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Kid gloves for contractors

Growing public anger at uncontrolled development and at the impact rampant contraventions are having on the daily lives of people living in areas surrounding building sites appear to have at last stirred the authorities into action. However, before rushing to welcome the action they are taking, it is first best to see the results over the long term, not during the running-in period when they may book two or three developers just to appear as if they are making a statement of intent.

The doubt over their expected effectiveness is more than justified, firstly because of their abject failure over the years in tackling widespread abuse in an industry notoriously prone to going against every conceivable form of regulation, and secondly, because their action programme has not been carefully considered. So, the booking of a few developers for abuse in the first week or so of their action, welcome as it may well be, is not likely to impress anyone, least of all those who are suffering the brunt of errant contractors.

The Planning Authority has now joined forces with the Building Regulations Office to help it inspect building sites, an outright admission that the office has not had enough inspectors to tackle the job itself. But why are they going to restrict the duration of their joint exercise to just six weeks?

If inspections are to serve as a strong deterrent at all, as they should be, they would need to be carried out on an on-going basis, not over such a short period. This is the first indication that suggests that the action is only being taken to appease the hundreds of people who are on the receiving end of the building boom.

The second, and perhaps even stronger, indication is that they have first been pre-notified of the action and, to boot, those found in breach of the law are being given time, 15 days, within which to regularise themselves. It is only if they fail to do so that they will be fined and a stop notice issued over their works.

Treating developers and contractors with kid gloves in this blatant manner only confirms that the authorities do not seriously want to bring the industry under any form of serious control. Developers and contractors know, or ought to know, the rules and regulations well enough, and only surprise, not pre-notified, action on an on-going basis could bring some sanity in an industry that is averse to regulation, whatever its leaders may say at official level.

The list of abuses is endless, but the cherry on the cake was the case, only some days ago, of two workmen drinking beer in cans in searing afternoon heat while they were operating building machinery on site.

The inconvenience and, at times, hardship, irresponsible and uncaring developers and contractors are creating to people, particularly those who are sick, living in surrounding sites are unbelievable. What will perhaps make developers consider the welfare of those directly impacted by their works is the award of compensation for the inconvenience caused and, also, for the time in excess of that considered reasonable enough within which a building is completed.

The free-for-all in the construction industry is not going to improve unless contractors are pinched hard for misdeeds and contraventions.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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