PR 08/17 | Urgent Call for Building Regulations

The Kamra tal-Periti refers to the front-page article carried on the Times of Malta on 21st June, 2017 reporting the views of the President of the Chamber of Engineers on fire safety in Malta in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

The Kamra tal-Periti would like to fully endorse and support the call for proper Building Regulations. The KTP has, over the last years, incessantly made public calls and lobbied successive governments, for the Building Regulation Office to be strengthened and given the resources it needs, so that Malta can finally have modern and appropriate building regulations, covering the full range of health and safety risks faced by building users. Politicians have, unfortunately, found it difficult to understand that Building Regulations, and Building Control, are different to, and separate from, Planning Permit conditions. This failure to understand the industry has resulted in a situation where the need for Building Regulations is treated with indifference – until something happens, and then there is a knee-jerk reaction for the industry to do something.

This lack of awareness has resulted in a piecemeal approach, where various regulations fall under disparate pieces of legislation, weakly attempting at regulating the building industry through the planning process. Sanitary regulations (covering light and ventilation) – conceptually dating from the 19th century – fall, under one law, within the remit of the Planning Authority, and under another law, under that of the Health Department; Fire Safety guidelines fall under the indirect remit of the Civil Protection Department; Lifts Regulations fall under MCCAA; electricity regulations fall under a privatised Enemalta; drainage regulations fall under the Health Department, but also under the Water Services Corporation; accessibility issues are regulated by the KNPD; excavation, demolition and general construction regulations fall under the BRO; while health and safety on construction sites falls under the OHSA.

These organisations have all relied on the planning process to enforce their own regulations to some degree. And the KTP reiterates that this is wrong.

The use, or abuse, of the planning process in this way has brought about three adverse consequences:

  1. The planning regulatory body is heavily focused on development control, to the detriment of its primarily role of vision, strategic planning, drawing up of master and local plans, and promotion of sustainable development;
  2. There is weak statutory focus, oversight and enforcement of building regulations;
  3. In the absence of state support for proper and modern Building Regulations, the professionals must fall back to the identification of foreign standards to apply to local construction, often arbitrarily, and without being sure that they are appropriate for Malta.

With specific reference to fire safety, the Kamra tal-Periti is aware that the Civil Protection Department has reached an advanced stage in the drafting of new regulations, particularly in response to the increased high-rise development. The Kamra tal-Periti would like to, yet again, appeal that such regulations are placed within a holistic and consistent system of Building Regulations, administered by the Building Regulation Office.

The Kamra tal-Periti reiterates its offer to place all its resources, both local and international, at the disposal of Government, to assist in the formulation of such Building Regulations, that would fall under the exclusive remit of the Building Regulation Office, and removed from the planning permit approval processes. It has already requested a meeting with the Minister, newly-appointed to assume political responsibility for this sector and looks forward to meeting him to discuss these important issues.

PR 07/17 | Consultation with Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Environment and Development Planning

In a letter to the Parliamentary Secretary for Planning, the Kamra tal-Periti (Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers) referred to the Development Planning Act enacted in 2016, and in particular to the procedures established therein regarding revisions to the Spatial Strategy and to Subsidiary Plans and Local Plans, which require that the Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Environment and Development Planning is consulted on such revisions during the same period as the Planning Authority carries out consultation with the general public. The Committee is required to give its comments on the revisions during the same public consultation period.

The Kamra tal-Periti stressed that, for the Committee to be truly effective and representative, it should have at its disposition the outcome of the public consultation while considering the proposed revisions. This would aid the Committee in considering, reviewing and understanding better the proposal and the reactions to the proposed changes by the public who, after all, these Members of Parliament are elected to represent.

The Kamra tal-Periti suggested that the necessary amendments are effected to the Development Planning Act, such that the consultation process with the Parliamentary Standing Committee is carried out after the public consultation process, and recommended that the Committee is to be presented with a copy of all the submissions made by the public.

The correspondence outlining the proposal of the Kamra tal-Periti is found in the link below.

 

PR 06/17 | Periti not allowed to submit planning applications during Easter Week

Periti attempting to submit new planning applications this week through the Planning Authority’s online portal were notified that “The period between 10th April 2017 and 16th April 2017, is defined as a Peroid (sic) of Inactivity through LN 162 of 2016. No new Applications may be submitted during this period. Kindly reload the application from “Draft Applications” after the 16th April 2017 to finalize the submission process.

The Kamra tal-Periti wrote to the Planning Authority and to the Parliamentary Secretary for Planning, Hon Dr Deborah Schembri, as follows:

“It has come to the Kamra’s attention that the Planning Authority has unilaterally and without prior notice decided that no new applications may be submitted during this week.

