Maltese developers, complaining about noise. Whatever next?

Sandro Chetcuti should consider himself lucky that he only has a nearby shooting range to contend with. It could have been much worse, you know. He could, after all, have ended up living next-door to one of his own construction projects...

You can say what you like about Karma. You can call her a ‘bitch’; a ‘chameleon’; or any insult under the sun. But still, you’ve got to hand it to her: when Karma strikes... she sure does it with style.

Consider, for instance, the following story uploaded on this portal last Friday. ‘Wardija villa owner Sandro Chetcuti complains of noise from Bidnija shooting range’.

In case the irony in that headline wasn’t already glaring enough, the story continues: “A group of villa owners in Wardija, amongst them the former president of the Malta Developers Association, have been refused a warrant of prohibitory injunction to stop a nearby shooting range from operating, citing excessive noise levels.”

And OK: Sandro Chetcuti was not the only ‘Wardija villa owner’ to file court proceedings against the Malta Shooting Sport Federation. Nor were all the others involved in the construction industry (indeed, only one other Maltese developer – Francis Gauci – was actually named in the article). All the same, however: we are talking about Sandro Chetcuti here. In other words, the man who represented Malta’s entire construction industry for all those years – during which he defended it tooth and nail, from complaints that included (but were certainly not limited to) ‘noise pollution’. He is also the former MDA chairman who once famously likened the Labour and Nationalist parties to “two big ‘shops’, giving them [developers] the opportunity to choose ‘from whom to buy’ the best policies”; not to mention that one time, when he was heard urging MDA members to “make hay while the sun shines” [Translation: ‘Build as much as you can possibly get away with today, for the good times won’t last forever...’]

And, well, just look at him now: complaining about... ‘noise pollution’, of all unearthly things. You know: precisely the same sort of inconvenience that his own industry has been busy inflicting upon local residential communities, for decades.

I mean, honestly. What’s it going to be next? Quentin Tarantino, complaining about ‘violence in film’? Snoop Doggy Dogg, objecting to ‘misogynistic lyrics in rap music’? Wait, I know: how about Cheech and Chong, complaining about the ‘smell of weed’?

Because it really doesn’t get more deliciously ironic than ‘Maltese developers complaining about noise’, does it? Oh, wait: maybe it does...Let’s read some more, shall we? We are also told that “the noise generated by the range was causing [the villa-owners] to suffer inconvenience and ‘grave molestation’ [sic], they said, because shooting took place ‘from sunrise to sunset’ including weekends and public holidays.”

Erm... you mean, exactly like all the jack-hammers, Himac diggers, drills, bulldozers, cement-mixers, cement-cutters, electric saws, etc., that can be heard in practically every town and village across Malta and Gozo, on any day of the week: incessantly, ‘from sunrise to sunset’ (including ‘weekends and public holidays’, too)?

But even that’s not all: for the same article goes on to state that: “the plaintiffs exhibited a report drawn up by an engineer they had engaged for this purpose, which [...] detected average noise levels of 60db – 5 decibels over the legal limit. In some cases, the noise exceeded 70db, they said.

”Now: there is actually a heck of a lot to comment about, in that one sentence alone (in fact, I’ll be coming back to it later). But for now, let’s concentrate only on the noise levels.

It seems that the noise pollution that is suddenly causing so much distress to people like Sandro Chetcuti, is limited to somewhere between 60 and 70 decibels. And just to put that into context: according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, “A whisper is about 30 dB, normal conversation is about 60 dB, and a motorcycle engine running is about 95 dB.

Noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing. Loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate harm to your ears.”

So yes: 70dB certainly qualifies as ‘loud’ (for a conversation, anyway). All the same, however: it almost fades to complete inaudibility, when compared to the noise-levels produced by any of the dozens of mega-construction projects that are going on right now, as we speak: most of them, slap-bang in the middle of densely populated urban environments.

From a quick search on the Internet this morning, I discovered that a single, solitary jackhammer – which, let’s face it, is not even the loudest sound to emanate from Malta’s many construction sites – can reach an intensity of... wait for it... 130 decibels! That’s more than DOUBLE the noise-levels that developers like Sandro Chetcuti suddenly find so unbearable, when inflicted on their own ears... not to mention 10 dB LOUDER, than noises which can ‘cause immediate harm’.

