Concerns on heritage status of Valletta
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Concerns on heritage status of Valletta

Call for policies on high-rise buildings

Valletta's world heritage status may be threatened by the luxury apartment blocks at Tigné and by the city's newly built penthouses, The Times has learned.

Concerns about the capital's privileged status were raised in the last meeting of Unesco's World Heritage Committee in Seville, which asked the government to establish "clear policies" in relation to building height within the city and its environs.

The committee, which met six weeks ago, called for the establishment of a buffer zone around Valletta with building height controls to protect the "skyline configuration of the city".

It also asked the government to submit detailed information on the proposed large scale developments for Valletta's entrance in line with world heritage status guidelines.

The government has until February to address the concerns raised by Unesco.

The committee concluded that although previous documentation submitted by the government in 2007 identified the environs outside Valletta as an area of high landscape value, it did not clearly define the extent of the area.

"No buffer zone as such for the property (Valletta) is provided," the committee of experts said.

The committee made specific reference to a 16-storey development across the harbour at Tigné point.

It said photographic evidence submitted by government two years ago to refute the claim that the development would detract from Valletta's cultural value was deemed as "insufficiently clear" to reach a conclusion.

The submitted photographs had been taken from Bighi in Kalkara.

In view of these conclusions the committee asked the government to prepare an analysis of the "views and vistas" from strategic points within the city and outside it.

Another issue of concern was Mepa's decision to grant permits for penthouses in Valletta. Government had rebutted the accusation by submitting photographic evidence to show the penthouses were not having a negative impact on the cityscape.

However, the committee said the image was not clear enough and asked for the establishment of clear height control policies to protect the city's skyline.

The impact of high-rise development at Tigné on Valletta's cultural value was originally raised in 2007 by various environmental organisations opposed to the Fort Cambridge development, which consisted of two high-rise residential blocks containing 348 apartments.

The government brief for Fort Cambridge had stipulated a maximum of 16 storeys but this was sidetracked by Mepa when it approved 20 storeys.

Fort Cambridge will not be the only towering block on the overcrowded Tigné peninsula. Over the next few years the area will see two other high-rise towers go up as part of the Midi project, apart from other apartment blocks that have already been constructed.

The Unesco decision on Valletta comes at a time when the World Heritage Committee is being very critical of projects that could harm the "outstanding universal value" of cities on the World Heritage List. During the same committee meeting the city of Dresden lost its World Heritage status after being repeatedly warned about the construction of a bridge they wanted to build.

Valletta was accorded World Heritage Status in 1980.

ksansone@timesofmalta.com

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