EMPLOYEE FACT FILE:
NAME | Renè Attard
DESIGNATION | Officer within MEPA's Heritage Unit
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND | I hold a first degree in Planning
(B. Plan) from the University of Malta and a Masters in
Geographic Information Science (MSc. GIS) from the Manchester Metropolitan University.
HOBBIES | As regards hobbies, I have quite a few the most notable of which is diving both for my personal enjoyment and as an instructor in order to introduce new people to a world which we experience minimally through swimming but discover in a whole new way through diving the local crystal clear waters.
You are employed within MEPA’s Heritage unit - can you explain what your role entails and what are your main areas of responsibility are?
My main responsibility within the unit is the overseeing of the scheduling process, that is the legal protection of cultural heritage aspects. I also give feedback both written and through meetings on Planning Applications when the unit is consulted on cultural heritage (specifically buildings) and also represent the unit at Appeals and in court when so required. The responsibility also entails presenting cases to the CHAC and the MEPA Board with results of studies carried by the unit and proposals for the protection of important historic buildings.
What have been the highlights of your career at MEPA so far?
The main highlights in my career is seeing the results of months of hard work bearing fruit when a project we were involved in results in a good example of restoration which actually works in practice and not simply in theory.
One of the main highlights in my career so far was when a couple of years ago I was invited to present a paper at an international conference about the regeneration of port cities held in Liverpool. During the conference, an Irish professor who was carrying out research on similar examples around the world commented that one of the regeneration projects I was involved in locally was one of the best examples of regeneration in practice the world over.
What challenges have you faced within your role?
Challenges are encountered on a daily basis such as trying to convince others of the need of heritage sustainable conservation in projects which aim at the maximum exploitation of land with little or no regard to the heritage value of historic places. The challenge in such cases lies in convincing all involved to modify the plans in order to respect the heritage value of the site while retaining the commercial viability of a project.
Needless to say, such effort often creates antagonism at first but in most cases, after lengthy negotiations, result in finding a mutual compromise. To compound matters and make my work a real test of nerves is when a property changes ownership and one has to go through the same process of persuasion and negotiations once again.
Do you think that there is enough awareness of the unit’s work amongst key stakeholders and the general public?
While one may say that heritage awareness in the Maltese Islands increased during the past few decades, unfortunately the general public is still very much entrenched in the NIMBY syndrome, that is, one is likely to verbally agree about heritage conservation as long as it is not within their property and does not affect them from doing what they want with the same.
As regards key stakeholders, NGO’s at times help MEPA in data collection about heritage sites meriting scheduling and which facilitates our work. However, much more can be done, primarily the need to address the lack of resources which is slowing down the protection of heritage especially when one compares the complex and lengthy legal obligations of scheduling.