A planning application entitled “Extension to build apartments and garages” in Triq il-Karmnu, San Giljan was turned down by the Environment and Planning Commission after it held that “the proposed development is incompatible with the urban design and environmental characteristics of the Urban Conservation Area.”

The Environment and Planning Tribunal, however, ordered MEPA to allow the development.

The proposed drawings of the application show a committed plot depth of 45 metres. Moreover, the Commission highlighted the fact that the height of the proposed building exceeds the maximum height limitation for St Julians (as indicated on Map SJ4 of the North Harbour Local Plan).

In addition, it found that “the proposed demolition within a category B street categorization runs counter to Local Plan Policy NHSE 09” is unacceptable, adding that any development extending beyond 30 metres (measured from the building alignment) is objectionable in terms of  MEPA circular 3/14.

The Commission observed that the proposal would not maintain the visual integrity of the area and so does not comply with Structure Plan policy BEN 2. Reference was also made to Structure Plan policy UCO7 which only permits the demolition of buildings in Urban Conservation Areas where the replacement building will be in harmony with its surroundings. In this case, the Commission opined that “the design of the proposed building is such that it is not considered to be an acceptable replacement.”

On his part, applicant appealed the decision before the Environment and Planning Tribunal, stating that “the proposed elevations match the height of the neighbouring properties and thus maintain the visual integrity of the area and provide a more continuous streetscape.”

Applicant made reference to Policy BEN 2 which provides that  “development will normally not be permitted if, in the opinion of the Authority, it is incompatible with the urban design, architectural and environmental characteristics of existing or planned adjacent uses and is unlikely to maintain the visual integrity of the area in which it is located.” In this case, appellant strongly maintained that the proposed development is an “extension” of the neighbouring building and aims directly at providing a more continuous streetscape and visual integrity within the street by keeping the same height limitation, materials and solid to void ratios as that in neighbouring buildings.
As a final point, appellant underlined that “the materials, silhouette and fenestration are directly related to the existing neighbouring buildings and thus ensure a harmonious streetscape.”

In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that the proposed elevations would contribute towards a “better streetscape”. On an equally significant note, the Tribunal noted that MEPA circular 3/14 does not impose an automatic 30 metre restriction with regard to committed plot depths. The Tribunal said that each and every application must be assessed on a case by case basis, having regard to the specific merits and the surrounding commitment. With regard to the proposed height, the Tribunal made reference to the Local Plan and concluded that the proposed additional topmost floor is objectionable since it exceeds the allowable height limitation (namely, 12.9 metres).

Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the MEPA to issue the permit on condition that the plans do away with the topmost floor and the building depth is restricted to 40 metres in keeping with the surrounding commitment.