The Malta Independent 22 July 2019, Monday

The construction sector bursts up

Thursday, 20 June 2019, 09:50 Last update: about 1 month ago

As demos go in Malta, unless they are party-inspired, the crowd which protested along the streets of Gwardamangia on Tuesday was quite a sizeable one, also considering the heat of the day.

There was considerable anger around, no doubt caused by the repeated near-misses of the construction which have led to no less than three collapses of buildings - in Pieta, Mellieha, and Guardamangia - in the short space of a few months.

There were other collapses in the past, but they were rather rare and most times caused by storms and rain. What these three collapses had in common was they each had excavation next door. How and what caused the collapse is the subject of the ongoing inquiries and surely of court cases stretching out in the future.

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The anger was caused not just by these three cases but by the widespread perception that the construction sector is running rampant, without control.

The flood gates have been opened, and the fact that the Planning Authority approved a record number of applications last year shows that somehow everyone and his dog have taken to construction projects as a sure way to get rich fast.

The template runs somehow like this: get a house or tenement, pull it down, excavate to one or more levels, and then build a series of apartments topped if possible by a penthouse. Then do everything up and stay waiting for customers to pile in.

There is beyond and above everything, the promise and assurance of political backing, not just from this government but from governments of whatever hue.

In fact, it would be instructive for the media to stop running press releases and quoting what politicians are saying and to delve into the backgrounds of the people whose excavations caused this havoc.

These near-misses have also reportedly uncovered many building blunders in houses that looked solid but which were not. In one case, one could see party walls with bricks of the slimmest dimensions. This goes on all the time, as many find for themselves, unfortunately when things go bad.

We know of the three cases where collapses took place but what of the many properties where excavation next door left them with serious damage to their structure?

The much-discussed stop to all excavations announced by the prime minister after the latest outrage does not seem to have been observed by all. And some constructors have already said this will see them incurring further expenses which they will no doubt load on to the final clients.

Basically what seems to have happened is that every person who had some acquaintance with construction, even at labourer level, suddenly imagined they were contractors, entrepreneurs and tycoons. Without training, without back-up, without of course recourse to the right means, they skimp on the proper safeguards, sometimes without taking out insurance and without ensuring good neighbourliness.

It was not a bad policy decision to widen the planning parameters (even if to dismantling MEPA was rather excessive) because some of the past procedures were time-consuming and at times rather stupid. But then the impression was given it was all systems go, and the gates were flung open.

Then the impression was given this was a key component of the economic growth path, which led to the elimination of the deficit and to the surplus from which all sorts of good things came.

There are other aspects: we have serious doubts whether all this construction effort by big and by small groups is in any way sustainable. The elimination of so many open spaces, the dust and disruption caused by the excavation and construction - all these are a cost which our country can barely afford. 
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