Zabbar vernacular farmhouse set for demolition

PA tribunal overrules cultural heritage superintendence to permit demolition of vernacular farmhouse deemed to merit protection

This building is set to be demolished against the advice of the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage
This building is set to be demolished against the advice of the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage

The Planning Authority’s (PA) Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has overruled the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage to allow the demolition of a vernacular building in Zabbar, and to make way for the development of a new four-storey building, a permit for which is now imminent.

The PA last year turned down the application to demolish the building – a traditional Maltese farmhouse built around a central courtyard – and surround the site with a wall.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage (SCH) insisted that substantial parts of the building merit conservation since they are of “architectural value synonymous with vernacular structures dating to the Early Modern Period (16th to 18th centuries)” and objected to the demolition of the “historical parts” of the structure.

The SCH had even indicated the two parts of the structure, which should be retained. It also pointed out that a well of “probable historical value” survives in the property proposed for demolition and that the property is located in an area where important discoveries were made in the past, including rock cut tombs dating to the classical period.

Developer Frans Muscat justified the demolition because the building is an obstacle to the existing thoroughfare, protruding beyond the building line. He also argued that the features present in the building are commonly found in Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs) where such structures would be appropriately located within a contextual setting.

The development had also been vetted by the PA’s two internal heritage watchdogs, which expressed contradictory opinions. The PA’s Heritage Protection Unit expressed a preference towards the retention of the building but said that the location outside the road alignment should also be given its due consideration. The Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee approved the demolition.

The PA’s planning arm originally favoured the demolition of the building because of its “unsafe location outside the building line”. But the other arm, the environment planning commission, ultimately decided that the permit would be in breach of policies aimed at safeguarding the cultural heritage.

Now the PA’s appeals tribunal – the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal – justified overturning the PA’s decision, arguing that the demolition of the building would improve road safety by opening up Triq Sant Antnin.

It also argued that the context of the building had changed from a rural one to an urban one, which is characterised by modern buildings. Moreover the old building did not serve to give an identity to the area.

The tribunal was composed of Martin Saliba, Robert Sarsero and Simon Micallef Stafrace.

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