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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 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.