Din l-Art Ħelwa concerned about height limitation policy

Din l-Art Ħelwa has expressed concern about two circulars* issued recently the Planning Authority, worried that its intentions may have unintended consequences for height limitations currently established through Local Plans.

Circular 2_24

Circular 3_24

This was expressed as a resolution approved by the AGM of the heritage NGO held on Saturday, which also approved another one calling for the protection of public spaces currently being eaten up by outdoor catering and commercial activities. The resolution can be found on the Din l-Art Ħelwa website  here

The NGO, which celebrates its 60th anniversary next year, has been working hard to protect Malta and Gozo’s rural and urban environment.

Its Heritage and Environment Protection sub-committee (HEP) filed 850 objections last year against applications that were either in breach of policy and/or would have a negative impact on cultural heritage, the environment or Malta’s urban landscape.

These included applications to replace early 20th century townhouses with 5-storey blocks, to build apartment blocks along Gozo’s development boundaries, for the conversion of 2-room rural shacks into luxury villas, for dubious requests for stables and farms in the countryside, for requests for multistorey hotels in residential areas, as well as against towering apartment blocks in historic cores, UCAs or protected skylines. The NGO objected to excess development of, or around, listed properties or monuments – such as Ggantija – and to major projects that fail to safeguard the well-being of residents and of the environment in general.

HEP signalled an increase in applications for amendments in zoning, noting, however, that appeals against 5-storey blocks in Xagħra and Xewkija were successful after the NGO challenged the decisions in Court which confirmed that the permits as issued were not in accordance with applicable regulations.

The Gozo regional committee, DLĦ Għawdex, mounted several effective PR campaigns raising public awareness with some success, reversing applications in Fontana, the ‘Road to Nowhere’ issue, the Tal-Belliegħa farmhouse, and the PA decision on the vernacular farmhouse close to the Victoria School. DLĦ Għawdex continues to exert pressure on several fronts: the Marsalforn Road widening issue, the Rabat aqueduct, the Ministry for Gozo complexand now on inappropriate repairs on the Nadur Water Reservoir.

DLĦ Għawdex is also fighting to hold Government to its promise made years ago to grant guardianship of the Qbajjar Battery in Marsalforn to DLĦ, with strong support from the Żebbug local council.

Building on the networking of 2022, perhaps the most important achievement of DLĦ Għawdex this past year was to bring together major stakeholders in Gozo. These include environmental NGOs, DLĦ Għawdex, Għawdix and Wirt Għawdex, Gozo Business Chamber, Gozo Tourism Association and the “Reġjun Għawdex” representing the fourteen local councils in Gozo and the Gozo University Group. The Għal Għawdex Forum unveiled an 8-point plan “To save Gozo” and has continued with to put pressure on the authorities for change.

During 2023, the Government renewed Din l-Art Ħelwa’s guardianship for 11 heritage sites, for a further 10 years, ensuring that it can continue with its restoration and maintenance work, as well as opening many of the sites to the public. In 2023, there were 136,560 visitors, almost double the number of the previous year, and a 49% increase over the previous record set in 2018.

This was only possible due to an army of over 150 volunteers who help at the sites, dedicating almost 14,500 hours, to which must be added dozens more that help within Din l-Art Ħelwa and its regional committees.

 Apart from opening sites to the public, Din l-Art Ħelwa also hosted 246 events in 2023, varying from concerts, talks and celebratory events to historic re-enactments, a substantial increase over the 154 in 2022.

With regard to its sites, the main project which started last year was the restoration of the Australian Bungalow, a century-old structure which was used to familiarise Maltese emigrants heading for Australia. The bungalow’s external elements were dismantled and moved for restoration while other parts of it have been moved to its new location at Ta’ Qali.

Work was also concluded on another major project at Dwejra Tower in Gozo, which re-opened to the public after a few years, while other projects are being carried out at Delimara Lighthouse, Qalet Marku Tower, Santa Maria Tower in Comino, Wignacourt Tower and Our Lady of Victory Church in Valletta.

Majjistral Park, which Din l-Art Ħelwa runs through the Heritage Parks Foundation, is also seeing major changes, including the conversion of barracks to accommodation for school outreach, among other conservation work.

Projects for 2024 include the end of works at the White Tower in Mellieħa which will see it open as a hostel, while work will start of the semi-submerged Galizia Fountain at Ta’ Braxia and – subject to conclusion of the guardianship agreement – the complete restoration of the medieval chapel of San Cir.

 Of course, all this requires considerable funding and Din l-Art Ħelwa continues to work to raise this from various sources, much of which comes from sponsors.

 The AGM reports are available on the Din l-Art Ħelwa website by following the links below

Secretary General report

Financial Report