A 2012 planning application concerning an established winery was initially turned down by the Environment and Planning Commission after it held that the proposal contemplated the sanctioning of an unauthorised area increase equivalent to 345 square metres, of which 220 square metres were located above ground level.

The Commission pointed out that a basement had already been approved with an area that exceeds the maximum allowable floor space, and therefore any increase is considered as constituting “unnecessary sprawl and intensification of development in rural areas”, running counter to Structure Plan policy RCO2.

In addition, the Commission maintained that the unauthorised interventions on the existing rubble walls, terracing of the fields, and landscaping, involve substantial changes in the topography and visual composition which are not considered to be in line with the rural conservation objectives of Structure Plan policy RCO 4.

In reaction, the applicant lodged an appeal before the Environment and Planning Tribunal, insisting that he cultivates about 40 tumoli of land. The applicant made specific reference to a permit where a winery having a considerably larger area was approved. More so, the applicant contended that the basement is covered by a layer of soil, adding that the Environment Protection Directorate was not objecting to the proposal.

On his part, the case officer reiterated that the winery building has already been granted permission for a basement area of 510 square metres, which in turn exceeds the permitted 180 square metre limit specified in the policy. Based on this account, the case officer underlined that there are no valid justifications for the sanctioning of the unauthorised additional 345 square metre basement extension.

As a final point, the case officer pointed out that the permit quoted by the applicant refers to an industrial type of winery surrounded by 22 hectares of vineyards, whereas the applicant tills much less in area.

In its assessment, the Tribunal observed that in the applicant’s case, there are sufficient material considerations allowing same to depart from established policies. The Tribunal further noted that no significant interventions were carried out above ground level whereas the extensions at basement level did not result in loss of soil.

These extensions were justified due to the increased production demand. The Tribunal also concluded that the removal of rubble walls was necessary to afford the amalgamation of the various parcels of land. Against this background, the Tribunal ordered that the MEPA issues the permit against a fine of €2,329.