Marsa billboard approved by Tribunal

The Planning Authority was not legally bound to follow the recommendations of Transport Malta, since a billboard at issue was situated close to a junction on the arterial road network

At issue was a planning application for the sanctioning of a billboard which was rejected by the Planning Commission. After a thorough assessment, the Commission held that the proposal failed ‘to relate in scale and design of the building on which it was located.’ Moreover, the billboard was found to be located close to a busy traffic junction on the arterial road network, hence tantamount to a traffic safety hazard.

Further to the said decision, applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the permit should have been issued. In his appeal application, applicant (now, appellant) highlighted the following arguments:

• As a matter of principle, the scope of having a billboard was to draw the attention of passers-by. But even so, the billboard was not ‘visually dominating’ as purported by the Authority. As a fact, the billboard occupied only 50% of the façade area;

• Transport Malta, being the competent Authority to assess transport matters, had signalled its no objection to the proposal. On the other hand, the Planning Authority was not empowered to overrule the conclusions of Transport Malta;

• Reference was made to a billboard permit in order to show that the Planning Authority ‘typically’ relies on the conclusions of Transport Malta;

• As a matter of fact, the billboard in question had been in place for a number of years and no traffic accidents were ever reported;

• Traffic velocity in the area is typically low since a pedestrian crossing was situated nearby.

In reply, the Planning Authority reiterated that billboards should be designed ‘to appear as an integral feature of the building and should not project the outline of the building’.

Once more, the Authority held that the billboard in question was ‘visually dominating’ and ‘did not appear to form an integral feature of the building’.

Moreover, the billboard encroached beyond the roof skyline.

With regard to traffic issues, the Authority acknowledged that Transport Malta had not objected to the proposal.

Having said that, the Authority underlined that it was not legally bound to follow the recommendations of Transport Malta, all the more so since the billboard at issue was situated close to a junction on the arterial road network.

Concluding, the Authority stated that there had been already two similar planning applications with respect to this same location, which applications were both refused.

In its assessment, the Tribunal noted that the billboard was situated within the Marsa Park Site, where the permitted height limitation was 22 metres.

The Tribunal also confirmed that Transport Malta had no objection to the proposal. Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the Authority to issue permission against a fine of €3,960.

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