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NEWS | Sunday, 13 April 2008

Clash of the mayors: Siggiewi mayor defends development opposed by Lija Mayor

James Debono

Two mayors elected on the Nationalist ticket are at loggerheads over MEPA’s decision to grant a permit for a four-storey block that is set to dwarf the Lija Belvedere – a grade 1 historical building.
In an unprecedented move, architect and Siggiewi mayor Robert Musumeci has written to MaltaToday to defend a permit issued four days before the election, after being approved in principle in August 2007.
Lija’s mayor Ian Castaldi Paris, who wants the permit revoked, has asked the Prime Minister to “use his common sense” to investigate how the permit was issued.
Musumeci himself acknowledges that this is the first time he is commenting on a project in which he was involved as an architect.
Asked by MaltaToday whether he would defend a similar development in Siggiewi’s historical core, Musumeci replied:
“As mayor I have to always to abide to what the local plan says,” Musumeci replied.
Musumeci argues that since the permit abides with the local plan approved in August 2006, the permit was justified.
The local plan allows three-storey buildings overlying semi-basements and an overlying receded floor. The same plan excludes the Lija belvedere from the town’s core where only two-storey development is allowed.
He also insists that the revoking of the permit would constitute an abuse of power.
“This certainly would be a throwback to medieval times when the absolute monarch had the power of life and death over each of his subjects, immaterially of what the law stated.”
Yet the local council is also presenting more arguments to safeguard Lija’s historical core from this development.
The council’s architect cites MEPA’s own case officer report, which proposed the elimination of the penthouse from the development.
“The granting of the penthouse is not automatic but at MEPA's discretion. This could have made all the difference to the project,” the council’s architect told MaltaToday.
The council also argues that the Structure Plan, which protects village cores from development, overrides the Local Plan.
The structure plan states that developments “which adversely affect views of or from an Urban Conservation Areas, or which detract from the traditional urban skyline, shall not be approved.”
The local council also cites the Heritage Act which gives protects the setting of historical buildings. The law states very clearly that: “Demolition or alterations which impair the setting or change the external or internal appearance… will not be allowed.”
One major contention between the Musumeci and the Lija council is whether the council was consulted. MaltaToday can confirm that the draft local plan first issued for public consultation in 2002 already included a map which proposed a three-storey development in the vicinity of the Lija tower.
Robert Musumeci contends that both the council and MEPA had ample time to propose changes to this designation before the local plan was finally approved in 2006.
But the Lija council still contends that it was not consulted on the change to the Local Plan in line with the provisions of the EU Directive on public consultation.
The Building Industry Consultative Council, chaired by Robert Musumeci, had submitted its proposals on the local plan for Central Malta in 2005.
In its submission the BICC argued against the “blanket emphasis on architectural value of old buildings”, adding that “19th century urban form stultifies architectural innovation and creativity, and ultimately the creation of buildings with an architectural value perhaps greater than those they replace.”

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