Times of Malta, 18th April 2008, by Fiona Galea Debono – Archaeological investigations around the Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra megalithic temples have been completed, paving the way for works on the protective shelters and visitors’ centre to start imminently, Reuben Grima, Heritage Malta’s senior curator, prehistoric sites, said.

“Construction work can proceed apace, within days and weeks – not months,” he said, adding that the December 2008 deadline would be adhered to despite any delays.

The project had to be completed by the end of the year, he stressed. “We cannot slip on that due to the EU funding, which lists the December 2008 deadline as an obligation,” he said, confirming that the project was still on schedule.

It dates back six years to 2002, when the application was first submitted. In 2004 an outline development permit was approved followed by the issue of the permit a year later.

The stage that was reached yesterday was the result of a “lengthy and thorough procedure” while some delay was due to the fact that the Malta Environment and Planning Authority had stopped functioning for a couple of weeks after the election.

Dr Grima was speaking outside the Mepa premises where “reserved matters” on the construction of the visitors’ centre, the protective shelter on the megalithic sites and the park facilities, were approved.

The groundwork has been laid – practically literally – and Heritage Malta now has the approval, following a number of “hoops it had to jump through”, Dr Grima said. “But the process deserves the time it had taken. We had to be sure and reassure everybody concerned that no stone was left unturned for the best possible solution.”

Certain design details were dependent on extensive archaeological excavation that had to be conducted at the sites of the centre and the shelters, Dr Grima explained. The process has been completed and, in the light of the results, minor modifications have been made to the design in close consultation with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, which advises Mepa.

The idea was for the foundations of the membrane tent structures to have the least possible impact, he explained.

The development permit had been subjected to a number of reserved matters, which fundamentally consisted of technical details on how the tent structures would be installed and anchored to the ground as well as the foundation levels of the visitors’ centre.

On this last point, archaeological investigations indicated that the amount of rock cutting would have exceeded that predicted. The plans were, therefore, amended, resulting in the fact that the visitors’ centre, located in the existing car park, has been reduced in volume and its height lowered by a metre, project manager Robert Sant explained.

The “trimming” of the stone allowed for the lowering of the structure’s skyline, he said, adding that an approved method statement was adhered to, under the surveillance of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage.