A planning application for the  “construction of a washroom” on a roof pertaining to a multi storey building in St Christopher Street, Valletta, was turned down by the Environmental Planning Commission after it held that “the proposed development runs counter to Structure Plan policy UCO10 in that it would adversely affect views of the Urban Conservation Area and detract from the traditional urban skyline.”

Moreover, the Commission stated that “the development would detract from the overall objectives of the Structure Plan for the preservation and enhancement of buildings, spaces and townscapes within Urban Conservation Areas in conflicft with Structure Plan policy UCO6”, adding that the proposed interventions would “affect the roofscape, skyline and views towards the area, running counter to Grand Harbour Local Plan policy GV15.”

In reaction, the applicant appealed the decision before the Environment and Planning Tribunal, arguing that  “a great number of other washrooms have been approved on the roof in question”. The applicant further contended that his proposal would therefore have no impact on the existing roof scape.

Moreover, reference was made to a number of precedents, where similar interventions were granted a permit. As a final point, the applicant concluded that there was no objection on the part of the Cultural Advisory Committee (which is entrusted with giving recommendations with respect to development proposals concerning old buildings) with respect to his proposal.

The case officer representing the MEPA, while recognising that a number of permits were issued for the construction of similar roof structures within the same block (indeed, the last permit pertaining to a 2009 application), observed that the Commission had subsequently turned down a similar request (for a similar intervention on the same roof) which was made in 2013.

On a separate note, the case officer hinted that the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage filed an objection against the development in question, “notwithstanding the existing planning commitments on site.” In conclusion, the MEPA officer reiterated that the proposed interventions “would negatively affect the skyline, roofscape and views towards the area” from the Grand Harbour.

In its assessment, the Tribunal took immediate note of the fact that the proposed washroom would, contrary to MEPA’s view, be “visually contained” since its location is surrounded by built structures on three sides. Against this background, the Tribunal ordered the Authority to issue the permit on condition that the proposed washroom is receded eight metres from the façade and “no structures or services are allowed on the roof of the washroom”.