Regulating the building industry

 

Last Wednesday, a White Paper to consolidate and streamline existing legislation relative to the building and construction industry was published for public consultation.

It is being proposed to set up a new authority, a Building and Construction Regulator, to consolidate under its authority the statutory responsibilities currently entrusted to the various scattered entities responsible for the regulation of the building and construction industry at post-permit stage. This, it is suggested, would facilitate the revisiting and consolidation of current building laws and regulations, thus bringing them into line with current technical and legal exigencies.

In particular, the White Paper points towards the need to consolidate four specific entities: the BICC (Building Industry Consultative Council), the BRO (Building Regulation Office), the BRB (Building Regulation Board) and the Masons Board.

The proposal is certainly long overdue and should, if properly implemented through timely enforcement, lead to an improvement in both quality and safety standards throughout the building and construction industry.

The proliferation of boards and other entities throughout the years, even though well intentioned, rendered them almost ineffective. Their consolidation and coordination will hopefully restore them into effective tools through which to ensure that their objectives are implemented and, where necessary, brought in line with present day technological realities.

Updating property legislation, if carried out under the direction of a consolidated authority can also be more focused and fruitful.

The new authority should ensure that the building industry has an informed voice, capable of interacting with the existing regulatory structures such as the Planning Authority. In so doing the newly proposed structure would be in a position to complement the input of other entities such as the Civil Protection Department, the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD), the Department of Environmental Health (DEH) and the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA).

As inevitably happens whenever such initiatives are taken, there will initially be some overlaps with the responsibilities of other entities. Time and adequate coordination will be required in order that these initial difficulties are overcome, as they will most probably be.

The new authority will be welcomed by the large-scale operators in the building industry, most of whom are more than adequately equipped to deal with an industry that is driven by technology, improved quality and safety standards. It will however initially be considered as intrusive and bureaucratic by the smaller operators. This is, in fact, the area in which the building regulatory framework is currently largely ineffective and, consequently, where the impacts of the resulting consolidation is most needed.

Improvements will not result overnight. They will however, slowly build up once the resources are made available to the newly established authority, enabling it to provide adequate monitoring of building sites that currently cannot be ensured due to the fact that the existing boards are starved of sufficient resources.

I do not think this consultation is in anyway controversial, which may explain why it is  below the media’s radar. But let us not underestimate its importance.

 

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 September 2018

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The Freeport’s neighbours at Birżebbuġa

freeport.aerial viw

 

 

Two incidents occurred at the Freeport Terminal last week. The first led to the spill of an oily-like chemical when a container was accidentally hit and part of its contents spilled out into the sea. The second concerned odours resulting from the handling of fuels at the Oil Tanking Terminal.  The second accident led to the precautionary hospitalisation of six employees. The first incident, on the other hand, led to the suspension of bathing activities at Pretty Bay, Birżebbuġa for a number of days.

The accident leading to the spill occurred on Monday, 8 June at around noon. Yet on Friday, 12 June, personnel from the Civil Protection Department were still dealing with the spill as by this time water currents had moved it from the Freeport Terminal to Pretty Bay. It was only late on Tuesday, 16 June that the Environmental Health Department certified that Pretty Bay was once more fit for swimming.

 

Unfortunately, such accidents are bound to happen. That they do not happen more often is only due to adequate training and the availability of the adequately maintained equipment available on  site.

The Freeport Terminal extension – approved five years ago by MEPA and currently in hand – is intended to tap into the container movement market in the Mediterranean even further. In the coming years, this will lead to a increased activity and, consequently, the likelihood of similar but more frequent accidents happening in the future is possible.

The Freeport Terminal activity is only one of a number which, over the years, have transformed Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. Delimara Power station and fish- farming  as well as the ever-present fuel reception points at the San Luċjan and Enemalta stations are other examples of industrial activity along the Marsaxlokk Bay coastline. We should also remember that, at some time in the near future, bathers at Pretty Bay will also have an enhanced landscape: they will be able to enjoy in full view a gas storage tanker permanently anchored just opposite the sandy beach, along the Delimara part of the Marsaxlokk Bay coastline. The spectacle will include its refuelling between eight and 12 times a year, with possibly three of such refuelling instances occurring during the summer bathing season.

The compatibility of this situation with the EU Seveso Directives is debatable.

All this industrial activity may be healthy when considering the general economic requirements of the country on its own. It is, however, generally incompatible with the needs of Birżebbuġa both as a residential community as well as a touristic venue.

