Restoration works and office use in Valletta

Tribunal insisted that the existing façade, the hall way and the spiral staircase be retained

An outline planning application contemplating the internal demolition of an existing building in Strait Street, Valletta, and the subsequent construction of a multi-level office block was turned down on a number of grounds.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority held inter alia that “the proposal would be an encouragement to promote the continuation of conversion of buildings into office use in the Valletta/Floriana Peninsula”, and thus runs counter to paragraph 10.3 of the Structure Plan and Policy COM2.

In addition, the Authority found that the office block, once in operation, would generate unacceptable additional on-street car parking and in turn, would not be in the interest of the amenity of the area. Moreover, the proposed demolition works were found objectionable in terms of Structure Policy UCO9, which places a general presumption against the demolition of buildings in Urban Conservation Areas. The Authority concluded by stating that the replacement building does not represent “good urban renewal”. 

As anticipated, the applicant appealed to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) against the decision. In his appeal, the applicant remarked that his application was left pending for over 16 years, during which period the case officer “never bothered to visit the site”. Furthermore, the applicant contended that his proposal did not amount to a “change of use” since the premises served as an office complex in the past. 

On his part, the MEPA case officer insisted that it was the applicant himself who had, way back, consented to have the process kept in abeyance pending the finalization of the Grand Harbour Local Plan. As for the merits of the case, the officer reiterated that the proposed demolition works ran counter to Structure Plan policies UCO6 and UCO9. With regard to the use, the officer maintained that the premises were presently occupied by squatters.

In its assessment, the Tribunal observed inter alia that the site is located in the primary town centre of Valletta, where “development of new office space will only be permitted if the office space is intended to form part of a ministry or government department or the proposed office involves the conservation, through adequate rehabilitation and reuse, of a historic building.”

Against this background, the Tribunal concluded that the proposed office use was acceptable subject to the existing façade, the hall way and the spiral staircase being retained, conserved and incorporated within the new development.