Tribunal orders relaxation of permitted building heights in Sliema

A 2007 planning application entitled ‘Sanctioning of construction of fourth, fifth and penthouse level over existing block (in Triq il-Kbira, Sliema)’ was turned down by MEPA’s Environment and Planning Commission.

The Commission held inter alia that the additional floors (already built) cannot be sanctioned due to the fact that the overall height of the building exceeds the height limitation stipulated in the Local Plan. But even so, the Commission pointed out that the penthouse structures at topmost level fail to meet the set back requirements contained in the policy guidelines. (in this case, Policy and Design Guidance 2007).

In reaction, applicant appealed the decision, stating that the surrounding area is in reality "committed" with tall buildings. Applicant further contended that policy 16.1(ii) of Policy and Design Guidance 2007 allows for "higher than normal" floors in urban areas where the streetscape so permits. In addition, applicant remarked that the penthouse is adequately recessed from the facade alignment.

For its part, the case officer maintained that statutory height limitations may be exceeded in circumstances where the proposed development is located between two developments whose height exceeds the predominant building height for the streetscape. While conceding that a number of tall buildings characterise High Street, the case officer insisted that such buildings were an exception. In conclusion, the case officer underlined that Article 69(2)(i) of the Environment and Development Planning Act (2010) expressly provides that "commitment" by reason of surrounding  buildings may not be interpreted or used to increase the height limitation set out in a plan. In other words, applicant may not in such cases refer to similar precedents in support of his case. 

In its assessment, the Environment and Planning Tribunal observed that policy 16.1(ii) of Policy and Design Guidance 2007 (quoted by applicant) does not find any applicability in the given circumstances, since the site in question is not "sandwiched" between high party walls. Even more so, the Tribunal agreed with the Authority, insisting that "commitment" as a result of other buildings may not be legally interpreted or used "to increase the height limitation set out in the Local Plan".  

Nevertheless, the Tribunal concluded that the 2006 Local Plans failed to take adequate consideration of the street commitment in High Street, considering that, in the case of High Street, 60% of the streetscape appears to be "committed" with tall buildings.

Against this background, the Tribunal revoked the Authority's decision and ordered same to revise the Local Plan, having due regard to the street commitment. In that way, the Authority will be in a position to approve applicant's request once the Local Plan is revised.

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