Planning Emergency

As townscapes in Gozo are increasingly marred by higher blocks of flats, NGOs take fight to court

The Planning Authority’s fixation over the past seven years on whether a proposed development fits within the height limitation policy, while giving short shrift to other policies, can be seen in buildings that jar with townscapes or streetscapes throughout the Maltese Islands. Gozo has been worse affected because its townscapes had been largely intact.  

One such building juts over the skyline in Nadur, visible from various viewpoints near and far. Construction of the block of flats was completed recently after a permit was granted to Euchar Vella, owner of Karkanja Development Limited, one of Gozo’s largest developers.   

The height limitation policy, which was introduced in 2015 in a policy document called DC15, has this week come under fresh scrutiny after the planning tribunal revoked a permit for a large block of flats on the side of a valley in Rabat, Gozo.

In the case of the building in Nadur that juts above the skyline, it sits outside the Urban Conservation Area (UCA). Policies hold that new developments in UCAs have to respect the streetscape context when it comes to height, while those that fall immediately outside the UCA zone are supposed to transition between the UCA and higher building further away.     

The policy says that buildings “sited immediately adjacent to an UCA will not be higher than the height of the predominant buildings located within the stretch of the perimeter block with frontage in the UCA in question, so as not to visually dominate the streetscape or other spaces within the UCA. If it adjoins a garden in the UCA, it will be of an appropriate height in relation to the garden wall and set back from that wall by a minimum distance of 3 metres. In this manner, the height of the new building will reflect its context and be related to the height of the wall, the size of the garden or space, the distance of the building from that garden, and its overall effect on that garden.”

Extract of policy P6 - click on image to enlarge

During the processing of the development application, the Planning Directorate wrote: “The UCA is located immediately behind the proposed development, however a transition according to P6 is being applied, in that a minimum of 3 metre distance is being left undeveloped. Furthermore, the walls facing the UCA are not blank but provide openings onto the backyard of the development.”

The completed building now rises not only above other buildings in UCA, but also above all other buildings in that part of town, as shown in the pictures taken from different angles published in the slide show on this page. 

Three Gozitan NGOs – Din L-Art Helwa, Ghawdix, and Wirt Ghawdex – have now gone to court to challenge the redefined height limitations in DC15 policy document. In their court application, the NGOs wrote that the redefined building heights in DC15 were presented during public consultation as transitionary measures and that the heights were lower than those eventually published in DC15. Moreover, an annex at the back of the document was not part of the public consultation.

This suggests that the government may have acted in bad faith when it published the annex that redefined height limitation from number of floors in the Local Plan to height in metres. This allowed buildings to rise higher and floors to be stacked more densely.  

The NGOs are now asking the court to “invalidate” the height limitation policy in DC15.  

Less than 2km away from the Nadur building that rises above the skyline, another application put in by Euchar Vella has already generated dozens of objections. The proposal is for a five-storey block rising over an old building. The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has said that “large parts of the property are of vernacular value which would warrant preservation.”

The application proposes the partial demolition of the old house and a block of flats rising over it, subsuming it. The Superintendence wrote that it “cannot but express concern about the extensive demolition and excessive heights as proposed.”   

Facebook post by the NGO Ghawdix

The deadline for objections or representation in that application (PA/07502/22) closes today.

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