At issue was a proposal for a 118 room four-star hotel in Pieta, which would have replaced a number of houses situated along the Marina seafront, opposite the Floriana Bastions.

Following publication, the proposal drew the attention of a number of objectors who warned that the interventions would jeopardise the architectural and historical value of the nearby Giardino Zammitello and Villa Frere. One of the houses earmarked for demolition was also scheduled. The objectors also pointed out that ‘scale and massing of the project would impact on the views of St Luke’s hospital and the Pieta Primary School’.

The proposed hotel was to have 118 bedrooms and employ 40 people. According to policy, 34 parking spaces were required while 31 spaces were to be provided on-site. The shortfall could thus be compensated by way of a financial compensation towards the Urban Improvement Fund.

Still, the central issue was clearly the building envelope. To begin with, the area could, in principle, be developed into five floors with a semi-basement although parts of the site ‘earmarked for its cultural importance’ had to be assessed in light of the surrounding context.

Moreover, Local plan policy NHTO01 allows hotels to exceed one floor over and above what is normally permitted in the Local Plan. On top of that, the more recent Height Adjustment Policy allows four-star hotels to have ‘two additional floors over and above the height limitation permitted in the Local Plan’. This implied that the building in question could theoretically reach a height of 35.8 metres, equivalent to ‘8 floors and semi-basement’.

Having said this, the scale of the proposal was revised during the course of assessment, so much so that the case officer felt that this should be specifically pointed out in the application report. Moreover, the officer underlined that the building would not encroach on the so called ‘giardino chiuso’ as originally envisaged. More so, the facades of the historic and scheduled buildings would also be preserved.

In fact, it was the case officer himself who said that the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage had withdrawn his objections to the ‘the latest submissions’ subject to there being monitoring if the application were to be approved.

Before that, the case officer report had noted that the Superintendence was concerned about ‘the overall heights and volumes’ and recommended ‘a lowering of the overall height by at least one floor’ together with ‘relocating the penthouses to a central position on the building mass’.

From a policy standpoint, the case officer report noted that the site lies within a Residential Area. But even so, the situation on the ground was that ‘a number of office blocks had been approved in the immediate context’. For this reason, the Planning Directorate considered that the site was considered suitable for a hotel.

But even so, the Authority thought that the proposal would still dominate the views of St Luke’s Hospital, ‘totally divorcing the gardens of Villa Frere from any visual link to the sea’.

Against this background, the proposal was rejected after the Planning Board thought that it was in breach of Urban Objective 2 which seeks to improve the townscape and environment in historic cores and their setting.