"The industry is in crisis" - President of the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers

Helena Grech - 28th June 2019

Perit Simone Vella Lenicker laments on the state of the construction industry in Malta, warning that action must be taken quickly.

The President of the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers, Perit Simone Vella Lenicker, has not minced her words in reaction to construction incidents over the last few weeks, saying that “the industry is in crisis” when contacted for comment by The Malta Business Observer.

In a recent interview with the newspaper, she said, “unless we take immediate action, matters will only get worse.”

Under the new construction regulations which came into effect last Tuesday, each site would need a Site Technical Officer, who must be an architect and civil engineer, and who, as a warranted professional, would need to be on site and ensure that the contractor is following the method statements and construction drawings prepared by the architect and civil engineer in charge of the project.

This new role replaces the Site Manager, who did not need a warrant or any particular technical knowledge. Moreover, the new regulations state that the site’s method statement would need to be uploaded onto the Planning Authority’s map server, and be accessible to the public, with a 15-day window for concerns to be raised. Based on what Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg stated in Parliament, Perit Vella Lenicker noted that it was “clear that these new regulations will have a wide impact on the construction industry, which will need its time to adjust to the new requirements.” Those immediately affected will be the present site managers, the President continued, since they “will not be able to continue their work in this role, despite having contracts with their employers.”

Perit Simone Vella Lenicker laments on the state of the construction industry in Malta, warning that action must be taken quickly.

Perit Simone Vella Lenicker

Moreover, the changes are set to affect ancillary services and sectors as well. “It is also evident that costs of construction will now go up in no uncertain way, and this will have an impact on property prices if developers continue to expect the same rates of return they’ve enjoyed so far. It is also a fact that shocking the market with the sudden imposition of new, and more onerous requirements, will affect all those involved in the industry, their families and all other consultants.” She noted that this included “the legal profession” since “new contractual agreements will need to be drawn up to reflect the changes.” 

In parallel, the President of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, Perit David Xuereb, emphasised the importance of regulating the industry and improving the quality of its product, saying that this will have a “significant positive influence on most industries in Malta”. He noted that the amended Legal Notice is planned to be only part of a spate of new initiatives and updated legislation, saying that “the Chamber looks forward to all necessary initiatives that will raise the bar of ethical standards, quality of construction, safety to all parties and respect to all affected parties.”

The revisions come after a turbulent period in the sector. In March 2019, the roof of a Sliema building collapsed, injuring a 19-year-old worker. Some days later a wall collapsed in Tower Road, Sliema. In April of this year a block of flats in Guardamangia collapsed, and on 8th June, a four-storey block of flats in Mellieha collapsed. Less than a week later, a wall collapsed in a Pieta apartment block, very close to the building collapse in Guardamangia.

The spate of incidents led Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to stop all excavation and demolition works across Malta and Gozo on the same day of the Pieta wall collapse. From 15th June, such works in predefined touristic areas were no longer permitted. However, complaints have emerged of non-compliance. In addition to the ban, Government

also issued new guidelines for demolition, excavation and construction, followed by a short public consultation period of five days. The consultation period ended officially on Friday 21st June, with the new regulations coming into force last Tuesday and the Legal Notice was also published that evening.

Perit Vella Lenicker argues that the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers has been “calling for a complete overhaul of our [Malta’s] regulatory systems since 2007, yet very little has materialised to date.” She added that “at the end of 2018, Government proposed the establishment of a Building and Construction Authority, a proposal which the Kamra [the Chamber] fully supports, however this is still in the early stages of formulation and is not envisaged to be established before the end of the year.”

Perit Vella Lenicker highlighted detailed proposals “for a modern building and construction regulation framework, which it has already presented to various stakeholders, including Government.” Encouragingly, she added that “these proposals were endorsed by the profession, and we [the Chamber] have received very positive feedback so far.” She also revealed that the Chamber of Architects held an Extraordinary General Meeting last Friday, “wherein the profession endorsed a clear and focused way forward for both the profession as well as the industry. The Council was empowered by warrant holders to take these proposals forward and to ensure that they are implemented as soon as possible,” she added.