It took a third apartment block to collapse in the same number of months for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to stand up and take drastic action. After years of passing off people’s concerns as ‘negative’, the government, together with Malta Developers Association and other stakeholders came together to announce that excavation and demolition works will be temporarily suspended until reform takes place.
A few measures that could be introduced have already been revealed. However, Muscat’s swift response left people with more questions than answers in the face of a reckless industry that is suddenly expected to be heavily enforced overnight.
1. How was the Prime Minister able to do this?
As soon as Muscat announced that the temporary suspension was in place, questions began swirling as to whether or not the Prime Minister was over-extending the constitutional powers bestowed upon him.
However, despite Muscat being the face of the announcement it was actually the Building Regulations Office (BRO) who initiated the suspension as they can do according to legislation, specifically Article 18 (2) of Legal Notice 72/2013.
2. Does this mean that all construction work will stop?
In a country where construction never sleeps, the temporary suspension is only applicable to excavation and demolition works. This means that any other construction work, whether it’s drilling, the installation of fittings, etc. can continue.
If a site has already begun excavation works, the architect can apply for a special exemption from the BRO.
3. How can I identify excavation and demolition works?
According to law, ‘demolition’ refers to the pulling down or removal of any structural elements that form building, such as the roof, internal or external load-bearing walls and other load-bearing elements.
Meanwhile, ‘excavation’ means the cutting of rock or the removal of any consolidated material. Excavation works almost always use mechanical excavators that usually have either an attached hammer or pneumatic drill. If you can’t see the machine being used, a loud jigging noise is an easily identifiable feature of excavation.
4. Who can you call to report an irregularity?
As it stands, people should direct all calls and complaints to the Building Regulation Office. The BRO is available on +356 22927608 during office hours and +356 99637508. For the avoidance of damages to third parties, contact +356 22927634.
Lovin Malta did contact OPM to get a better understanding as to how exactly Muscat plans to enforce the suspension after years of reckless behaviour within the industry and severe lack of resources at the BRO. However, no replies were forthcoming by the time of publication.
If you feel your complaints are being ignored, you can always send then to Lovin Malta’s #SafetyWatch
5. How long will the suspension be in place?
While the suspension is temporary, there is no clear indication for how long this will go on for. A quick five-day consultation period that begins on Monday is expected to speed up the process for reform to take place. The Minister responsible (Ian Borg), does have the power to make changes to regulations with the approval of the Building Regulation Board (BRB).
The BRB consists of a chairperson, a deputy chairperson, four industry experts, one Chamber of Architects nomination, and another warranted engineer from the Chamber of Professional Engineers.
However, it remains to be seen how a Minister can introduce such wide-spread reform without the approval of Parliament.
6. Isn’t an excavation and demolition ban already in place during the summer months?
The suspension of excavation and demolition works already takes place during the summer months (15 June – 30 September). However, this only applies to tourism areas identified by the Malta Tourism Authority.
As a rule of thumb, the areas identified are:
Malta – Birzebbuga, Gzira, Birgu, Isla, Bormla, Marsaskala, Marsaxlokk, Mellieha, Rabat, Mdina, Sliema, St Julian’s, Swieqi, St Paul’s Bay, Wied Iz-Zurrieq, Valletta, Floriana.
Gozo – Marsalforn, Mgarr, Ghajnsielem, Ramla l-Hamra, San Lawrenz, Xaghra, and Xlendi.
The full list of the streets that fall under the summertime suspension can be found here.
7. What long-term reforms have already been announced?
After his meeting with various stakeholders, Muscat announced a few proposals that are expected to be part of the reform. Notably, the fines for developers will drastically increase from €500 to €10,000, and these will be further increased to €50,000 in the case of developers continuing to work even if they receive a stop notice.
Geotechnical surveys will also be introduced, while an architect or site manager will have to present when decisions are made with regards to excavation and demolition.
The legislation will be published on Monday, with a short five-day consultation period set to fast track the bill.