‘Place of worship’ approved in Blata l-Bajda

A request for the change of use of a showroom to a 'place of worship' was turned down by the Planning Authority for several reasons

The Planning Authority had turned down a request for the change of use of a showroom to a ‘place of worship’ in furtherance to a planning application submitted by a religious organisation known as ‘The General Council of the Assemblies of God, Malta’.

To support its decision the Planning Commission gave the following reasons:

  • The proposal ran counter to the provisions of Policy CG14 of the Central Malta Local Plan which does not permit places of worship on a site located within an area zoned as a Commercial Area;
  • The proposed use (place of worship)  would invariably result in unacceptable adverse impacts on the area;
  • The proposal was in breach of Thematic Objective 10.6 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development;
  • The proposal failed to meet the requirements set out in policy DC 15 as it did not provide the required car parking spaces, thus envisaging ‘unacceptable additional on-street car parking which would not be in the interests of the amenity of the area.’

 In reaction, applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the permit should have been issued. Applicant, now appellant, submitted that he was acting on behalf of the Evangelical Alliance of Malta, a local religious organisation which is a member of the World Evangelical Alliance having 129 churches and more than 600 million members worldwide. Appellant went on to explain that the organisation has, at present, 80 Maltese members. Furthermore, the Tribunal was reminded that the Planning Directorate was in favour of the application, adding that ‘the freedom of worship is a fundamental right of all citizens sanctioned by the Constitution of Malta and the European Convention on Human Rights.’ Therefore, the Authority was wrong to assert that the application was objectionable on the pretext that there is no specific policy in force which’ identifies and designates’ areas for the siting of places of worship.  

Reference was also made to the General Policy Relating to Regeneration/Consolidation Initiatives (policy Fl-GNRl-l), which, according to appellant, allowed a departure from established policies provided there is adequate justification.  Applicant also maintained that the premises will be used between 7.30pm and 8.30pm during weekdays and between 10.30am and noon on Sunday mornings.  With regard to parking considerations, appellant pointed out that the premises were situated close to the Park and Ride complex in Blata l-Bajda and also close to Gattard House ‘which can easily take up to 100 cars’.

In reply, the Authority stood firm with its decision to turn down applicant’s request. The case officer representing the Authority held that ‘the fundamental right for the appellant to exercise one’s right to practise one’s own religion does not give the appellant the automatic ‘right’ to surpass Planning Laws and Policies’.

 In its assessment, the Tribunal, however, observed that the premises were located in a busy area characterised by a multitude of commercial outlets including showrooms, offices and shops.  Consequently, the Tribunal opined that the ‘residential amenity’ was not at stake.  Moreover, the Tribunal agreed that the premises were indeed located in the vicinity of a public parking where a substantial number of vehicles could be safely accommodated. Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the Authority to issue the permit.


Dr Robert Musumeci is an advocate and a perit

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Premises are located in a busy area characterised by a multitude of commercial outlets