Councilors fear Fleur-de-Lys domino effect with townhouse demolition request

Another early 20th century townhouse in Fleur de Lys is threatened with demolition to add three more stories to a two-story townhouse, breaking up the area’s uniform skyline with a blank party wall over the townhouses neighbours.

The townhouse is located between Triq il-Madonna ta’ Pompej on one side and Triq Fleur de Lys, 170m from the Ġnien l-Istazzjon and close to the Dar tal-Kleru. But the area was not included in the Birkirkara Urban Conservation Area in the 2006 local plans.

The developer wants to retain the townhouse facade but move the roof railings to a penthouse level. The proposed development will consist of eight housing units and a store on the ground floor.

But the approval could set a precedent for the uniform row of townhouses. This is the second application in the past month for a five-storey development on this historic street – the complete demolition of another two-storey townhouse 12m from the Carmelite Church.

Birkirkara council minority leader Antoine Attard warned the historic center would be ‘completely destroyed’ if this ‘five-storey monster’ was approved, and called on the PA to schedule the buildings in a letter on behalf of advisers from the PN.

Attard fears the development could set off a domino effect for the demolition of townhouses that “destroys the model, the layout and the character of the town centre”.

Birkirkara Local Council is expected to discuss the request shortly.

Although not recognized as an urban conservation area, the historic value of the townhouses has been repeatedly recognized by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage which had recommended the inclusion of these townhouses in the UCA and a list of protected buildings.

Commenting on another development in 2017, the watchdog said it “has previously recommended that buildings along Triq Fleur de Lys be programmed to preserve the visual integrity of the historic streetscape”. Why this metric was never passed remains a mystery.

The decision not to designate Fleur de Lys as UCA was again questioned by the superintendency when in 2021 it expressed “surprise and concern that the streetscape has not received the protection due to the area as an urban conservation area”, following a request for a garage and change of openings on another plot of land in the same street.

Recognition of the historic significance of these buildings would prevent their demolition in accordance with the objectives of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (the most important planning policy) which clearly states that there should be “a presumption against demolition of assets worthy of preservation” and says that “development in historic sites must be carried out in such a way as not to detract from the skyline of the historic site”.

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