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Historic Italian villas threatened by motorway

In a devastating blow to campaigners' efforts to protect Vicenza's Palladian villas, the Italian Supreme Court has backed plans to build a motorway just yards from the historic, rural masterpieces.

The Consiglio di Stato - the highest court in Italy - has approved plans for the 55km-long Valdastico Sud highway, overturning a previous judgement in the regional administrative court that had brought proposals to a standstill.

The motorway would run within 100m of the villas and farms and there are plans to build huge warehouses that could contribute to the destruction of the serene countryside of the Veneto region.

Among the buildings under threat are Palladio's Villa Capra, better known as La Rotonda, perhaps his most influential work (AJ 14.08.2003).

The decision, made last month, has provoked a biting attack from SAVE Europe's Heritage. SAVE secretary Adam Wilkinson said: 'The Court that came to the decision regarding the proposed Valdastico Sud, is a quasi-political body, in that the government appoints non-judges to it.

'Its acting president, Claudio Varrone, is only a quasi-legal and quasi-independent figure in that he has a highly paid consultancy with the environment ministry.

'One might observe this as rather interesting,' he concluded.

The body is now preparing to approach the European Court. 'We were in touch with the European Commission when this all kicked off and it wasn't deemed important enough,' Wilkinson said.

'Maybe now it's gone through the motions we might be able to push it onto the agenda'.

However, Lorella Graham, of the Landmark Trust, said the motorway would still have to overcome two major obstacles if it was to be built.

Firstly, the National Association of Italian Building Companies is taking the Motorway Society to a regional court over tendering discrepancies.

Secondly, an 18th-century law decrees that any infrastructure built in the area south of the Palladian villas has to be authorised by local farmers, who part-own rights to the land. This has not occurred.

by Cristina Esposito

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