MEPA Watch| Sunday, 25 January 2009

Robert Musumeci focuses on a negative recommendation made by a case officer, even though a similar permit on the same site location was issued a year before

Case details
A full development application was submitted to MEPA in order to carry out alteration works to a residence which is located at ground floor level. The residence forms part of a complex of apartments with a semi-basement pertaining to third parties. The original permit, which covers a semi-basement and overlying two floors, was approved in 1997. Eventually a permit was issued in 1998 for the construction of additional residences at second floor level.
The case under review dates back to 2007 when an application was submitted to carry out internal works (consisting of alterations) at the level immediately overlying the semi-basement. Incidentally, a similar application to carry out similar works on one of the residences located in the storey above was approved in 2006.

Case Officer’s views
On assessing the request under review (which as stated above was submitted in 2007), the case officer brought to the attention of the DCC that the basement was not built according to the original 1997 permit – in fact, the case officer insisted that the height of the semi-basement was considered to measure a course higher than what was in effect approved in the original 1997 permit. To this end, the case officer insisted that the semi-basement was to be considered as a full floor and the overall height of the building featured an additional storey above the permitted by local plan policy (height permitted according to local plan is three storeys and semi-basement).
In view of these facts, the case officer reasoned out that the semi-basement (the level beneath the floor which is the subject of this application) was not built as approved in the original 1997 plans, and hence the application in question could not be processed by the DCC. To reinforce her argument, the case officer made reference to PA circular 2/96 which underlines that when an existing development on a site is partially and/or wholly illegal, the DCC cannot consider any further development planning applications on that particular site.

MEPA’s decision
The DCC ignored the recommendations brought forward by the case officer and unanimously approved the request, underlining that MEPA had already approved similar works in the same block of apartments.

ROBERT MUSUMECI’s observations
The case officer may be correct to state that the semi-basement, in effect, exceeds the height limitation regulated by active policy (DC 2007 stipulates that semi-basements should not exceed 2.6 metres above pavement level).
However, it is unclear why the case officer chose to ignore the fact that a similar application pertaining to the floor immediately above the residence under review, was already approved way back in 2006. In 2006, it was already clear to MEPA that the entire complex including the semi-basement as built today was in existence. In actual fact, it would have been more opportune on the Directorate’s part to raise its concern with respect to the semi-basement when the request to construct the topmost floor (second floor) was made way back in 1998 – a request which was, after all, approved by MEPA.
Once an application is processed, and eventually approved, all material planning considerations governing that development should be carried forward (provided of course that the approved plans are correctly indicated).
In simpler terms, once the topmost floor at second floor level was approved in 1998, the height limitation was established without further contention in relation to the lower floors.

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