The construction industry in Malta is facing intense scrutiny unlike any seen before. Frequently, regulatory bodies come under close examination as well. The planning authority, in particular, often faces criticism. If it grants permissions, it’s accused of doing so insensitively. If it denies permissions, even when adhering to local height limits and specified densities, it’s still criticized for having ulterior motives.
In essence, the planning authority will never be seen to get things right, regardless of its actions. This reminds me of a former respected minister responsible for planning, who is now a colleague of mine at the university. He once said, “I start to get worried if the Planning Authority becomes popular.” (‘Nibda ninkwieta jekk il-Planning Authority issir popolari’).
Still, every situation presents the planning authority with a dilemma; it must decide on its course of action. Unless the laws and subsidiary policies remain unchanged (including local plans, action plans, and guidance policies), the authority must determine whether to grant permissions in line with Article 72(2) of Chapter 552. According to this provision, when deciding on a planning application, the authority must take into consideration plans, policies, regulations under the act, material considerations (including legal commitments explicitly mentioned by legislators), as well as input from objectors and regulatory entities. I allocate an entire chapter in my book titled ‘Selected Principles of Maltese Planning Law’ to address this matter.
As long as the planning authority exercises reasonable discretion in its decisions and ensures that the outcomes align with the mentioned parameters, it is acting in accordance with the law.
Yet, if there is an issue with this formula, and politicians firmly believe that the equilibrium should shift to another point—like requiring a planning permit only when obtaining an unequivocal endorsement from, for example, the environmental regulator (the ERA) and/or the superintendence of cultural heritage—they also possess that alternative. Naturally, the viewpoints of ERA and the Superintendent would still have to remain susceptible to judicial review.
For reasons known to them, however, the incumbent members of parliament have refrained from actively advancing this proposition.