The Malta Developers Association (MDA) has welcomed the Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry but expressed concerns about some of the recommendations that were made by the three-person board conducting the inquiry, particularly on the requirement of a full planning application for industrial estates.

20-year-old Jean Paul Sofia lost his life in December 2022 during the collapse of a building on government land in Corradino, an industrial estate. His parents fought tirelessly for a public inquiry. On Wednesday, a report on the inquiry was made public, finding that the site in question was essentially uncontrolled and unregulated, pointing blame against a raft of entities.

The late Jean Paul Sofia

The MDA, while “agreeing with most of the recommendations”, appealed for a number of them to be “thoroughly assessed by an Inter-Ministerial Committee, rather than simply transposed”.

One of the recommendations was for a full planning permit to be attained for projects being carried out on public land. Current practice for projects on industrial estates are expedited through the Planning Authority through Development Notification Orders.

On this recommendation, the MDA said it required “a much more detailed analysis”, cautioning that obtaining a full planning permit “will significantly increase the lead time for any attraction of investment”. In essence, the MDA is expressing concern that obtaining a full planning permit will lead to major delays in the amount of time that passes from when a potential project is able to attract necessary investment. Lengthy delays run the risk of deterring investment.

The inquiry was critical of Malta Enteprise, Malta’s economic development agency and INDIS Malta, the largest operator of industrial parks in Malta and Gozo, responsible for the administration of government-owned estates. Malta Enterprise was chastised for permitting the allocation of land to the developers responsible for the site development, AllPlus ltd, without carrying out the necessary checks, while INDIS Malta rubber stamped Malta Enterprise’s decision, without doing its own checks.

Regarding both entities, the public inquiry recommended that Malta Enterprise and INDIS Malta be merged into a single entity, reversing a previous decision to split the organisation. It also called for a revision of the procedures surrounding land allocation to be more robust.

On this recommendation, the MDA said “the different roles of Malta Enterprise and INDIS should be fully appreciated while not doubling bureaucracy. We are making these points even though they do not impact directly our members but affect our country”.

On the recommendation to increase bank guarantees to amount to 20 per cent of construction values, “one should consider a wider reform that classifies contractors,” the MDA said.

“It is also crucial to reflect on its broader societal implications, particularly the potential burden on homeowners due to escalating costs. Furthermore, it’s imperative to recognise that augmenting bureaucratic processes may inadvertently contribute to rising housing prices.

Emphasising this perspective is essential to foster informed decision-making that prioritises the well-being of the community and promotes equitable access to affordable housing.”

Reacting to the inquiry more broadly, the MDA described it as an “important cornerstone in the modernisation of the construction industry”.

It said that one of the main points made had been pushed by the MDA for years, namely the mandatory insurance policy for all contractors in order for them to be licensed.

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