A planning application entitled “addition of one residence to existing block, installation of lift and internal alterations” pertaining to a site in Triq San Bastjan (in Valletta) was rejected by the Planning Commission.

Were it to be approved, the proposal would result in the creation of two floors, the topmost which was to be receded from the road alignment.

In support of its decision, the Commission made the following observations:

The proposed setback floor was found to run counter to Urban Objectives 2.3 and 2.4 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development which promote a context driven approach for the control of building heights within Urban Conservation Areas in order to protect the traditional urban skyline;

The proposal was deemed to run counter to policy P39 of the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015 which requires setback floors to have design and materials which are compatible with the character of the area and skyline, and not to intrude into important long-range or short-range views, particularly those defined in Local Plans;

The  proposed setback floor was in conflict with Grand Harbour Local Plan policy ‘GV15 Building Heights’ which states that when giving consideration to applications which include changes to existing building heights, the following criteria (amongst others) will be taken into account: i) the roofscape; ii) the skyline when seen from outside the site area; iii) the topographical features and consideration of the sloping nature (including buildings in the background); iv) any other relevant planning considerations.

In response, applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, taking note of other developments in the vicinity, featuring a similar envelope.

Nevertheless, plaintiff submitted that he was willing to do away with the setback floor, in which event the reasons for refusal would be addressed.

Appellant made reference to two recent judgments delivered by the Tribunal in order to show that it was ‘technically’ possible to scale down design proposals at appeal stage.

In reply, the case officer representing the Authority disagreed with plaintiff and went on to highlight that  ‘the issue of excessive height was already flagged during the processing of the application, and therefore, prior to the actual board hearing, the applicant had ample time to submit a revised proposal in line with the Directorate’s recommendations’.   

Revisiting the proposal at this juncture, according to the case officer, would be tantamount to altering the ‘substance’ of the proposed development, now under appeal.

In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that the Commission was primarily concerned with the setback floor, which plaintiff was willing to do away with.

Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the Authority to issue the permit ‘without the setback floor’, however subject to a restoration method statement.