Building in Zebbug regularised

Safe vehicular access to and from the garage was possible once the area does not attact heavy traffic

A planning application for the sanctioning of two maisonettes instead of one together with a basement and proposed roof extension at roof level was initially turned down by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. The building is located within the Urban Conservation Area of Zebbug (Gozo).

Essentially, the drawings show a three storey building and an overlying recessed floor fronting a heavy road gradient. In its reasons for refusal, the Commission nonetheless held that the proposed development is unacceptable since it does not comply with the policy regulating access to garages. (In this case, the road width was insufficient.) Moreover, the Commission held that the proposal runs counter to Structure Plan policy UCO 10 in that the overlying extension would “adversely affect the views of the Urban Conservation Area and detract from the traditional urban skyline”.

In reaction, the applicant appealed the decision before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that  the site was covered with a planning permit which was issued by the then Planning Area Permits Board (PAPB) in 1985. The applicant maintained that the original permit showed a semi basement garage. Further on, the applicant explained that the garage was “created” as a result of the sloping road.   Finally, the applicant pointed out that the building does not exceed the established height limitation of the area and reminded the Tribunal that planning policies need not be interpreted “rigidly”.

For his part, the case officer underlined that the original permit featured a six course semi basement whilst acknowledging that “the existing two-metre high basement as built resulted from the slope of the road and was necessary to provide an even base for the rest of the building.” Notwithstanding, the officer went on to state that the street width  is 3.6 metres  and does not satisfy the minimum set standards. (The standards provide that streets in front of garages should have a minimum width of 4.1 metres.) Concluding, the case officer observed that the proposed construction at roof level  violates Structure Plan policy UCO 10, even though the overall building height was within the set height limitation.

In its assessment, the Tribunal maintained that, in this particular case, safe vehicular access to and from the garage was possible once the area does not attract heavy traffic. Moreover, the applicant had also obtained approval from Transport Malta. Concluding, the Tribunal reasoned out that the building envelope respected the streetscape contrary to what the Authority had previously alleged. Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the Authority to issue a permit subject to a fine.

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 Robert Musumeci is a warranted architect and civil engineer. He also holds a Masters Degree in Conservation and a Law Degree.