Showroom converted to dwelling

MEPA was wrong to refuse application on aesthetic merits when the design was not being changed

A planning application for the conversion of a showroom into a dwelling was turned down by the Environment and Planning Commission. The premises are located in Triq Rudolfu, Sliema. In its refusal report, the Commission objected to the façade design, concluding that the proposed development is incompatible with the urban design and environmental characteristics of the Urban Conservation Area and thus would not maintain the visual integrity of the area.

Moreover, the Commission stated “the proposed development 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”.  In addition, the Commission made reference to the fact that the depth of the building exceeds 30 metres, being thus in violation of established planning policy.

In reaction, the applicant appealed the decision before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. In his appeal submissions, the applicant maintained that the showroom was covered by a planning permit, adding that the façade was in line with the approved permit drawings. Nevertheless, the appellant underlined that he was willing to undertake any structural measures aimed to improve the aesthetics of the façade to render it in synch with the surrounding urban context.

Nonetheless, the Authority reiterated that the proposed development was incompatible with the urban design and environmental characteristics of the Urban Conservation Area. Whilst maintaining that it was not against the proposed residential use, the Authority insisted that “the front elevation does not respect the residential nature”.

Once again, the Authority retained that the building depth was in excess of 30 metres, thus running counter to established planning regulations. In its conclusive remarks, the Authority recalled that the Tribunal may not entertain changes to drawings during appeal proceedings.

In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that, in principle, the Authority was not against the fact that the showroom was being converted into a dwelling. Moreover, the Tribunal noted that the Authority was wrong to refuse the application on aesthetic merits when the proposal did not contemplate any changes in the current design.

But even so, the Tribunal noted that the appellant was willing to modify the design and thus ordered the Authority to issue the permit subject to the applicant submitting fresh plans showing a smaller doorway similar to the one in the adjacent plot.

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