The Malta Independent 23 August 2019, Friday

PA Board approves Central Link project despite numerous objections by Attard residents

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 18 July 2019, 17:41 Last update: about 2 months ago

The Central Link project has been approved by the Planning Authority board on Thursday, despite many objections by Attard residents.

This application involves the restructuring of junctions, the inclusion of bypass lanes between Mrieħel and Rabat and the construction of a new bypass road to re-route traffic from Attard to Żebbuġ. This bypass is proposed to be constructed adjacent to Triq Oliver Agius, Triq Ferdinandu Inglott and Triq Tumas Chetcuti, and consists of two unidirectional lanes allowing traffic flow in a westward direction. The proposal also includes the widening of roads.

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Infrastructure Malta Head Frederick Azzopardi delivered a presentation to the Planning Authority board on the project. He explained that along the route, there are four traffic lights to control traffic, however said that all lights will be removed through the project.

Azzopardi highlighted that a number of options were considered prior to this particular project being proposed. He said that the project will result in an increase of trees, the creation of segregated cycle lanes along the whole stretch, public transport facilities and pedestrian crossings, reduced travel times, improvements in air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.

Azzopardi continued, and said that without the average speed on Triq Mdina without this project will, by 2030, be 1.85km/h, and with the project be 40.21 km/h. He stressed that without the project there will be a gridlock. He highlighted that a gridlock would have negative health benefits due to emissions.

"If nothing is done, particulate matter emissions will increase by 278% by 2030."

He highlighted that a social impact assessment was conducted, and that 82% of the people who responded were in favour of the project. "85% also said that they agree the project would reduce traffic."

Among the 1,400 objections received, concerns were raised on the loss of agricultural land, the loss of hundreds of trees, and that widening roads leads to increased car usage.

An AIS Environment representative, who conducted studies for Infrastructure Malta, said that the whole project will take around 18 months to construct. It will be divided into 3 stages. To compensate for the loss of the trees, the applicant will plant 766 trees, the representative said.

Former Opposition Leader and PN MP Simon Busuttil said that this application should be refused. He said that this project will not improve people's quality of life. He said that every public policy must have the quality of life of people as the number one objective. Busuttil said that there are around 1,200 people who, through this project, will effectively live in a centre strip. He said that more roads equals more cars. "Every transport expert says this." The project, he said, would see agricultural land equivalent to double the amount of land the government gave in the Zonqor point deal.

Carmel Cacopardo said that the scope of the project is to address congestion and the problems being caused. He said that the difficulty is that the project, instead of addressing the cause, is addressing the effect. He said that Malta has a Transport Master Plan that indicated the problems and solutions, highlighting that the situation today is a result of a lack of long-term planning. He said this project has a lack of long-term planning. He asked whether, since the master plan indicates that there are ways to significantly reduce congestion, "then why is this project needed?"

Christian Scerri, who researches cancer in Malta, said he was representing a group of residents. He said that every study abroad shows that if you widen roads, then emissions increase, not decrease, "yet studies by a private company in Malta show otherwise," referring to consultants employed by the applicant.

Environmentalist Astrid Vella brought up the removal of over 500 trees, and said that she cannot imagine how someone could take a decision to remove so many, when the country has so many air quality issues.

Christine Cassar from Moviment Graffitti noted that a number of people from Ian Borg's Ministry were present and questioned if they took leave to be present or otherwise.

A number of farmers questioned what is going to happen to them, given the amount of land they are going to lose. "What is going to happen to us?" one asked.

Attard PL local councillor Victor Galea said that Wied is - Sewda should be the Chadwick lakes of Attard as compensation, with benches, spaces for children to play etc.

PL Local councillor Helen Caruana Zammit Lewis also spoke, in favour of the proposal. She highlighted that many Attard residents already have respiratory problems. "If the Board sends back the central link to the drawing board, this problem will again be sent under the carpet."The problem has to be addressed, she said, adding that this is the sentiment of the majority of Attard residents. Someone yelled out "it is not true that you are from Attard," To which she said she has lived there for three years. Attard Mayor Stefan Cordina said that what local councillor Caruana Zammit Lewis said that the majority of residents want this project is not true.

PL Deputy Mayor of Dingli spoke in favour of the project as did two Attard residents.

Many of the objectors seemed to be in favour of some project happening, but not as was proposed by Infrastructure Malta.

PN Deputy Leader David Agius said that it will be hard to get €55 million in EU funds for what is essentially a bypass in a town. These funds, he said, could be used better for this project. Proposed solving the bottlenecks individually, sitting round a table and discussing solutions.

The Infrastructure Malta Head said that simulations had been done but they did not work. On the tunnel, he said that it deals with direct traffic but traffic coming from the sides aren't solved. He stressed that this project is qualified for EU funds. He also said that Infrastructure Malta is speaking with farmers, but the farmers present said it was not true as they were not spoken to.

He said that this project will help reduce traffic problems in Lija as well. He spoke of moving traffic out of the Attard centre, onto the Ten-T network.

PN MP Marthese Portelli, NGO representative Annick Bonello Cassar, and the Attard local council representative were the only board members who voted against. During the meeting, PA Board Chairman Vince Cassar voted in favour saying the project is needed, however appealed to Infrastructure Malta to improve certain issues brought up by residents. ERA Chairman Victor Asciak voted in favour of the application, as did the rest of the board.


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