The Malta Independent 21 October 2019, Monday

TMID Editorial: Construction and tourism... is this what tourists want?

Tuesday, 21 May 2019, 13:23 Last update: about 6 months ago

Sun, sea, greenery, Valletta style streets with Malta’s historic architecture... this is what tourists expect when coming to Malta in summer.

Beaches packed to the brim like sardines, loud noises from construction sites and heavy traffic, one building site after another... the reality tourists face in today’s Malta. Is this what they truly want?

Tourism numbers are going up... but for how long? How long until people realise that there are nicer beaches in the Mediterranean, that there are islands with less construction and more open spaces. How long till they start offering more attractive packages? Yes Malta is diversifying its offerings, but increasing events in the shoulder months, but Summer is still prime season for tourism.

The government yesterday took a step in the right direction with regards to construction signing a Memorandum of Understanding that will eventually establish the Considerate Construction Scheme. This scheme will be voluntary, and contractors who sign up will need to abide by certain principles regarding the environment, residents in the area of construction sites and their employees. While this could lead to very positive situations, it is still voluntary. Even the head of the Malta Developers Association came out and said that he will be the first to work and cooperate with the authorities for this scheme to become compulsory. If even the MDA wants this scheme to be made compulsory, then what on earth is the government waiting for?

Too long have the Maltese suffered at the hands of rogue contractors, who also give a bad name to those who conduct their work well. Taking up parking spaces without the necessary permits, filling up roads with dust and not cleaning up after turning the surrounding area into a dusty third-world lookalike, literally engulfing neighbourhoods in clouds of dust. Who do they think they are?

Respiratory problems in Malta seem to be quite common, and there is absolutely no doubt that construction dust does not help. They are partly responsible for this problem.

Malta relies on the construction industry yes, but health comes first. Using a small hose pipe to water down dust is not working. Practices are outdated. Different equipment and more strict practices can be used, ones more suitable for a country that depends on tourism. Indeed some streets near construction sites have turned white, and have been left that way for weeks if not longer.

The authorities should update the laws immediately, and take a more active role in enforcement. As things stand, residents are treated like second class citizens in their own localities, where contractors have too much power.

If Malta doesn’t quickly face these issues and change the way things work, the idea of Malta becoming a six-star tourism destination will never come to fruition, and the idea of Malta remaining a tourism hub will be lost.

The government is working on eventually setting up the Malta Construction and Building Authority (MCBA), which will update certain laws and help better regulate the sector. Indeed the government said it wants this agency to have teeth, and it must. But until it is setup, the current agencies like the BRO need to be strengthened and given a lot more resources. Authorities must conduct more frequent inspections to ensure that parking spaces being blocked off have council approval, that the right precautions are being taken to ensure that dust pollution is kept at a minimum and that disturbance to neighbours is also kept at a minimum.

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