Court of Appeal rules that applicant’s arguments were not admissible

A planning permit was issued for an agricultural store having a footprint of 28 square metres.

The store floorspace was later increased to 84 square metres and illegally converted to a residence. According to the local plan, the location falls within the boundaries of a scheduled Area of High Landscape Value in Buskett.

A planning application entitled "to sanction existing development consisting of a residential unit, which was developed through an extension to an existing store" was eventually submitted. Nonetheless, the request was turned down by both MEPA's planning commission and the Environment and Planning Tribunal.

In its assessment, the Tribunal held, inter alia, that "the site should remain undeveloped and open", since it lies outside the limits for development. It further maintained that the proposed development represents unacceptable urban development in the countryside, adding that the proposal conflicts with Structure Plan Policy SET 11 (this policy does not permit urban development outside existing and committed built-up areas). 

The Tribunal underlined that the development does not fall into a category of non-urban development which may be permitted outside existing or committed built-up areas, such as facilities that are essential to agricultural, ecological or scenic interests.

As a final note, the Tribunal concluded, without prejudice, that applicant failed to request the sanctioning of other illegalities which include an illegal concrete platform, various footpaths and the construction of illegal boundary walls enclosing the site.

Following the Tribunal's decision, applicant filed another appeal, this time round before the Court of Appeal (Inferior Jurisdiction). In his appeal, applicant focused his arguments on factual considerations. Applicant submitted that he underwent marital problems, in consequence to which, he was constrained to leave his matrimonial home and set up residence elsewhere. As a final point, applicant pointed out that, contrary to what was stated by the Tribunal, the interventions were limited in scale and left no adverse environmental impact.

On its part, the Court of Appeal ruled that applicant's arguments were not admissible since these were based on factual considerations. The presiding judge remarked that in planning law, the jurisdiction of Maltese courts is strictly limited to "points of law". (In jurisprudence, a "point of law" is a question which must be answered by applying relevant legal principles by an interpretation of the law. On the other hand, a question of fact must be answered by reference to facts and evidence and inferences arising from those facts, depending very much on the particular circumstances or factual situations).

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