A planning application for the change of use from a timber store, currently located at second floor level of a four storey warehouse, to a “performing arts studio” was initially turned down by MEPA’s Planning Commission after it held that accepting such use in an industrial area is tantamount to a further loss of designated industrial space through uses which are not required/compatible within that same industrial zone.

To support its arguments, the Commission made reference to those acceptable land uses which are specifically permitted in industrial zones (as listed in Policy CG 15 of the Central Malta Local Plan) and which incidentally fail to include Class 8 (b) uses, namely residential or non-residential schools, colleges and  training centres.

As a reaction, the applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Tribunal, arguing in his submissions that Class 8 (b) uses as defined in the Development Planning (Use Classes) Order 1994 refers to residential or non-residential schools, colleges and training centres.

The applicant thus contended that, contrary to what the Authority alleged, performing studios may not be assessed in terms of  Class 8 (b) provisions. In his submissions, the applicant went on to state that “a performing arts studio cannot by any stretch of the imagination be termed a school or college, and whilst training may be given, this is only part of the activities which will be held at the premises, which would also include production, both visual and sound.”

Furthermore, the applicant underlined that the Development Planning (Use Classes) Order 1994 was (since the time of the decision) repealed and replaced by Legal Notice 74 of 2014, the latter which qualifies “the making of any article or part of any article including a film, video or sound recording as forming part” under “light industry”. In that way, the applicant contended that the proposal now qualifies as an industrial use.

For its part, the Authority reiterated that a performing studio, “where tutors will be assisting dancing sessions” qualifies as a training centre and cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered as an “industrial use”. The case officer added that the applicant had at no point prior to the Commission’s decision stated that the activities would include visual and sound production.

In its assessment, the Tribunal opined that performing arts studios do not fall under any of the listed classes attached to Legal Notice 74 of 2014. But even so, the Tribunal maintained that it is not desirable to have such studios in a residential area.

In its conclusions, the Tribunal noted that the proposed use was, in this case, restricted to one floor and hence the predominant use of the building (that is the other three floors) was to remain industrial as required by the Local Plan. Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the MEPA to issue the permit.