An application entitled “to construct a basement garage/store and an overlying residential unit” was initially turned down by the then Environment and Planning Commission. The application related to a vacant plot situated outside the limits of development in Rabat. The Commission had held that ‘the proposed development conflicts with Structure Plan Policy SET11, which does not permit urban development outside existing and committed built-up areas.’

In addition, the Commission found that ‘there are no reasons from a planning point of view why the proposed development cannot be located in an area designated for development or in an existing built up area.’ More so, the site lies within a designated Open Space Gap between established rural settlements. Concluding, the Commission stated that ‘the proposed dwelling does not enhance agricultural, ecological, or scenic interests.’

In reaction, the applicant appealed the decision before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. In his submissions, the applicant contended that the ‘refusal is unfair because it is based on the incorrect interpretation of the facts.’ The appellant went on to state that ‘the reasons of refusal all hinge on the assumption that the site is located outside the development boundaries.’

The appellant however argued that his plot was partly located within a Category 1 settlement, adding that the adjoining plot of land could not be developed as an end of scheme development because the edge of the designated scheme lies within his property. The appellant therefore insisted that granting his permit was the only way to eliminate an unsightly edge blank party wall.

The Authority reacted by stating that 90% of the applicant’s site was located outside the settlement boundary. The case officer reiterated that policy NWCO 11 of the Local Plan provides ‘a blanket prohibition of any form of urbanization outside areas specifically designated for urban uses in the Local Plan.

’As a final point, the case officer warned that ‘should the Tribunal accept such development, a precedent will be created where other sites on the fringe boundary of category settlements will aim at developing their land to the detriment of the natural landscape.’

In its assessment, the Tribunal immediately observed that the appellant had made a similar development proposal way back in 2008, which proposal was equally turned down by the then Planning Appeals Board. In addition, the Tribunal pointed out that Policy NWCO 11 (of the North West Local Plan) puts an onus on the Authority to ‘exercise strict control on development within gap sites and refuse even legitimate uses outside the development zone if they lead to further significant intensification of built-up land.’ Moreover, the Tribunal highlighted that the proposed building envelope was not tantamount to an adequate ‘design solution’. Against this background, the Tribunal confirmed that the Authority was correct in refusing the planning application.