A planning application entitled “additions at fifth floor and construction of an overlying penthouse” was submitted to the then Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

The building is situated in Strait Street, Valletta. Indeed, the initial drawings show a proposed additional dwelling occupying the air space of the sixth floor, together with an overlying receded penthouse. The permit was eventually issued, however only after the applicant had consented to removing the penthouse upon the Commission’s insistence.

Indeed the Commission’s chairperson had asked the applicant to submit fresh plans ‘without the penthouse’ even though the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage found no objection ‘to the visual impact of the proposed penthouse on the Valletta skyline’. Even so, the Planning Commission was not convinced that the penthouse would not impact ‘negatively’ on the Valletta skyline.

Following the said decision, the applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, insisting that he had accepted to lodge fresh plans ‘without prejudice to the right of appeal against the Commission’s decision of not allowing a penthouse level.’ The applicant further argued that the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage ‘who is the authority in Malta tasked with ensuring that the Valletta skyline which is considered a World Heritage site by Unesco’ is not in any way compromised by development’ had ‘endorsed his proposal’ so much so that the Planning Directorate gave a favourable recommendation. Concluding, the applicant described the Commission’s decision as ‘arbitrary’ and ‘most unreasonable’.

In reply, the case officer representing the Commission reiterated that the Authority was concerned that the penthouse would impact negatively on the skyline, given that there is no commitment on either end. The case officer also remarked that the Commission formulated its position following a site inspection carried out by its members.

For its part, the Tribunal carried out a site inspection and noted that the site was surrounded by recently built construction. Moreover, the Tribunal observed that the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage found no objection to the proposed penthouse. Against this background, the Tribunal felt that the penthouse should be approved subject to fresh plans showing a two-metre front terrace (instead of one metre, as originally proposed).