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Din l-Art Ħelwa slams ‘onslaught on heritage in the heart of Sliema’

The row of houses in Depiro Street, Sliema.

Heritage organisation Din l-Art Ħelwa has raised the alarm on a planning application for the demolition of a stretch of five row houses that are part of the traditional streetscape of Depiro Street, Sliema.

The non governmental organisation said “the unbridled onslaught on Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs) in the heart of Sliema is set to continue” if the planning application is approved.

“The proposal is for the wholesale demolition of five row houses from the early 20th century, with their wooden doors and balconies, wrought iron fanlights and coloured glass windows, so typical of Sliema’s architecture of that period, and their replacement by, effectively, a six-storey development of nondescript apartment blocks,” Din l-Art Ħelwa said in a statement.

The heritage NGO has objected strongly to this “shocking application which totally disregards planning policies for UCAs”. Din l-Art Ħelwa referred to “the absolute lack of appreciation for traditional architecture that continues to be lost to banal residential development”.

There will soon be nothing to show of Malta’s vernacular town houses if the application is approved, the organisation warned. “Once these are lost, they will be lost forever.”

Din l-Art Ħelwa said the application goes against several policies laid out within the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) and in DC15 which are intended to protect vernacular properties that characteriSe the historic fabric of our towns and villages and are still in good state of repair.

These traditional row houses in Depiro Street are part of a stretch of undisturbed streetscape, of over 70 metres length, with an architecturally consistent and continuous rhythm and with characteristic staircases that punctuate the ground floor plinth as was typical of the period, the organisation said.

In its objection to the proposal, the organisation said the Planning Authority ought to abide strictly by these policies which are intended to encourage restoration and conservation of buildings in historic cores and settings, and to prevent their loss. Such policies  are intended to avoid the wiping out of the aesthetic and architectural heritage of the streets, particularly within UCAs. “And these policies ought to be upheld without exception,” Din l-Art Ħelwa said.

Heritage experts stressed it was inconceivable that an application, that directly contradicted the reasons why UCAs were defined, should be approved.  “We are particularly concerned at the marked boldness with such applications, directly and unashamedly contradicting the objectives of such policies, that are being increasingly submitted to the Planning Authority for approval.”

If one such proposal slips through, it will very shortly lead to the total oblivion of those characteristics that the country so badly now needs to preserve, Din l-Art Ħelwa said.

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