Increase in footprint sanctioned for structural reasons

A Xaghra, Gozo, an application for the sanctioning of various structural works in an ODZ dwelling located on a ridge included a slight increase in the built footprint, since an additional rubble wall was constructed “illegally” along the exposed face of the ridge towards the rear of the plot.

The request included the sanctioning of open balconies on the rear facade overlooking the valley.

MEPA's Planning Commission objected to the increase in the approved footprint, stating that the additional wall abutting the ridge face amounted to insensitive urban development. The Commission further held that the works ran counter to the objectives of Structure Plan Policy RCO 22, which aim at protecting cliff edges. Moreover, the Commission ruled that the projecting long balconies (with railings) on the rear facade are visually obtrusive, resulting in  a negative visual impact on a scenically sensitive area. According to the Commission, such development is in blatant conflict with Policy GZ-EDGE-2 of the Gozo and Comino Local Plan, which aims to maintain traditional characteristics at the edge of urban settlements.

In reaction, the applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Tribunal, insisting that the illegal wall was constructed to withstand the exposed "fragile yellow rock which is being continuously eroded by the weather". In the circumstances, the applicant maintained that a structural masonry fin wall (a wall with protruding pillars located at intervals) cladded with rubble had to be introduced with a view to containing any potential rock movement, thus preventing further damage and fragmentation of the rock face. The applicant highlighted that, in any case, the increase in footprint amounted to a mere 0.5 metres, which is equivalent to the aggregate width of the structural masonry and rubble cladding. Moreover, the applicant countered that the balconies respect the character, appearance, scale, massing and height of the locality.

In its conclusions, the Tribunal observed that no details relative to the state of the cliff edge prior to the structural interventions were available. Having said that, the Tribunal did not rule out that the illegal wall was necessary from a structural point of view in order to prevent lateral rock movement at the cliff face. The Tribunal also observed that the illegally constructed balconies featured a design which was more or less similar to other projecting elements in the area. For these reasons, the Tribunal acceded to the applicant's request to sanction the illegal interventions.

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