Architect insists on aesthetics rather than policy dimensions

The Authority held that ‘ameliorating the visual impact of the site’ was not ‘enough’ to depart from established policy

The Planning Commission was asked to decide upon a planning application for various structural additions and alterations to an existing building so as to increase the commercial area of a licensed shop at ground floor level and convert the overlying dwelling to an office. The building in question is located within the residential area of Tarxien.

Following a thorough analysis, the Commission found that the applicant’s request violated a number of planning policies and consequently turned down the proposal. To support its decision, the Commission held that both the ‘extended’ shop and overlying office were excessive in scale, thus in breach of the provisions of policy SMHO 02 of the South Malta Local Plan and SPED Urban Objective 3 which aims to protect and enhance the character and amenity of urban areas.’

In reaction, the applicant took his case before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the Commission’s decision should be reversed. In his appeal submissions, the applicant argued that his proposal would indeed result in ‘visual improvement’. He said that  in such cases, ‘reason should prevail over the blind adherence to the dimensions dictated in policy SMHO 02.’

It was further explained that the existing building had a self-imposed facade setback which ‘presents undesirable visual impact to the streetscape’ so that ‘the only solution available to mitigate this situation is to extend the shop towards the road’. Whilst acknowledging that increasing the commercial area was in breach of policy, the applicant maintained that the end result would provide a neater solution and better visual massing with interesting architectural features.

For its part, the Authority reiterated its previous concerns, contending that ‘ameliorating the visual impact of the site’ was not ‘enough’ to depart from established policy. The case officer representing the Authority pointed out to the Tribunal that the maximum permitted floor area for shops and offices in residential areas should not exceed 75 square metres. Concluding, the officer warned that the proposal would create a shortfall of parking spaces to the detriment of neighbouring residents. This, according to the case officer, went against SPED Policy U03 which aims to protect and enhance the character and amenity of urban areas.

In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that the area fronting the shop, now to be roofed, formed an integral part of the already ongoing commercial activity at ground floor level. On the other hand, the Tribunal noted that the applicant was no longer interested in converting the first floor dwelling into an office. Against this background, the Tribunal found in favour of the applicant, though insofar as the shop extension was concerned.

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

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