The ongoing destruction of our village cores

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75 Windsor Terrace
Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar has today formally requested MEPA to invoke Article 39A in order to rescind permit no. 05673/06 which requests the internal demolition and reconstruction of a fine old townhouse, one of an untouched row of seven in Windsor terrace, one of Sliema’s finest streets having Specific Conservation Importance.

MEPA’s Heritage Advisory Committee had recommended against this permit, which was also refused by the MEPA Directorate, refused by the DCC, and refused again by the Case Officer at Reconsideration stage, but it was finally granted by the DCC committee at Reconsideration, just days before the ratification of the Local Plan which it violates. The project runs counter to all norms of urban conservation, and FAA maintains that the DCC C Reconsideration ruling is highly irregular, for which reason the environment group is asking for invocation of Article 39A.

This is the sort of permit which will cause MEPA to be blamed by future generations for the ruination of beautiful and characteristic parts of the Malta’s village cores, betraying its claimed mission to: “place our energies in, to protect, care for and improve…the cultural and architectural heritage, towns and villages, the countryside, the seas and air. We believe that together we should carefully plan so that our heritage, this gem which we treasure, will not fade away.” Next week MEPA is to consider the Full Development application on this site; the granting of this permit would be a further nail in the coffin of MEPA’s credibility as the guardian of Malta’s architectural heritage.

When PA 6361/04 (outline development permission) was approved, the justification given by DCC chairperson was that it was enough to retain the existing façade, and based the permission of additional floors upon precedents in the area (quoting PA 2519/05-PA 2523/05 in Don Rua Street, and other developments in the area).

We feel that this justification disregards important Structure Plan policies (detailed in the case officer’s report) and as such it is in clear breach of the provisions of the Development Planning Act (DPA) 1992 (Article 13 (5)). Indeed, without specific planning reasons we feel that this decision is illegitimate. Article 13 (5) of the DPA 1992 states that “Where the Commission votes against a recommendation made by the Director, the Chairman of the said Commission shall register in the relevant file the specific planning reasons adduced by the members of the Commission who did not agree with the Director’s recommendation.” In the absence of such justification, we maintain that the decision is illegitimate and as such should be revoked under the provisions of Article 39A of the same law (DPA 1992) as there is a clear error on the face of the record, i.e. an offence to the provisions of the law.

In this sense, the Don Rua Street cases cannot be considered adequate justification to this case, as the Don Rua series of development planning applications (PA2519-2523/05) were submitted and assessed holistically to create, supposedly, an array of similar dwellings, as dictated by NHLP 17.4.18 a: “The setback floor solution would need to be applied along a whole stretch of street in order to ensure its effectiveness” However in the Windsor Terrace development in question, a single plot in a row of seven is being considered in isolation. Moreover, the concept of granting permits on the ground of ‘precedent’ is not enshrined in any MEPA regulation as confirmed by: 17.4.19 Due to the highly varying contexts that are found within the Sliema UCA, each case will be treated on its own merits by MEPA with the primary aim of ensuring that no new obtrusive blank party walls are created.”

The Windsor Terrace handsome two-storey traditional Victorian townhouse is situated in an unbroken row of seven identical two-storey buildings, having the same style and design, and forming an integral streetscape which should not be interrupted. There are no adjacent buildings which are higher and if built, the additional floors and penthouse, would only result in undesirable blank party walls, triggering obvious adverse visual impacts and indelibly disrupting the streetscape, which is relatively unspoilt.

All of the development plans and planning policies to date envisage that party walls, where these exist, should be screened as they are unsightly and result in a highly undesirable visual impact. Many Local Plans and past decisions have also relaxed height limitations in order to screen such blank walls. Yet by virtue of the approval of this application, blank third party walls are inexplicably being created. There was no basis onto which the additional floors have been justified, in view of the strong opposition of the Planning Directorate and the current planning policy regime. It must be highlighted this street was designated at two floors in both the Draft as well as the ratified Local Plan and the Chairman of the DCC readily admitted that in granting the permit just days before the ratification of the Local Plans, the Committee was aware that the height of the ‘new’ Local Plan stipulated only two floors.

This approval prior to the Local Plan jeopardises the development plans objectives through the granting of four floors plus penthouse in a two-floor area, and results in a breach of Structure Plan Policies SET 8 and BEN 4.

Furthermore the policy on rehabilitation of townhouses within the Sliema Urban Conservation Area stipulates that an “extension at second floor level is linked internally to and forms a part of the dwelling below it and is not a separate unit of accommodation;” which is clearly not the case in this development.

It transpired following a meeting with DCC Chairperson Perit Norbert Gatt, that the Commission considered the fact that if it had not overturned the Directorate’s recommendation and ‘imposed’ specific conditions, the application would have been approved by the Planning Appeals Board without any ‘safeguards’. This was one of the underlying motives of the decision, which we find unjustified and spurious.

In addition to the points raise above, it is clear that on-site parking cannot be provided because the garage opening violates regulations against the opening of garage doors in UCAs and would further deteriorate the character of the façade and the building in general. DCC had better decided for application of the UIF, in this case, other than insisting on a better design of an opening, which remains alien to the overall design of the façade. Moreover, the garage does not satisfy the minimum headroom and hence counter to policy 4.10 of DC2005.

The fact that the additional floors would screen the back of properties is another feeble justification, as these views which have to be seen from a publicly-accessible area cannot be seen from Windsor Terrace itself. The pretext that the offending view can be seen from part of a neighbouring street is laboured; in fact, on its site visit, the DCC members were taken into St. Patrick’s Home in order to be in a position to see the back elevations of the Tower Road properties.

