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NGOs call for scheduling of Villa Bonici gardens

Four organisations have called on the authorities to schedule the entirety of Villa Bonici’s gardens in Sliema.

MEPA's recently published a proposal for the conversion of the villa Bonici into a home for the elderly.

Sliema Residents Association, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, NatureTrust and BirdLife welcomed the developers’ intention to respect the heritage value of the Villa Bonici building, and acknowledged that the proposed conversion also met an important social need as it would alleviate the shortage of sheltered accommodation for elderly persons in the locality.

 They said that half of the estate's gardens were scheduled last year after intense lobbying by SRA and FAA, due to their important heritage value as they include several unique features such as a Baroque gate, an ornamental gothic style tower or ‘folly’, an early open-air cinema and band stand as well as enormous wells. 

 The government, the organisations said, should not miss the opportunity to purchase the last remaining large green space in the Sliema/Gzira area, and preserve it as a nature park, as it was an important habitat to a wide range of biodiversity, including the western whip snake, lizards and geckos, migrant birds such as herons, falcons, bee-eaters and swifts, as well as resident birds.

The site also housed a colony of bats, which made it automatically eligible for protection.

The garden was also an essential lung for Sliema, which already suffered from high rates of air pollution. The organisations pointed out that four planning applications proposing the development of the Forestals block and adjacent low-lying buildings up to Sacro Cuor Street into apartment blocks over 10 storeys high at the Strand, would have a lasting negative impact on Villa Bonici.

If granted, these massive bastion-like developments would cast a permanent shadow on the lower parts of the estate, impacting the ecology of the scheduled garden negatively.

The NGOs questioned how the gardens of Villa Bonici were mysteriously changed from an Urban Conservation Area to one with ‘unspecified heights’.

They said that failure to schedule the lower half of the gardens would lead to rampant over-development of the site with all the implications of additional traffic and loss of biodiversity and water.

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