Efforts to mitigate the impacts of this industrial activity on the residential community  of Birżebbuġa (and to an extent even on the locality of Marsaxlokk) are in place. Yet with so much going on, the effects of these mitigation measures are necessarily limited. In fact, one wonders why the decision to locate all this industrial activity in the area was not also accompanied by a decision to restrict the development of land for residential use so close to these industrial facilities. In one particular case, at il-Qajjenza in the 1980s,  residential development was accelerated in the vicinity of the then Enemalta Gas Depot. Fortunately the Gas Depot has now been closed down and decommissioned, however it has been moved to the other side of Birżebbuġa, close to the entrance of Marsaxlokk Bay at Bengħajsa.

 

The Freeport Terminal management, supported by MEPA, had also decided to extend the permissible facilities at the Freeport Terminal to include minor repair work to ships and oil rigs. The decision was only reversed when it was faced with the vociferous opposition of the Birżebbuġa residential community led by its local council.

Recently, Transport Malta has added to the summer pleasures at Birżebbuġa. It has planned a mooring area for pleasure craft and small boats adjacent to the swimming zone, right in the middle of Pretty Bay. It seems that Transport Malta does not give a fig about the impact of anti-fouling agents used on a large number of craft berthed very close to a swimming zone.

 

With all this activity going on around Pretty Bay, it is inevitable that that there will be an increase in unacceptable environmental impacts on land, air and sea. Some accidents will also be inevitable.

As a result, however, it is very possible that in future there will be further restrictions on the use of Pretty Bay as a bathing venue. One hopes that this will not be often. It is, however, unavoidable and is the direct result of the ongoing activity which is definitely incompatible with the needs and requirements of the Birżebbuġa residents.

One interesting development at the time of writing is that Hon. Marlene Farrugia, as Chairperson of Parliament’s Committee on the Environment and Development Planning, has placed last week’s incidents at the Freeport Terminal on the Parliamentary Committee’s agenda. For the time being, a request for information has been sent out. The resulting discussion will hopefully direct the spotlight on the manner in which successive governments have transformed Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port, in the process at times ignoring – and at other times not giving sufficient attention to the plight of the residents in the area.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 21 June 2015

L-għawm fil-Bajja s-Sabiħa ta’ Birżebbuġa

pretty-bay

 

Il-ġimgħa l-oħra kellna żewġ inċidenti fil-Freeport.

L-ewwel inċident seħħ it-Tnejn 8 ta’ Ġunju meta ntlaqat container li nfaqa’ u parti mill-kontenut likwidu tiegħu spiċċa l-baħar. Sal-Ġimgħa 12 ta’ Ġunju, tard fil-għaxja, l-ħaddiema tad-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili kienu għadhom sejrin bil-ħidma ta’ tindif. Sadanittant il-Bajja s-Sabiħa baqgħet magħluqa sakemm it-testijiet tal-kwalità tal-ilma baħar li qed isiru mid-Dipartiment tas-Saħħa Ambjentali jagħtu riżultati tajbin, ċjoe li jista’ jsir l-għawm.

Sadanittant kellna inċident ieħor u s-Sibt waranofsinnhar sitt ħaddiema tal-Freeport iddaħħlu l-isptar bħala prewkazzjoni minħabba rwejjaħ ta’ gass li x’aktarx ikkawżaw uġiegħ ta’ ras u dardir.

Fortunatament ftit li xejn kellna inċidenti ta’ din ix-xorta, u dan  minħabba li kemm il-management kif ukoll il–ħaddiema tal-Freeport jaħdmu sewwa u bil-galbu. It-taħriġ kontinwu li jingħata lill-ħaddiema kollha tal-Freeport, kif ukoll l-apparat addattat li jintuża jgħinu biex inaqqsu l-possibilità ta’ inċidenti. Imma huwa inevitabbli li iktar ma jiżdied ix-xogħol fil-Freeport [u bl-estensjoni tal-Freeport, ix-xogħol ser jiżdied] tiżdied ukoll il-probabiltà ta’ iktar inċidenti.

Ma dan trid iżżid ukoll il-ħidma bil-gass tal-Power Station ta’ Delimara. Faċċata tal-Bajja s-Sabiħa suppost li jkollna tanker permanenti fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk biex fih jinħażen il-gass. Bejn tmien u tnax-il darba fis-sena jidħol ukoll tanker ieħor biex iġib iktar provisti ta’ gass.

