The Malta Independent 15 April 2021, Thursday

Zero Enforcement

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 4 March 2021, 07:33 Last update: about 2 months ago

This article is not about the unfortunate lack of enforcement with regard to some ‘restaurants’ that are acting as hubs for booze gatherings, with no sense of social distancing. Such venues are flaunting their activities for everyone to see, in areas such as the Sliema-Gzira seafront, to the chagrin of residents, communities and operators of bars, clubs and restaurants (even in the same area) which are either temporarily closed in line with Covid19 regulations, or else are open and following the rules.

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What this article does is follow up on my previous article ‘Pavements are policy Cinderellas’, which was published in The Malta Independent on 18th February.

Basically, I want to provide a real-life experience of the labyrinths faced by residents when they wish to complain about matters related to construction, pavements and accessibility. What I will be referring to is correspondence which, I myself, was involved in as a Sliema resident.

In various emails sent between 2019 and 2021, I wrote to the Building Regulations Office, Transport Malta, the Sliema Local Council, the Planning Authority, the police and the Commission for the Rights of Disabled Persons regarding a dangerous lack of access for pedestrians walking through a busy steep street undergoing careless construction practices.

Pavements in the area are either damaged, blocked or inexistant as a result of construction activity over the period in question. Scattered bricks and other construction material are used to ‘reserve’ parking for mixers and other old equipment, which, when used, further limit access by occupying the road and pavements.

Some minor remedies were made. For example a contractor finally re-installed lighting which had been removed, rendering the already dangerous area pitch-black at night. During this period one would also witness residents using torches to find their way.

But in the meantime, further development projects came to being, rendering other parts of the pavement inaccessible, for example, due to shoddy scaffolding even opposite pavements were in turn blocked by other construction structures or broken… well you get the gist.

This means that despite the traffic, which sometimes includes cowboy drivers speeding downhill, one often sees people, including the elderly, kids and persons with prams or wheelchairs, having to move off the pavement into the street, risking life and limb.

During this never ending story, some authorities cooperate, others do not bother to reply, and others have been rendered powerless. What is clear, however, is that no single authority seems to have the power to stop the malpractice of such construction works, even after years of complaints, on-site checks, and so forth.

To date, in March 2021, the situation in the part of Sliema I am referring to is as dangerous as it has been for the past 2 or 3 years. I am sure that other residents around Malta can recount similar experiences.

It is clear that not only is the Planning Authority dishing out too many permits in restricted areas, but to make matters worse various contractors are using very poor practices to carry out their work. Hence there is a mix of planning deficiencies which are resulting in problems such as traffic congestion and operational deficiencies related to bad practice and non-enforcement.

In the meantime, the Government is setting up a new authority, the Building and Construction Authority, to monitor the construction sector. So far, so good. But I strongly appeal to the same Government to ensure that this will not be a repeat of other initiatives under different governments, which were largely ineffective.

I do not doubt the goodwill of Minister Aaron Farrugia in this reform, but I find it quite limiting that whilst the board of the BCA will include professionals from certain sectors such as architecture and law, other sectors such as the social and environmental seem to be given much less consideration and authority.

Similarly, it is positive that enforcement officers are scheduled to increase, but it is equally important to have a constant flow of communication and consultation between different stakeholders, including residents, to ensure that monitoring and enforcement are mainstreamed in policy making. This could possibly help create a culture change through deliberation.

On a related note, in 2019 the Planning Authority had announced a public consultation on social impact assessment regulations, but since then nothing happened. These types of assessments, which are ongoing, can be of great assistance to help ensure proper construction practices.

Let’s hope that the reform process will be characterised by political will to safeguard the rights of residents and pedestrians. For it is quite a paradox that in a small island state where politics is personalised, we lack what I would like to define as the ‘Micro Politics of Everyday Life’ in areas such as construction, pavements and residents’ rights.

Dr Michael Briguglio is a sociologist and senior lecturer at the University of Malta

www.michaelbriguglio.com

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