A planning permission for “a restaurant and an overlying bar area” was issued by the Environment and Planning Commission on premises located in the residential periphery of Rabat, facing the secondary town centre. In its justification, the Commission held that the proposal was in line with Policy NWCM 1 of the North West Local Plan.

Following the decision, a number of objectors filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that the permit should be revoked. In their submissions, the objectors argued that the premises are located in a corner, facing the secondary town centre on one side and the residential zone on the other. Additionally, the aggregate commercial area totalled an aggregate of 400 square metres. This meant that the applicant was also required to provide 23 car parking spaces. The Authority was blamed for failing to undertake a diligent policy assessment and permitting intensive commercial use to the detriment of the residents.

To back his arguments, the lawyer representing the objectors made reference to a number of recent court judgments, where it was held that decision makers may not choose to adopt a “selective approach”, insisting that planning policies need to be assessed “in their entirety”.

In reaction, the case officer countered by stating that Policy NWCM1 “does not limit the use as a restaurant to just ground floor level.” The officer added that “the necessary studies have been carried out and were considered to address the concerns by the neighbours”. For a fact, the applicant had commissioned an engineer to prepare a fire safety and ventilation report showing that any fumes generated in the cooking area would be extracted by means of a flue. Concluding, the officer underlined that the flue design is in line with Policy 15.5 of DC2007 in that it shall not terminate in a shaft or yard serving residential properties or within four metres of windows of any residential property or adjoining roof.

 On his part, the applicant maintained that the area is committed with similar commercial development. Indeed, reference was made to a number of permits for catering establishments which were issued by the Authority in the vicinity on the grounds that parking is available in the area. As a final remark, the applicant pointed out that policy FL-GNRL-1 (found in the “Partial Review of Subsidiary Plans: General Policy relating to Regeneration/Consolidation Initiatives” policy) allows decision makers to depart from established policies where a site is surrounded by heavy commercial commitment.

In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that food and drink outlets are specifically allowed in Secondary Town Centres. Moreover, the Tribunal noted that in the case of Urban Conservation Areas (such as in this case), there is no limitation as to the extent of allowable commercial use as long as any prospective interventions comply with the general conservation objectives. 

Against this background, the Tribunal rejected the third party appeal, however subject to the applicant submitting an updated noise mitigation report over the signature of a warranted engineer.