A 2013 planning application concerning the proposed change of use from a residential unit to an office in Triq Zekka, Valletta was initially turned down by the Environment and Planning Commission after it held that “the proposed office is situated within the Valletta Residential Zone as identified in the Grand Harbour Local Plan”, which in turn “does not comply with policy GV 24 which aims at controlling office development in Valletta.” 

The Commission further held that the proposal also runs counter to Structure Plan Policy COM 2.

 In reaction, the applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Tribunal, insisting that “it is not possible to use the property for residential purposes since it consists only of one room on each floor and hence it is not practical to use this property as a residence.” In addition, the applicant argued that he made an attempt to market his property as a studio apartment, however with no success. As a final point, the applicant remarked that he has requested the Authority to “schedule” the property.

The case officer rebutted, stating that “Structure Plan Policy COM 2 establishes that the further development of private sector offices by either conversion or construction will not normally be permitted in Valletta / Floriana unless and until suitable transport access, vehicle parking, and pedestrian circulation for this area are secured.”

The case officer went on to state that the proposed office is not a government office or a national office of a philanthropic organization, in which case a permit would have been granted. In his conclusions, the MEPA officer maintained that more emphasis should be directed on ways and means to attract more residents to the area, adding that “with today’s technology”, such as introducing a lift, the property in question can be “easily modified to a comfortable residence with proper standards of living.”

In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that policy GV24 inter alia provides that “development of new office space within Valletta will be permitted where the building merits to be scheduled, subject to applicant consenting to its scheduling”.

The Tribunal underlined that in this case the applicant himself made a request to schedule the building, noting that the policy does not necessarily require that the building is already scheduled.

In this case, the Tribunal observed that the building in question, even though not scheduled as yet, could “potentially” be scheduled under Grade 2 category once the applicant’s request is duly processed. Against this background, the Tribunal concluded that the proposal was therefore in line with policy GV24 and ordered MEPA to issue the permit.