Flexible approach for Valletta building heights

A planning application for the construction of a washroom on a Valletta property was turned down because it would adversely affect views of the Urban Conservation Area

A planning application entitled “Enlargement of a washroom” overlying a multi-storey residential development in St Dominic Street, Valletta was turned down by the MEPA’s Planning Commission after it found that “the proposed development runs counter to Structure Plan policy UCO10 in that it would adversely affect views of the Urban Conservation Area and detract from the traditional urban skyline”.

In addition, the Commission observed that the washroom would detract from the overall objectives of the Structure Plan for the preservation and enhancement of buildings, spaces and townscapes within Urban Conservation Areas and so does not comply with Structure Plan policy UCO6. As a final point, the Commission highlighted that the “proposed development would affect the roofscape, skyline and views towards the area, running counter to Grand Harbour Local Plan policy GV15.’’

Applicant appealed the decision. In his statement of appeal, applicant observed that the proposal entailed the enlargement of a roof structure covering an area of 2.6 square metres to 11 square metres. Applicant  explained that the current roof structure essentially consists of a ‘garigor’ (masonry spiral staircase).

The scope of the application was precisely to create a covered space around the said ‘garigor’. But even so, applicant argued that “the property in question is a modest multi-storey house, dwarfed by the lower Barrakka government flats across the road, with an “illogical” layout consisting in various small rooms giving off the staircase landings, a main floor consisting of two rooms at third floor level and a ‘garigor’ leading up through a further two floors to a small roof.”

In order to support his arguments, applicant submitted a photo montage taken from a nearby building and which, according to him, demonstrates “that the impact is practically non-existent and in line with similar washrooms, which are substantially larger, both to the left and to the right of the property”. In addition, applicant remarked that the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage gave his green light  to the proposal.

In its assessment, the Tribunal made express reference to policy GV 15 (of the Local Plan) which regulates height limitations in Valletta. Indeed, the said policy GV15 provides that “in the consideration of applications which include changes to existing building heights in Valletta, the Planning Authority will adopt a flexible approach which inter alia takes account of the streetscape through a consideration of the buildings on the same facade and those on facades on the opposite side of the street/s concerned as well as the general massing of the buildings and roofscape”. The Tribunal assessed that the proposed extension complements the existing massing and thus ordered the Authority to issue the relative permit.

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