The Commission was mainly concerned with the envisaged visual impact due to the proposed number of floors in the given street context. To justify its decision, the Commission held as follows:
1. The proposed development ran counter to the provisions of policy P4 of the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015 which specifies that proposed developments are to comply with the committed prevalent height to width ratio for the area under consideration;
2. The proposal was not in line with Urban Objective 3 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development which aims to protect and enhance the character and amenity of urban areas;
3. The proposed height of development was in breach of Urban Objectives 2.3 and 2.4 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) which promote a context driven approach for the control of building heights within Urban Conservation Areas in order to protect the traditional urban skyline;
4. The proposal also ran 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 unacceptable visual impacts.
As a reaction, applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that his application should have been granted permission. Applicant, now appellant, described his proposal as ‘a case study of good building heights in Urban Conservation Areas, the design of which was derived after an intelligent analysis’. Appellant maintained that he had proposed to downscale the proposal, doing away with the topmost floor, and, yet, the application was refused. Appellant went on to argue that his project would also ‘cover an existing commitment of blank party walls’ to the west of the property, pointing out that his designs were ‘very much in context’. Reference was made to Urban Objective 3.4 of the SPED which according to appellant, promotes the upgrading of “sites which are derelict, in a state of abandonment, of poor quality or include incompatible uses”.
In reply, the case officer representing the Planning Authority disagreed with appellant’s arguments. It was alleged that the architect had ‘extended’ the area of influence beyond the stipulated limits so as to justify the additional storeys. The case officer pointed out that the proposal would have been considered favourably had the architect opted to recede the third floor. Whilst agreeing that the proposal would screen a blank wall as purported by applicant, the Authority warned that ‘another blank party wall facing the east side of the street’ would, however, be created.
In its assessment, the Tribunal highlighted that the proposal contemplated five habitable floors and the elevation was nonetheless perceived on four floors. In addition, the Tribunal assessed that the site was surrounded by multi-storey development, noting that the proposal would only exceed the adjacent development by half a metre. In any case, the proposed building envelope was in keeping with the designated Local Plan height limitations which in turn ‘reflect the predominant height of the existing buildings and building permits already issued’. On a separate note, the Tribunal asserted that both the Design Advisory Committee and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage did not object to the proposed designs. Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the Authority to issue the permit.