Government Ministers, and hangers-on, are queuing to share credit for the announcement regarding Ta’ Qali’s extension into the largest open space in Malta. A National Park. At the time of writing, it is not at all clear as to what is being proposed -even though the number of increasing accessible open spaces is laudable.
Time will tell whether this announcement will be used to camouflage other action, such as – for example – the chopping up of Villa Gollcher in Mosta. I am informed that this possibility, the demolition of Villa Gollcher and the redevelopment of the site, was recently discussed by a Labour Party Mosta Local Council candidate during a sparsely attended meeting for the Mosta business community. Specifically mentioned was the possibility of providing parking for 500 cars on what is currently a protected site: Villa Gollcher.
Villa Gollcher lies within the urban core of Mosta. It has a superficial area of around 13,000 square metres. Most of the area is taken up by a large garden full of citrus trees. Villa Gollcher is not scheduled. However, I was surprised to identify its protection through Policy CG09 of the Malta Central Local Plan which was approved in 2006. A pleasant surprise – which I am not accustomed to finding in the Local Plans as they have generally been used time and again to place our built heritage on the development chopping board.
The Local Plan, in fact, underlines the special provisions applicable in respect of sites which, like Villa Gollcher in Mosta, are identified as open space enclaves. In this respect, it is stated in the Local Plan, that the Planning Authority “will not consider any development or redevelopment proposals that create new independent residential/non-residential units, including garages for the parking of vehicles.” The only possible developments which may be considered are very minor ones which are aimed at converting/restoring this, and similar properties, in urban conservation areas. There may be room for minor additions compatible with Urban Conservation rules but I believe that – on the basis of the above-quoted policy – it is possible to save Mosta’s Villa Gollcher.
Of course there are the usual tricks which developers play, such as facilitating the dilapidation process through a lack of maintenance. In this respect, we should hold the Planning Authority to account: with appropriate measures it should ensure that owners of properties do not try to successfully stultify the Local Plan policies intended to protect the character of our urban conservation areas.
I am informed that, notwithstanding all this, a promise of sale has been entered into respect of Villa Gollcher, subject to the condition of the issuance of development permits for a large-scale redevelopment. Millions of euros are in play and at stake and we all know that money talks.
Many large gardens worthy of protection in our old urban areas are at risk of being sacrificed on the development chopping board. This will only be possible with the complicity of the Planning Authority and it is our duty to ensure that the Planning Authority is kept on its toes in order that this is avoided. It should be focused on carrying out its duties in ensuring that land use planning is a service from which the whole community stands to gain.
Maybe, who knows, protecting our heritage would be an easier task than it is today.
Published in the Malta Independent – Sunday 12 May 2019