Malta’s capital city, Valletta, is at risk of losing its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the government and particularly the Culture Ministry’s inaction on implementing recommendations from the international cultural heritage body, some dating back over a decade.
Valletta – by far Malta’s most significant tourist selling point – has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1980. However, overdevelopment in the last years and a lack of action from the government is putting its status at risk.
In a strongly worded decision taken last month during the last UNESCO World Heritage Convention in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Malta was given until the end of 2024 to present its updated report on the state of conservation of Valletta, notably a management plan initially requested in 2011.
The decision followed the submission of a report to the convention, in which experts lamented that Malta has been working on a so-called ‘Management Plan for Valletta’ for years, with no conclusion. Highlighting that this plan was initially requested some 12 years ago, experts said that “this hasn’t been completed yet”.
In 2017, a UNESCO advisory mission again recommended that Malta complete a management plan for Valletta and a “Views and Vistas” analysis report to address the growing concern about how high-rise buildings impact its skyline.
The mission also asked Malta to conduct Heritage Impact Assessments for all future major restorations or new constructions within Valletta and to appoint a site manager urgently.
“The first two recommendations have not been completed,” the UNESCO decision said, adding, “The appointment of a site manager was completed with considerable delay only in 2023″.
The convention also expressed concerns over recent reports it has received, particularly on the long-delayed refurbishment of a museum at St John’s Co-Cathedral, the privatisation of Evans building, and the development of Manoel Island.
“It is regrettable that the tender for the redevelopment of Evans building appears to recognise only the value of the facades and potential archaeological remains and that, according to the website for the proposed redevelopment of Manoel Island near Valletta, the masterplan was approved before the completion of the ‘Views and Vistas analysis’.”
In its final recommendations, UNESCO asked Malta to submit the Views and Vista analysis addressing the issue of height controls in and outside Valletta from strategic viewpoints for review by its advisory bodies to complete the delineation of an adequate buffer zone around the city and to finalise the management plan requested in 2011.
Malta’s contacts with UNESCO are Culture Minister Owen Bonnici and Ambassador Mons Joe Vella Gauci.