And I need hardly add that there are parts of Malta where (right now: at this precise instant) you’ll be able to hear as many as five or six jack-hammers, at the same time: all happily ‘jack-hammering’ away, with absolutely no consideration whatsoever for all the ‘inconvenience’ (not to mention ear-damage) caused to residents who are unfortunate to live within a half-mile radius.

So, um, what can I say? Sandro Chetcuti should consider himself lucky that he only has a nearby shooting range to contend with. It could have been much worse, you know. He could, after all, have ended up living next-door to one of his own construction projects...

Ah, but that only brings me to what has to be crowning irony, in all this (second only to my other personal favourite: that the MSSF was “operating the range illegally because of the presence of structures they said were... [cough, choke, splutter]... BUILT WITHOUT A PERMIT!!!”)

Sandro Chetcuti doesn’t exactly ‘live next-door to one of his own construction projects’, does he? No, indeed. Like so many other Maltese developers, he has used some of his profits from construction to carve out little (and sometimes, very large) ‘enclaves’ for himself, in the last few remaining unspoilt corners of Malta and Gozo. Not just Wardija, mind you: but also Fomm Ir-Rih (which he even proceeded to fence off to the general public... ‘for our own safety’, of course.)

See what I mean, about Karma being such a bi... I mean, a ‘stylish operator’? Having first rendered so much of Malta and Gozo virtually uninhabitable, through the noise and inconvenience of their own incessant construction; and then having gone to such lengths, to protect themselves from precisely the same sort of auditory ‘molestation’, that they had spent so many years callously inflicting on others...

Well, Karma found a way of ‘getting to them’, in the end; of making Maltese developers – even if only limited to one, highly representative specimen - savour at least a small fraction of all the inconvenience, that so many of us (myself included) have been forced to endure, on their account, for decades.

In fact, you could almost interpret the entire article as some kind of Hindu parable, about the sheer ‘ineluctability of Fate’ – “Ye reap what ye sow”, and all that - even though, to be honest, it would still fall short of capturing the full force, of the irony that is suddenly staring us right in the face.

Because even if we tear ourselves away (with some difficulty, I admit) from the pure ‘schadenfreude’ of the overall implications... and even if Sandro Chetcuti himself is arguably the last person in the entire Universe, who should even dream of complaining about ‘noise pollution’... those Wardija villa-owners do still have a small point, you know.

I won’t go into the merits of their request for a court injunction against the MSFF – other than to say that it seems to have been denied, only on a legal technicality – but I think we all safely agree, that it is (or should be) unacceptable for any form of activity - be it shooting, construction, or even music in bars - to inflict noise-pollution on nearby residents... without (apparently) any form of regulation whatsoever.

Which brings us right back to that earlier quote about decibel levels... specifically, this part here: “[...] detected average noise levels of 60db – 5 decibels over the legal limit.”

As far as I can see, this implies a number of things... including:

a) That there IS, in fact, a legal limit to the amount of noise that any activity can generate, in this country;

b) That the limit is restricted to a maximum of only 55 decibels (that’s 5dB less than ‘a normal human con-versation’, remember?), and lastly:

c) That this regulation is very evidently NOT being enforced by the authorities.

And why not, I hear you ask? Well, one possible answer is that given by former Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia in 2018, when he told Parliament that: “The police, or any other entity, have NO EQUIPMENT TO CALCULATE NOISE DECIBEL LEVELS” (and therefore, no capability to enforce the law).

But I find that hard to believe, my-self: because if a bunch of ‘Wardija villa-owners’ turned out to be perfectly capable of ‘engaging an engineer’, and calculating the precise decibel-levels produced by a nearby shooting range... why it is so completely ‘impossible’ for the Police (or the ERA, or whoever is tasked with enforcing Malta’s noise regulations) to do the same?

This leaves us with only one other possible alternative, to speak of: i.e., that the authorities ARE perfectly capable of ‘enforcing noise pollution regulations’... and they CAN do it, any time they want to. It’s just that (for some arcane rea-son that - let’s face it - we will simply never, ever understand) they always choose NOT to, in the end.