Sunday Times of Malta, 5 April 2010
Letter to the Editor by Martin Galea
Claire Bonello (The Sunday Times, March 21) claims that last year, when I was president of Din l-Art Ħelwa, I was taken on a trip to Paris, and lo and behold, Din l-Art Ħelwa is now in favour of Renzo Piano’s proposals for Valletta.
The facts are these: I was invited to Paris by the government to accompany the Superintendent of Fortifications and a senior staff member in the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in charge of heritage. Also accompanying us was the minister’s private secretary. We flew to Paris in the morning and I returned in the afternoon.
In Paris, we saw the models and plans proposed by the architect and had a two-hour discussion with Mr Piano. Overall, I was impressed and, personally, broadly in favour of the proposal. On my return, I reported my views to our council and we had long discussions that took into consideration all aspects of the project. A decision was deferred until the plans were made public and our council members were able to see the detailed proposals for themselves.
The issue was discussed again and we decided to issue our conclusions to the press and to the government that Din l-Art Ħelwa saw the project as an imaginative solution to the City Gate area and worthy of this world heritage city.
We put forward some reservations, the principal one being the height of the Parliament building, along with a suggestion to extend the project so that it could embrace the terminus area and the residential block opposite.
To put this in context, it should be noted that about a year before this I had written to the Prime Minister on behalf of Din l-Art Ħelwa stating that the question of City Gate and the Opera House should be reopened with a view to concluding this long-running debate.
We also made these views public in our newsletter to our members. We also said that we were not opposed to a modern intervention as long as it complied with the Charter of Venice. Whether this prompted the government to move on the issue is for the Prime Minister to say, but certainly Din l-Art Ħelwa wanted to see the issue of the bungled gate and war-damaged Opera House resolved after 60 years of argument.
I should also state that the council of Din l-Art Ħelwa is made up of committed volunteers who devote much of their free time trying to make a difference when it comes to environment or heritage.
It is a high-powered committee of hardworking individuals bound by this common cause.
We studied, discussed and ultimately decided in favour of the project. Whoever might suggest that our conclusion was the result of a trip by the president of the organisation to Paris has no idea of Din l-Art Ħelwa or how it works.
We have a long track record of fighting in favour of heritage and the environment. We do this honestly, openly and always without personalising the issues at hand.