Heritage group takes Planning Authority to court over Villa St Ignatius demolition works

In a court application, heritage group Din l-Art Ħelwa says the Planning Authority allowed the demolition of Villa St Ignatius in St Julians to continue despite a court order to stop the works

Villa St Ignatius, as of 4 December 2017 (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Villa St Ignatius, as of 4 December 2017 (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

Din l-Art Ħelwa has filed a court case against the Planning Authority over what it says are illegal demolition works being carried out on Villa St Ignatius in St Julians.

In a sworn court application, the heritage group had demanded that the structures be protected on the basis that the building was in an urban conservation area and formed part of a larger property, which is of architectural and historical importance. The building was the first Jesuit college in Malta.

E&G Developments Limited acquired the property in September 2017 and had started demolition works in December. DLH says there was no notice, permits or authorisation from the local council, police or the Building Regulation Office for the works.

An enforcement officer from the PA and two police officers had visited the site and ordered that the demolition cease until the permit issue was clarified, but as soon as they left, workers were sent back to continue demolishing the building until after sunset, said the plaintiff.

At 6pm that day the same enforcement officer and policemen returned to the site, together with a second enforcement officer. "Despite the blatant breach of the law, no proceedings were taken, rather (the enforcement officer) Brian Joseph Borg was given orders by his superiors (identified by persons present as executive chairman Johann Buttigieg) to permit the work," the group argued.

On 4 December 2017, lawyer Franco Vassallo wrote to architect David Mallia, who had signed the permit, to ask the PA to take immediate action to stop the demolition. "However, the defendant Johann Buttigieg refused to take action despite the blatant breach of an order of the court and the permit issued by the authority itself and invited Dr Vassallo to file court proceedings,” the application read.

The plaintiff had sent a letter to the PA, requesting an enforcement order due to the failure to abide by the conditions in the permit and declare it null and void.

 However, despite a number of requests and a judicial letter to the authority, it had not given a decision on the NGO’s demand. Since more than two months had passed, this was to be taken as a refusal, DLH said. It asked the court to declare the PA's actions as a breach of administrative law and the principles of natural justice, and an abuse of power.

Lawyers Franco Vassallo and Michael Camilleri signed the application.

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