Planning Authority refuses reconstruction of ruins: 'development would impact Mdina's scenic value'

The Planning Authority has turned down the reconstruction of the heavily weathered ruins of former agricultural rooms just below the Mdina bastions

Aerial photos showed that the roofs of three rooms below the Mdina bastions had collapsed before 1967
Aerial photos showed that the roofs of three rooms below the Mdina bastions had collapsed before 1967

The Planning Authority has refused the reconstruction of the heavily weathered ruins of former agricultural rooms located just below the Mdina bastions, because the development would adversely impact a very important natural and cultural landscape that contributes to “the character and scenic value of Mdina”.

The case officer report had originally recommended the approval of the application to reconstruct the ruins but in July the Environment Planning Commission noted that the 2014 rural policy ruled out any development which has “an unacceptable adverse impact on the environment, landscape, cultural or archaeological sector.”

Aerial photos showed that the roofs of three rooms set below the bastions had already collapsed before 1967. 

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage had strongly objected to a previous application to rebuild the rooms over a larger footprint by a previous owner. But when consulted on this application the cultural watchdog failed to give its feedback.

The Environment Protection Directorate warned that the ruins of the former rooms should not serve as a pretext for a new structure. It also claimed that it was “dubious” whether the size of the proposed store reflected the dimensions of the pre-1967 structure depicted in a 1968 survey sheet.

But the case officer disputed this claim, insisting that all structures are visible in aerial photos taken before 1967.

The case officer also argued that the restoration of old vernacular buildings was encouraged by the new rural policy.

The proposal involved the partial demolition of the dilapidated walls of two rooms at ground level, the demolition of the external stone slab stairs and the demolition of the room at first floor level. The rooms and the stairs would be rebuilt on the original footprint. The structures would still be used for agricultural purposes.

Din l-Art Helwa had objected to the proposed development, saying that although in its current state of ruin the buildings are “inconspicuous”, if rebuilt they would clash with the fortifications, creating an eyesore.

The environmental organization also pointed out that the room on the first floor was a later addition and insisted that no newly built structure should be allowed to obstruct the fortifications of Mdina.

MEPA’s Heritage Advisory Panel expressed a different opinion. According to the HAC since the structure is quite old it can also be considered to form part of the landscape, including the fortifications.

The panel added that it has no objection as long as the existing footprint and height of building is maintained, and called on the applicant to use the existing weathered stone in the restored structure.

A restoration method statement presented by the architect of the project claimed that the proposed building is a “good example of Maltese rural architecture.” The new building would include timber apertures and stone would be used from “selected quarries” with colour matching the existing building.

Brian Azzopardi, who was assisted by architect and government advisor Robert Musumeci, presented the application which was ultimately turned down. 

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