by Petra Caruana Dingli

In his thought-provoking ‘Midas Curse’ article on high-rise projects last year, Archbishop Charles Scicluna worried about the skyline with the impact of these “cement monstrosities on the soft rambling contours of our countryside and traditional townscapes”.

Soon afterwards, government whip Godfrey Farrugia said the skyline is “a natural heritage domain” belonging to everyone and that no land owner can own the skyline. He was particularly incensed by plans for high-rise buildings at Mrieħel.

In their wide-ranging proposals for the environment launched last week, the Nationalist Party has now committed to achieving a skyline policy for the whole country. It holds that the skyline is part of our common heritage. This is a significant move for any future plans for tall buildings. High-rise is fine when sited appropriately.

The ‘skyline’ is the shape of buildings as outlined by the sky behind them. Changes in the skyline can deeply affect the character of an area. Skylines of well-known places are often unique, and some are protected in planning laws around the world – although not yet in Malta.

Views help us to understand places, and people are emotionally attached to them. This could mean views of the countryside or townscapes, or wider panoramas. Views both into and out of historic areas are rele­vant to their character or beauty.

To protect skylines, key views are identified. In Malta, Valletta and Mdina are undoubtedly key views, as is the historic line of vision between them.

For example, this is why plans for tall buildings at Mrieħel are problematic. This is high and central ground, where buildings are better kept low. A cluster of skyscrapers there will be widely visible in the surrounding landscape, changing the skyline in Malta as a whole.