A planning application entitled “Rehabilitation of an existing uninhabited residential building into separate residential units, including proposed minor internal alterations, proposed additional fourth floor and receded floor and proposed class 4A use at ground floor” was rejected by the Planning Commission.
This proposal concerned an old palazzo situated in situated in a corner adjoining St Fredrick Street and St Christopher Street in Valletta.
In refusing the application, the Commission gave the following reasons to justify its decision:
1 The proposed height of development runs counter to Urban Objectives 2.3 and 2.4 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development which promote a context driven approach for the control of building heights within Urban Conservation Areas in order to protect the traditional urban skyline. The proposal also runs counter to policies P35 and P39 of the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015 which require that building heights are based on a streetscape analysis in order not to create an unacceptable visual impact;
2 The proposed development runs counter to the provisions of policy P32 Minimum Dwelling Areas and Mix of Dwelling Sizes of the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015 which specifies that the residential units in relation to the number of bedrooms shall respect the minimum gross floor area;
3 The proposed development runs counter to the provisions of policy P45 Development Amenity of the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015 which specifies that residential units should have an adequate outlook on the public road.
In reaction, applicant lodged an appeal with the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the Commission’s decision should be reversed. In his defence, applicant (now, appellant) stated that his proposal sought ‘to give value to the rehabilitation of an abandoned and disused residential building which has been in a dilapidated state for several years’. It was also highlighted that the topmost floors were being proposed on ‘a land-locked property located on the upper level of Valletta’s sloping terrain’, adding that his site was surrounded with high buildings. Appellant maintained that the ‘additional floors’ would be in keeping with the ‘vernacular architecture predominate in Valletta’, thus ensuring ‘compatibility with the urban fabric to enrich the street character’. Moreover reference was made to a number of planning applications, where permission was granted even though the minimum floor area requirements were not being adhered to. In his concluding arguments, appellant underlined that his design philosophy was ‘to restore and rehabilitate a disused and dilapidated building into a landmark high-end and high quality residential project, giving it a new lease of life and setting a benchmark for future developments in Valletta’.
In reply, the Planning Authority disagreed with appellant’s arguments, reiterating that the adjoining buildings did not have roof structures as applicant had purported. According to the case officer, the proposed receded roof structure, thus, ran counter to SPED Objectives 2.3 and 2.4 which promote a context driven approach for the control of building height in an Urban Conservation Area with a view to protect the traditional urban skyline. The Tribunal was likewise reminded that the development as proposed would adversely impact the skyline of a World Heritage Site.
In its assessment, the Tribunal was satisfied that, since the proposal concerned the rehabilitation of an old palazzo, the dwelling floor areas were deemed to be adequate even though the proposal fell short of the minimum policy requirements.
On the other hand, the Tribunal was concerned with the proposed designs given that the façade elevations were not in keeping with the streetscape characteristics. In addition, the Tribunal felt that the resultant massing was objectionable from an aesthetics point of view. Against this background, the Authority’s decision was confirmed.