Authority failed to prove that building was of historic interest

The Planning Commission turned down applicant’s request after it felt that the façade contained ‘vernacular features which are worthy of conservation’

At issue was a planning application to demolish a building in order to pave way for a groundfloor maisonette and overlying three apartments together with a penthouse.

The Planning Commission turned down applicant’s request after it felt that the façade contained ‘vernacular features which are worthy of conservation’. On this basis, the Commission held that the proposed demolition was not in the interest of the character of the area, hence in conflict with Thematic 8.7 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development Urban.

As a reaction, applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that permission should have been granted. In his appeal, applicant, now appellant brought forward the following arguments:

  1. Should the façade be retained, the introduction of additional floors would look visually disproportionate;
  2. The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage (SCH), who was consulted during the application process, made no mention of ‘vernacular features’;
  3. The proposed design was deemed to be more ‘respectful’ of the surrounding urban context. As a matter of fact, the new façade would be constructed with stone masonry, employing ‘stone mouldings around the door and under balconies together with a stone fascia at ground floor level’;
  4. The Authority had issued a permit for the construction of a block of apartments which was located a few metres away;
  5. Moreover, the Authority had not objected to the demolition of an old building, also situated in the immediate vicinity.

In reply, the Authority reiterated its objection to the demolition of the facade. Although the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage did not voice any concern, the Authority maintained that the existing facade was ‘adorned by numerous vernacular features in terms of stone fascias, mouldings and corbels and also in terms of traditional woodwork for the and wrought iron work for the apertures.’

The said features, according to the Authority, made a positive contribution to the character of the building as well as the streetscape. It was further argued that any attempt to incorporate ‘certain vernacular features’ in a new design was not tantamount to ‘adequate justification’ for the entire demolition of the facade.

As to the permissions mentioned by appellant, the Authority held that these were not relevant. With regard to the recently constructed apartments, it was observed that the new complex occupied a previously vacant plot. On the other hand, the permit for the demolition of the old building situated close to appellant’s site, albeit issued, had not been utilised.

For its part, the Tribunal felt that the façade was not worth retaining since the Authority had failed to demonstrate that the building in question was of outstanding architectural or historical interest. But even so, the Tribunal opined that preserving the façade would not ‘visually enhance’ the immediate urban streetscape. Against this background, the Tribunal overturned the appealed decision and ordered he Authority to issue permission.