Planning Watch | Sunday, 18 January 2009

Robert Musumeci focuses on a MEPA decision taken this week, where it is demonstrated that retractable canopies (affixed to the façade) are not only allowed in Town Centres, Entertainment Priority Areas or Tourism Zones….

Case Details
A full development application, requesting the change of use of a store at basement level into a class 4 outlet along with the extension of the underlying existing shop (at ground floor), was submitted to MEPA.
The application also included the installation of a canopy onto the façade. The said construction forms part of a three-storey high corner building with a front garden, located at Triq il- Kuncizzjoni Mosta, being a heavy commercial area. The premises are licensed to operate as a class 4 shop selling wearing apparel. The Central Malta Local plan designates the site in question as a commercial Area with (Maps MOM1 and MOM5 respectively in the Central Local Plan.
Case Officer’s views
According to the case officer, the proposed change of use is in line with Policy CG 14 Commercial Areas of the Central Malta Local Plan which in effect permits class 4 outlets provided that the floorspace does not exceed 2,000m². In this case, the resultant commercial area, which includes the basement store being converted into a class 4 shop interconnected with an existing shop at ground floor level, is equivalent to 507m², and hence the case officer did not find any objection in terms of the proposed area.
It also bears pointing out that basements can nowadays be used for commercial purposes (as indicated in policy 5.2 The Commercial Use of Basements of DC 2007), provided that the premises have a clear internal height of not less than 2.75 metres and sufficient supply of ventilation.
The case officer however submitted that the proposal should not be approved by the Board on the premise that the proposed canopy, which was to be affixed on the façade, was not acceptable in terms of current planning regulations, since the zone in question is not an entertainment priority area or a tourist related zone as defined in the relevant Local Plans.

MEPA’s decision
When the DCC convened on Monday 12 January 2009 to discuss the case, the Board ignored the case officer’s claims and approved the proposal. The DCC specifically observed that the the circumstances of the site may permit the presence of a canopy.

ROBERT MUSUMECI’s observations

On closer observation of Policy 15.7 Canopies in Front of Retail Outlets of DC 2007, it is recalled that canopies are permitted within town centres, entertainment priority areas and tourism zones.
The fact that the Central Malta Local Plan designates the area as a commercial area, does not infer that the area is in effect not a town centre or an emerging tourist node.
Provided that proposed canopies are kept to the minimum length and projection possible (possibly less than the permissible projection of a balcony) and their design is aesthetically complementary to a building, MEPA should not find an objection to the introduction of canopies in committed commercial areas of any nature.
In other words, canopies should not be strictly limited to designated town centres, Entertainment Priority Areas and tourism zones, but should also be permitted in already committed commercial areas where, more often than not, the introduction of such minor features do not obscure architectural details or features on facades.
The DCC therefore reasoned well when it stated that the presence of a canopy in Triq Il-Kostituzzjoni, Mosta, will not detract from the visual characteristics of the area.



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