Planning Watch | Sunday, 28 December 2008

Switching from outline application to full mode… during a dcc hearing

Outline applications are submitted to MEPA in order to establish the general principles of a requested development and ensure a firm commitment on MEPA’s part without the need to incur the high costs which are typically associated with MEPA tariffs in relation to applications involving major works.
Once an outline application is approved, the applicant receives the conditions which must be followed in the full development process. Construction works can in fact take place only after a full development permit is issued. Although an outline permit may be issued, it may take months to validate the subsequent full development application and secure a subsequent decision and consequently building works cannot start at that stage.
This week’s article focuses on an outline application which concerns the internal demolition of an existing building in Hamrun, in order to pave way for basement garages and overlying apartments at first and second floor level, along with the construction of a penthouse on the topmost floor.
The site consists of a series of residential units at ground and first floor levels, forming part of an integral part of a streetscape featuring UCA characteristics. As a matter of fact, the Local Plan designates the site in question as a Design Priority Area where the maximum height limitation is equivalent to three floors.
When consulted, the Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee, underlined that the façade should be retained, further highlighting that the proposed penthouse at third floor level should be deleted. On its part the Directorate ignored the Committee’s recommendation and proceeded with a positive decision.
When the DCC convened to take a decision on 16 December 2008, it observed that the application could be formally converted to a full development request and republished the request for public consultation in terms of current planning law. In other words, the applicant was given the opportunity to switch the outline application to full mode on the understanding that there was a positive recommendation on the part of the Directorate.
This way, applicant was saved the time to resubmit the entire application package and possibly wait a couple of weeks before the full development request is even validated to enable onward processing, let alone a decision.

1. Primarily, from the above one concludes that the Directorate was correct to ignore the Heritage Committee’s recommendation and allow the construction of the penthouse in question, since Policy 10.6 contained in the document DC 2007 prohibits penthouses on buildings which are three floors (as the site in question) or less only when the location falls within an Urban Conservation Area. In this case, the site is not an Urban Conservation Area but a design priority area, and hence the minimum storey height to allow the construction of a penthouse is three floors and not four floors.
On a more pertinent note, one cannot fail to mention that the DCC gave applicant the opportunity to switch the application to full mode during the Board sitting itself. Although the DCC has in effect not formally endorsed the Directorate’s positive recommendation, applicant will now save a great deal of time and effort since he can submit the full development application straightaway without the need to resubmit the entire application package and wait for weeks before the full development request is even validated. In all probability, the application will be redirected to the DCC in full mode for a decision in less than three weeks, and applicant can be rest assured that the case officer’s report is to remain positive. This is certainly positive news for applicants who usually have to wait for months to start works, even though they are in possession of an outline permit. It is now possible for an applicant to submit detailed drawings under the pretext of an outline application and decide to change the application to full mode once a positive recommendation from the Directorate is secured. This is a novel way to expedite the application process with less financial risks on the part of investors and certainly augurs well.

Robert Musumeci is an architect. His main area of practice focuses on MEPA development applications.


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