be evaluated by the Planning Board," the PA spokesperson replied.

Developers want changes to landscape roof conditions

 

Developers have also sought “deviations” from a permit issued in 2018 stipulating a 4,180sq.m landscaped public area on roof of the new shopping mall.

The Planning Authority confirmed that a new planning application was submitted seeking changes from the original permit which foresaw a 4,180sq.m landscaped public area on the roof of the Centerparc shopping mall.

When asked by MaltaToday whether the authority will ensure that this landscaped area is implemented as foreseen in the original permit, a spokesperson replied that there is a pending planning application (PA5493/19) which is still being processed and which is “addressing a number of deviations from the approved permission, including the roofed area”.

Any further action will be taken “depending on the outcome of this latest application”, the PA spokesperson replied.

But awkwardly the application presented by the developers in April is not publicly accessible on the PA’s website as the application submitted by the developers is still deemed to be “incomplete” like scores of applications which are no longer publicly accessible. 

The zoning rules currently in place specify that that a designated public open space should be developed below the level of Triq Hal-Qormi. The developer was to finance the new landscaped space by contributing €210,000 to the PA’s Urban Improvement fund.

But in March the Planning Authority acting under instructions of the government, had commenced a new public consultation to “delete the condition that the roof of the building below the level of Triq Hal Qormi should be allocated for soft landscaping to enable the increase of the allowable building heights to 11.4 m above the upper road level”.

So far the PA has only published the objective of the new policy and still has to publish a draft which would require a second round of public consultation.

When issuing the permit in 2018 the Planning Board had not approved the layout of the public open in the way proposed by the developers and had asked for a more detailed layout of this public open space, which had to be submitted for Planning Authority approval. The scheme had to provide for tree and shrub planting, earth mounding and seeding, fencing and other measures to screen operational areas and buildings. No such plans were ever presented. A condition specified that no services should be located on the roof of the buildings or within the public urban open space.

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