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.

PR 09/16 | Old Milk Plant in Xewkija, Gozo

At the end of October, the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Environment and Development Planning met to discuss proposed changes to the Gozo and Comino Local Plan, specifically with respect to the Xewkija Industrial Area in Gozo. The proposal concerned a large site which the Planning Authority was proposing to re-zone from its current use for “Agricultural Products Processing and Market” to general industrial purposes as part of the Xewkija Enterprise Hub.

While seemingly a run of the mill proposal, the Kamra tal-Periti noted that the site in question houses 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. The Committee discussed the possibility of inclusion of a safeguard within the new policy to ensure the protection of those architectural features that merit retention and preservation.

The Kamra tal-Periti expressed its agreement with the introduction of such a safeguard, 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. Evidently, the appreciation of our architectural heritage from this period is sorely lacking, and therefore the Kamra tal-Periti exhorts the Minister to consent to the introduction of a safeguard in the policy for the Xewkija Enterprise Hub, such that those elements of the building that merit protection may be integrated within any new development proposal for the site.

PR 08/16 | Regularisation of Existing Development Regulations, 2016

In May 2016, the Kamra tal-Periti had submitted its formal reactions to the draft Legal Notice regarding regularisation of property. It had expressed its opinion that the draft regulations included too many lacunae and vague requirements, and that it would be appropriate for the legislator to enter into specific consultation with the Kamra, as required by legislation, prior to the promulgation of these regulations. The Kamra also expressed its fears that these regulations will open the door to severe blots in our built landscape, and will serve to promote the laissez faire attitude of certain developers by condoning providing a mechanism for illegalities to become legal.

Although this procedure was presented by the Planning Authority to the profession during a recent information meeting organised by the Kamra tal-Periti for its members, it is with regret that the Kamra tal-Periti notes no specific discussions were undertaken to address such concerns, and that most of the concernrs raised have not been addressed. These include:

  • the fact that the Legal Notice contains many vague statements which give the impression that anything can be regularised, making no distinction between minor irregularities (such as those previously covered by a CTB Concessions) and major ones;
  • the term ‘regularisation’ itself is not defined, neither in the Legal Notice, nor in the main Act;
  • there appears to be no provision for public consultation on individual applications, nor for consultation with various authorities such as the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, the National Commission for Persons with Disability, and others;
  • there appears to be no mechanism for third parties to register an interest in an application unless they had previously reported the illegality to the Authority, and third parties do not have a right of appeal;
  • although some media reports have given the indication that decisions on these applications will be taken at public sittings of the Planning Board, this provision is not specifically stipulated in the Legal Notice;
  • while ODZ properties have been excluded, properties which are located within Urban Conservation Areas or which are themselves scheduled have not been excluded;
  • the main criterion on the basis of which the Authority will determine an application is whether or not it constitutes an ‘injury to amenity’, which is an entirely subjective criterion that it open to wide interpretation;
  • if an application is refused, the applicant is refunded a percentage of the fees of the application, however there is no obligation for the Authority to issue an enforcement notice and/or to request the removal of the illegality.

All of the above observations, and others already published by the Kamra tal-Periti during the public consultation phase, render these new regulations unclear and widely open to interpretation. Above all, they also fail to address the importance of promoting quality of our building stock by allowing illegalities which fall well below the minimum requirements of established regulations to be regularised and made legal.

PR 07/16 | Chamber representation on Lands Authority Board of Governors (2)

The Kamra tal-Periti expresses its disappointment at the fact that the proposal regarding the appointment of professionals on the Board of Governors of the proposed new Lands Authority, namely that these should be nominated by their respective Chambers, and not appointed directly by the Minister, was rejected. This was a missed opportunity to ensure the impartiality of the Board through the independence of these appointed professionals from the Government of the day.

The Kamra tal-Periti takes this opportunity to remind its members of their obligation to uphold professional standards at all times above anything else.

