MaltaToday | 06 April 2008 | Four storey block set to dwarf Lija belvedere

NEWS | Sunday, 06 April 2008

Four storey block set to dwarf Lija belvedere

Lija mayor to ask Prime Minister to reconsider permit. By James Debono

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who promised to put Mepa’s house in order before the election, is being taken to task by Lija’s mayor and PN candidate Ian Castaldi Paris, who will be asking him to investigate a permit issued just four days before the general election.
The new three storey block - four, including the penthouse - was approved by Mepa’s Development Control Commission on March 4, and will replace the existing two-storey semi-detached in Transfiguration Avenue: just 20 metres away from the village's picturesque belvedere.
“As mayor I will leave no stone unturned to ensure that no development ruining Lija’s historic core is allowed,” a determined Lija mayor told MaltaToday on Friday.
MaltaToday was the first to raise concern on the controversial permit application in November 2006.
Speaking to MaltaToday, the mayor announced that he will be handing all the relevant documents about the case to the Prime Minister in the next few days.
“We went all the way to oppose this development. We will tell the Prime Minister to use his common sense to assess the permit issued a few days before the election.”
The mayor who has the unanimous support of the Lija council, will also ask Mepa auditor Joe Falzon to investigate the permit’s approval.
Castaldi Paris also announced plans for a popular mobilisation against the controversial permit.
“The council will be writing to all Lija households to inform them on the council’s position,” he said.
The council has also prepared a report written by architect Jo. A. Delia to substantiate its objections to the permit.
The report cites the objections of Mepa’s own Heritage Advisory Board which warned that the development will have a negative impact on the Belvedere a grade one historical building.
The Heritage Advisory Committee declared that “there is no doubt that the building will be very visible and will be the new background of the tower when one drives up towards the Lija church.”
The HAC’s report states that the development in question would seriously jeopardise the context of the Lija tower, if this is allowed to take place in the current proposed form.
Mepa had justified the approval of the new structure plan by referring to the local plan approved in August 2006. The local plan allows 3-storey development with penthouses along Robert Mifsud Bonnici Street which cuts right across Transfiguration Avenue.
But the report presented by the council contends that the Local Plan was approved without consulting the Lija Local Council. “This runs counter to accepted procedure,” the report states.
According to the report, the local plan does not abide by the rules set by the structure plan.
“This section of the local plan runs counter to general protection of monuments, and in particular, the approval of development within a radius of 20 metres which could seriously jeopardize the context of the Lija tower, and let’s not forget also the formal imposing approach to the main square and the Lija Parish backdrop.”
The council’s report considers the development foreseen by the local plan as an “aberration of good urban design planning.”
According to the report “the close proximity of the proposed development to the tower, ie, within 10 metres , will also encourage further deterioration of the closely-knit urban fabric forming the formal approach to the Lija urban village core.
The case officer report, which recommended the approval of the development citing the new local plan, also acknowledged that the proposed development having a negative impact on the setting of the Grade 1 Lija tower.
“The development may, in terms of massing, compete with the nearby monumental tower in the centre of the road just in front of the site,” the report states.
The DPA report also recommends the removal of structure at penthouse level.
Notwithstanding the concerns raised by the HAC and the observations made within the DPA report, the DCC still thought fit to override this advice and proceed to approve the entire development as proposed. An appeal against the application has also been presented to MEPA’s Planning Appeals Board.
In their appeal the residents contend that that the "belvedere" is Lija’s main landmark and is currently surrounded by buildings which do not exceed two floors.
“The building contemplated by the permit will break the equilibrium and the construction will ruin the general lay out of Transfiguration Avenue.”
The residents warn that this development will pave the way “for the dismantling of the avenue’s characteristics.”
The Belveder, a beautiful piece of architecture and a landmark in Transfiguration Avenue, used be part of the garden of Villa Gourgion Depiro, situated on the right hand side facing the church. The palace was on three occasions the meeting place for the National Assembly whilst drafting the 1921 Constitution.
Ironcially, a leaflet sent by Mepa to Lija residents in 2006 depicts the Belveder as the sole image depicting the quaint locality.
The MEPA leaflet even states that “the local plan identifies and protects the village core.” Yet MEPA’s local plan excludes the landmark from the village core, and has paved the way for a construction spree in the town’s main avenue where construction is currently limited to two-storey villas.

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