Old building ‘out of context’

The Authority reminded the Tribunal that the building is a traditional Maltese farmhouse built around a central courtyard and should therefore be ‘restored and rehabilitated’

A request for the demolition of an existing old building followed by the construction of a wall ‘to close up the site’ was turned down by the Environment and Planning Commission, despite the application was recommended for approval by the Planning Directorate. In actual fact, the building in question corresponds to a rural structure surrounded by modern development located well outside the village core of Zabbar.

To support its decision, the Commission held that ‘the proposal runs counter to policy UCO13’ citing that vernacular and architectural value should be conserved notwithstanding the building being located outside designated Urban Conservation Areas.

Subsequently, applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. In his detailed submissions, applicant observed that the Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee had stated that the present building does not merit scheduling and thus could be demolished.

According to applicant (now, appellant), the Committee took account of the fact that the building serves as an ‘obstacle to the existing thoroughfare’. On its part, the Planning Directorate also concluded that the building in question could be demolished since its architectural features were not ‘unique’ and the ‘benefits of opening the street should outweigh impacts on cultural heritage.’

Appellant went on to argue that ‘the features found in the building are not of any particular value, so much so that the building was never scheduled’.

Moreover, applicant contended that ‘market forces have shown that although the building has been put up for sale for a long number of years, there was absolutely no interest (even in the 2005-2007 boom period) for the structure to be acquired to be reinstated in its current state and this is evidently due to the fact that prospective buyers in search for this type of property would normally flock towards established UCA’s and not to this setting.’

Concluding, applicant highlighted that the present structure lies ‘within a foreign context, projecting beyond the established street alignment’.

In reply, the Authority stood firm with its decision to turn down applicant’s application. The Authority reminded the Tribunal that the building is a traditional Maltese farmhouse built around a central courtyard and should therefore be ‘restored and rehabilitated’. In addition, it was observed that the building is synonymous with vernacular structures dating to the Early Modern Period.

Finally, reference was made to Structure Plan Policy UCO 13 which states that “wherever possible, by control or positive intervention, buildings of architectural, historical, and townscape importance, gardens, and other areas of architectural or historical interest will be conserved.”

In its assessment, the Tribunal acknowledged that the building in question was of the ‘traditional type’. Nonetheless, the Tribunal held that there was little scope to conserve an old building within a ‘foreign context’ characterized by modern construction. Moreover, parts of the building ‘protruded’ beyond the established street alignment, resulting in a traffic hazard close to a busy junction. Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the Planning Authority to issue the permit.

[email protected]

Dr Robert Musumeci is a warranted perit and holds a Law Degree.