Tribunal refuses to delve into ‘civil matters’

A development permit for the conversion of two maisonettes into one large maisonette and a garage was issued by the Environment and Planning Commission.

The permit location relates to a site within the development zone in Hamrun. As far as the application is concerned, the proposed drawings are in line with current planning policies. 

Nonetheless, a third party objector filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Tribunal, insisting that the permission should be revoked. Indeed, Article 41 (1c) of the Environment and Development Planning Act, 2010 provides that the Tribunal shall hear and determine an appeal lodged by an interested third party from a decision of the Authority on any matter of development control, provided that such an appeal was submitted within 20 days from the date on which details relative to the application were published in the press.  More so, the law provides that no appeal shall lie by an interested third party from any development control decision concerning a development which is specifically authorised in a development plan. 

In his appeal, the objector maintained that, "applicant is contractually prohibited to affect any changes to the elevation without the written authorization of all maisonettes, apartment and garage owners of the block." To this end, the objector contended that approval of this application runs counter to these contractual conditions which the owner/applicant is legally bound to observe.

 For its part, the Authority reacted by stating that a development permit is subject to 'saving third party rights', adding that appeals brought before the Environment and Planning Tribunal should be anchored on "planning grounds".

In its decision, the Environment and Planning Tribunal maintained that civil obligations are clearly distinct from planning considerations, reiterating that its legal remit was limited to investigating matters relating to development control (Article 41(1)(i) of Chapter 504 of the Laws of Malta.) The Tribunal, however, recognized that in certain cases,  planning considerations tend to "overlap" with civil code provisions - in this case, it was nonetheless being requested to interpret a contractual provision entered into between two private individuals, which competence naturally lies with the Civil Courts.

Against this background, the appeal was dismissed and the permit upheld. 

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