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The age of chaos - Paul Radmilli

We are living under a government characterised by complete inertia with respect to planning the impact of construction on our everyday lives.

With even a modicum of planning, the negative impact of construction would be drastically reduced.

Staggered extensions to medium-sized apartment blocks is one of the main causes of inconvenience unnecessarily spread over a long period of time, disrupting the lives of  both neighbours and the new residents. Why is it that a block of apartments gets built, then once the floors are up and offices have started operating at ground floor, the developers are given a permit for additional floors?

As a councillor, I get calls from new residents or office workers who are desperate to get out of a building block’s garage because they are trapped inside by heavy vehicles being operated to construct an additional top-floor development. Is it so difficult to plan the exact number of floors, and start and finish within a stipulated time frame, completing the block before it is inhabited?

Why is development staggered to the point that construction that can be completed within two years takes five, because the owners dream up another duplex apartment and add another penthouse?

This nuisance could easily be regulated by only allowing a further application for additional floors after a period of years of obtaining the first permit.

Regulating a development into one planned construction phase is a win-win, as the developer gets the desired floors and the construction inconvenience is reduced, rather than the prevalent practice of fits and starts.

This same logic applies to planning development in a street. There are some streets, such as dead end streets, where placing a crane blocks up the whole street.

Or else the streets are so narrow that any heavy vehicle entering the site would require the removal of parking along the whole street.

Money would be far better spent on master plans and increasing the capacity of authorities to manage the construction chaos we live in

Another issue arises when the road is a main thoroughfare, particularly for public transport, causing traffic mayhem.

Authorities should study the possibility of phasing construction in particular streets. There must be stricter time frames for the completion of works which disrupt traffic flows.

At present, parking is removed for site A, then two months later for site B and so forth, when it could be more expedient to coordinate all sites in a particular street while halting construction in surrounding streets to ensure traffic rerouting is possible.

Mandatory smaller vehicle use is another solution to mitigating the damage caused to pavements in narrow inner streets.

Councils may play a role in this coordinated effort of street closures, but the truth is that the extent of development is so widespread, so prolonged in view of added floor permits, that in many localities it is unmanageable at council level.

The Planning Authority is saying in replies to Sliema local council appeals in front of the tribunal that the council in conjunction with other entities can prepare a master plan for the area.

The council has been giving its advice on how to better organise construction for years. However, expecting the Council to kick-start the process for a master plan in a locality where on every street there is construction taking place and a likelihood that towers twice the height of Portomaso will be erected in the coming years is delusional. You can’t first create a royal mess of planning with no consideration for the construction phase and then expect the council to come up with a master plan to sort out the mess. This is a dereliction of duty by the Labour government.

We urgently need a construction agency which has powers over the planning process in determining time frames for construction and the management of traffic when heavy vehicles are involved.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s government needs to wake up from its slumber wherein planning considerations end at the point when a permit is issued.

In Sliema, within a few square metres of each other, there are before the Planning Authority applications for the demolition of a considerable part of the Fortina Hotel, to be rebuilt as a 15-storey residential complex, the construction of the 40-storey Fort Cambridge hotel just behind and the 38-storey Townsquare development, with its appeal nearing its final stage.

Money spent on studies would be far better spent on master plans and increasing the capacity of authorities to manage the construction chaos we live in, rather than gloating over how resilient the sector is.

It is in the sector’s interest that the country does not come to a traffic standstill.

Labour’s priority is not us residents, but being business friendly.

It is no coincidence that for the Paceville hoteliers, a master plan was drawn up, but no master plan was drafted for residential localities in the rest of Malta.

Paul Radmilli is a PN local councillor for Sliema.

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