Planning Watch | Sunday, 08 March 2009

Robert Musumeci on a Caqnu proposal that was turned down

Case Details
This application concerns a full development request to construct 43 dwelling units in the village core of Balzan. The proposal also includes an underground parking area, so designed to accommodate up to 120 vehicles. Furthermore, the application calls for the restoration of the existing town houses which border the site under review.
The application involves the part-demolition of one of the existing buildings, which is located corner between the alley (Sqaq Nru. 1) and Triq il-Kbira. This request was specifically made with the aim to create a dual access (for vehicles and pedestrians) to the proposed internal development.
The existing buildings fronting the street form a series of traditional two-storey village houses. Within the garden itself, one finds an old pavilion and a large underground water cistern which had been converted into a shelter by the addition of a flight of stairs.
On its part, the Balzan local council requested that MEPA should give consideration to the traffic impact which such a project would generate, given the existing traffic and parking problems in the area. The council also demanded that the frontal town houses are preserved in their entirety.
In the past, the developer had submitted a number of applications in relation to this particular site. One particular application, which was submitted in 2003, proposed the partial demolition of one of the buildings fronting the street in order to create a passageway to the garden in question. The DCC had refused this request, stating amongst other considerations, that granting such permission would eventually pave the way for development within the garden itself.

Case Officer’s comments
The case officer assessed the proposal in relation to Structure Plan Policy UCO 6 which requires that the basic objective within Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs) is to preserve and enhance all buildings, spaces, townscape and landscape which are of Architectural or Historical interest and generally to safeguard areas of high environmental quality and improve areas of low quality. The case officer also mentioned that a series of structural interventions on the high garden walls had already taken place, and were subject to court action. However the Directorate did not delve much into this matter and made no suggestions to the effect that the decision body should refrain from considering this application in view of the alleged illegalities.
On their part, the Cultural and Natural Heritage Panels were also against the proposal.

MEPA’s decision
The application was referred to MEPA last Thursday, and it was refused.

Robert Musumeci’s observations
This development must be tied to Policy CG09 contained in the Central Local Plan, which in effect limits the form of development which can take place within open space enclaves. In fact, this policy states that development proposals in such enclaves should be considered if they constitute an extension to an existing building aimed at increasing the amenity and enjoyment of the property or involve solely the construction or enlargement of a swimming pool together with its ancillary reservoir, pump room and paving or hard surfacing around the pool.
However, the same policy states that proposals which form part of a conversion scheme aimed at bringing a disused or dilapidated building back into use should be considered favourably, even if such a scheme will create new residential/nonresidential units!
In other words, the policy does not place a blanket presumption against development which involves the creation of new units. As a matter of fact, back in July 2007, the MEPA Board is on record stating that, in this case, the question of the enclave is not a major issue as this development will still retain a good portion of the site and adjacent areas as enclaves.
Despite the latest proposed development has been refused last Thursday, development could still take place in the future should applicant decide to file a proposal which proposes a conversion scheme aimed at bringing the disused buildings (forming part of the site) back into use along with a reduced number of new residential/nonresidential units according to Policy CG09 of the Local Plan. Naturally, this rationale assumes that Policy CG 09 remains unchanged.

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

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