Paceville’s listed buildings: Heritage watchdog agrees with overhead storeys

A planning decision could set a precedent that adds extra storeys on Grade 2 scheduled buildings in Malta and Gozo

A planning decision could set a precedent that adds extra storeys on Grade 2 scheduled buildings in Malta and Gozo.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage has given its blessing to an application to add an additional three floors on an entire row of listed buildings in Wilga Street in Paceville, provided that the extra floors are receded.

As proposed, the application seeks to raise the building height of the existing scheduled townhouses in “a uniform architectural vocabulary reaching the adjacent blank third-party walls”.

The two-storey, early 20th century townhouses are scheduled at Grade 2 because of their architectural and historical value. This scheduling normally precludes demolition or significant alterations to the buildings.

But in its submissions on this particular application the SCH said that “prima facie” it is in agreement with the proposed application and the proposed additional facades, “provided that the newly proposed structures above the existing roof level are receded in order to protect the visual integrity of the existing scheduled structures”.

While recommending extra floors on the townhouses, the SCH described the buildings as being of “significant cultural heritage value” because “they are built with an architectural rhythm that correlate with each other in this surviving significantly legible streetscape”.

Originally, resident Priscilla Calleja requested the addition of two floors to transform her property into a guesthouse back in 2017, but it was recommended for refusal following the objection of the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage.

In 2018, Planning Authority chairperson Johann Buttigieg proposed an outline application to be instead submitted for the whole stretch of scheduled properties, to determine the building height and external appearance, and avoid piecemeal development.

Buttigieg noted that the outline application will cover an area well beyond the applicant’s property and will act as a master plan for the whole area.

Now Calleja has applied to add three new floors on all townhouses, declaring she was not the owner of the entire site but that other owners had been informed and granted consent.

In 2017 the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage had warned that the proposed increase in height will alter the façade of the scheduled property, with a consequent impact on the streetscape and on the adjacent scheduled properties. The latest solution would remove the impact on adjacent properties but would still alter the façade of the property.

Planners are viewing the application as a test case for similar developments across Malta and Gozo, which could see similar attempts to avoid blank party walls by roping owners of entire rows of scheduled buildings. But this could result in a drastic architectural change, which could erode the heritage value of these buildings. The case once again exposes a gap in planning legislation which fails to clearly state what kind of development can be allowed on listed buildings.