A planning application for the demolition of a detached two-storey block followed by the reconstruction of a multi-storey complex was initially turned down by the MEPA Board despite the building envelope being in line with the established height limitation. The property is situated in Triq Simar, Xemxija.

A number of residents living in the area filed a letter containing detailed objections. In its report, the MEPA held that “the height and coverage of the proposed development is incompatible with the urban design and environmental characteristics of the area”, adding that the proposal “would not maintain the visual integrity of the area and so does not comply with Structure Plan Policy BEN 2.” More so, the board concluded that the development is of an excessive scale, resulting in over-development and thus would jeopardise the “amenity of the area as a whole”.

Subsequent to the decision, the applicant lodged an appeal, insisting inter alia that his proposal lies in an area zoned by the North West Local Plan for four-storey development. Moreover, the applicant pointed out that the previous Town Planning schemes, which preceded the Local Plan, also contemplated similar allowable heights.

The Planning Directorate reiterated that the proposal was objectionable. Whilst conceding that the building envelope was “within” the maximum height permissible in the area, the Directorate underlined that the street in question was characterised by two-storey detached villa blocks built in the 1970s.

For their part, the objectors maintained that the proposed design would alter the aesthetic nature of the area, adding that the building would spoil the “older part of Xemxija” which “still enjoys the splendid visual integrity that was factored into its original design.” The objectors further remarked that the articles of the law should not be interpreted “ad litteram” (to the letter) as otherwise there would be no need for decision makers.

Concluding, the Tribunal referred to a court decision in the names of Stephen Seychell vs MEPA, in which it was observed that planning decision organs should, in their decision, factor in other material considerations such as commitment, legal certainty and fair treatment. Further on, the Tribunal referred to a court decision delivered in the names Dixson et vs MEPA, wherein it was concluded that Local Plans are subsidiary plans, sufficiently “detailed” to reflect the general objectives of the Structure Plan. Once the proposal was in line with the Local Plan, the Tribunal acceded to the applicant’s request and ordered the Authority to issue the permit.