The public hearing by the Planning Authority prior to a decision regarding the issuing of the development permit for the Townsquare high-rise project was held on Thursday. The discussion was essentially channelled towards applying existing planning policy and explaining the conclusions of studies mostly carried out some eight years ago. However, as I submitted during this hearing, the proposal for the Townsquare high-rise project infringes existing planning policy.
It is known that the Floor Area Ratio Policy establishes that for a site to be considered for the development of tall buildings it needs to be surrounded by streets on four sides. In fact the expression “completely detached urban block” is used (paragraph 5.3) in the document entitled A Planning Policy Guide on the Use and the Applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR).
It is clear that, when drawing up the Development Permit Application Report, the Planning Authority case officer adopted a very wide interpretation of the term “road” without realising that the context required a strict literal interpretation. A member of the Planning Authority even considered it appropriate to reply to my submissions by reading out to me the definition of the term “road” as contained in section 2 of the 2016 Development Planning Act. I was informed – in open session – by this over-enthusiastic member of the Planning Authority that the term “road” means “any road, whether public or private, and includes any street, square, court, alley, lane, bridge, footway, passage or quay, whether thoroughfare or not”.
This bright spark is probably unaware that this definition is preceded by the words “unless the context otherwise requires”. This necessarily leads to the consideration as to what is meant by a “detached urban block” and, in particular, whether the creation of footpaths large or small on the Townsquare site itself serves to create such “a detached urban block”.
Various doubts were expressed at the voting stage by 6 out of the 13 members of the Planning Authority present for Thursday’s sitting, leading them to vote against the approval of the development of the Townsquare project, even though the Executive Chairman considered that he had to declare in open session that the proposal (in his opinion) did not in any way infringe the Floor Area Ratio policy. Unfortunately, however, no substantial discussion took place on whether the requirement of having “a detached urban block” as the site for the proposed high-rise was being observed.
The open space around the Townsquare high-rise is a result of the 50 per cent maximum site coverage determined by the Floor Area Ratio Policy. It is an integral part of the project and consequently does not serve to detach the project from the surrounding urban blocks. In fact, this open space borders the backyards of the bordering residential properties on all sides.
The proposed development at Townsquare can be said to have an elevation on only one street, Qui- Si-Sana Seafront, due to the development of the first part of the Townsquare project some years ago. It is shielded by other third party buildings on Hughes Hallet Street, Tignè Street and Tower Road.
Access to the proposed development will be through Qui-Si-Sana Lane, Tignè Street (next to the Union Club) and a small opening between third party property onto Hughes Hallet Street in addition to the reserved point of access on Qui-Si-Sana Seafront. There is no way that this can be construed as being “a detached urban block” but rather as an internal development primarily contained by third party development.
This is just one of many reasons on the basis of which the request of a development permit for the Townsquare high-rise should have been refused by the Planning Authority. Together with various other reasons, this can be a suitable basis for contesting the decision through the submission of an appeal to overturn it.