A planning application contemplating the conversion of a showroom into a gymnasium was turned down by the Environment and Planning Commission after it held that “the proposed land use is not present or similar to other land uses within the area.”

The showroom is located within an area of containment where further development is regulated by Local Plan Policy SMCM 05.

Furthermore, the Commission highlighted that “the proposal fails to provide the required car parking spaces, thus giving rise to unacceptable additional on-street car parking which would not be in the interests of the amenity of the area and which would exacerbate existing problems of congestion, potential highway danger and vehicular and pedestrian conflict”.

In reaction, applicant appealed the decision before the Environment and Planning Tribunal, referring in his submissions to the Local Plan, which in turn provides that “a more suitable but compatible replacement activity to an existing one may be considered if it respects the uses contemplated in the relevant policies”.

In addition, the applicant argued that “a showroom in such location is neither ideal nor functional” since the showroom is, in this case, located along a very busy main road without a setback and not easily visible.

Moreover, the applicant made express reference to two permits contemplating a variety of uses which were approved within areas of containment. The first permit relates to a large commercial complex comprising a supermarket, childcare centre, cafeteria, fitness centre, beauty centre and underground parking facilities. The second permit relates to a timber store forming part of a multi-storey industrial complex which was converted into a performing arts studio.

For its part, the Authority stood firm with its decision, insisting that the area in question is not “sufficiently committed by existing or permitted buildings” in such manner as to justify the proposed gymnasium. But even so, the Authority maintained that the supermarket permit, to which reference was made by the appellant, carried no resemblance since such permit was approved way before the “containment” policy came into force.

In its assessment, the Tribunal made immediate reference to Local Plan Policy SMCM 05 regulating new uses within areas of containment. This policy provides inter alia that as a general rule, any proposed use must be similar to existing uses. Nonetheless, this same policy provides that when the proposed use is considered undesirable, “MEPA will consider a more acceptable alternative use.” In the circumstances, the Tribunal concluded that the scale and nature of the proposed activity complements the main industrial/commercial activity. The Tribunal thus ordered the MEPA to issue the permit subject to a financial contribution towards the Urban Improvement Fund.