A planning application entitled “change of use from retail (class 4b) to a tea room (class 4c)” was turned down by the Planning Commission following a string of objections from neighbouring residents.

The Commission found that the premises were located within a residential zone as identified in the Central Malta Local Plan and does not comply with policy CG 07, adding that the proposal also runs counter to Structure Plan Policy BEN1. Moreover, the projecting sign was found to run counter to the current Design Guidance regulating shop-fronts, which inter alia prohibits projecting signs in Urban Conservation Areas.

In reaction, the applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that “the concept of the proposal was being misunderstood since the request is not for a fully fledged catering facility but simply what is qualified as a ‘Delicatessen’. The applicant explained that the proposal only entailed the sale of prefabricated foods “with a possibility of ‘tasting’ on site.”

Nevertheless, the third party objectors maintained that the applicant’s proposal sought to intensify a current use (namely, a grocer) since the proposed tea room would still be open to customers “during extended hours”. In addition, the objectors described other licensed establishments in the vicinity as “a constant source of noise and nuisance to the neighbours in the area.” Thus, approving permission for “the operation of tea rooms in a residential area which already has a high concentration of licensed establishments within a relatively small area” would, according to the objectors, only serve “to erode the residential character in the area in question.” Furthermore, it was alleged that the proposed use would amount to additional traffic in an area where, at present, “there is a total disregard of parking rules”.

For its part, the Authority reiterated that the proposed tea room falls outside the ambit of acceptable uses indicated in Policy CG 07 of the North Harbour Local Plan. The Authority agreed with the objectors in that the proposal would result in “added noise, traffic generation and parking problems.”

In conclusion, the case officer remarked that the submitted drawings show “a sales counter and a client sitting area” with such arrangement being more conducive to a fully-fledged cafeteria, rather than a delicatessen shop as the applicant had previously maintained.

In its assessment, the Tribunal confirmed that the proposal entailed the sale of pre-fabricated foodstuffs with the possibility for customers to taste them within the premises. But even so, the site was not characterised by sufficient commitment that would justify the proposed change of use. Against this background, the Tribunal concluded that the Authority was correct to reject the application.