Malta’s Ambassador to UNESCO, Gozitan Monsignor Joe Vella Gauci, who also leads Malta’s World Heritage Sites Technical Committee, has refused to declare his position over the latest Planning Authority controversy permitting the building of flats meters away from the Ggantija World Heritage site in Gozo.
Clearing the way for Emmanuel Farrugia – a Gozitan developer known as ‘Ta’ Trieste’, to build a block of 22 apartments and 20 garages, the Planning Authority quoted the ‘approval’ of Vella Gauci’s technical committee to justify its decision.
Farrugia started selling the apartments off-plan two years before the decisions, using the views of the temples as a selling point.
The Shift asked Vella Gauci for his position on the latest development and whether his office had discussed the application directly with UNESCO, but no response was received despite reminders.
The government also turned down a request for the minutes of Vella Gauci’s Technical Committee, in which the Ggantija application was meant to be discussed.
The Nationalist Party’s culture spokesperson, Julie Zahra, asked Culture Minister Owen Bonnici to table the relevant minutes of the committee.
Bonnici refused, stating that what the MP requested was “confidential”.
While just a day after the permit’s approval by the Planning Authority, the Superintendent for Cultural Heritage Kurt Farrugia asked for its revocation, this was just a knee-jerk reaction to placate the public outcry on the latest government slip up.
Documents show that in November 2022, the superintendent and Vella Gauci’s Technical Committee gave the ok to construct flats near the Gozitan World Heritage site.
According to a letter sent to the Planning Authority, the superintendence declared its “no objection” and added that “the proposal had already been cleared in principle by the World Heritage Sites Technical Committee.”
It is not known whether, at that stage, Vella Gauci had sought the opinion of the World Heritage Centre before agreeing to the proposal.
It was only months later, as pressure increased against the project, that the superintendence informed the Planning Authority that the World Heritage Centre was insisting on a Heritage Impact Assessment.
Architect Samuel Formosa – who sits on many government-appointed boards – responsible for the project, did not present this assessment but the Planning Authority still approved the permit.
The government, now through the superintendence, is asking for its revocation, given the need for the ‘forgotten’ assessment.