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Concern over Citadel car park

Photomontage of the revised scheme design (2010).

Photomontage of the revised scheme design (2010).

The planning authority’s environment arm has criticised a proposal by the Gozo Curia to transform fields around the Citadel into a car park.

The Environment Protection Directorate “has significant concerns about the permanent land take-up associated with the car park, particularly due to the close proximity to the Citadel,” it said in a report.

The directorate also disagreed with a conclusion in the environment assessment report – which forms part of a development application being considered by the planning authority – that the change in land use from “natural vegetation to a car park is of minor significance”.

“The car park will entail significant land take-up in a sensitive area and the site is also a candidate for inclusion on the Unesco World Heritage List,” the directorate said.

The Curia intends to develop a parking area with 84 spaces, split over two levels, and to stabilise the slopes at the site outside the Citadel in an area known as Ir-Raba’ Ta’ Wara s-Sur.

The land covers 6,000 square metres over three terraced levels and falls outside the development zone in Victoria. It is also designated as a Special Area of Conservation and Area of High Landscape Value.

The Curia-commissioned report justified the project as presenting “an opportunity to enhance accessibility to the Citadel by providing parking spaces and strengthening the bastions by creating stabilised slopes”.

Over the years, the slopes were made unstable by runoff water from the rain and exposure to the elements, creating a “potential risk to public safety”.

The Curia also said the project was “pastoral in nature” so its “economic objectives are not of primary and fundamental importance” and people using the car park to go to the law courts or shops would be charged a “nominal flat-rate fee” not related to the duration of the stay.

The site “is already being used as a makeshift off-road car park, creating an area of disturbed land”.

However, the environment unit said the development of the car park went against the National Environment Policy for development in historic sites and areas through planning permission, because of the significant visual impact on the landscape.

“The presence of the illegal ‘temporary’ car park does not justify the need for a new car park in the area and, despite improvements in the overall design of the proposal, the impact on the cultural landscape is still of major adverse significance,” the directorate said.

The original proposals included spaces for 113 cars spread over three levels with a small belvedere. However, it had been criticised by environment groups and it was downsized.

The environment directorate said it agreed with the report’s conclusion that the development would have a significant adverse visual impact particularly with medium and long distance of the site.

It also noted that the Curia’s report conceded that the project would “destroy part of the natural terracing, which is retained by well-preserved rubble walls, altering what is until now an undeveloped area”.

However, even though no cultural features were identified during the site survey, the presence of other archaeological sites in the vicinity, such as the Bronze Age silos at It-Telgħa tal-Belt, the remains of medieval fortifications in the ravelin in front of the Citadel, and the remains at Triq l-Imgħallem, “suggest a likely existence of additional buried remains that may be impacted by the development and lead to their eventual loss”.

The car park is expected to lead to “another scar in the cultural landscape” and was a major significant impact, the directorate said.

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