Megalithic site in Malta threatened by housing development

Two brand new two-storey terraced houses are being proposed in the buffer zone of the Xaghra Circle in Malta. The stone circle forms part of the Ggantija complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Megalithic site in Malta threatened by housing development
The Xaghra Circle [Credit: enkidu41/Megalithic Portal]
The MEPA board will take a decision on this application and five other developments in Xaghra impinging of the archaeological buffer zone next Thursday. These include the sanctioning of an illegal pig farm.

The initial proposal in 2008 envisioned 10 new dwellings, swimming pools and underlying garages. The proposal has now been considerably downscaled to an extension of the existing building and two new dwellings, but still impinges on the buffer zone to the temples and part of it lies outside development zones.

This downscaling responded to the concerns expressed by the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage, because the original plans intruded directly on the visual link between the Nuffara and Xaghra stone circle.

Heritage Malta also objected to the development, calling on MEPA to request clearance from the World Heritage Committee before proceeding with the application. Heritage Malta contends that any development in this buffer zone would not only endanger the world heritage status of the Ggantija temples but of all six Megalithic sites in Malta and Gozo.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage (SHC) had repeatedly objected to the project but in January 2013 it deemed the project acceptable after a number of changes. The SHC noted that the latest photomontages showed the project was no longer visible from the Xaghra Stone Circle. But it said that the site remains one with the most considerable archaeological potential, being so close to a major archaeological monument.

Joining this chorus of disapproval was MEPA's own heritage advisory committee. The HAC is calling on MEPA to prohibit any development in the buffer zone to the Xaghra Stone Circle and to change the local plan to ensure that no development is ever allowed in this zone.

In the case officer's report, the Planning Directorate asked for a refusal of the project because the development still lies partly outside development zones. The case officer's report states that the only developable area is the limited area, which is neither ODZ, nor within the visual link between the Nuffara and Xaghra circle.

MEPA's own Heritage Planning Unit argues that the only development that can be considered, is the rehabilitation of the existing rural structure and its use for residential purposes. The MEPA board will be deciding on this application on 28 November.

MEPA had already turned down a previous application to construct flats and underlying garages on the same site in 2005. The Xaghra hearing comes in the wake of the controversial approval by MEPA of a 96 square-metre dwelling, ten metres away from the Ta' Hagrat temples. In this case the Environment Development Commission overruled the case officer's recommendation for a refusal.

Pigsties in archaeological zone

The MEPA board will also be considering an application to sanction illegalities on a pig farm at Triq il-Qacca in Xaghra, Gozo. The illegalities on site, which lies within the archaeological buffer zone around the Ggantija temples, include three garages, two blocks of pigsties and a hay store.

The owner, a licenced breeder, claims that the farm was built between 1988 and 1994 and has been operating prior to the scheduling of the area. The application was twice refused by MEPA but the owner appealed. Subsequently he presented documents proving that he was a licensed breeder. The absence of these documents was one of the reasons why the application had been previously refused.

But the Planning Directorate is once again recommending a refusal due to the location of the development in the archaeological zone and because it is located in an area with considerable scenic value.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage had previously objected to sanctioning the illegalities and called MEPA to rehabilitate the site.

Another application involves the proposed construction of a terraced house in Triq il-Mithna in Xaghra. The development also lies within the archaeological buffer zone.  The local plan also restricts development on this particular site but the Gozo Ministry has written to MEPA stating that it has no objection to the development, because the site does not form part of the school grounds.

Three applications which envision minor alterations to existing dwellings are being recommended for approval. One of these applications originally presented on 8 September Street, in Xaghra.

The development was deemed acceptable after the owner downsized the development by removing a swimming pool from the proposed plans.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage noted that the development lies 170 metres from the Xaghra Stone Circle and should not impact on views from the stone circle.

Author: James Debono | Source: Malta Today [November 25, 2013]

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