Permit to convert 19sq.m room to ODZ dwelling denied

The Tribunal found that for re/development to qualify in terms of Policy 5.2C, ‘a negative environment impact on the site and its surroundings’ had to subsist

At issue was a development planning application to demolish what applicant described as ‘a farm building constructed prior to 1978’ and construct a dwelling instead. The building in question was located in Bidnija, outside the development zone of St Paul’s Bay.

The Planning Commission observed that notwithstanding the proposal description, the ‘farm’ was nothing but a 19sq.m room. The Commission thus held that the proposal was not in line with policy NWRS3 of the North West Malta Local Plan which allowed re-development of existing buildings so long as the built footprint was not less than 50sq.m as identified in the 1968 aerial photos.

On top of this, the Commission maintained that the proposed redevelopment failed to satisfy criterion 5(c) of policy 6.2C of the Rural Policy and Design Guidance (2014) for the existing building could not be considered as a disused farm building. The Commission also opined that the building in question was small in size, hence there being no negative visual impact so as to justify replacement. Finally, it was noted that the Veterinary Regulations Directorate could not verify whether the so-called ‘farm’ was ever used as such.

In reply, applicant lodged an appeal against the decision before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. In his appeal, applicant (now, appellant) pointed out that ‘upon further information gathered from the VRD, the farm had ceased being operational since 2002.’ This implied that the farm was considered to have been ‘in disuse’ after the year 2004. Applicant argued that according to Policy 6.2C of Rural Policy and Design Guidance (RPDG) 2014 on which the Commission’s decision was premised, a farm building which ceased operations prior to 2004 could be demolished and a new residence built instead, irrespective of the standing building area. Finally,  the Tribunal was reminded that the proposed dwelling was to occupy an area of 200sq.m, hence within the limits set out by the said Policy 6.2C.

For its part, the Authority stood firm with its position to refuse permission. While noting that applicant’s building was located within a Category 2 Rural Settlement, the Authority reiterated that according to the Local Plan, re-development of existing buildings into new dwelling units could only take place when the existing external footprint was not less than 50sq.m. In the case under examination, there was no dispute that the current building covered an area of 19sq.m which was less than 50sq.m.

In its assessment, the Tribunal immediately acknowledged that the building under examination was situated within a Category 2 Rural Settlement. Furthermore, the Tribunal saw that the existing building measured 19sq.m whereas in the Local Plan it was held that an existing building could be re-developed into a dwelling only when it occupied an area of at least 50sq.m.

The Tribunal went further to note that once the proposal did not qualify in terms of the provisions of the Local Plan, applicant could not rely on the Rural Policy, independent of the fact that it could work in his favour. Still, the Tribunal found that for re/development to qualify in terms of Policy 5.2C, ‘a negative environment impact on the site and its surroundings’ had to subsist. Given the small size of the room, the Tribunal said that there was no concern with visual impact. Against this background, the Commission’s decision was confirmed.