Sea Malta building demolition illegally authorised by Planning Authority, court rules

The Chamber of Architects says court ruling confirmed its position on the systematic failings in the planning processes

The former Sea Malta building in Marsa
The former Sea Malta building in Marsa

A court has concluded that the Planning Authority illegally authorised the demolition of the former Sea Malta Building in Marsa.

In its judgment, the court slammed the PA and former boss Johann Buttigieg for the illegal demolition and for only relying on a report by an Enemalta architect, rather than appointing one of its own.

In a statement on Saturday, the Chamber of Architects said that Friday’s final judgement confirmed its position on the systematic failings in the planning processes that “make a pretence of being rigorous but fail to truly protect the country’s built environment and its historical architectural legacy.”

It noted how on 20 March 2018, together with Din l-Art Ħelwa and Flimkien għall-Ambjent Aħjar, it had sued the Planning Authority over the illegal authorisation granted to Enemalta to demolish the Sea Malta building at Xatt l-Għassara in Marsa.

“The Sea Malta building, or what is left of it, is an important part of our architectural heritage – a fine modernist building that successive administrations sadly failed to adequately protect and schedule,” the Chamber said.

The court case had been filed after having first written to former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on 6 December 2017 stating that “this building is now severely dismembered as a direct result of the Authority’s failure to recognise its error, to ignore repeated calls for the works to be stopped, and to blatantly ignore the findings of the investigation carried out by the Commissioner [for the Environment and Planning]. This behaviour can only be described as an utter disgrace, and a clear signal that the Authority believes itself to be above the law.”

The former Sea Malta building in Marsa
The former Sea Malta building in Marsa

It remarked how it had called on former Prime Minister Muscat for immediate action to be taken to ensure that abusive planning approvals for demolition of built heritage were reversed, and that the necessary measures are taken to safeguard historical buildings from further destruction under the guise of permitted development.

“A request for an urgent meeting was also made. This letter and successive pleas for discussion remained unanswered,” the Chamber said.

On 29 December 2017, the Commissioner for the Environment and Planning within the Office of the Ombudsman had confirmed the Kamra’s position about the substantive and procedural failings of the Planning Authority in this case. Indeed, the PA’s Executive Council had explicitly voted to ignore the Ombudsman’s findings and allow the demolition of the Sea Malta building to proceed regardless.

It said that over recent months, various images went viral on social media, illustrating the “travesty” surrounding the purported protection of architectural heritage, from prehistoric cart-ruts to rural chapels and prominent 19th Century buildings in St Julian’s.

“These images nakedly expose this pretence, which should no longer be ignored by decision-makers. As witnessed in the Sea Malta building case, given the opportunity, the PA’s Executive Council will vote for the demolition of cultural heritage rather than its protection,” the Chamber said.

“The Kamra shall continue to advocate for the need for comprehensive planning reform to ensure that the Planning Authority begins to focus on upholding the public good rather than speculative interests.”