Jiġifieri fil-bajja l-problemi ser jiżdiedu mhux ser jonqsu.   Ma noħodiex bi kbira li l-ġranet li fihom ma jkunx possibli li jsir l-għawm fil-Bajja s-Sabiħa ukoll ser jiżdiedu. L-inċidenti tal-ġimgħa l-oħra huma indikazzjoni ta’ x’hemm lest għalina.

Dan hu l-prezz ta’ dak li uħud isejħulu progress jew żvilupp. Huwa l-prova ta’ kemm kellhom raġun dawk kollha li opponew l-estensjoni tal- Freeport.

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (25) Nuclear issues and radioactivity

Radon

The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 14 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

Nuclear Issues and Radioactivity.

As no Maltese Government has ever pronounced itself directly in favour of nuclear energy the nuclear issues which we must face are imported ones.

First on the list would be radioactive waste which is not much in quantity and being primarily generated by sites providing services using nuclear medicine such as X-Rays and radioactive treatment plants used in treating cancer patients. This is an aspect normally considered within the context of waste management policy and in view of the small quantities of waste involved this is normally exported.

The main nuclear problem which Malta must face and address is related to nuclear plants in other countries. The Mediterranean will in the near future face a proliferation of nuclear plants with Malta being transformed into a nuclear sandwich in the centre of the Mediterranean.

Following the Fukushima disaster in Japan the whole world is much more sensitive and conscious as to the negative impacts of nuclear plants. This has led our Italian neighbours to renounce nuclear energy for the second time in 25 years through a referendum. However we will now have to face the problem in our southern flank where various countries are planning to import nuclear technology from France an EU member state. It is imperative that Malta within the European Union structures emphasises that when the export of nuclear technology is carried out this has to be accompanied by a sense of responsibility and regulation through treaties as a result of which the countries receiving this technology bind themselves to the same rules applicable within the European Union.

As in other countries there is in Malta a presence of the radioactive gas radon. This is an issue which the Department of Environmental Health supervises but in respect of which little if any information is made public. Alternattiva Demokratika will endeavour to give more importance to this matter.

L-Estratt segwenti hu meħud kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 14 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

Issues Nukleari u ta’ Radjuattivita’.

Billi s’issa l-ebda Gvern Malti ma ppronunzja ruħu direttament favur l-enerġija nukleari l-issues nukleari li rridu niffaċċjaw huma dawk importati.

Fuq quddiem nett hemm l-iskart radjuattiv (mhux ħafna fil-kwantità) u li huwa prinċipalment iġġenerat minn impjanti ta’ mediċina nukleari bħall-X-Rays u magni tar-raġġi radjuattivi użati fit-trattament tal-kanċer. Dan l-aspett huwa normalment ikkunsidrat fil-kuntest tal-politika dwar l-iskart u minħabba l-kwantità żgħira ta’ skart ġġenerata tkun teħtieġ l-esportazzjoni.

Il-problema prinċipali nukleari li trid tiffaċċja Malta hi konnessa ma’ impjanti nukleari f’pajiżi oħra. Fil-Mediterran fi ftit snin ser ikun hawn proliferazzjoni ta’ impjanti b’Malta issir qiesha sandwich nukleari f’nofs il-Mediterran.

Wara d-diżastru ta’ Fukushima fil-Ġappun, id-dinja saret iżjed sensittiva u konxja tal-impatti negattivi ta’ impjanti nukleari. Dan wassal biex il-ġirien tagħna fl-Italja permezz ta’ referendum ċaħdu l-enerġija nukleari għat-tieni darba f’25 sena. Imma issa rridu niffaċċjaw problema oħra fin-nofsinhar fejn hemm pajjiżi li qed jippjanaw l-importazzjoni tat-teknoloġija nukleari minn Franza, pajjiż membru tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Huwa importanti li Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropea tieħu posizzjoni li twassal biex mal-esportazzjoni tat-teknoloġija nukleari, meta din issir, tkun esportata ukoll ir-responsabbiltà u regolamentazzjoni fil-forma ta’ trattati li permezz tagħhom il-pajjiżi li jirċievu t-teknoġija nukleari jintrabtu mal-istess regoli applikabbli fl-Unjoni Ewropea.

Bħal diversi pajjiżi oħra Malta hawn ukoll il-preżenza tal-gass radjuattiv radon. Materja li hi sorveljata mid-Dipartiment tas-Saħħa Ambjentali imma li dwarha ftit hawn informazzjoni pubbblika. Alternattiva Demokratika timpenja ruħha li din il-materja tingħata iktar attenzjoni.