The Malta Independent 4 June 2020, Thursday


Rachel Borg Saturday, 20 July 2019, 09:13 Last update: about 12 months ago

Central Link Attard Project.  This is the project planned by the Ministry for Infrastructure and Planning to address the congestion of traffic around the narrow roads through Balzan, Lija and Attard to Rabat and back.  It is highly controversial and has been met by protest from a purposely set up group called the Attard Residents Environmental Network and all the established and known activist and environmental groups such as Din l’art Helwa, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar and Graffiti Movement.


The reason for protest is that the environmental concerns over loss of arable land, quality of life for residents of the region, the destruction of 300-year old trees (how many remains a matter of conjecture as the plans are not upload to the PA website), the effect on air pollution and on local culture.

Minister Ian Borg has declared that the original scope of the project dates back a decade or more.  Could the reason for that be that the trees date by three centuries or more and trumped the cars?  A few metres drive from Rabat and you are in Buskett Forest.  The trees here go back to the time of the Knights of St John and are the emblem, one might say, of the Dingli, Buskett, Rabat and Mdina central zone.  The identity of the Maltese is one with its old capital, Mdina, preceding even Valletta.  To rip out the trees of the old Rabat road is like driving a knife through the belly of our nation.  History, nature, warfare, nobility, tradition and culture intertwine amongst the trees lining the Rabat road, leading up in fine ceremony to the majestic jewel of Mdina.  Actually, as a tourist attraction, the city of Mdina incorporates the Rabat road, the ancient trees, the catacombs of Rabat and Ta’ Qali.

Concerns about the destruction and environmental impact are dismissed by the Minister as silly interference and a big nuisance whilst not reflecting the actual plans of the project. Why then are the plans not made available and openly discussed?  What is there to hide?

In northern Italy, the No TAV movement was established 23 years ago in Susa Valley, in the Italian alps west of Turin, in opposition to the proposed New Turin–Lyon high-speed/high-capacity railway project, referred to as TAV (an acronym for high-speed train, treno ad alta velocità).

Indeed, the local populace appears to have rejected inertia and subservience, and transformed the art of getting by (l’arte di arrangiarsi) into a sense of empowerment and involvement.

The methods of protest, not just by the people of Susa Valley but also those who support them from Palermo to Venice and from Stuttgart to London, are varied: from theatrical works to hunger strikes, from assemblies and conferences to polenta dinners, and from races around the work site to spells cast by a circle of women at night. There are small contributions full of significance like a young woman who played the violin on an occupied toll highway, and grand gestures like sitting peacefully before dozens of riot police in an act of civil disobedience risking arrest and more.
The movement itself is democratic, grassroots (with no single economic, gender or age-related predominance) and political but with no clear political affiliations.

It is an example of a people well rooted in their territory and traditions that is open toward its nation and Europe creating channels of information, sometimes unconventional, and connections of reciprocal solidarity.

The 5-Star government is in favour of the project going ahead.

As a country, we are diminished greatly already by the onslaught of demolition, excavation and construction, the unsustainable number of cars around, pollution, the ever-increasing population on a limited parcel of land.  This new assault is the final twist of the knife, a take-over of business over humanity. 

Whichever way the decision goes by the PA on whether the project goes ahead or not, the mentality of widening roads at any cost has now gone deeper than the roots of the trees, it seems.  If it’s not this project then it’s a carbon copy one.  Unrelenting assault on our senses and our culture. 

Naturally, people who drive on this route and get stuck in traffic for hours are probably divided on rejecting it.  The problem though, is that Malta’s government has imposed an unsustainable economic model on us and expanded historic towns and villages into residential and commercial bands, way beyond the capacity for their size.  Villas replaced by huge blocks of flats, fields with ribbons of retail and commercial outlets.  Fuel stations on previously agricultural land.  More and more people flooding the same roads and moving from north to south and east to west in one day. 


Abroad, urbanization takes place with planning and sustainability.  After 25 years, Madrid’s Chamartín megaproject is about to get underway. The plan will create over 240,000 jobs and revitalize the economy.  Madrid Nuevo Norte, formerly known as Operation Chamartín, is a €7.3 billion megaproject in the north of the capital involving 3.3 million square meters of land and nearly 10,500 new housing units, office space, business premises and green areas.  The plan also seeks to bring the Chamartín train station railyards underground, eliminating the physical barrier they now create between Plaza de Castilla and Avenida de Burgos. A large park covering 120,000 square meters will take their place.  Most importantly, though, the people who will work in the area will most likely be living there or travelling by train.

José Manuel Calvo, a former urban planning official who worked on the megaproject, said that there are several basic changes to the previous draft. The first change turned a model based on private vehicle transit to one where 80% of trips will be made on public transportation.

This in turn meant placing private buildings – those with office space, stores and hotels – near the train station, rather than around the M-30 ring road as previous planned. And the amount of subsidized housing was raised from 10% -- the minimum required by law – to 20%.

This change was brought about by public pressure and compromise.  It is not about one person and his or her power and single-minded job and a hard-hat.

Over 60% of the space is reserved for service-based activities such as offices, stores, hotels and restaurants, compared with 35.46% for housing. A further 1.3 million square meters will be used to develop public transportation, green areas and street furniture.

Rather than trying to make the best use of the small space we have on our islands and preserving the identity and character of our towns and villages, the present administration is intent on gobbling up land for speculators and business only purposes or unaffordable accommodation and doing a Jekyll and Hyde on the cores.

This time, Minister, you have hit right below the belt.

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