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Developers opt to save 19th century battery

The 19th century Garden Battery in Tigné Point is being meticulously restored, just a few years after it was doomed to destruction to make way for a traffic tunnel.

Ben Muscat, Midi Consortium chief executive, said that in the late 1990s the project's outline development permit gave the developers the green light to excavate and dismantle the battery as it was not worth preserving.

Things changed in 2000/1 when the heritage section within the Malta Environment and Planning Authority appealed for the preservation of the place.

"Preserving the battery meant a total rethink of Tigné North's master plan. The tunnel in the original plan was going to pass right through it, so we had to come up with a scheme that split the north phase with new architectural designs," Mr Muscat told The Times.

The change of plans meant an 18-month delay and an additional outlay of Lm600,000 to preserve and restore the battery while enabling a tunnel to pass underneath to connect both sides of Tigné Point - the Strand and Qui-Si-Sana.

"Technically, we could have dug in our heels, since this was not part of the original plan but this stance would have no doubt also created delays and would have also put us on collision course with heritage authorities," he said.

"Today, having gone through the trouble, delays and expense of preserving the Garden Battery we tend to look on the bright side and see its restoration as a way of adding a bit more character and historical appeal to the project.

"Restoring it presented an opportunity of creating a heritage attraction that will complement Tigné Fort and other leisure attractions at Tigné Point ."

Garden Battery was constructed in 1894, with three sea-facing gun emplacements to cover the area between Fort Tigné and Cambridge Battery.

It was operated up to the early years of the 20th century but when its weapons were deemed obsolete most of the ditch in front of it was filled up and several structures were built over the glacis and the gun emplacements.

The battery will eventually form part of the heritage route proposed for Tigné Point, linked through Fort Tigné from part of the uncovered ditch that used to run the length of the Garden Battery, from the fort to Cambridge Battery.

The Garden Battery will be smack in the middle of the office development at Tigné Point, so the building has been divided into two elements wrapped around it, forming an atrium with a heritage site "making the high tech office development at Tigné Point unique, probably, even internationally".

Project architect Alex Torpiano said the process entailed dismantling and rebuilding a section of the battery to construct the underlying relief road section.

The rock structures around the battery were very fragile, with a number of fissures in the direction of the excavation, so it was an engineering feat to redesign the tunnel in a way that preserved the battery, he said.

Holes were drilled in the bedrock and huge steel beams were inserted to support the gun emplacement and make it possible for the rock underneath to be excavated to form the underlying relief road.

The 300-metre road will open to initially controlled access in December 2007.

The Garden Battery's restoration forms part of Midi's Lm140 million project to redevelop Tigné Point and Manoel Island.

The full restoration works at Fort Manoel, constructed in 1723, are estimated to cost Lm2.5 million.

Midi has dismantled stone by stone the 19th century Clock Tower and recreated its façade to form part of the Clock Tower Block and the Retail and Leisure Mall at Tigné Point.

Fort Tigné will also be restored and is scheduled to be completely refurbished by the time it houses a series of cultural and commercial activities in 2008.

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