The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Review tribunal orders Central Link project work suspended pending outcome of appeal

Kevin Schembri Orland Tuesday, 8 October 2019, 17:00 Last update: about 7 days ago

The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has ordered the suspension of works on the Central Link Project pending the outcome of the appeal.

Fifteen eNGOs and residents had filed an appeal against the controversial Central Link permit which they say will see the take-up of nearly 50,000 square metres of agricultural land, the uprooting of several hundred trees and the demolition of vernacular buildings of heritage value.

The appellants had on that day, also filed a request for the suspension of any works on site pending the outcome of the appeal, as they stressed that during the course of the processing of the application, various breaches of planning laws, policies, potential irreversible damage to Grade 1 Scheduled monuments, heritage buildings, principles of sustainability and the long-term detrimental effect on public health and safety were completely ignored. Today's decision dealt with this suspension pending the final outcome of the appeal. The Board noted that the appeal needs to be concluded by 8 November.

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The appellants noted that the applicant agency Infrastructure Malta has a track record of commencing works without the necessary permits, citing urgency or other constraints. They previously noted that if buildings are already demolished, agricultural land excavated and trees uprooted, appeals can become expensive exercises in futility.

During Tuesday's sitting, environmentalist and lawyer Claire Bonello argued that there are various reasons why the project should be suspended, arguing that to give such a suspension, then three criteria need to be satisfied - that the prejudice created would be disproportionate to the situation were the project not to be suspended, that the development cannot simply be turned back, and that the request is not frivolous.

Bonello argued that the project would have a huge impact on large areas of agricultural land, on farmers, will have an impact on hundreds of trees, will have a visual impact and will effect heritage buildings.

Another factor, she said, is that the development cannot simple be reversed.

The applicant's representative, lawyer Ian Stafrace, argued that the applicant has no objection to the suspension of works pending appeal on works that do not fall under Development Notification Orders (DNO). This type of application is for any proposed development which does not have an impact on the site context and on neighbouring residences. There are 19 category classes of permitted development. For this type of application the public is not notified of proposed works.  The reason for this, he said, was so as not to prejudice any other or future projects that Infrastructure Malta currently operate under DNOs.

Bonello said that none of the works fall under DNOs, arguing that the class of works falling under DNOs are those in the planning schemes, works on existing roads, work that does not change the direction of traffic, enhancements of traffic islands or roundabouts that exist and cannot be on ODZ land. A vast amount of the project is on ODZ, she said.

"Another reason why it should be suspended is that the appellants want to conduct a traffic count exercise using experts who are independent. If changes to traffic lights etc. take place then we cannot replicate the situation to when the EIA took place," Bonello said.

She also said that there was also no road safety audit and that a road safety impact assessment did not take place.

Stafrace took aim at Bonello's statement that the appellants want to conduct a traffic count exercise now, after they attacked the Environment Impact Assessment and created doubts on the integrity of the people who had drawn it up. He noted that this has an impact on the merits of the case.

Countering this, Bonello argued that the public received the cost benefit analysis of this application after they had filed appeal."

It was never accessible for public and was only made public after Freedom of Information request was filed to ERA.  We have a case where cost benefit analysis on traffic counts was not shown to the PA board or made public. So we need to conduct this alternative analysis now."

During the sitting, the EPRT Board took note of a declaration sent by Cabinet describing the project as one of national importance.


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