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Demolition of Balluta's historic villa prompts possible court action against PA

Despite repeated requests, the PA failed to take action

Balluta’s historic Villa St Ignatius. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Balluta’s historic Villa St Ignatius. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Din L-Art Ħelwa has requested the court to rule on whether contempt of court proceedings should be taken against the Planning Authority and developers over the controversial demolition of Balluta's historic Villa St Ignatius.

In its application, Din L-Art Ħelwa, represented by lawyer Franco Vassallo, claims that the developer, Paul Gauci, and his architect, Stephen Vancell, breached the conditions of a court order in carrying out the demolition.

It also claims that Planning Authority executive chairman Johann Buttigieg and enforcement director Martin Scicluna failed to stop the works and issued a written statement that the case had been investigated and found to be in line with the court order, when this was manifestly not the case.

Developer ordered works to continue as soon as the officers had left the site

The case was heard by Judge Anna Felice, and a decision on whether to initiate contempt of court proceedings will be handed down on March 20.

An entire wing of Villa St Ignatius was demolished over the course of nearly a week last November and December, just days after Din L-Art Ħelwa had applied for the building to be scheduled.

Watch: Workers send Villa St Ignatius structure crashing down

The villa is part of a larger property which once housed the first Jesuits’ College in Malta, and which was mentioned as a landmark building in an 1839 account of Malta.

Despite repeated requests by Din L-Art Ħelwa and its lawyers, the PA took no action to halt the demolition. The NGO says it notified the executive chairman that the works were in violation of a court order and a permit issued by the authority.

On one occasion, enforcement officers visited the site together with the police and ordered a temporary halt until the situation could be investigated, but the developer ordered works to continue as soon as the officers had left the site. The PA later issued a statement stating that the works were carried out under a court order handed down in June.

Read: Destruction of Villa St Ignatius shows anarchy looming - PD

However, the court order provided only for the removal of dangerous structures and other remedial works.

Moreover, it stated that all works had to be carried out under the supervision of a court-nominated architect. The architect, Mario Axisa, filed a declaration stating that he was never notified of the works.

The PA’s inaction had also drawn the condemnation of the Kamra tal-Periti, which said the works had been carried out “with the blessing of or, at best, the ineptitude of the PA, in direct violation of its legal obligations, in a manner which manifests complete disregard of procedure, and a propensity for resorting to false statements and half-truths to defend its own decisions”.

The Planning Authority denied the accusations and called on the Chamber to substantiate their claims.

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