Robert Musumeci states that MEPA’s policies regulating storage to commercial outlets should be changed following a decision taken this week
An amended application was submitted to MEPA with a view to provide additional on site storage (at basement level) to an already operating restaurant. The said restaurant is covered by all the necessary permits and is located in a site sandwiched between Triq Spinola (St Julians) and Spinola Bay itself.
According to Maps SJ 2 and Map SJ 7 contained in the approved North Harbour Local Plan, the designated zoning where the site is located clearly limits the use of the area in question for the development and use of boat houses.
However , a permit is already in hand, approving the demolition of a previously existing building in Spinola Bay, and the eventual construction of a ground floor restaurant and overlying dwelling units. The said permit was issued after the Local Plan was officially enacted (this signifies that the current policy considerations were clear to the deciding body when the decision was taken).
According to the submitted plans, the area of the new basement storage is estimated to be 217sqm. In such areas, the policy not only does not permit class 6 use, but it also requires that commercial outlets (including storage areas) do not exceed 75 square metres in terms of aggregate area.
Case Officer’s views
The Case Officer expressed his contentions in addition to the proposed additional basement store interlinked with the restaurant (Class 6 - Use Classes Order 1994). Case Officer stated that North Harbour Local Plan policy NHHO 01 does not accept Class 6 uses in a residential area. He, however, acknowledges that a permit was already issued for the said restaurant, and therefore there is no justification for additional commercial area, which in effect results in an increased total area of 217 square metres.
To back his arguments, the case officer underlined that development would infringe Structure plan policy BEN 1, quoting that developments should be compatible with the residential nature of the area.
For reasons which remain yet unclear, the case officer added that the the storage was not considered ancillary to the approved restaurant, although in reality the storage was directly coinnected to the said restaurant.
MEPA’s own DCC convened this week to take a decision and approved the applicant’s request, stating that the additional storage was not considered to impact negatively on the area since it was to be located below ground level and connected directly to the restaurant, which after all was already approved. Besides, the DCC made a condition that the store was not to be used by the public, and therefore one could not claim that the number of potential patrons could increase.
ROBERT MUSUMECI’s observations
On closer observation, Structure Plan POLICY BEN 1 states that development will not normally be permitted if a proposal is likely to have a deleterious impact on existing or planned adjacent uses because of visual intrusion, noise, vibration, atmospheric pollution, unusually high traffic generation, unusual operating times, or any other characteristic which in the opinion of the Planning Authority would constitute bad neighbourliness.
In this case, it is rather in the interest of the neighbouring residents that nearby commercial outlets are equipped with sufficient on site storage to limit the frequency of servicing vehicles visiting the site to unload operating materials. Limiting the frequency of serving vehicles signifies that the area is less prone to noises, vibrations and unusual operating times. Therefore, this application is more in line with Policy BEN 1, rather than the contrary as indicated by the case officer.
Ironically, when it comes to decide such applications, shops having on site storage area are considered to be at a disadvantage in terms of current policy regulating commercial development in residential areas, which are designed to preclude storage areas in commercial outlets falling within such zones. In simple terms, the provision of storage to already approved catering outlets should be construed as a measure to reduce the frequency of service vehicles which need to park in the vicinity.
The DCC were undoubtedly correct in their decision. The policies regulating storages within commercial areas should change to reflect the rationale expressed by the DCC.