In order to justify its decision, the Planning Commission held that the proposed commercial use ran counter to the provisions of Policy GO 08 of the Grand Harbour Local Plan which specifies inter alia that ’small shops should comply with the Local Shops Policy (1997) or subsequent amendments that are allowed within residential areas’. Reference was also made to the SPED Urban Objective 3.5 which aims at controlling ‘the proximity of non-residential uses in residential areas’.
In addition, the Commission observed that structural works had already been carried out inside the premises and the proposal was therefore in breach of SPED Thematic Objectives 8.1, 8.2 and 8.7 which provides that ’applications for development which will affect important archaeological areas and sites will normally be refused.’
Aggrieved by the said decision, applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the permit should have been granted. In his appeal submissions, applicant (now, appellant) argued the that a number of similar requests (in Valletta) were granted permission.
Appellant made mention of a bar known as “Off Beat” which allegedly was of a ‘similar scale’ and was granted a permit in recent weeks. The Tribunal was reminded that applicant’s premises measured a floor area of 36 square. Appellant therefore insisted that the area was small and ‘excess traffic’ was not envisaged. Moreover, appellant contended that the structural works, though undertaken without a permit in hand, were in line with a restoration method statement and limited to the removing of ‘a part flagstone ceiling (approximately 4.5sq.m) and a small, lightweight spiral staircase, which led to the basement’.
Finally, the Tribunal was reminded that Urban Objective 2 of the SPED aims at encouraging ‘small scale compatible business uses particularly tourism related which complement the character and distinctiveness of historic cores’.
In reply, the case officer representing the Authority acknowledged that the area of the premises was small. Nevertheless, the use was deemed objectionable as it would ‘cause a deleterious impact on the neighbouring residential uses because of the high level of activity and its operating times’. With regard to the unauthorised interventions, the officer reiterated that the building had a historical and architectural value ’within the Urban Conservation Area of Valletta, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site’. As a result, the unauthorised interventions should not be sanctioned.
In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that as a rule, “small shops in residential areas offer a vital service to the neighbourhood”. Nevertheless, the Tribunal added that new commercial activity should not cause ’nuisance for neighbouring residents through noise, smell, lighting, hours of servicing and operation or other factors’. After taking into consideration all arguments, the Tribunal reasoned out that the premises were located in a quiet residential area of Valletta and rejected the appeal.