A planning application entitled “Reactivation of Class 4b retail shop” concerning a small garage in Msida was turned down by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s Environment and Planning Commission after MEPA found that “the proposed development will remove the existing parking spaces for the building and so it would conflict with Structure Plan policy TRA 4 and PA circular 3/93 which seek to ensure that appropriate provision is made for off-street parking”.

Moreover, the Commission said that “the proposal runs counter to Policy NHHO 1 of the North Harbours Local Plan 2006.” From the submitted plans, it transpires that the existing floor area is equivalent to circa 90 square metres, of which seven square metres are designated as sanitary facilities.

In furtherance to the Commission’s decision, the applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Tribunal. In his appeal submissions, the applicant maintained that the site features one dwelling unit, overlying the said garage at first floor level.

Against this background, the applicant made reference to MEPA Circular (3/14) which states that the introduction of Class 4A and 4B uses may be permitted when a site features a garage and a single dwelling, notwithstanding the fact that onsite parking would be lost.

In support of his arguments, the applicant quoted an application which was decided favourably by the Tribunal earlier in the year. Moreover, the applicant made reference to the policy paper entitled “Partial Review of Subsidiary Plans: General Policy relating to Regeneration/Consolidation Initiatives MEPA – January 2013”, which allows certain “flexibility and departures” from established policies when the surroundings are committed by commercial development.

On its part, the MEPA reiterated that the proposed development is not acceptable since “the proposed class 4B shop is not in line with policy NHHO 01 of the North Harbours Local Plan 2006, and will also result in the loss of parking for the overlying residential block.”

While acknowledging that the premises were used as a grocer until the year 1995, the authority noted that “the use of the building in such situations reverts to that originally approved through the issued permits”.

As a final remark, the case officer underlined that the “Regeneration/Consolidation Initiatives” policy was quoted out of context, given that in such policy the area under consideration is not yet occupied by “a considerable level of legitimate commitment whose nature may not necessarily be in line with local plan policies.”

In its assessment, the tribunal observed that the premises were licensed as a grocer, which licence was issued by the Police prior to 1992. Consequently, the Tribunal reasoned out that the proposed use does not amount to a “new use”. Moreover, the Tribunal was of the opinion that the premises in question would complement a “detached” residential area which otherwise lacks such amenities. Against this background, the tribunal ordered the authority to issue the permit.