PR 06/16 | Chamber representation on Lands Authority Board of Governors

Reference is made to the ongoing debate on Bill 166 regarding the proposed establishment of a new Lands Authority, and in particular to the proposed composition of the Board of Governors which envisages the appointment by the Minister of three professionals, namely a perit, an advocate and an auditor of recognised standing.[1]

The Kamra tal-Periti strongly recommends and supports the proposal that such professionals should be nominated by their respective Chambers, and not appointed directly by the Minister. This will ensure independence of these professionals from the Government of the day. This proposal will also ensure a double level of accountability of these professionals towards the Board of Governors and also towards the profession which they represent.

[1] Article 10 of Bill 166

PR 05/16 | The Kamra tal-Periti urges Government to introduce building regulations that reflect contemporary needs

The Kamra tal-Periti welcomes the fact that many of its proposals submitted during the consultation period regarding the new Health & Sanitary Regulations were taken on board by the legislator. These included, in particular, its request that Planning and Development Control, which deals with issues of built form and layout, is clearly distinguished from Building Regulations and Control, which regulates the construction process itself and the qualitative performance of a building.

The Kamra hereby reiterates its position, however, that the very concept of sanitary regulations, which dates back to 1865, is archaic and was superseded by planning law and the tremendous advancement in construction technology and materials over the past 150 years. Today’s society is no longer concerned with the health matters prevalent in the Victorian period which the sanitary regulations sought to address. Rather, it is interested in addressing contemporary issues such as air quality within buildings, waste management, energy performance, thermal comfort, humidity, noise pollution, and mental health through appropriate building regulations and standards.

Moreover, the Kamra emphasises its position that building regulations should fall under the exclusive remit of the Building Regulation Office, and not the Planning Authority. The role of the two entities should be clear and distinct.The Kamra tal-Periti makes reference to its correspondence with government on this matter, and highlights its understanding that these new regulations are intended as an interim measure until they are replaced by adequate building regulations to address these matters. The Kamra therefore invites government to enter into discussions with the Kamra and all other relevant stakesholders in order to establish how the role of the Building Regulation Office can be strengthened to ensure that modern building regulations in line with European standards can be brought into effect.

This is of particular concern in the context of the several development permit applications for high-rise buildings and large-scale projects; expecting that high building and urban quality could be achieved by reduced clear internal heights, or by reduced backyard depths, is a dangerous route to take, since this will affect the building legacy of the future. The KTP reiterates its appeal to Government to reject lobbies seeking short-term benefits in favour of carefully thought through policies which safeguard the quality of the urban areas and the wellbeing of our communities for the future.

PR 04/16 | Solidarity with Chamber of Architects of Turkey (CAT)

The Kamra tal-Periti is gravely concerned to hear of the recent events in Turkey wherein 15 members of the Chamber of Architects of Turkey (CAT) were held under arrest in an incident which appears to have been instigated by the Chamber’s criticism of the Turkish government’s urban policies. The Kamra tal-Periti strongly condemns any form of threat to freedom of expression, particularly towards a professional Chamber whose role is to ensure quality of the built environment for the better good of society.

The Kamra tal-Periti endorses the statement published by the Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE), of which it is a member, and expresses full solidarity with its colleagues in Turkey.

ACE Statement

The Architects’ Council of Europe expresses grave concerns following the arrests at the Istanbul Chamber of Architects

On Tuesday 31 May, police arrested 15 people in the building of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects, including the President of the Chamber of Architects of Turkey (CAT) and Board Members and employees of the CAT Istanbul Branch. The Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE) expresses grave concerns at this event.

Local media reported that, on Tuesday 31 May, CAT executives were detained for having resisted  the eviction of the office of the CAT Istanbul Branch, located in Yıldız Palace. The eviction resulted in the detainment of 15 people, including CAT President Eyup Muhcu and Mücella Yapici, Secretary of the CAT Environmental and Social Impact Committee, both prominent figures in the Gezi movement, as well as several Members of the Executive Board and employees of the CAT Istanbul Branch.

While reluctant to comment on domestic affairs, ACE is deeply concerned at what appears to be an overreaction to what began as a peaceful opposition to government’s urban policies. Architects’ chambers play an important role in the defense of heritage and quality in the public interest and as such we feel that professional solidarity is an essential expression of this role.

This unprecedented act of intimidation against the architectural profession in Turkey is surely disproportionate and certainly unacceptable in a country that aspires to join the European Union”, said Luciano Lazzari, ACE President.