Permission granted subject to a reduction in floor space

Rehabilitation allowed in view of the building’s vernacular characteristics

The Tribunal observed that the applicant’s request was tantamount to rehabilitating a vernacular building, the bulk of which was to be retained
The Tribunal observed that the applicant’s request was tantamount to rehabilitating a vernacular building, the bulk of which was to be retained

A planning proposal entitled “to sanction existing dwellings (pre-1967 farmhouses)” was submitted to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in an attempt to obtain permission for the sanctioning of structural alterations which had been carried out without planning consent. The interventions include the roofing over of a passageway linking two old buildings. The application involves two old farmhouses situated in an area known as Tal-Qaghadi in the limits of Naxxar.

Following a thorough analysis, the applicant’s request was rejected by the Environment and Planning Commission after it unanimously held that the interventions were in violation of active plans and policies, specifically Policy 6.2C and Policy 6.3 of the Rural Policy and Design Guidance (RPDG, 2014).

The Commission held inter alia that ‘the current building is larger than the original building, the characteristics of the original buildings were not retained, the proposed landscaping scheme is not appropriate, the site falls within an archaeological area, the floor area of each dwelling exceeds 200 square metres, the extensions visually dominate the existing buildings and the extensions were constructed after 1994’. Moreover, the design was considered to lack visual, containing ‘disparate styles that do not reflect the local context’.

In addition, the Commission held that, given the site context, the interventions had ‘an adverse impact on an important archaeological site’, thus in conflict with Structure Plan policy ARC 3 which in turn provides that such areas or sites should be safeguarded and preserved. Concluding, the Commission maintained that the proposal would also give rise to unacceptable additional on-street car parking, exacerbating existing problems of congestion, potential highway danger and vehicular and pedestrian conflict.

In reaction, the applicant lodged an appeal with the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the Commission’s decision should be reversed. In his appeal submissions, the applicant maintained that his proposal was ‘definitely not for the redevelopment of previously existing buildings’. The applicant went on to state that his application was not tantamount to a ‘change the use’ since the residential use was legally established, adding that the old building was being retained and ‘not redeveloped’.

He insisted that his designs were ‘typical of rural development, simple, without elaboration, and fitting to its context’. Concluding, he highlighted that such applications should not be rejected ‘a priori’ for the simple reason that the relative site is located within a Class A Area of Archaeological Importance.

In reply, the Authority held to its original position, reiterating that ‘the existing structures were extensively altered and hence the property does not merit the designation as a high importance vernacular property’. The case officer pointed out to the Tribunal that structural extensions are favourably considered on condition that there are no substantial changes to the original building. With regard to the archaeological impacts, the case officer asserted that an assessment was not possible at that stage since works had already been taken in hand.

In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that the applicant’s request was tantamount to rehabilitating a vernacular building, the bulk of which was to be retained (contrary to what the Authority had stated). For this reason, the Tribunal acceded to the applicant’s request on condition that the floor space of the recent additions is reduced.

Dr Robert Musumeci is an advocate and an architect, with an interest in development planning law

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