The building in question was located close to the church of Birzebbugia. According to the submitted drawings, the proposal would add up to a full floor at second floor and an overlying receded floor.
To justify its decision, the Planning Commission held as follows:
• The proposed height was incompatible with 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;
• A transition solution between applicant’s site, which was located on the border of the Urban Conservation Area, and the remaining scheme of development was not provided;
• The proposal was in breach of Urban Objective 3 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development which aims to protect and enhance the character and amenity of urban areas;
• The proposed designs would not maintain the visual integrity of the area.
Following the said decision, applicant decided to lodge an appeal with the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. In his appeal, applicant (now appellant) put forward the following arguments:
1. Except that of applicant, all properties close to the church comprised three full floors;
2. Once constructed, the proposal would eliminate an unsightly blank party wall located at the rear of site;
3. In virtue of Article 72 of Chapter 552, the Planning Authority had the ‘faculty’ to consider all material circumstances to a case and reach the relevant conclusions. In this case, the Planning Board had allegedly failed to take into account the pertinent material circumstances.
In reply, the Authority stood by its decision to refuse the permit. The Tribunal was reminded that according to Policy P6 of DC2015, ‘where development is sited immediately adjacent to an UCA, it cannot be higher than the height of the predominant buildings located within the stretch of the perimeter block with frontages in the UCA in question.’
It was also pointed out that ‘the existing buildings in the block frontage are two floors high, and consequently the height of the building on site should remain that of two floors’. Furthermore, the case officer highlighted that contrary to what appellant had purported, the proposal would not cover up a blank wall but would, on the other hand, create a highly obtrusive blank party wall. In his conclusions, the case officer assessed that the building should be stepped whereas the third floor was to remain unbuilt.
In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that, except for the four dwellings located next to applicant’s site, the area was committed with three storey development. Reference was made to Policy P35 which states that that in the case of Urban Conservation Areas, the assessment of building heights on the street façade had to be based on a streetscape analysis. The Tribunal found that the proposal was acceptable, subject to the proposed third floor being receded a further distance of 1.5 metres from the southern boundary.