30-metre depth rule should be context driven

A planning application contemplating the change of use from an educational facility in St Julian's to a guest house was approved by the then Environment and Planning Commission

A planning application contemplating the change of use from an educational facility to a guest house, together with structural extensions, was approved by the then Environment and Planning Commission despite strong objections from neighbouring residents. The application concerns St Vincent School in St Julian's.

Following approval of the application, the objectors teamed up and filed a strongly worded appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting inter alia that the proposed extensions went beyond a depth of 30 metres when measured from the building alignment.

The objectors maintained that the proposed designs were thus in violation of Planning Circular 3/14 and Policy P27 of Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015. It was further argued that the proposed development ran counter to Structure Plan Policy BEN2 and SPED Policy U04 once ‘the development was not compatible with good urban design, natural heritage and environmental characteristics of the existing adjacent and neighbouring development/use.’

The objectors explained that the proposed guest house would ‘definitely’ have a deleterious impact on the neighbouring properties and street ‘due to the intensifying of activities associated with the operation of the hostel, such as the ‘drop off’ and ‘loading’ of tourists as well as the loading and un-loading of supplies.’ Moreover, the proposal envisaged the demolition of an old front garden wall to make way for the ‘drop off’ area – this was tantamount to a changed alignment without the endorsement of Transport Malta. As a final point, the objectors stressed that applicants had submitted an engineer’s noise report which was unprofessional and ‘very generic’.

For its part, the Authority took exception to the objectors’ conclusions, rebutting that ‘no development has been permitted beyond the 30 metre depth’. With regard to the proposed use, the Authority noted that hostels are deemed acceptable within Residential Areas as per Policy NHHO 01 of the North Harbours Local Plan. Finally, the case officer observed that, in this case, it was unnecessary to consult Transport Malta since there were no envisaged changes to the current pavement alignment.

In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that, in principle, ‘an element of green open space at the back of an often densely developed urban area’ should, in principle, be retained. The Tribunal highlighted that backyards should serve as ‘green lungs which contribute to the definition of a sense of place, add character and charm to a locality, tend to enhance property and contribute towards a better overall urban environment’. Nevertheless, the Tribunal maintained that the controversial extension occupied an area which was previously committed.

Moreover, the Tribunal found that the extension would not compromise the neighbours’ privacy due to the particular site characteristics. In addition, the Tribunal found that the proposed ‘drop off’ point was acceptable, adding that the proposed use was in line with current policies. Against this background, the Tribunal held that the permit should stay.

Dr Musumeci is a perit and a Doctor of Laws with an interest in development planning law

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