Sunday Times of Malta, 11 April 2010, by Juan Ameen –

The scheduling process to protect historic buildings should be streamlined under one authority and the government should allocate more resources for enforcement, according to a heritage organisation.

Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna chief executive Mario Farrugia has called for one scheduling list bringing together the process carried out by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and the Superintendence for the Cultural Heritage.

According to the 2008 State of the Environment Report, around 1,900 architectural sites were scheduled in 2008 – of these 83 per cent were afforded Grade 1 and 2 protection.

Between 2000 and 2008, nine per cent of owners who were notified of a scheduling applied for reconsideration while 1.1 per cent filed an appeal against the decision.

Mr Farrugia said there were some high profile cases where property was de-scheduled to accommodate developers.

“These cases have seriously prejudiced the process and contributed towards the frustration of Mepa employees and heritage organisations while seriously undermining public confidence.”

But unless Mepa had powers to enforce the law to ensure owners honoured their legal implications, he said, the scheduling process had no value.

“Failing that, the scheduled list will remain just that – a list and nothing else.”

The report also pointed out that Malta’s heritage was under threat from, among other things, demolition and inappropriate design of new and restored buildings, which undermined street character.

In fact, around 15 per cent of bank guarantees imposed by the planning authority between 2004 and 2007 to bind the owners to protect scheduled buildings – even during construction – were forfeited.

The report raised questions about whether the guarantees, which amounted to an average of €4,700 per property, acted as a deterrent for the owners. Din L-Art Ħelwa executive president Petra Bianchi said Mepa should encourage the rehabilitation of old buildings and high quality design in planning.

“Our traditional streetscapes are also endangered, as people are too prepared to knock down old buildings… and so many have been replaced by mediocre new designs.”

Dr Bianchi called on the government to work on more projects, such as the Valletta and Grand Harbour regeneration projects that brought together heritage and socio-economic issues.