Heritage watchdog’s go-ahead for Manoel Island development given despite concerns

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage (SCH) overlooked important considerations when approving developments on Manoel Island, raising doubts about its effectiveness.

The SCH raised no objections to the latest plans for Manoel Island despite being aware the development could breach requests made by international heritage watchdog UNESCO last year.

The Superintendence’s lack of objection is among a series of inconsistent stances, which cast doubt on whether it fulfils its objectives amid concerns of conflicts of interest among its top staff.

The latest development application on Manoel Island awaits a Planning Authority decision pending further consultations with the SCH. A decision set to be taken last week was postponed at the last minute following concerns raised by NGOs.

Developer MIDI’s plans for the islet include more than 300 luxury apartments across three large building clusters with additional commercial areas.

If approved, the development would lie within a buffer zone proposed by the government as part of the requirements for Valletta to retain its UNESCO World Heritage status.

UNESCO’s requirements

The buffer zone intended to protect views of the capital forms part of a management plan urgently requested by UNESCO last year, following more than a decade of inaction by Maltese authorities.

A deadline for the requirements’ fulfilment was set for last December, 12 years after they were due in 2011. Maltese authorities have yet to complete the work.

In a strongly worded decision at UNESCO’s 45th World Heritage Convention last September, the international heritage watchdog called for the management plan to be completed before the approval of further large developments. It specifically noted developments on Manoel Island.

The committee noted a 2021 masterplan for development on the island had already been “approved before the completion of the ‘Views and Vistas analysis’,” a portion of the management plan which defines the buffer zone.

“Noting the [Manoel Island development] is still in the design phase,” the committee called on government authorities to ensure the analysis “is finalised before the masterplan is approved” and development carried out.

It said, “It is of concern that limited progress has been made on the establishment of a buffer zone,” noting that it had been initially requested in 2009.

The Superintendence’s decision

While the SCH has conducted several assessments and held consistent discussions with the developer, shaping the development around archaeological finds, it has not objected to the plans.

In a consultation submitted to the Planning Authority last October, the SCH noted that the development now lies within the newly proposed buffer zone.

The SCH claimed the National World Heritage Technical Committee, headed by Malta’s ambassador to UNESCO Monsignor Joe Vella Gauci, said “if the project is in line with the parameters of the [previously approved 2021 masterplan], and there is no further increase from that, no further engagement is necessary,” from the committee.

“In light of the above, the SCH does not object,” the unit concluded, washing its hands of the issue.

The Shift has previously reported Monsignor Vella Gauci’s refusal to act on flats proposed close to Ġgantija’s megalithic temples, also a UNESCO site, and controversial works on Valletta St John’s Co-Cathedral.

Inconsistency and conflicts

The SCH has acted selectively in a string of other controversial developments.

Amid multiple proposals for constructing multi-storey apartments within the Ġgantija temples’ UNESCO buffer zone, the SCH has only objected to one development of several others in the area.

In another case last year, the SCH failed to inform the Planning Authority it found historic neolithic remains at Santa Verna, Xagħra.

The Shift has previously reported how, despite ostensibly serving as an independent watchdog for the Planning Authority, several of the SCH’s staff were seconded by the same Authority.

These included Superintendent Kurt Farrugia and several unit heads and senior executives.

                           

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2 Comments
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S. Camilleri
S. Camilleri
1 month ago

The more they wash their hands were so called development is concerned the dirtier their hands get.

S. Camilleri
S. Camilleri
1 month ago

The SCH is another useless agency like all the rest who should be protecting our environment which has gone to the dogs since their creation.

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