Through consultation with the Heritage Advisory Committee, it was indicated that street is classified as Category B street having Specific Conservation Importance, where the existing dwelling is one in a series of similar dwellings which has an authentic and prestigious appearance. As such the proposed demolition of the building cannot be favourable considered. It is to be noted that this verdict of the Heritage Advisory Committee was not made available to the public, in violation of the terms of the Development Planning Act.

As previously indicated, there are no new developments in this part of Windsor Street while the adjoining buildings are well maintained and preserved including the building proposed to be demol
ished. As indicated in the Sliema Urban Conservation key Diagram, Windsor Street is Classified as a street where a large number of properties have architectural important features. There is also a general continuity of scale/rhythm in the streetscape. Also are present important views from the street relating either to an architectural feature or to a natural feature. In particular, the building in question is one in a series of similar properties with similar architectural design and building height sharing a common cornice. For these reasons the redevelopment of this site into an apartment block would runs counter to the conservation policy relating to Windsor Street. One should take into consideration that the development of the site would have a negative effect on the streetscape.

To reiterate what has been stated in the DPAR, the proposal runs counter to Policy NHSE09 of the approved North Harbour Local Plan; DC2005 policies 4.4 and 4.10; and Structure Plan Policy UCO 6; UCO 7; UCO 8; UCO 9; UCO 13; and BEN 2. No specific planning reasons were given for the inexplicable overturning of the Directorate’s recommendation which runs counter to the provisions of the current legislative framework, in force at the time of the decision and against the provisions of DC 2005, for this reason, we ask you to invoke Article 39A in rescinding this permit.

RECONSIDERATION DISMISSED 06361/04 – for the following reasons:

1) The proposal does not comply with Structure Plan policy UCO7 which only permits the demolition of buildings in Urban Conservation Areas where the replacement building will be in harmony with its surroundings.

2) The proposal does not comply with Structure Plan policy UCO8 which only permits development in Urban Conservation Areas which is compatible with the existing character and urban design of the area. The proposal will not be sympathetic with the adjoining buildings in terms of building line and height.

3) The proposed development runs counter to Structure Plan policy UCO10 in that it would adversely affect views of the Urban Conservation Area and detract from the traditional urban skyline.

4) The proposed development is incompatible with the urban design and environmental characteristics of the Urban Conservation Area. It would not maintain the visual integrity of the area and so does not comply with Structure Plan policy BEN 2.

5) The proposed development would detract from the overall objectives of the Structure Plan for the preservation and enhancement of buildings, spaces and townscapes within Urban Conservation Areas and so does not comply with Structure Plan policy UCO6.

6) The proposal runs counter to Paragraph 11 of Part A of the Adopted Design Guidance: Development Control Within Urban Conservation Areas since the predominant height of the buildings in the vicinity of site in question are erected on two floors. In these circumstances, any building on site which is proposed to be higher than two floors is not permitted by the Malta Environment & Planning Authority.

7) The demolition of the existing building and the construction of a six-storey building with an underlying semi-basement and a overlying penthouse is unacceptable since building has an architectural and historical value as one of a group of houses typical of the traditional Sliema townscape. Its demolition is therefore contrary to Structure Plan policies UCO 6, UCO 7 and UCO 13.

REFUSE 05673/06 – for the following reasons:

1) The proposed development is unacceptable since it does not comply with policies 4.4 & 4.10 of Development Control Policy & Design Guidance 2005.

2) The proposed development would detract from the overall objectives of the Structure Plan for the preservation and enhancement of buildings, spaces and townscapes within Urban Conservation Areas and so does not comply with Structure Plan policy UCO6.

3) The proposal does not comply with Structure Plan policy UCO7 which only permits the demolition of buildings in Urban Conservation Areas where the replacement building will be in harmony with its surroundings. The design of the proposed building is such that it is not considered to be an acceptable replacement.

4) The proposal does not comply with Structure Plan policy UCO8 which only permits development in Urban Conservation Areas which would be compatible with the existing character and urban design of the area. The proposal will not be sympathetic with the adjoining buildings in terms of design.

5) The proposed development would be incompatible with the urban design and environmental characteristics of the Urban Conservation Area. It would not maintain the visual integrity of the area and so does not comply with Structure Plan policy BEN 2.

6) The proposal runs counter to Policy NSE09 of the approved North Harbour local Plan since the alterations being requested on the facade would change the existing setting of both the facade and of the stretch of buildings when seen as a whole.

7) The proposed internal demolition of the existing building is unacceptable since building has an architectural and historical value as one of a group of houses typical of the traditional Sliema townscape. The internal demolition and the formation of the garage is, therefore contrary to Structure Plan policy UCO 6, UCO 7 and UCO 13.

8) Structure Policy UCO9 provides that there is presumption against the demolition of buildings in Urban Conservation Areas, even where the building is in a bad state of repair, unless the development is of a sufficiently high standard to be used as an example of good practice in urban renewal. The proposed internal demolition of the building together with the facade modifications are not considered to be of sufficiently high quality for it to be acceptable as good urban renewal and is therefore not in the interests of the character of the area. The proposal therefore does not comply with Structure Plan policy UCO9.

9) The proposal does not comply with sanitary laws and regulations since the internal height of the front room is less that required by law.

Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar

www.ambjentahjar.org

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