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30 July 2007
Maltese stone circle threatened by development

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s Development Control Commission (MEPA) has been advised to grant permission to a private developer to build a two-storey house and swimming pool adjacent to Gozo's prehistoric Xaghra Circle. The site in question, in the shadow of the Ggantija Temple and in the middle of an archaeologically rich area, lies partly within the limits of the important Xaghra Circle archaeological site.
     Mepa's development permission application report in fact notes that the back of the site falls within an area designated as an archaeological park. But despite the development's obvious patrimonial sensitivity, Mepa's report notes the Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee (CHAC) found "no objection to the proposal from a heritage point of view provided that excavation works are monitored by The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage". The report does not mention consultations with or feedback from the Integrated Heritage Management Team or the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, which are allowed 30 days to reply to a proposed development – failing which they are considered to have had no objection. Neither does Mepa's report mention the fact that Xaghra Circle is a Grade 1 site and as such should have a 100-metre buffer zone between its parameter and the closest development.
     Prof. Anthony Bonanno – Head of the Classics and Archaeology Department at the University of Malta and one of the leaders of the 1987-1994 excavations at the burial site – expressed his concern over the recommendation. Giving a reaction of "total objection" to any development permission within such proximity to the Xaghra Circle, Prof. Bonanno said the development would "impact the site visually and in every other way".
     The Mepa officer’s report acknowledges that the bulk of the site lies outside the development zone, but that part of the site falls within the development zone. As such the report considered the proposed development as an "edge-of-scheme development and is designed to mitigate the blank wall that would otherwise have been created by the adjacent development". The positive recommendation has now been forwarded to the Development Control Commission for a decision, after which a date for a public hearing will be announced.
     The Xaghra Stone Circle, also referred to as the Brochtorff Circle, lies 350 metres from the Ggantija Temple, the largest on the Maltese Islands, and had been in use since roughly 4,000 BCE. The site served primarily as a necropolis in which at least 800 individuals were interred according to the study of bones recovered during excavations, and a wealth of funerary items and artefacts.

Source: The Malta Independent (29 July 2007)

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