An exasperated Birkirkara family are risking being buried in their home due to nearby construction, two structural and geological reports have confirmed.
Matthew Montebello has spent weeks and more than €1,000 on advice to alert the authorities to bad planning, poor workmanship and lax enforcement in a construction site next door.
“My children are afraid to sleep in their own bedroom,” Matthew Montebello, a 36-year-old electrician and marine surveyor, told Lovin Malta. “I don’t blame them because I’m afraid too. And if something happens to them I will regret it my whole life.”
A recent geological study Montebello commissioned has confirmed his worst fears that nearby excavation could trigger a collapse, as happened in the case of Miriam Pace who was killed in her own home after weeks of complaints were left unheard.
The study found that the site, in Fleur-de-Lys Birkirkara, was found to be on a Georisk Level 1 area, which means it has the highest risk possible of collapse, due in part to the type of rock on which the property is built.
“Rock failure is very likely to occur should rock excavation proceed. In this scenario, catastrophic damage to third-party property adjacent to the site would occur… Therefore, excavation adjacent to the concerned third-party property should be prohibited,” the report by a geologist states.
This report confirmed the developer’s own concerns which were listed in a report about the demolition: “In the areas where the site of the proposed development shares a party wall with third parties, there is a risk of unwillingly entering into these third party properties and unplanned collapse of our structure and contiguous structures or parts thereof.”
For weeks, the Montebellos have had to endure the demolition of their neighbouring property resulting in a number of damages to their home, as well as the constant fear of collapse.
Montebello has asked for his family to be relocated while the works are underway but he was offered a “filthy” flat with around three floors of stairs, no lift and inhabitable conditions.
“I don’t feel safe in my own country,” he said, drained by having to go from one authority to another to seek a remedy before it’s too late. “Every step in the process takes days, and a collapse can happen any minute.”
In the site next door, the developer is also the architect and the Site Technical Office, increasing Montebello’s fears that works are being done as cheaply as possible rather than as safely as possible for the nearby residents.
The site was recently in the headlines when works were stopped by the Building and Construction Agency (BCA) due to works being carried out by heavy machinery not listed in the method statement. But works continued with this heavy machinery after the method statement was amended and the site was reopened.
“It’s incredible. They blew their own trumpet and said they sealed the site promptly. In reality, I had been begging for weeks and nothing has changed,” Montebello said.
The architect originally provided a four-line method statement which failed to get basic facts right and had to be revised three times already.
“It doesn’t mean anything to me that the architect takes final responsibility for collapse because once that happens I can’t bring my family back. And what guarantee do I have that insurance will cover negligence?”
“In every place that collapsed, the developments that caused the collapse were built anyway and are being lived in, but the victims’ homes are still in ruins.”
Montebello added that while architects are responsible for the structural soundness, nobody is looking out for the actual residents and their experience.
“Ultimately people have to live in their homes. Nobody takes that into consideration. If you cannot use your terrace or your playroom, if you cannot do homeschooling, if you’re constantly surrounded by noise and shaking, if there are tremors caused by massive slabs falling. If you cannot just go home and rest, your life is over,” he said.
Due to Montebello’s complaints, the developer also filed a police report against him and sent him an intimidating legal letter.
“Honestly, I’m surprised we don’t have more collapses and injuries at work. The system is broken.”
“I haven’t been able to do a week’s work in over a month,” he said, adding that he is currently surviving on a diet of energy drinks.
The worst part, he says, is that while there is enforcement for tiny things, like getting a parking ticket while you try to get medication from a pharmacy, there is no enforcement on issues like construction where people’s lives are at risk.
The Building and Construction Agency has responded to this story and confirmed that no excavation works will take place until the site is cleared from rubble and a fresh geotechnical survey is concluded.
“It’s always the little guy who gets it. You feel like you’re being squashed by the system,” he said.
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