Isolation hospital extension extends beyond ODZ line

The development proposed by Malta Healthcare Caterers, a subsidiary of the Seabank hotel, includes an additional storey on the existing hospital and extensive demolition within the Grade 2 building.

A proposed extension to the scheduled isolation hospital in Mtarfa, which is planned to be converted into an old people’s home, goes beyond the ODZ boundary, giving the proposed residential home valuable countryside views, plans seen by MaltaToday show.

The development proposed by Malta Healthcare Caterers, a subsidiary of the Seabank hotel, also includes an additional storey on the existing hospital and extensive demolition within the Grade 2 building.

In a letter sent to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) in December Heritage NGO Din l-Art Helwa warned MEPA that the proposed extension of the hospital shows no respect for the building fabric of the listed historical structure.

“The extension completely conceals the view of the former isolation hospital from the valley below and from distant views,” the NGO said.

Commenting on plans presented to MEPA, the heritage NGO noted that the extension is being proposed at “a skew angle” to the existing building.

In view of this Din l-Art Helwa asked MEPA to ask the developers to drop the proposed ODZ extension from their plans. 

The heritage NGO also objected to the demolition of internal walls, noting that as proposed the project would only leave the “outer shell” of the building. According to the NGO, the project as proposed goes against the “spirit of restoration”.

The proposed development would also include two storeys below the building. 

Plans submitted this week to the MEPA for the 148-bed private old people’s home also foresee a new surface car park for 57 cars, instead of the existing cul de sac. 

The area earmarked for the car park is presently covered with with 20 olive trees, which would be replanted in a proposed garden area. Pine trees would be replanted at a lower level.

Architect and freeport chairman Robert Sarsero, who also serves as a member of MEPA’s appeals tribunal, has drawn up the plans for the project.  

The isolation hospital was one of four historical buildings earmarked for restoration for commercial purposes in an expression of interest issued last year. 

Malta Healthcare Caterers, a subsidiary of the Seabank Group, was the recommended bidder for the building. The hospital was built by the British in 1924 and was considerably damaged by arson. The company plans to restore the structure and convert it into a home for the elderly, specialising in dementia patients. 

MEPA scheduled the isolation hospital in Mtarfa as a Grade 2 national monument on July 12, 2008. Normally only internal alterations can be made to grade 2 scheduled buildings. 

A new policy proposed by MEPA allows extra storeys on scheduled buildings such as the isolation hospital in Mtarfa when these are restored and used as old people’s homes. But the policy also states that it does not apply to homes located outside the development zone. This means that any extension of the building would not benefit from additional storeys.

A neglected architectural gem 

The isolation hospital was built as part of the Mtarfa Military Hospital and barracks.  

It is a single floor building having a facade in the classical order, with pilasters instead of columns. It has identical front and rear wings with pilastered verandas supporting an arched central bay.  

The veranda is roofed over four supporting pillars at left and right, with the corners formed of a cluster of three pilasters.  

A central wing is connected to the two flanking wings by a closed corridor of matching exterior. The wing consists of the power and boiler rooms. A frieze and a cornice run along the entire roof.  

The arson was concentrated in the rear wing of the hospital and some rooms, but the veranda and the exterior fabric suffered considerable damage. The slabs in some of the smaller rooms collapsed.  

The remainder of the building is still in a good condition, although neglected.