In essence, the cement tiles are produced using a pressing machine and they are subsequently placed in contained water with a view to develop the required strength ( a process known as ‘curing’). The application was, however, turned down after the Planning Commission found that the premises were located within a residential area in Fgura. In order to support its decision, the Commission highlighted the following reasons
1. The proposed development ran counter to the provisions of policy SMHO 02 of the South Malta Local Plan since industrial use cannot be favourably considered in residential areas;
2. The proposal was in conflict with SPED Urban Objective 3 which aims to protect and enhance the character and amenity of urban areas;
3. The proposal was also in breach of Guidance 6 of the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015, which specifies that ‘development should encourage direct, safe and attractive connections between public transport, footpath and cycle routes and existing and proposed uses and the layout within and around the development should be user-friendly, clear and legible in order to enable users and visitors alike to facilitate navigation and help people to understand where they are’.
Further to the above decision, applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal insisting that he should have been granted permission. In his rikors (application), applicant, now appellant, made the following arguments:
1. The proposed operations will not generate undue noise disturbance. It was explained that the cement tiles shall be ‘manually created’ and subsequently cured in batches. To this end, a Fire, Safety, Noise and Ventilation Report was commissioned and the recommendations contained therein shall be adhered to;
2. In this case, the floor area was less than 50sq.m whereas the activity employed less than five people. This meant that the proposal was in line with Policy SMHO 02 which clearly permits light industry in residential areas subject to the gross floor area not exceeding 50sq.m and the non use of ‘heavy duty and/or noisy electrical/mechanical equipment’;
3. No objections to the proposal were submitted by potential interested parties;
4. The premises shall not be used as a retail outlet. Hence, there was no issue with the ‘layout within and around the development’.
In reply, the Authority reiterated that the garage could only be accessed through an internal garage court. The proposal was thus in breach of Guidance G6 of DC 2015 which requires inter alia a user-friendly, clear and legible layout is provided in order ‘to enable users and visitors alike to facilitate navigation and help people to understand where they are’. The Authority warned that prospective customers would be exposed to high danger and inconvenience ‘as these are forced to share access through a common drive-in’.
In its assessment, the Tribunal immediately observed that the garage was situated two floors below street level, accessed from a common driveway. Furthermore, the Tribunal saw that, except for the tile pressing machine, the activity mainly involved the use of manual hand tools. For this reason, the Tribunal ordered the Authority to issue the permit subject to applicant having to install a noise absorbing enclosure and anti-vibration mountings so as to ensure that the external sound levels were kept below 45dB(A). The permit was however issued subject to the prohibited use of pneumatic equipment which relies on a three phase supply.