Residents rally to preserve historic Villa St Ignatius amidst development threats

Sliema residents, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) and the Balluta Mansions Action Group, urge the preservation of Villa St Ignatius, a historic landmark in Sliema and St Julians

Sliema residents joined forces with Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) and the Balluta Mansions Action Group, urging the preservation of Villa St Ignatius, a historic landmark in Sliema and St Julians. 

The 19th-century structure, boasting a rich history as an English Protestant college, Jesuit college, meteorological center, and military hospital during WWI, is now facing potential redevelopment.

Astrid Vella, Coordinator of Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, expressed concern over the Planning Authority's refusal to schedule the older wing of Villa St Ignatius, despite the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage's earlier submission in 2017. 

Vella emphasised the architectural significance of the building, labelling it as “the earliest example of Gothic Revival architecture in Malta."

The situation took a disheartening turn when the Superintendence, now under Planning Authority staff, reversed its initial stance, approving a potentially damaging project. 

Vella questioned whether this shift is influenced by the interests of speculators aiming to redevelop the site. She stressed the need to schedule and develop such heritage structures with utmost respect for their historical value.

St Julian's Mayor, Guido Dalli, highlighted the incompatibility of a proposed 64-bedroom, 7-floor hotel with the residential nature of the area. 

He expressed concern over the adverse impact on neighbouring properties, including a looming 5-storey blank party wall. Sliema's Mayor, John Pillow, echoed these sentiments, underlining the negative effects on residents' quality of life due to hotel operations and restaurant activities.

Residents emphasised existing challenges such as overloaded drainage systems in the Balluta area, raising concerns about further strain if a large hotel is introduced. 

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar pointed out the traffic congestion during rush hours and the inability of the roads around Villa St Ignatius to handle increased tourist transport and hotel services. This, they argued, would lead to heightened noise and air pollution, adversely impacting public health.

Astrid Vella concluded the conference by drawing attention to the broader issue of prioritising developers over the well-being of Malta's residents. 

She likened the situation to a form of colonisation by the island's own people, expressing disappointment in politicians who seemingly prioritise enriching developer connections over safeguarding public health.