Surge in building permits given three-year grace period

A total of 18,518 development permits have been given a three-year grace period by the Planning Authority (PA), which is offering an extension to the permit owners in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

This new data supplements the original number reported by The Shift in March, which focused solely on the 3,411 permits that will expire in 2020. The number of permits due to expire between 2020 and 2022, which will be extended through the planning authority’s scheme, has increased by almost five times, according to answers received from the PA.

The permit extension, which was announced in a legal notice published in March, states that any development permit which, on the date of entry into force of these regulations, is still within its period of validity but which is due to expire by, or any date earlier to 31 December 2022, shall have its remaining period of validity extended by an additional three years.

This extension has been granted to give some breathing space to permit owners in light of the economic situation created by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to figures provided to The Shift by the PA, the extended permits due to expire in 2021 amount to 6,110, while another 8,997 will expire in 2022. This increases the total number of permits to 18,518 – a substantial leap from the 3,400 permits that are due to expire this year.

The number of permits set to expire in 2020 double in 2021 and almost triple in 2022, reflecting an increase in development.

Following the publication of the legal notice, both the government and the PA said the extension would allow some leeway in construction, allowing towns and villages a breather from multiple construction sites.

However, the extent of relief from a construction-prevalent climate is questionable when taking into consideration that 12,855 permits were approved in 2018 and another 12,485 in 2019. 

According to a report, these last two years set the mark for the two highest number of permits granted per year.

The permits given the three-year grace period will, therefore, open a window for the construction work to be prolonged and carried out within the same timeframe alongside such high volumes of development.

The PA said that the measure was being put in place as it took into context the circumstances that emerged from the COVID-19 outbreak. The measures also aim to facilitate the completion of a number of projects, ensure that the rights of those granted permits are safeguarded and avoid contractors and developers rushing to meet the expiration date. 

The authority said the extension would help to keep the negative impact on the environment in check and prevent current permit holders from having to carry out a significant amount of works within short periods, once normality is restored.

It is highly unlikely that construction will slow down because of the pandemic because, so far, it hasn’t.

In March, emergency physician Jonathan Joslin appealed for non-essential construction around the island to stop “immediately” as a good part of households were on lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic – to prevent construction-related injuries from taking precious space at the hospital.

The physician also linked construction noise with higher levels of trauma within the community, explaining that a large percentage of major trauma incidents handled by the Emergency Department over the past year resulted from construction sites. “(They) are a drain on our health resources which should be directed towards COVID patient management,” he wrote.

The issue of overzealous development was cast further under the spotlight over the past year, after a series of major house collapses occurred in less than a year, resulting in injuries of residents as well as one fatal house collapse.

On Monday, Chamber of Architects President Simone Vella Lenicker told The Shift that she is hoping that the slower pace brought about by the outbreak will result in all parties involved in the development sector to take a deeper look at Malta’s current situation and see if all aligned with international regulations.

                           
                               
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