[WATCH] Sliema residents more concerned about inconvenience than development itself, mayor says

On Xtra tonight, Sliema mayor Anthony Chircop acknowledges that the locality had reached its saturation point years ago but said the council could not simply oppose development for the sake of it

Saviour Balzan hosts architect Edward Sais (centre) and Sliema mayor Anthony Chircop
Saviour Balzan hosts architect Edward Sais (centre) and Sliema mayor Anthony Chircop

Sliema residents were more concerned about the inconvenience caused by the rate of development in the locality than they were about the number of the buildings being torn down to be replaced by modern flats, Sliema mayor Anthony Chircop said tonight.

Appearing on Xtra, on TVM, Chircop told Savior Balzan the council had never considered holding a local referendum to see how the residents felt about the fact that many historical and old buildings were being torn down.

“I would not think such a referendum would necessarily reflect reality, since most of the residents’ complaints are mainly about the disruption in their daily lives due to the traffic, road closures and noise,” he said.

Architect Edward Said, who specialises in the restoration of historical buildings and is a major proponent of the need to safeguard the country's architectural heritage, said he was very much aware that it was inevitable that certain architectural features and practices be lost over the years.

"But I believe we can, and should, try and safeguard as much of our rich heritage as possible, and that is what I try to do in my work," he said.

He said Sliema was the locality with the highest concentration of different architectural styles and said he hoped that an upcoming exercise by the Planning Authority to protect a number of the town’s buildings would take this into consideration.

“Sliema was a victim of its own success, and still is to this day,” Said insisted, noting that many of the residents who sold their property or had it redeveloped were most often those who moved to live outside the town.

Architect Tara Cassar, for Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, said that there were a lot of buildings in Sliema that needed to be protected and preserved because they were an intrinsical part of Malta’s heritage.

Nonetheless, she said, it was not right to say that Sliema had lost all its character, since the town still had lots of character, if only one was willing to look for it.

Sandro Chetcuti, president of the Malta Developers Association, acknowledged that many Sliema residents often complained about the number of houses being torn down to make way for modern apartment blocks.

“But let us be clear that this development being carried out is in line with all the policies approved as part of the local plans introduced in 2006,” he insisted.

Said said that the policies proving most harmful were probably those on height limitations, specifically those allowing for development that matches the height of existing buildings in the same block terrace.

“This is mostly true in the case of blank walls, where development is often granted in the case of development that would reduce the cases of blank walls in a terrace,” he said.

Said that the existing policies were more ambiguous than previous systems, where architects and buyers could know beforehand whether development was permitted in any particular area or street in Sliema.

“I remember, for example, people used to buy properties in Stella Maris Street, knowing that no development was allowed in the area,” he said. “And yet today there are pending applications for the development of apartment blocks in the street, with the inevitable additional floors, although they have yet to be decided upon.”

Urban Conservation Areas

Chetcuti said that UCA policies needed to be tweaked particularly through incentives, since strict enforcement could lead to a lack of investment resulting in ghost town areas.

But Cassar noted that, only recently, permission had been granted for the development of two historical residences in the main square in Zebbug, Gozo, into a guesthouse, despite the fact they were in an Urban Conservation Area.

Chircop said that the council was always careful to maintain a position in favour of a balance, and not necessarily against any development as a given.

He acknowledged that Sliema had reached saturation point years ago and lamented the fact that development applications kept being filed, including major projects.

“Sometimes I even wonder if the developers themselves recognise any benefit in their projects or if this development is simply being done just for the sake of it,” he said.