A development planning application was lodged with the Planning Authority in an attempt to sanction a freestanding billboard which was installed without first obtaining planning permission. The billboard is located on the Mriehel Bypass.

The applicant’s request was initially turned down by the Environment and Planning Commission after the Planning Directorate had previously insisted that ‘new’ billboards should be installed solely in ‘designated’ locations. Moreover, it was observed that the closest designated site was located only 150 metres away.   

In reaction, the applicant appealed the decision before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the Commission’s decision should be reversed. The applicant submitted that Transport Malta had found no objection to his proposal and further contended that the authority acted ‘unfairly’ in his regard, the more so since it had acceded to similar requests pertaining to the same road.

In reply, the case officer representing the authority reiterated that freestanding billboards may only be permitted in ‘designated’ locations. The case officer explained that, at present, there are only 114 designated locations, which excluded the applicant’s chosen location. He went on to argue that ‘the aim of ‘designated sites’ is to control the proliferation of such billboards’.

Having a site with similar characteristics to a designated location ‘does not mean that it should be justified by default.’ The officer warned that ‘the piecemeal justification of singular additional billboards over and above the ‘designated sites’ would in time lead to an unnecessary profusion of advertising along roads’, particularly so since the authority had designated other sites along the same road.  

In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that, as a matter of principle, the authority should exercise ‘strict control’ with regard to new locations unless these are officially ‘designated’. Nevertheless, the Tribunal maintained that there may be instances where requests may still be entertained provided that the chosen site is ‘congruent’ to the characteristics applicable for designated locations.

The Tribunal recalled that billboards should be ideally located in arterial and distributor roads on condition that there are no traffic safety issues. The Tribunal opined that in the applicant’s case, the chosen location had similar characteristics to a designated site in terms of its ‘location and surroundings’. More so, the Tribunal held that the distance between the billboard under examination and the closest designated location was deemed to be adequate. Against this background, the authority was ordered to issue the relative sanctioning permit.