A planning application for the conversion of a vacant building into a residence was turned down by the Environment and Planning Commission. The site is located outside the development zone in Gozo. In its decision, the Commission had stated that the proposal infringes SPED Policy RO 4 and Policies 6.2C and 6.2A (2d) of the Rural Policy and Design Guidelines.

In reaction, the applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the building was constructed in 1934. Furthermore, the applicant produced documentary evidence showing that the building was used as a residence at some point in time. He maintained that his proposal sought to encourage ‘the re-use of existing structures worthy of conservation’ in line with current planning policies.

In reply, the Authority counter argued that rural buildings could be ‘rehabilitated’ once ‘the existing building to be converted into a dwelling has a minimum habitable area of 100 square metres’. In this case, the Authority observed that the habitable area was equivalent to 37 square metres ‘which is far less than the minimum of 100 square metres’. Even so, the case officer pointed out that ‘any development that is proposed in rural areas is not only to comply with the SPED Objectives, but is to also comply with all the relevant Policies of the rural policy guidelines which ‘are aimed at ensuring that the relevant SPED Rural Objectives are actually achieved in practice.’

In its assessment, the Tribunal noted  the applicant’s arguments, where he insisted that  his application was tantamount to a ‘structural extension’ to an established residence. Indeed, the applicant had submitted documentary evidence to show that the building under consideration also served as a residence. The Tribunal also made reference to Policy RO 4 of the SPED which in turn promotes ‘the re-use of existing structures worthy of conservation, in a manner which is compatible with the rural character and prevents formalisation of the countryside.’

Nonetheless, the Tribunal went on to observe that the ‘historic status’ was deemed to be immaterial in the given circumstances since Policy 6.2 A of the Rural Policy Document specifically provides that in the case of vacant buildings, ‘the existing building to be converted must bear a minimum area of 100 square metres of roofed internal space between walls’ and located in such manner where ‘the site is already serviced by a road network’. In the present case, the building floor space amounted to 65 square metres, thus failing the 100 square metre threshold.

Concluding, the Tribunal went on to observe that the situation would have been different for the applicant were the present building still being used as a residence. Against this background, the Tribunal went on to confirm the Authority’s decision.