A development planning application contemplating the demolition of a two-storey building, retaining its façade, followed by the construction of a five-storey block was turned down by the Planning Commission. In fact, the proposed drawings show a four-storey building with a receded topmost floor. The applicant’s premises are situated in Triq il-Kbira San Guzepp, Hamrun.

To justify its decision, the Commission observed that the proposed building envelope ran counter to Urban Objective 2.3 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) which promotes “a context driven approach for the control of building heights within Urban Conservation Areas in order to protect the traditional urban skyline”. Consequently, the proposal could not be justified on the basis of similar commitment in the immediate vicinity.

As a reaction, the applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the Commission’s decision should be reversed. The applicant argued that the Commission applied the wrong policy since his application was submitted prior to the introduction of the 2015 Policy and Design Guidelines. In his submissions, applicant stated that the Commission failed to note that the 2015 guidelines provide a specific transitory provision on the basis of which, applicants may request the Authority to assess their applications in terms of the previous 2007 Policy and Design Guidelines.

According to the applicant, the Authority should have ignored the provisions of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development and, instead, relied on the 1992 Structure Plan on which basis, the 2007 guidelines were grounded. The applicant further pointed out that the street was, in any case, committed with tall buildings despite the Authority having given a different impression. 

In reply, the Authority took strong objection to the applicant’s arguments. The case officer insisted that the application was validated on 4th November, 2015, on which date the SPED had been approved since August 2015. Consequently, the applicant was wrong to assert that the SPED was not applicable in the given circumstances.

In addition, the case officer reminded the Tribunal that the premises was sandwiched between a three-storey building on the right and a two-storey building on the other end. Were it to be approved, the proposed development would have resulted in the creation of unsightly high blank party walls to the detriment of the low lying streetscape

In its assessment, the Tribunal immediately observed that as a matter of legal principle, “the application of policies and proposals in approved Subsidiary Plans should not prejudice the implementation of SPED.” In other words policy UO2.3 of the SPED, which was designed “to improve the townscape and environment in historic cores and their setting with a presumption against demolition of property worthy of conservation by adopting a context driven approach to the control of building heights within Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs)”, was certainly applicable.

Nevertheless, the Tribunal noted that the Hamrun Local Plan equally provides that within UCAs, the designated building height limitations as indicated in the Building Height Limitations Maps do “reflect the predominant height of the existing buildings”. In this case, the proposal was consonant with the set height limitations, which allow for a building height of four storeys and an overlying receded floor. The Tribunal therefore observed that applicant’s proposal was in line with policy and should be approved.