Balluta owner wants more, appeals PA refusal to turn building into offices

PA deviated from policy to allow offices but now gets cold feet as owner requests even more office space and appeals PA’s refusal

First the PA deviated from the local plan barring office development in a residential area. Now it is getting cold feet and has refused the developer’s request to turn the whole building into an office complex
First the PA deviated from the local plan barring office development in a residential area. Now it is getting cold feet and has refused the developer’s request to turn the whole building into an office complex

The secretary general of Malta’s construction lobby has appealed a refusal by the Planning Authority of his plans to convert a nine-storey development entirely into offices.

Developer Michael Stivala is appealing the PA’s refusal to convert the original permit into a nine-storey office complex set over 4,000sq.m.

The development, under fire for its deleterious impact on Balluta bay, was originally a mixed residential and office development.

But subsequently Stivala applied to turn the whole building into offices despite the designation of the area as a residential one.

After approving the original plans, the PA had cold feet and turned down the request to increase office space, because the local plan for St Julian’s specifies that office space included in the area should be limited to 75sq.m.

The same case officer who had originally recommended approval of the original permit now described the proposed office space as “excessive”, which would cause adverse impacts on the locality due a shortfall of 63 car parking spaces, 14 more than the original development.

In their appeal, the owners pointed out that the 75sq.m-limit dictated by the local plan had been “already exceeded” in the permit issued in 2018, when office space was limited to 1,350sq.m.

Indeed the PA itself justified its own deviation by referring to another policy permitting “departures from policies” in tourism and entertainment priority areas. Such departures can only be allowed if these are deemed to be “neighbour-compatible” and do not negatively impact the locality.  

In their appeal the developers insist the project will not have a negative impact on the locality as the shortfall in traffic is being addressed through a Green Travel Plan already endorsed by the PA’s Transport Unit. They also highlight the restoration of the façade which has made the development eligible to a “flexible approach” recommended in the local plan on the use of listed buildings, as well as other policies encouraging the restoration of buildings with heritage value through commercial development.

While the façade of the old townhouse on the St Julian’s High Street was retained, an imposing back-end structure right near the Barracuda restaurant has radically changed the appearance of Balluta Bay, with the building’s upper floors jutting out over the sea itself.

While this was accepted in the original application, in the latest application the PA objected to additional back balconies at the lower end as these impinged on the visual integrity of the area. In reply the developer referred to the approval of the latest plans by the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage.

The development has been criticised by Alternattiva Demokratika, who  accused the Lands Authority and the Planning Authority of failing to do their duty to protect the coast. “After businesses were allowed to take over our pavements together with parking spaces which they integrated with their outlets, they are now bent on not just taking over the coast but also on taking the area over the sea,” AD chairperson Carmel Cacopardo said.

Architect Alex Torpiano, the president of Din l-Art Helwa, has also denounced the way the developers sliced the application into “bite-sized portions” to ultimately obtain “a permit for a nine-storey block, right at the water’s edge, effectively replacing two Grade 2 scheduled houses within an urban conservation area, and abutting a safeguarded area of natural coastline.”

In fact the application for the change in use to offices was the third one presented on the same properties. Earlier applications comprised the two townhouses and their amalgamation into one development.

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