‘Every few metres, there is a construction site’: the curse of noise in Malta

Noise pollution dubbed the 'invisible danger has in recent years become an increasing problem for people living in Maltese towns 

The complaints of Martina Cassar, a Santa Venera third-law student, on the scale of noise that invades Maltese homes from construction sites, are redolent of a national problem. Like many Maltese towns in the last 10 years, Sta Venera as well has seen rapid growth, development, and expansion.

“Every few metres, there is a construction site. In the past five years, there have been four construction sites within a three-minute walk away from my house, one of which is currently underway two doors down,” Cassar says.

“You cannot imagine the frustration I experience every single day as a student studying for online exams. The noise is completely unbearable, starting as early as 7am till 4pm. The tension of exams is already too much to deal with during exam season but adding construction noise on top of it is something else.”

Unable to focus on her studies, with concentration “impossible” due to the noise outside, Cassar is one of many Maltese who have to face important dates – such as her three-hour exam – while bearing with the sound of jackhammers and drillers in the background.

“To say that I’m mentally exhausted would be an understatement,” she said. For people who like her have had to spend time at home studying, or locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the noise of a construction industry that was granted carte-blanche throughout the pandemic has been a constant.

“I may have the option to go to university, but what if I want to make references to the books I have at home, or eat the food I have at home instead of buying takeout every day?”

This is the reality of Malta’s problem with noise pollution, with those whose isolation has been imposed upon them, forced to stay indoors, not even being granted the right to be in peace.

“It really takes a toll on you. As a country, I would say that we are given a lot of financial assistance for different situations in life, but it’s time we start evaluating the quality of life we are living. This concrete jungle we are calling home is no longer tranquil.”

Indeed noise pollution has been dubbed an “invisible danger” that cannot be seen but is present on land and at sea. High noise levels can contribute to cardiovascular effects in humans and an increased incidence of coronary artery disease. And as Cassar notes, there seems to be nowhere to escape from the consequences of noise in Malta. “The traffic, the consistent noise of construction, the lack of open space or greenery is all becoming stress-inducing and suffocating.”

In recent years, construction sites in Malta have become more common, contributing heavily to noise pollution. A survey by MaltaToday in 2018 found that 29.4% of people were affected by construction noise, second only to traffic.

This feeling was strongest in the Northern Harbour region, where half of the people fell in the high-frequency bracket when asked how often they were affected by noise from construction sites. This was followed by the Northern region, with 30.6% falling in the high-frequency bracket.

A study done by Eurostat in the same year had similar results. According to the study published by Eurostat, 1 in 4 Maltese people said they had a problem with noise within their neighbourhood. According to the study published by Eurostat, Malta ranked first in Europe. The study analysed noise from neighbours or the street. The island ranked high compared to the EU average, which is 18%.

Know the law

Construction activity can be carried out between 7 am and 8 pm. However, excavation works, including digging with pneumatic drills, are only allowed between 8 am and 2 pm and between 4 pm and 8 pm.

No excavation works can take place on Sundays and public holidays and between 2 pm and 4 pm. Additionally, the law states that no other construction works shall be carried out before 7 am, after 8 pm, and on Sundays and public holidays.

Furthermore, during 15 June and 30 September, demolition and exactions works are not allowed in tourism zones. The tourism authority defines the zones.

There are also regulations for construction sites, citing that they should avoid unnecessary noise such as leaving operation machinery idle, shouting, loud radios or excessive revving of engines. “Any owner carrying out or commissioning construction work shall ensure that the work is carried out in a manner that causes the least nuisance,” the law states.

However, despite this, the law also states, “in the case of emergencies, construction work may take place at any other time while it will be mandatory to inform the Authority during its first hour of subsequent business.”

The law also states that the above can be avoided by requesting approval from the authority. The laws also don’t apply if the nearest habitable space is more than one kilometre away.