Ad hoc policy invented for Halland development on Wied Ghomor, residents claim

Residents and councils contend that hotel could only have been developed as a villa and bungalow area, yet developers got 10-storey block permit

The PA deliberately seems to have invented an “ad hoc” policy for this site by coming up with an unprecedented formula: that of calculating the “maximum developable gross floor area” by multiplying the 40% site coverage permitted by policy – 1,474sq.m – by 7.75 floors, to award a maximum of 11,423sq.m of development
The PA deliberately seems to have invented an “ad hoc” policy for this site by coming up with an unprecedented formula: that of calculating the “maximum developable gross floor area” by multiplying the 40% site coverage permitted by policy – 1,474sq.m – by 7.75 floors, to award a maximum of 11,423sq.m of development

New doubts have been cast on the approval of a 10-storey block of 71 apartments overlooking the Wied Ghomor valley, instead of the Halland hotel.

Appellants objecting to the project have presented a detailed report documenting a number of policy breaches, including a blatant disregard for a policy requiring devel-opers to keep 60% of the site’s footprint undeveloped.

But the Planning Authority has defended its decision as an “acceptable compromise” dictated by the particular nature of the site.

The project proposed by the Tumas Group, a pyramidical structure rising above the valley and designed by architect Ray De Micoli, was approved by the PA board last year. An appeal to the PA’s Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has been presented by the Swieqi and San Gwann local councils and the Tal-Ibragg Complex Association.

One of the most contentious arguments against the development is that according to the Development Control and Design Guidelines of 2015, which limit site cover-age in the villa area to 40% of the site, the footprint of the project should have been limited to 1,474sq.m.

This stems from the fact that the local plan designates the site of the hotel as a residential priority area for “detached and semi-detached dwellings” with a site cover-age of 30%. This was increased to 40% in the 2015 DCDGs.

But the approved plans show that the floor containing the entrance to the new development will cover a footprint of 3,060sq.m, which amounts to a site coverage of over 80% of the site. The first floor, which is at pavement level, also exceeds the allowable site coverage by 330sq.m.

The present Halland hotel has a footprint of 1,587sq.m or 40% of the site.

But in this case the PA deliberately seems to have invented an “ad hoc” policy for this site by coming up with an unprecedented formula: that of calculating the “max-imum developable gross floor area” by multiplying the 40% site coverage permitted by policy – 1,474sq.m – by 7.75 floors, to award a maximum of 11,423sq.m of development.

Omitted from this calculation were the three bottom floors at the level of the public lane, which will have 18 apartments overlooking the valley. Moreover, six of the eight floors included in the calculation were in excess of the 40% site coverage.

Indeed, the calculation of the Gross Floor Area by the PA’s case officer was limited to the internal area, excluding “covered or uncovered balconies”. This contrasts with the definition of GFA as found in the policy which clearly includes “all internal and usable external space.”

Malta’s villa and bungalow areas have site coverage rules purposely so as to protect open spaces by limiting footprints of any proposed development. In this case no such open spaces have been created because the pyramidical structure ensures that the bottom floor – not included in the floor area calculation – occupies most of the site, while the upper floors are set on top of them. This suggests that the shape of the development itself was intended to skirt around policy requirements.

PA’s ‘acceptable compromise’

In its response the PA has defended itself by referring to the particular nature of the case in which the authority was faced with: a proposal to demolish an aged hotel and develop a residential-type development whilst “retaining the existing building height in a surrounding context that harbours a residential priority area”.

The PA said it had to consider all the above planning considerations and adopt an “acceptable approach within the parameters of the policy”.
The authority referred to the replacement of the L-shaped hotel with a design “flexing the zoning parameters in the lower floors and compensating in the upper floors” with the “overall result consisting of a waved replacement building with set-backs on each floor overlooking Wied il-Kbir, which is acceptable from an aesthetic point of view.”

The residents’ and council’s appeal refers to several other policy breaches, including the policy banning over-development on ridges and deviations from the 2016 local plan which regulates the site through two policy maps: one designating the site of the hotel as villa and bungalow area, and one which foresees the retention of “existing heights”.

Residents contend that the hotel could only have been developed as a villa and bun-galow area.

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