Mqabba retirement home back to the drawing board

The Tribunal found that the Authority had evidently failed to carry out such assessment. For this reason, the Tribunal annulled the permit and requested the Authority to reassess the proposal in line with the zoning conditions

At issue was a planning application ‘to construct a retirement home’ in Mqabba. The site in question is currently occupied by a water reservoir. For its part, the Planning Authority granted permission notwithstanding there being a number of objections from neighbouring residents.

To justify the decision, the Authority held that policy SMHO 02 of the South Malta Local Plan allows residential institutions provided that they are of a small scale and do not create an adverse impact on the residential amenity of the area.

The proposal was also justified on the pretext that the site was located in close proximity to the town or local centre. Moreover, the Authority reasoned out that Thematic Objective 2 of the SPED ‘guides the location of social and community facilities to within the urban area’ - in the present case, the home was to host 89 beds, hence considered of a ‘small scale’ .

Following the decision, the objectors decided to lodge an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. In their appeal, the objectors made a specific request to have the permit revoked. In their arguments, the third party appellants observed that the eventual construction would eliminate a water reservoir that diverted the stormwater during heavy rains in an otherwise flood prone zone. Reference was indeed made to the Local Plan, which designates the area as one that was prone to flooding.  

It followed that the area was not designated to be developed. It was further held that a flood risk assessment report  was commissioned by applicants without their knowledge, less so their involvement. The objectors contended that notwithstanding there being another permission to build a reservoir close by, works in that regard were never taken in hand. As a final point, it was pointed out that the site was close to a busy arterial road and to make matters worse, the approved plans failed to meet the parking space requirements set out in the policy.

In reply, the case officer stood by the Authority’s decision to issue the permit. While it was true that the  site was prone to flooding, the existing reservoir would, contrary to what the objectors asserted, remain intact since construction was to take place above street level. Moreover, the Tribunal was reminded that ‘another permit to support the existing Reservoir in order to improve the current well-known flooding situation’ was issued.  

In addition, the officer noted that the site was in close proximity to the Mqabba village centre, that being ‘an ideal location for a retirement home’ since it would make community facilities available to ‘older persons who require long-term care facilities.’

Concluding, the Tribunal said that it was satisfied that there were no issues insofar as the stormwater and associated flooding risks were concerned. Having said that, the Tribunal warned that part of the development footprint was to occupy an area designated as a public open space in the South Malta Local Plan. This implied that prior to deciding that a retirement home was acceptable, the Authority was obliged to ‘determine the acceptability of development’ in light of the zoning conditions as well as any other relevant material planning considerations relating to the site and to its context.

The Tribunal found that the Authority had evidently failed to carry out such assessment. For this reason, the Tribunal annulled the permit and requested the Authority to reassess the proposal in line with the zoning conditions.

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