Updated Wednesday 8.24am

Controversial revised construction site rules came into force on Tuesday amid complaints by the Chamber of Architects that they will fuel confusion and do little to improve public safety.

But the Malta Developers Association said the rules help to clarify many existing anomalies.

In a two-line statement issued by the Department of Information, the director of the Building Regulations Office said the new regulations were in force with immediate effect.

Speaking on Monday, Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg said architects will be responsible for ensuring excavation and demolition works followed proper procedures. He said the main change would be the creation of site technical officers who would replace site managers.

The Chamber of Architects voiced its disappointment: "The Kamra tal-Periti is of the opinion that the Legal Notice does little to guarantee public safety primarily because it further confuses the responsibilities on site. This, coupled with the fact that the requirement for registration and licensing of contractors has not been brought into force, results in a situation where effectively the site technical officer is being made to bear the shortcomings of the government to regulate the sector," the chamber said on Wednesday. 

The new regulations came about after a spate of buildings collapses linked to adjacent construction works. 

Following the last collapse in Mellieha this month, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced a two-week moratorium on excavation and demolition works pending the publication of new construction rules. 

A five-day consultation period followed. The short timeframe for this consultation raised the ire of the Church's environment commission

The Kamra tal-Periti (Chamber of Architects) said the legal notice was published without prior consultation with the Chamber as required by law, and questions it had sent Dr Borg remained unanswered.

The Chamber said it had consistently insisted that responsibilities should be clearly and unambiguously defined in the interest of public safety. Any regulation that purports to contradict the Civil Code is only contributing to the confusion that has characterised the industry in the last decades.

In terms of the civil code, the perit is responsible to design, specify and direct the works to ensure that the building is safe. The contractor is responsible for executing the works, including following the design, specification and direction of the perit. It is up to the contractor to decide the composition and qualifications of his personnel to fulfil his responsibilities. This is the norm in developed countries.

"The Kamra believes there is a third responsibility that needs to be borne, and that is the responsibility to regulate. This responsibility can only be borne by Government. To date, Government has failed to fulfil its duty to regulate the industry adequately," the chamber said.

The Building Regulation Office was left severely underfunded for years, with a meagre annual capital budget of €150,000, which was barely equivalent to the salary of six of its employees, rendering it effectively powerless and ineffective.
The BRO had not put in place a system for registration and licensing of contractors. This exposed the public to inordinate levels of risk. 

The planning process was never clearly separated from the building regulation process, resulting in institutional confusion and inadequate enforcement.

This confusion was further exacerbated when the Planning Authority (PA) issued two circulars on Tuesday evening about the Legal Notice.

Instead of the government investing in developing the BRO’s IT infrastructure, the PA had taken over the implementation of the new regulations from the remit of the BRO, and extended its online planning application system for this purpose.

"This is exacerbating further an already confusing situation. No centralised building and construction regulations in line with those of other European Member States are in place. The few that are in place are contradictory or obsolete and fall under the remit of over 22 public entities."

"The Kamra tal-Periti is of the opinion that the Legal Notice does little to guarantee public safety primarily because it further confuses the responsibilities on site. This, coupled with the fact that the requirement for registration and licensing of contractors has not been brought into force, results in a situation where effectively the site technical officer is being made to bear the shortcomings of the government to regulate the sector," the chamber said. 

Developers' reaction

The Malta Developers Association said the new regulations 'help to clarify many existing anomalies related to the different responsibilities in the construction industry.'

"Before these new regulations, owners or developers could engage anyone, competent or incompetent, to carry out works, even against the express advice and discretion of the architect responsible for the works.

"In this scenario, while the MDA agrees that site managers who represent the contractor on site have to be technically qualified persons, they need not necessarily be a warranted perit," the MDA said.

It added, however, that the construction industry urgently needs an immediate, more radical change that would include the setting up of a development council empowered to licence rock excavators and demolition contractors. These responsibilities are not currently regulated in any way, and anyone (whether qualified or not) can today take up contracts for such work.

This change would also set up a register of approved developers, something that the MDA had been suggesting to the authorities for a number of years.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us