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MALTATODAY 18 October 2020

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8 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 18 OCTOBER 2020 NEWS Protection of Dingli chapel shelved for eight years Seeing it all vanish before our eyes: Another top ranking for the Maltese Dingli medieval chapel only granted highest level of protection after direct action by Graffitti to stop roadworks and warnings from historians on fate of Santa Duminka chapel JAMES DEBONO A medieval chapel in Dingli which was amongst the first 10 parishes to be documented as early as 1436, has been on the waiting list of buildings await- ing legal protection for the past eight years. But no decision was taken until direct action by Graffitti activists against roadworks by Infrastructure Malta in its vi- cinity. A report by a Planning Au- thority case officer for a minor extension of a building immedi- ately next to the Late Medieval Church of Santa Duminka, re- veals that the building had been proposed for scheduling just months before the 2013 elec- tion, in November 2012. But no action was taken for the past eight years to protect the chapel, with the scheduling placed on the backburner, and facilitating plans for a schemed road to link two alleyways: Daħ- la tas-Sienja and Sqaq il-MUSE- UM. Planners and residents fear the Infrastructure Malta works – which fall under the purview of minister Ian Borg, a former Dingli mayor – could open the floodgates for more develop- ment in the area. Indeed in 2017, the PA had approved a terraced house just 40m away from the chapel, out- side the development zones, despite objections from the En- vironment and Resources Au- thority. The ERA had warned "of an undesirable precedent for similar future development in the area, which cumulative- ly would lead to significant ur- ban sprawl out of the scheme boundary, with consequential overall change in the appear- ance of the surroundings and wider site." A similar proposal had been previously rejected in 2011. It was only after Graffitti ac- tivists took direct action to stop works on the new road that the PA and the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage moved to schedule the chapel after an eight-year delay. The chapel was protected at Grade 1 level, following a submission by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage to the PA's executive council. The move prompted concern that had Graffitti's action not highlighted the historical value of the chapel and its surround- ings, no action would have been taken to grant it formal protec- tion. The IM roadworks them- selves, announced in the gov- ernment gazette on 7 Septem- ber, do not require a permit. But it remains unclear how the newly scheduled chapel and its context – with 300-year-old carob trees now earmarked for destruction – will be protect- ed. When buildings are granted Grade 1 protection, the author- ities are also bound to respect their context. The chapel's scheduling fur- ther exposed a farcical situation in IM can commence work on schemed roads without even applying for a permit, which otherwise would have required the PA to consult the heritage authorities. According to new rules recently announced by en- vironment minister Aaron Far- rugia, the context of scheduled buildings has also to be respect- ed. The Church's environment commission has called for an urgent review "to curb the ex- emptions" granted to Infra- structure Malta that allow it not to have to apply for full development permissions for certain projects, which allow it to exclude projects from public scrutiny and consultation, or the review of other competent authorities. The church's commission de- scribed Infrastructure Malta as "a threat to farmers' livelihoods and the natural and cultural heritage". Art historian Keith Buhagiar warned that the roadworks will jeopardize the structur- al integrity of the remains of the Late Medieval Church of Santa Duminka which dates to around the fifteenth centu- ry and served as Dingli's for- mer parish church. "The Santa Duminka remains as well as any adjoining tracts of countryside are areas of high archaeological sensitivity and should be pre- served at all cost." He warned that the new pro- jected road would circle the Santa Duminka church site on two sides, probably causing ir- reparable harm in the process, which may result in the struc- tural collapse of the already fragile church, remains. The works were stopped for a second time by Graffitti ac- tivists on Wednesday, after the ERA issued a nature permit for the destruction of 300-year old carob trees in the immediate vi- cinity of the church. JAMES DEBONO A Eurobarometer survey shows that the Maltese are the most likely in Europe to think that the landscape in rural areas in their country has been deteriorating since 2010. While only 25% of respondents in all EU countries think the landscape in rural areas in their country has wors- ened over the past decade, the percent- age increases to 45% in Malta, which is followed by Slovakia (37%), Romania (35%) and Belgium (34%). Only 33% of the Maltese think the ru- ral landscape improved since 2010 while 16% think it has remained the same. The survey reflects the intensification of development in rural villages and the surrounding countryside, which came as a result of planning policies approved in the past two decades. These included the extension of building boundaries in 2006 and the rural policy approved in 2014. The percentage of Maltese who think there has been no change to the land- scape of rural areas in the past decade is the lowest in Europe. Cyprus, followed by Latvia and Slo- venia, emerges as the country where respondents have seen the greatest im- provement (53%) in their landscape. This emerges from a Eurobarometer survey on agriculture and the EU's com- mon agricultural policy. The survey also shows that 62% of Mal- tese think the area covered by trees and forests in their country has decreased compared to 56% of respondents in all EU countries. Malta is the sixth most likely member state in Europe to think that transport infrastructure in rural areas has im- proved. In fact, 52% of Maltese think that transport connections linking rural to urban areas have improved over the past decade. 89% of Maltese also consider the ge- ographic area from where agricultural products are grown before buying; and 59% are willing to pay ten percent more for agricultural products produced in a way that limits their carbon footprint, when compared to 69% of all EU re- spondents. But 54% of Maltese said they find it difficult to find organic agricultural products from supermarkets and shops.

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