This is completely unacceptable, more so because it does not arise out of any regulation that applications may not be submitted during the Authority’s inactive period. Article 16 of LN 162 of 2016 states clearly that the only impact of the Authority’s shut down periods is to suspend ongoing time frames and extend them accordingly.

This action from the Authority, which completely disregards commitments which periti have with their clients, and which individuals have with other third parties, is not on.

The Kamra tal-Periti insists that this situation is reversed immediately.”

 

No response has as yet been forthcoming.

PR 05/17 | Marsa Power Station

The Kamra tal-Periti exhorts Government and Enemalta to reconsider the demolition of those parts of the old Marsa Power Station that are considered to have significant architectural quality and that form an important part of our industrial heritage.

Only last week, the Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation organised a morning conference extolling the importance of the regeneration of certain degraded areas, yet ironically parts of the Power Station were being demolished as the conference was under way.

The Kamra tal-Periti calls for the demolition process to be halted immediately, firstly because it considers the Power Station Site to be crucial in the successful regeneration of the Marsa area, and also because to date there is no clear plan for what is to be done with the site once the buildings are demolished. There is therefore still time to integrate the existing structures within any proposed redevelopment of the site.

The Kamra tal-Periti refers to the work carried out by the final year students of the Faculty for the Built Environment in 2016, wherein they explored various alternatives for the regeneration of Marsa, including the Power Station site. The Faculty is of the opinion that while the demolition of the power station would clear up a tract of land that could be used to accommodate a wide range of uses, both commercial and civic, the value of the building itself is important as industrial and architectural heritage, and there is no reason why it cannot be preserved, and used as a spur for the redevelopment of the surrounding area. This opinion is shared by the Kamra tal-Periti.

Previous cohorts of students have studied this site and the building before, and proposals have ranged from a University Campus to cultural buildings – always conceived as the heart of a new town of Marsa. Why not build an Opera House or a Philarmonic Concert Hall on the area around. In their 2016 studies, students presented other proposals for the Power Station, including using it as an experimental aquaponics research centre, or a leisure amenity facility, including a Performing Arts resource in the underground tunnels adjacent. What about a modern art gallery, as was done with the Tate in London? The top of the tunnels would become a special type of park similar to those gradually appearing in Europe which link nature with art, as in Berlin’s former Tempelhof airport, or in Copenhagen’s Norrebro district. The whole complex could become the heart of a completely regenerated Marsa. The Kamra tal-Periti offers its availability and resources to assist Government in organising an ideas competition for the site, aimed at catalysing regeneration of this port town.

 

 

In November 2016, the Kamra tal-Periti had drawn attention to the old Gozo MMU Milk Plant, and had called upon the Planning Authority to safeguard this building of significant architectural quality, particularly in view of the recent destruction of the administration block of the ex-Dowty factory in Mrieħel, which building was also designed in the Modernist Style and which was demolished following approval of such demolition by the Planning Authority. Less than two weeks ago, the Planning Authority announced the scheduling of the Milk Plant, which was designed by renowned architect Joseph Huntingford, yet the same level of protection has regretfully not been afforded to the Marsa Power Station.

It is indeed disheartening that the Planning Authority has not yet undertaken a comprehensive study of our industrial areas which are rich in industrial and architectural assets that should be preserved. Such a study needs to be undertaken without delay, and the necessary procedures set in motion to preserve what is left of our country’s modern architectural and industrial heritage. The Kamra tal-Periti proposes that a joint committee should be established between the Planning Authority, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, Heritage Malta, NGOs and the Kamra itself in order to identify those buildings that and areas that merit preservation and sustainable regeneration.

PR 04/17 | Old Milk Plant in Xewkija, Gozo (2)

The Kamra tal-Periti welcomes with satisfaction the scheduling at Grade 2 level of the old Gozo MMU Milk Plant, which was designed by renowned architect Joseph Huntingford, and which includes a number of unique architectural elements inspired by the Modernist Movement.

In November 2016, the Kamra tal-Periti had drawn attention to this building which lies within the Xewkija Enterprise Hub, which area was undergoing a change in planning policy. The Kamra tal-Periti had called upon the Planning Authority to safeguard this building of significant architectural quality, particularly in view of the recent destruction of the administration block of the ex-Dowty factory in Mrieħel, which building was also designed in the Modernist Style and which was demolished following approval of such demolition by the Planning Authority.

The Kamra tal-Periti exhorts the Planning Authority to undergo a study of our industrial areas, which include a number of buildings in the same architectural style, and which merit protection and rehabilitation.

PR 03/17 | PA GeoServer

The Planning Authority has recently launched a new online geographic information system (GIS) that allows users to access planning data in a fast, efficient and user-friendly manner, particular when compared with the previous system that had been in place for a number of years.

