From national vision to urban reality

Perit Vincent Cassar, Chairperson of the Planning Authority’s Planning Board, shares his insight into the inner workings of the Authority’s most important decision-making body


Urban planning is a balancing act, and Malta’s planners face tough decisions every day. How can the island and its population be protected while promoting economic growth and, importantly, seeing Government’s vision for national development come to fruition?

“The Planning Authority will never stop evolving,” Perit Vincent Cassar said.

“The decisions we take regarding development applications follow our national policies, but there is no ignoring the fact that our policies should protect our natural environment and promote sustainability for future generations.”

Perit Cassar brings to the Planning Board a rich background in architecture and planning. Up until last year, he was Chairperson of the Commonwealth Association of Architects, and back when he was President of Kamra tal-Periti, he was also awarded the Presidential Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for his valuable contribution to architecture.

“Ruling on development applications is merely one function of the Authority, but it is a critical one and relies on the Planning Board as well as three Planning Commissions: one covering ‘Outside Development Zone and Urban Conservation Areas’, one for ‘Within Development Zone’, and finally the Regularisation Commission analyses irregular or illegal buildings for regularisation,” the Chairperson explained.

Stakeholder representation on the Planning Board and each Commission is essential. To this end, the Board consists of 11 representatives. Five independent members with no connection to Government but with a background in architecture, the arts, economics, finance or planning. The rest comprise three governmental members, an Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) representative, and a delegate from environmental NGOs.

“The Planning Board handles major applications of national importance, including applications listed on Schedule One of the Planning Act and those in Xagħra and Dwejra in Gozo. For Schedule One applications, we also invite a local council representative to join the Board,” Cassar said.

The Planning Board’s rulings hinge on arguments made by the applicant and architect, the Planning Directorate and any objectors. Before the application’s hearing, a Planning Directorate case officer generates a Development Planning Application Report (DPAR) to recommend the application for approval or rejection.

Included are comments from 12 statutory consultees, such as Transport Malta, ERA, the Commission for Disabled Persons, and Superintendent of Cultural Heritage. Simultaneously, a notice is pinned to the application’s physical site, notifying the community to submit objections within a month.

“In the hearing, I invite the architect to explain the project and why the permit should be granted. Then, the case officer presents the DPAR, including whether or not the project conforms to PA policies and whether their recommendation is to grant (with a set of conditions) or refuse the permit,” discloses Perit Cassar. “We then hear from the public and registered objectors. Of course, projects that impact our natural and historic environment, such as high-rises and applications in Valletta, Mdina, the Cottonera area and ODZ, attract many objectors.

“The Board Members then discuss and ask for clarifications from the applicant/architect and case officer. Before the vote, which is taken in public, I ask every Board Member to indicate his/her voting preference. If a majority disagrees with the Planning Directorate’s recommendation, we defer the case for a maximum period of four weeks. However, if a majority agrees with the recommendation, we vote and the application is either granted or refused. The same occurs at the Planning Commissions but on a reduced scale. For example, while the applicant, architect and objectors are there, the case officer isn’t, and the Commission relies on the DPAR only.”

Throughout the entire process, transparency is essential, and the media attend at least 90% of the Board’s sittings. “I believe this scrutiny is necessary because the Planning Board gives direction to the Planning Commissions,” Perit Cassar remarks. “Other decision-makers at the Authority take note of what the Board says and does, so we need to be careful about the precedent we set.”

Reflecting on his journey with the Planning Board thus far, the Chairperson shares that lessons have indeed been learnt: “When I was the President of Kamra tal-Periti, I used to have regular meetings with the PA’s Chairperson and CEO to discuss concerns. Then, when I was offered Chairmanship, I thought, ‘Now we can finally action everything we were aiming for!’ But the reality on the ground soon hits, and ultimately one learns that Government sets out its vision for Malta and all Government Agencies including the PA must follow that vision through their policies.

“Our policies are created and revised taking into consideration remarks from the public, and we subsequently base our development application decisions on these policies, which the Minister signs off – or even adapts. Hindsight always shows we could have done things better. For instance, several applications were approved by the Board in accordance with the fuel stations policy of the time, not realising that the policy needed to be amended. We’ve since managed to create a new policy that I am content with.

“I’m proud to say that everyone at the PA does their best to be fair and reasonable with every application, but with so many moving parts it’s not an easy job. Above all, I hope to see the design quality of applications improve. The grandeur and intricacy of Malta’s centuries-old architecture are so inspiring and rooted within us, so why do we lack design creativity in applications? We have a cultural landscape and heritage that we shouldn’t only be protecting; we should be proudly adding to it,” he concludes.

For more information on Malta’s Planning Authority, visit

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