Construction site inspection scheme 'bound to fail' due to lack of personnel

Local councils association president says any enforcement efforts to curb construction abuse are bound to fail due to lack of human resources

A construction site in Gzira, one of many in the area
A construction site in Gzira, one of many in the area

A lack of human resources will lead any enforcement efforts to curb abuse, irregularities and negligence in the construction industry to fall far short of any realistic expectations, the president of the Association of Local Councils has said.

Mario Fava told MaltaToday that – as in many other cases – lack of resources was the reason why he expected a new inspection scheme, introduced by the Planning Authority, to ultimately fail.

In the beginning of June, parliamentary secretary for planning, Chris Agius, announced that all construction sites around Malta were to be inspected over a period of six weeks in order to clamp down on developers in breach of regulations.

Immediately, inspectors from the PA joined the enforcement team of the Building Regulation Office to start carrying out joint inspections in Sliema, St Julian’s and Gzira.

But Fava believes there are nowhere near enough inspectors and supporting staff to make the exercise a success.

“The idea has a lot of merit because there are definitely numerous infringements, but there is a lack of human resources and this will affect the level of enforcement that can be deployed,” he said.

Fava said that many developers demonstrated a care-free attitude when it came to some basic regulations that – if applied – would make residents’ lives much better.

“A vast majority of residents’ complaints are related to four main concerns – road closures, dust, noise and basic negligence,” he said.

“If the inspections were to regularise all shortcomings related to these concerns, most residents would already be satisfied, but I do not think we will be in any position to effectively enforce the sanctions imposed.”

Carmel Cacopardo, chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika, believes the problem is even worse.

He believes most infractions happen on a macro level, with self-employed contractors, rather than the big outfits.

“The big developers tend to stick to the rules because they know that their reputation – as well as the work itself – could very well suffer were they to cut corners,” he told MaltaToday. “Small tradesmen, like plasterers, electricians, painters and plumbers are very often the problem.”

Cacopardo said that it is high time that residents’ concerns are seriously taken into consideration, seeing as how nothing of the sort has been done for so long.

“It will now take a lot of time to regularise everyone because, after so many years of no enforcement, people have become used to this sorry state of affairs,” he said.

Like Fava, Cacopardo believes residents’ rights are nowhere near being protected, although specific regulations in Maltese law lay down clear steps any developer or owner of a construction or development site must take to reduce the inconvenience caused to residents.

In fact, Schedule 1, Regulation 7 ‘Reducing Nuisance to Neighbours’ of the Environmental Management Construction Site Regulations of 2007 includes a number of conditions any developer or owner must observe.

It stipulates that no work can be carried out before 7am or after 8pm and that site activities generating more than 65 decibels measured immediately outside the site should cease between 2pm and 4pm.

Between 15 June and 30 September, no demolition work or excavation is allowed in indicated areas. And, of course, no construction is to be carried out on Sundays and public holidays.

The issue of dust is also already well regulated and needs only to be enforced.

In fact, the regulations state that cutting of stone and bricks is only allowed on site as long as machinery and tools are equipped with dust extraction and recovery systems, or within the building itself once roofing of the lower floor of the structure is completed.

Screed sand and other loose building materials are supposed to be transported, deposited and stored on site in rigid containers with suitable covers or flexible sturdy containers that can be appropriately sealed.

Also, before leaving a construction site, all wheeled vehicles should have their tyres washed of any dirt, grime or any other material that may be carried out into the public area.

And prior to leaving the site, the owner or developer must ensure that – on a daily basis – public sidewalks and public areas within 10 metres of the construction site are swept or vacuumed.

The law also states that any person undertaking any sanding activity is bound to ensure that dust emissions are restricted to the site and are not allowed into the surrounding environment.

Emails sent to the Building Regulation Office and the Occupational Health and Safety Authority remained unanswered by the time we went to print.

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