Magistrate questions fast track permitting for factories

Sofia magisterial inquiry says system which fast-tracks factory construction strengthens perception there is no need for many controls

The Kordin construction site where Jean Paul Sofia died
The Kordin construction site where Jean Paul Sofia died

The fast-tracked planning procedure for the construction of factories in industrial sites is described as an “institutional choice” which creates a perception that few controls are required.

The observation is made in the magisterial inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia in Kordin on 3 December.

“[It] strengthens the perception that there is no need for many controls in the construction of factories where many people are employed,” the court expert observed.

The Planning Authority (PA) is not responsible for the safety aspect which falls under the scrutiny of the Building and Construction Authority but the inquiry suggests that the fast-track procedure contributes to laxity in the sector.

Factories in State-owned industrial estates do not need a full PA permit but are approved through a notification system in a shorter timeframe, and in the absence of public hearings and a case officer report.

According to this procedure instead of applying for a permit, developers are obliged to notify the Authority prior to the commencement of any work.

In the Kordin factory case the development was originally approved in April 2020, less than a month after the notification was presented.

Another DNO permit was issued in June 2022 to sanction alterations made at basement and ground floor level as well as for the addition of a third and fourth floor. Clearance letters from the Civil Protection Department and INDIS were presented before the permit was issued.

The inquiry also identifies other institutional shortcomings including the absence of any inspection by the Building and Construction Authority during the two and a half years of construction.

Testifying in front of the inquiry, BCA official Sean Mizzi attributed this to a “lack of resources”.

Moreover, since the development does not abut on any third party, there was no requirement for the developer to insure the building.

The development notification system for industrial sites meant to encourage enterprise and reduce bureaucracy pre-dates the present administration and is applicable to all sites “administered by INDIS Malta Ltd and Malta Enterprise zones”.

The DNO system was recently amended to allow the approval of developments higher than 15m in specific areas like Mrieħel and San Ġwann.

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