Structural changes approved in Mdina

A 2008 planning application for the sanctioning of “alterations and mezzanine[e] floor constructed in hollow section[s] and covered in timber” in a Grade 1 scheduled Mdina premises was initially refused on a number of planning grounds.

The premises were nonetheless covered by a valid trading license to operate as a restaurant. 

In its decision, the MEPA objected to the proposed development since it alleged that the structural alterations amount to "an adverse impact on an important archaeological site or area" and would thus conflict with Structure Plan policy ARC 3, which inter alia provides that areas of archaeological interest should be safeguarded and preserved. In addition, the Authority pointed out that the proposed development would change the external and internal appearance of a Grade 1 listed building.  

Against this background, the Authority insisted that the proposed structural works detract from the historical value of this important building, thus in conflict with Structure Plan Policy UCO 7 (which essentially seeks to preserve buildings of outstanding architectural or historical interest in their entirety). More so, the Environmental Health Directorate objected to the said development after it held that the proposed sanitary facilities lacked adequate ventilation and the head room of the intermediate floor (created by the mezzanine timber structure) is less than the statutory 2.75 metres. In conclusion, the Commission maintained that the proposal would result in intensified class 6 operations, thus running counter to North West Local Plan policy NWMD2. 

As a final observation, the Authority highlighted that the said application cannot be "considered further" unless all pending illegalities (which in this case consisted in the removal of the original flag stones) were addressed (regulation 14 of Legal Notice 514 of 2010). 

In his appeal before the Environment and Planning Tribunal, applicant counter argued that no adverse impact was envisaged since the proposal did not contemplate any excavation works, adding that the premises were solely restored and rehabilitated "skont I-ahjar arti u sengha" (according to good building practice).

Appellant further maintained that the flagstones which were allegedly removed without the Authority's consent were damaged. In his conclusive remarks, applicant added that notwithstanding the clear height of the mezzanine being less than 2.75 metres, the premises are adequately served with a generous level of ventilation and light from "two existing windows at the same level which also provide a through-breeze".

For its part, the Environment and Planning Tribunal observed that a larger quantity of floor slabs, similar to the ones that were allegedly removed by appellant without the Authority's prior consent, were also removed during the course of restoration works carried out in relation to the nearby Mdina fortifications. In the circumstances, while expressing disapproval towards applicant's abusive behaviour, the tribunal considered his acts to be "trivial".  As a result, the Tribunal approved the permit subject to applicant submitting a detailed restoration method statement with respect to the re-integration of the missing limestone slabs. On the other hand, the Tribunal did not object to the introduction of the mezzanine floor.