Heritage Protection is a National Priority -FAA

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Heritage Protection is a National Priority - FAAFlimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) said it welcomes the news that protection is to be given to sixteen historic sites through scheduling by MEPA’s heritage unit. This confirms the increased importance being given by the authorities to the protection of our heritage. FAA has lobbied on behalf of several of these sites; unfortunately, the Qormi Armoury and the Dar tal-Kastellan in Zejtun have already been extensively harmed by insensitive development in spite of their having the value of Grade 1 properties. This highlights the importance of strengthening the Heritage Unit to speed up the scheduling of many important buildings that are still unprotected.

The scheduling of Villa Bonici is a significant victory for Sliema’s already depleted heritage which will allow the development of the estate according to the Local Plan which specifies a home for the elderly on this site. It is heartening to note that MEPA gave importance to the scheduling of the garden, as many beautiful old properties have already been lost due to the development potential of their large gardens. Villa Bonici’s garden, a sorely-needed green lung amid the Sliema urban sprawl, should be purchased by the authorities for public use, restored and opened as a park.

The recent list of scheduled properties includes archaeological sites in Rabat, Zurrieq, Mellieha and Kercem, Gozo, while buildings include Villa Madama in Balzan, Rialto Cinema, Bormla and the Underground Flour Mill at San Gwann, all unique jewels of our historical or architectural heritage which risk destruction if not legally protected. It is rarely mentioned that MEPA has the legal power to order owners of scheduled properties to carry out basic maintenance where it is lacking. Failing this, MEPA can step in, carry out those works and bill the owners, however MEPA’s present budgetary constraints have made it almost impossible for MEPA to fund the initial outlay, encouraging further neglect of scheduled properties such as Villa Guardamangia and Australia Hall in Pembroke.

Heritage protection is a matter of national importance; not only does it define our identity, it enhances our quality of life by its architectural beauty, as opposed to the ugliness of many buildings that replace old structures.

FAA repeats its call for assistance to owners of scheduled properties who do not have the option of demolition and reconstruction of apartments, while maintenance is much more costly than that of more recent properties. Although most of these properties will remain private, those who are responsible for the guardianship of our national architectural heritage usually derive no direct benefit. Surely the nation should help shoulder the burden through grants or VAT exemption on restorations which benefit the locality and preserve the building for posterity? It should be recalled that neglect of our architectural heritage would impact Malta’s tourism which injects far more into our economy than grants or tax exemptions would take out.

MEPA has already given subsidies for the restoration of wooden balconies in the hope of encouraging their retention. Government should implement similar benefits for the maintenance of heritage buildings, as had been promised in 2008 and 2009 Budget schemes which never materialised. Government assistance would encourage owners to safeguard these properties, as once lost, heritage can never be replaced.

Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar – www.faa.org.mt

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