Recently, Parliament passed laws touted as a tool for sustainable management of the country’s land resources. The land laws have largely been presumably necessitated by many factors, including the global push towards sustainable development, land disputes, elitist and inappropriate land acquisitions by foreigners.
Parliament deserves a pat on the back, but it also needs to urgently enact laws to regulate building construction activities.
Presently, the country does not have properly constituted building regulations. Most building work goes unregulated.
In planning areas, probably with the exception of Blantyre City which apparently has relevant by-laws, guidance on construction matters hinges on obsolete colonial rules.
These guidelines and by-laws seem to attach exclusive preeminence on the structural integrity of building structures leaving out other equally important aspects such as the buildings’ environmental performance, indoor environmental quality, aesthetic appeal and safety.
A tour of urban centres will show buildings that appear structurally sound, but score dismally on the aesthetic scale. There are new buildings constructed using toxic materials banned elsewhere.
Building regulations provide minimum standards for the design, construction and alterations of all buildings within a particular jurisdiction. They protect public health, safety and general welfare and orderliness within the built environment.
The government has a responsibility of developing these regulations for Parliament’s approval.
Generally, the building regulations ought to perform five functions: laying out of a clear framework for approvals and monitoring of building work, specification of acceptable building materials, prescription of appropriate building configuration technologies, provision of tools for measuring and monitoring buildings’ environmental performance and empowerment of the public to question and, where necessary, seek intervention against inappropriate building activity.
Prior to the commencement of building work in a planning area, permission must be granted by relevant development control authorities.
Ideally, the development control authorities ought to monitor adherence to approved plans.
The granting of permissions is the norm in the country while the monitoring part is not robust. Enactment of the building regulations would further entrench the need for such approval and monitoring processes.
The suitability of building materials takes into consideration many factors, including toxicity, strength, imperviousness as well as thermal and acoustic conductivity.Drawing from these parameters, the building regulations ought to make specifications of materials that are acceptable with the ultimate consideration given to the protection of public health, safety and environment. .
Research shows that the building industry contributes quite significantly towards environmental degradation. Discourse on sustainable development would be incomplete without the inclusion of this industry.
The building regulations ought to provide the necessary tools for measuring buildings’ environmental impact.
Some building work can be iconically ugly or environmentally insensitive such that even the lay citizenry can notice. The regulations ought to empower the public to question such work and if necessary seek interventions against this.
All countries within the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region have building regulations. This speaks volumes of the pivotal role of these regulations in the country’s development control activities amid the global drive towards sustainability. n