Plea to Town Hall from Maltese top brass for families of sick kids hostel

Plan to create temporary accommodation by converting former care home and homeless shelter

Friday, 4th February — By Anna Lamche

Margery Street site

The proposed Margery Street site

THE Town Hall may not immediately be associated with international diplomacy – but the council has found itself in receipt of a very unusual letter from the highest echelons of Malta’s government.

The message from Malta’s High Commissioner Emmanuel Mallia, and backed by Malta’s President and prime minister, takes up the cause of Puttinu Cares, a charity that provides temporary accommodation for Maltese children while they receive urgent cancer care in Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).

The UK and Malta have a special bilateral agreement under which very ill Maltese children can access specialist healthcare in the UK. While Malta provides its citizens with free healthcare, it is a small country without access to certain specialist medical treatments – hence the arrangement.

While the agreement covers medical costs, other expenses – such as travel and lodging – are not met by the treaty, making it difficult for many Maltese families to receive treatment in the UK.

Founded in 2002, Puttinu Cares aims to cover these prohibitive costs, helping all Maltese children to get the critical cancer treatment they need.

In November, the charity submitted a planning application to Islington Council to convert a building in Margery Street into a hostel providing temporary accommodation for the families of sick children receiving care at GOSH.

“We are really excited to have found an existing building which we can quickly and easily convert into temporary accommodation for families in need,” said Angele Cuschieri, who heads up the charity along with Rennie Zerafa.

“This will be such a relief for so many parents and children who are under considerable stress and far away from their usual support network.”

Planning officers are expected to decide on the proposal soon – although the application has already met with some resistance from the Town Hall, partly because it does not satisfy the council’s 50 per cent social housing target.

Puttinu Cares says that this policy should not apply to the Margery Street site – which in previous lives has served as a care home, a homeless shelter and a hostel – because there are no new buildings being proposed: the charity simply wants the “use class” changed.

In this context, Malta’s High Commissioner has written to planning officers urging them the green light the plans.

“Puttinu Cares inform me that they have met with resistance from officers based on an interpretation of policies we do not think applies to this application,” the High Commissioner wrote.

“I am respectfully asking you to look into this application, small though it may be, as the impact it will have on families desperate for treatment for their children will be profound.”

The plans also have the backing of GOSH, with governor Alison Kelly saying: “We really hope that Islington Council can see the benefits of this application and allow Puttinu Cares to create accommodation for families when they most need it.”

Islington Council declined to comment, saying it does not comment on “live” applications.

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