The new GeoServer provides significant functionality, and will also allow for the sharing of data gathered by other departments and authorities.

The Kamra tal-Periti congratulates the Planning Authority on the launch of its new portal, particularly in view of its speed and the upgraded graphic representation of data.

PR 02/17 | Marsa Park Local Plan Review

With reference to the public consultation process regarding the Partial Review of the Grand Harbour Local Plan of 2002, Marsa Park Site, the Kamra tal-Periti has drawn up the following consultation feedback.

 

PR 01/17 | Planning Authority eApplications launch

Over the past week, the Council of the Kamra tal-Periti (Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers) has repeatedly requested the Planning Authority to issue a clear statement regarding the serious problems with the launch of its new online application portal, to confirm when the system will be fully functional, and to inform periti and the general public as to how it will be dealing with situations where deadlines, which are bound by legal timeframes, could not be met, as a result of the lack of functionality of the portal. Such statement has not been forthcoming. The Kamra is therefore issuing this statement in order to advise the public of the lack of accessibility being afforded to the profession, impeding periti from succesfully and confidently submitting and accessing documentation.

Towards the end of 2016, the Planning Authority announced that it would be launching an upgraded version of its online application portal, known as eApplications. The old system was shut down on the 23rd December 2016, and the Authority confirmed that the new version would be online and functional as of the 2nd January 2017.

However, this has not been the case, and periti have been unable to submit new applications, to download information from ongoing or decided applications, to submit correspondence and drawings to the Authority, and to generally provide their clients with services related to the eApplications portal.

The Kamra tal-Periti has communicated with the Authority on a daily basis on this matter over the past week, and acknowledged that one would expect some minor teething problems with any new system. However, the situation being faced by the profession is now far from being a minor issue, and the lack of formal communication by the Authority is unacceptable.

In accordance with legislation, planning applications are handled solely through the eApplications portal, and therefore the lack of functionality of such a system for the last two weeks is entirely unacceptable, as it is the sole means of communication with the Authority in this regard.

The Kamra tal-Periti therefore insists that the Planning Authority takes all necessary measures to ensure that the system is returned to normal without any further delay, and that the Authority issues the appropriate statements and assurances as repeatedly requested by the Kamra, with particular regard to the matter of exceeded deadlines.

PR 11/16 | AGM 2016

During the Annual General Meeting of the Kamra tal-Periti held on the 15th December 2016, outgoing President Perit Christopher Mintoff thanked all the Council Members for their contribution during what have been a challenging couple of years for the profession, particularly in view of the introduction of a significant number of new planning policies and regulations. The Kamra and the profession, he stressed, are as strong as the members, and urged all to participate in the work undertaken by the Kamra, and to contribute their expertise whenever possible, thus ensuring an active and participative profession.

The General Meeting elected the new Council for 2017, as follows: Perit Alex Torpiano as President; Perit Simone Vella Lenicker as Vice President; Perit Amber Wismayer as Honorary Secretary; Perit Christopher Mintoff as Past President; and Periti Jeanette Abela, Anthony Bezzina, Sandro Cini, David Felice, Alberto Miceli Farrugia, Lara Mifsud, Andre Pizzuto and Marc Spiteri as Council Members.

The incoming President Perit Alex Torpiano stated that the main priorities for 2017 will be the updated suite of legislation governing the profession, and its implementation, as well as ensuring a clear distinction between the various roles undertaken by the various actors and service providers in the building industry.

PR 10/16 | Paceville Development Framework

The preparation of a Vision for Paceville is in itself a positive initiative. Independently of the content or approach, it is commendable that a draft Development Framework has been proposed which sets out a strategy for growth and for the regeneration of the area, plans staged improvements over time, reflects a change in the way urban planning and development ought to be studied, and future planning undertaken. Indeed, similar initiatives ought to be more frequent and should serve as an impetus for the mechanism to be encouraged in other areas, albeit under the umbrella of one strategic plan and vision for the nation as a whole, and not in an ad hoc and haphazard manner which raises more doubts than it proposes a clear vision that is of benefit to the whole of society. The fact that Government and the Planning Authority have appreciated that the drawing up of a comprehensive study is the best route to follow, augurs well for the future. Nevertheless, it is important that the planning exercise undertaken provides the sufficient level of detail and analysis required, and is carried out in tandem with other serious national planning issues such as transport and infrastructural requirements.

The focus on improvements in the public urban realm is absolutely correct. The extension of pedestrianised areas, and of shared surface treatment areas, is also a step in the right direction, even if more study is required to understand the impact on existing activities. The provision of open landscaped public spaces is laudable and the concept of preserving and valorising the heritage assets in the area is certainly a sound one.

