[WATCH] Work has resumed in over 300 construction sites since new regulations came into force

Government in meetings to clarify doubts surrounding procedures required by new building and construction legal notice

Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg (right), flanked by parliamentary secretary Chris Agius
Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg (right), flanked by parliamentary secretary Chris Agius
Infrastructure Minister gives update on new construction regulations

Work has resumed in hundreds of construction sites after new regulations came into effect earlier this week, Ian Borg said.

The Infrastructure Minister gave an update on the state of play after the new regulations brought a halt to all construction sites across the island while architects and contractors got to grips with the provisions.

Borg said on Friday that excavation and demolition work had re-started across 318 sites that have been deemed safe according to the requirements of the new law.

While Borg did not have an exact figure for the number of construction sites, he said that there were probably 2,500 in total, with more of these being certified safe as the days go by.

Moreover, the minister said that the Planning Authority had already received dozens of method statements drawn up to the level of detail required by the new regulations.

"This shows that the claim that the government has caused all work to grind to a halt is not true," Borg said, as he underlined that the primary objective of the new law and of any other changes to do with the building and construction sector were to ensure the safety of people and their homes.

"We are happy that these changes have come into effect because we want to make sure those living next to a construction site have peace of mind," he said.

The minister highlighted that from the feedback received following the publication of the legal notice, it was evident that some clarifications were needed in relation to areas where there were doubts.

To address this, a set of questions and answers have been published to deal with the main queries which had been submitted, including to clarify the meaning of "infrastructural interventions", and to clearly set out what changes the new law was bringing about.

Turning to the matter of licensed masons, Borg said that after the Building Regulations Office published the list of licensed masons last week, a number of masons who had not renewed their license fee and were omitted from the list had taken up the opportunity to regularise themselves.

Regarding the requirement of having a site technical officer on site who is an architect, the government is now considering the possibility of other engineers being allowed to occupy this role.

"Following a meeting with the Chamber of Engineers and the head of the MCAST engineering faculty [...] we are considering the possibility of other professionals acting as site technical officers. Therefore we are open to adding engineers to schedule 3 of the legal notice [which indicates who can be a site technical officer]," Borg said.

Borg clarified that a site technical officer did not have to be present on the construction site throughout all the work that was being done, but had to be present at the time that any important decisions were made.

He went on to underline that the security of machinery and its operation on construction sites remained the responsibility of contractors.

"Nobody is placing this responsibility on the architects. It is up to the contractors to ensure their machinery is checked for its safety."

New agency regulating construction industry to be established

Planning Parliamentary Secretary Chris Agius said that in the coming days a new agency regulating the construction industry would be established.

"This will eventually lead to the establishment of an authority which safeguards the industry," he said.

Progress was also being done on the drawing up of a contractors registry, with work now being carried out to identify all categories of construction site workers and their respective competences and responsibilities, Agius added.

Architects have received threats from contractors wanting them to certify building sites as safe in face of new onerous reporting procedures
Architects have received threats from contractors wanting them to certify building sites as safe in face of new onerous reporting procedures

Architects are receiving threats - Chamber of Architects

In a statement on Friday afternoon, the Chamber of Architects said it had received multiple reports from architects who said they had received personal threats advising them to sign declarations of safety to satisfy the new law's requirement for a certification that no damage will occur to third parties during work.

Regulation 26 of the legal notice states that “[w]hen before the start of the works, the perit in charge of the project certifies, after giving clear reasons, that the structural interventions will not affect third party property, the provisions of regulations 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 do not apply”, the chamber noted.

This implies that if a perit certifies that no damage will occur to third-parties during works, the entire set of regulations can be circumvented, it said. "If damages do occur, the perit issuing such certification would carry personal criminal and civil responsibility for anything that happens, even when the contractor is at fault."

This has put members of the profession under immense pressure to sign such declarations as contractors and developers are incurring extremely high costs due to the effective suspension of works, the chamber said. 

"The Kamra has received multiple reports from members of the profession who received personal threats as well as threats of crippling and vexatious lawsuits if they do not sign such declarations."

"The Kamra tal-Periti is hereby making it clear that if any such lawsuits are filed against periti who are diligently and responsibly applying the law, it will enter such lawsuits parte civile and put all its resources to defend its members against cowboy operators."

The chamber said it would also be writing to the Chief Justice to request that such lawsuits are dismissed on a prima facie basis in the interest of public safety.

Reacting to this during the press conference, Minister Borg said that any architects receiving such threats should report them to the police if they include an element of violence.

The chamber went on to say that, during a three-hour long meeting with the government yesterday, it had outlined in detail the several issues in the regulations and the positions voted upon in the Extraordinary General Meeting held on 21 June. 

The chamber also expressed its deep concern for public safety due to conflicts between the Civil Code and the new regulations, and the confusion surrounding the apportionment of responsibilities, it said.

It also insisted on the urgency for the setting up of a system of registration of contractors so members of the public, and periti themselves, can begin to regain confidence in the industry.

The chamber said that it was agreed that further meetings would occur in the next few days during which amendments to the new regulations will be proposed by the Chamber together with its team of legal consultants for Government’s consideration.

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