Tribunal gives green light to dwelling instead of abandoned farm

A development application entitled ‘To replace an abandoned pre-1992 farm into dwelling’ was initially refused by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in August 2010.

The building is located on the side of a valley (in Siggiewi), to which end the Authority held that the proposal runs counter to Structure Plan policy RCO 29, which essentially seeks to prevent soil erosion and encourage the conservation and management of water resources. Even more so, the site was identified as an Area of High Landscape Value, where a strong presumption against the creation of newly built structures is warranted with a view to "protect and enhance the scenic value". 

The Authority also maintained that the "proposed development does not fall into a category of change of use which can be considered under Policy 2.3D of the Policy & Design Guidance on Agriculture, Farm Diversification and Stables (2008)". In other words, the proposed use (residential dwelling) is not one of the uses allowed by virtue of the said policy. More so, the Authority cited Structure Plan policies SET 11 and SET 12, which prohibit further intensification of urban development in the countryside "even where public roads and utilities are already available". 

In the report, it was further highlighted that the proposed dwelling is not located within 183m from the nearest development zone. In addition, the Authority alleged that the existing farm buildings are not covered by a valid development permit. Were it but so, there is a possibility that the request would have been considered favourably. 

Following the decision, the applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Tribunal, countering that the building in question is indeed covered by a 1983 permit. Applicant produced evidence showing that the building consisted of a farm which was in full operation "for a number of years". Also, the Director of Agriculture and Fisheries issued a certificate confirming that the farm was active prior to 1992 and is no longer suitable for agriculture purposes. In addition, applicant pointed out that Structure Plan Policy SET 11 (which prohibits new urban development in ODZ) does not apply in this case due to the fact that the site in question is clearly committed. As a final point, applicant insisted that policy RCO 29  (which seeks to prevent soil erosion and encourage the conservation and management of water resources) would not be compromised since the site is already disturbed. At any rate, applicant argued that the proposal included the introduction of soft landscaping which "will enhance the rural settings and character of the area".

On a preliminary note, the Tribunal observed that that notwithstanding its allegations, the Authority never proceeded with direct action to remove the said construction. Having said that, the Tribunal noted that a planning permit for a dwelling was issued way back in 1986 but the premises were in actual fact used as a farm. 

In its conclusions, the Tribunal underlined that new ODZ dwellings are in principle objectionable, particularly in areas featuring high landscape value. Nonetheless, the Tribunal held that the farm structures constitute an eye sore and it would be more sensible, at least from an environmental point of view, to encourage redevelopment. Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the Authority to issue a permit for the demolition of the existing structures and the construction of a 120 square metre, one storey dwelling.

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