Curia objects to proposed apartment block overshadowing historic Rabat church

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Plans to build a guesthouse and an apartment block right next to the baroque Church of Saint Sebastian in Rabat have been met by the objection of the Church in Malta’s Interdiocesan Environment Commission, which insists that the project should at least be downscaled if not outright refused.

Development application 4282/20 calls for the partial demolition of an existing nursery and its conversion into a guesthouse with an ancillary cafeteria at ground floor level, in addition to 12 apartments spread over three floors and 2 penthouses.

The site fronts Triq Ġorġ Borg Olivier, right next to the historic church, and extends behind the church to Triq San Rokku. Along with the church, the site partially lies in an Urban Conservation Area.

While most of Malta’s churches are scheduled buildings, the Church of St Sebastian – which is currently ongoing extensive conservation works – is yet to receive such protection, though the commission said that it was “evidently of sufficient importance to merit Grade 1 Scheduling.” Consequently, the commission said, the church must be treated as such for the purpose of assessing the application.

The commission noted that the addition of two floors on Triq Santu Rokku would have a negative impact on the setting of the baroque church. It also found the proposed insertion of rooftop jacuzzis to be inappropriate and insensitive to the context of the site.

It also observed that the project would require cutting into the bedrock in an area of known archaeological sensitivity and of known geological instability, to within 1.5m of the church.

“It would be vexatious and irresponsible to grant permission for such rock-cutting works, on the grounds that these concerns are concerned with third party civil rights that are outside the competence of the planning process, when the risks to cultural heritage are so clearly evident,” the commission maintained.