It is a pity, therefore, that a laudable effort to “see the bigger picture” in a long-term perspective is diminished by a number of serious flaws in the Framework. The exercise seems to have degenerated into a justification of previously-determined development volumes, in previously determined locations. “The quantum of development proposed at Paceville” is accommodated but never challenged. Consequently, the “iconic skyline” is taken as an assumed desiderata. The urban design principles which are promoted in the document are of top quality, but the same principles seem to be contradicted by the scale of development proposed – which is never justified.

The Framework document is peppered with the right references to contemporary sustainable urban development principles. This is jargon found in textbooks on planning and urban design, but which mean nothing if not grounded in socio-economic and planning research. When assessing the detailed proposals, one struggles to understand how such principles implemented. There is reference, for example, to community facilities under the impressive heading of “social sustainability”, but nowhere is there any indication of what facilities would be provided. The document refers to “preserving the inheritance of local traditions” but makes no mention of what these traditions are.

The document suggests that social cohesion is the result of entrepreneurship and the tourism industry. This argument is highly debatable. Tourism is certainly not the best tool to foster social cohesion – on the contrary, it tends to erode community relationships, and hence social cohesion. In addition, development which emphasises social disparity does not strengthen cohesion.

A promising document, focusing on the need to improve the public urban realm, is crippled by the lack of social research and the judgmental propositions. The failure to consult, in any way, with residents and economic operators of Paceville, is a serious defect. The authors report a “number of site visits”, but otherwise do not explain the methodology followed in the assessment of the situation, and hence in the formulation of proposals. There is nothing in the document which suggests that the rights of residents and locals to partake of the “economic growth” that will result from the proposed development will be safeguarded.

The Development Framework proposes extensive expropriation of private land and property – assets that many people’s lives, homes, business and investments have been built upon, on the basis of the current legal frameworks. The document becomes highly discriminatory, focusing primarily on business interests that are already public – whilst not considering possible future developments of a similar or smaller scale elsewhere.

The Kamra tal-Periti has submitted its formal response (attached) to the Planning Authority as part of the ongoing public consultation process. This response outlines a number of matters that, in the opinion of the Kamra, require addressing before this document proceeds to being translated into a Local Plan for the area. These include the following primary concerns:

  1. that the document cannot and should not be presented as a Masterplan or a Local Plan review, but as a Development Framework as in fact presented by the authors themselves;
  1. that the draft fails to address the criteria established in the Terms of Reference provided to the consultants by the Planning Authority;
  1. that the framework conflicts with the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) in terms of the proposal for having tall buildings, the significant increase in residential and commercial floorspace, the adoption of low parking standards and the proposal of a significant land reclamation project;
  1. that the volumes and population density proposed have all the makings of a potential development bubble, with the allocation of space being proposed in a highly inequitable manner and with a complete lack of consideration for privately owned property, while at the same time allocating significant development potential to public land which is being therefore given to speculative purposes;
  1. that the submission of the draft to a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) process is highly premature and not in line with the regulatory procedures in this regard;
  1. that the document presents a number of shortcomings which are primarily a result of the fact that it is based on pre-established intentions, and there appears to have been little, if any, attempt to understand the problems, the assets, and the particular dynamics of the area with a view towards achieving a proposal which truly valorises those aspects which make Paceville unique, and to build on these in order to achieve a sustainable growth of the area which is founded on sound social, economic and environmental considerations;
  1. that while the Framework includes a number of good proposals regarding the infrastructure required to support the proposed development, these are proposed in isolation rather than being presented within a National Framework and Paceville appears to have been singled out for significant investment at the expense of other localities;
  1. that the transport strategy is flawed because it only addressed transport within the plan area and does not offer a coordinated approach taking into account access to and from Paceville;
  1. that while the Kamra tal-Periti is not contrary to the development of tall buildings, it cannot accept the absolute absence of any justification of either the volume, or the location of such tall buildings, and the fact that the authors appear to have assumed that the provision of such structures are the only solution to an “attractive, safe, efficient and environmental (sic) friendly place, where people live, work, play, and interact…..”;
  1. that the proposed development poses significant environmental concerns in terms of sustainability, material resources and waste generation which are not adequately address within the document;
  1. that considerations regarding financing, phasing and implementation of the Development Framework are essential but are not sufficiently elaborated upon, and the complete lack of cognisance of privately owned property in the area and the cumbersome legal procedures that would be required to acquire such property raises serious doubts about the achievability of this plan.

The Kamra tal-Periti is therefore of the opinion that, while this Development Framework has a number of positive aspects that bode well for a successful regeneration of the Paceville area, it also manifests a number of issues which are of concern and which require significant re-evaluation prior to moving this document forward for adoption as the basis of a Local Plan for the locality.