Nine-fold increase in workload of cultural heritage watchdog
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Nine-fold increase in workload of cultural heritage watchdog

Trend highlighted in 2018 annual report

An operations review indicated that planning consultation and archaeological monitoring operations ‘did not work smoothly as they should’. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

An operations review indicated that planning consultation and archaeological monitoring operations ‘did not work smoothly as they should’. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Changes in planning laws and a boom in the construction industry stretched the heritage watchdog’s resources to the limit as planning consultation requests rose nine-fold in just three years.

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage issued 1,099 consultations in 2015. However, changes in planning legislation, which came into force the following year, resulted in a much larger workload as all full development applications had to be referred to the watchdog. 

Consequently, by the end of 2018, the number of requests had risen by nine times to 9,773.

This trend was highlighted in the 2018 annual report, which flagged the difficulties encountered by the watchdog to fulfilits duties within the limited resources availability.

The report notes that following an operations review carried out when Joseph Magro Conti succeeded Anthony Pace as superintendent in March last year, it immediately emerged that day-to-day operations with regard to planning consultation and archaeological monitoring “did not work smoothly as they should”.

In this respect, it was pointed out that the workload of 200 weekly cases had to be shouldered by just four officers who, by law, have no more than 30 days to give their reaction on every case. 

The limited resources meant that other tasks, such as participation in EU projects, had to be placed on the back-burner.

Apart from such constraints, the review also flags the inadequacy of the existing premises, ICT infrastructure and lack of cars to carry out onsite inspections. 

Limited resources meant that other tasks had to be placed on the back-burner

On a positive note, the report says that, by the end of last year, progress was registered on some fronts, including the acquisition of two vehicles for onsite inspections. A number of sites were considered for alternative premises but the superintendence said these could only be secured within two or three years.

As for human resources, 16 officers were recruited in the second half of last year and a further five were brought in on loan from the Planning Authority.

Planning consultation requests are being filtered to give early feedback on minor developments having minimal impact on cultural heritage. On the other hand, more demanding applications are being flagged at an early stage. 

Such a measure was taken in the wake of the fact that, until recently, the superintendence was facing criticism it was not giving its feedback on all applications. 

In such circumstance, this is taken as a no objection.

However, there have been instances where the superintendence did not make an objection or demand a change in plans, despite being vested with such power by law. 

One such incident was in a development application filed by Infrastructure Malta for the construction of a tunnel to relieve traffic congestion in Santa Luċija. 

In this case, the superintendence had protested as a geo-radar survey in this “archaeologically very sensitive” area had been carried out without its consent.

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