Church says construction regulations consultation was too short

The church’s environment commission said that authorities and developers had become 'interchangeable spokespersons for each other'

The church said that authorities and developers have become interchangable
The church said that authorities and developers have become interchangable

The Church’s environment commission (KA) has questioned the long-term effectiveness new regulations proposed for the construction sector, given the consultation period.

The new regulations were published for consultation on Monday, with the period within which stakeholders could make their suggestions ending on Friday. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said last week, following the third serious incident in two months, that the government intended to have the new rules approved and in place by next week.

But the KA has questioned why more time wasn’t afforded to such an important process. “KA feels that allowing only five days to listen to what the public and stakeholders have to say on how the interests of the common citizen should be better safeguarded, raises questions on the long-term effectiveness of such proposed changes.”

KA said it felt that more time was necessary for the development of sound regulations, which effectively address the core issues, “with an allowance for stakeholders and all interested parties to reach to the proposed changes”.  

Recent incidents, the KA said were indicative of cracks appearing in the proverbial bubble.

 “The experiences of the victims, as reported in the media, has highlighted that the current setup did not effectively protect them from the intransigent attitude of certain developers,” the commission said, adding that recent events had finally opened up a “Pandora’s Box’ and focused national attention on the industry.

“Irrespective of all the rhetoric about how the industry is contributing towards Malta’s development, these events have shown its serious social deficit. This deficit is an indication of the cracks that are developing in the proverbial bubble, the existence of which has been repeatedly denied by that industry (and its consultants).”  

In its submission to the government, as part of a consultation on new building regulations, the commission lamented the fact that the nation had not learnt from experience and was allowing “individuals who have instrumental in forcing our society into these dire straits” to continue taking a leading role in efforts aimed at finding a solution “irrespective of any clear conflict of interest they might harbour”.

The new regulations were published on Monday, with the consultation period ending yesterday. They were announced after the third building collapse in less than two months, which forced the government to temporarily suspend all excavation and demolition permits.  

On whether the industry can realistically regulate itself, the commission pointed to the “unrelenting and often fatal accidents of construction workers” for an answer.

“For far too long, the authorities have listened only to contractors and developers and refused to engage with the wider public and other stakeholders including non-governmental organisations in order to study and evaluate the construction industry’s effects on people and the environment in which they live.”

The authorities and developers, it said, “have become interchangeable spokespersons for each other, while the rights and views of other stakeholders have been largely ignored”.  

The commission stressed that under the European Convention on Human Rights, “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”.

“It is the right of every individual to live peacefully and to enjoy his or her own property, safely,” the KA said, insisting that contractors, developers and policymakers, as well as all professionals working in the industry to ensure their own safety and of those around them.

While expressing solidarity with those whose lives had been affected by building collapses, the KA called on authorities to take proper measures to avoid such situations.

“On the 3 June 2004 a retired teacher and her student lost their lives when the building they were in, in Ramon Perellos Street, St Paul’s Bay, collapsed as a result of excavation works in an adjacent plot. The incident shocked us all, but it is very obvious that after fourteen years, lessons have not been learnt,” the commission said.

It said that on a technical level, beyond geological testing aspects such as adjacent property structural systems, materials used and durability of materials, should also be made a priority. It called for quality control and assurance to promote quality in building products, buildings and spaces.

“The short-term approach by some developers and contractors is, unfortunately, creating heavy consequences on the common citizen,” the commission said. “Investors and clients’ cost concerns cannot and should not be addressed by lowering quality, leading to undue pressures on players involved in the building process.”

It said that value, and not cost should be objective. “This goes beyond buildings. The fundamental ethos is the moral responsibility of caring for our neighbor.”

Finally, the commission said it sincerely hoped that the proposed regulations would not be a populist attempt to impress the general public and that something will actually be done.

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