The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Pembroke tunnels, road-network project details published; concerns on heritage sites raised

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 9 October 2019, 10:55 Last update: about 6 days ago

Plans for the road network in and around Paceville, including the controversial Pembroke tunnels, have finally been made public.

The application was filed last May, but plans have only just been released. The proposed development, which includes road widening, tunnel connections and overall junction improvements, is, according to the applicant, intended to address trallic demand in the area by maximizing the use of the existing road space and improving the capacity of the surrounding links and junctions.

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The proposal is for a network upgrade of the Pembroke-St Julians connection including widening of Triq Sant’ Andrija and Triq Anzio, construction of a tunnel connections between Regional Road and Triq Santu Wistin and Triq Walter Ganado, a tunnel connection between Triq il-Knisja and Triq San Gorg, a tunnel connection between Triq Xatt ta’ San Gorg and Coast Road and other junctions at Spinola, Triq Elia Zammit, Triq Sant’ Andrija and Triq is-Sajjieda 

Infrastructure Malta has been under scrutiny lately for having kept them under wraps. Recently, the Commissioner for Environment and Planning within the Ombudsman's office demanded that Infrastructure Malta immediately publish its plans for road works at St Andrew's-Pembroke, saying that it is not acceptable to say that the project is still in its infancy. The Commissioner made the statement following a complaint by Independent candidate Arnold Cassola.

Some objections to the project have already been filed.

ENGO Futur Ambjent Wiehed argues that the proposed development does not contribute to modal shift and sustainable transport, and that the tunnels threaten the contextuality and stability of scheduled buildings and scheduled sites.

The eNGO states that the impact of the whole development has not been assessed in a holistic and indepth manner by means of a Strategic Environment Assessment and/or Environment Assessment. These points were also reiterated by independent candidate Arnold Cassola, who also filed an objection.

Cassola also highlighted that the major issue in the area is the traffic going or coming from the North to the Regional Road. “In this respect, the real way of addressing the problem would be to double or even triple the public transport on the route Cirkewwa to Valletta, via Swieqi, St. Julian's, Sliema. Then, if any tunnel has to be dug out, this should be a tunnel beneath the main road, St. Andrew's Road, from the Regional Road till past High Ridge and Pembroke in order to join the Coast road.”

“But Infrastructure Malta is not interested in alleviating the traffic jams North-to Swieqi and vice-versa; its only concern is to accommodate the megalomaniac building projects in the area (DB, Corinthia, Villa Rosa, Mercury House etc.) and therefore it is proposing a series of local tunnels, which will only serve to accommodate the flow of trucks, bowsers, cranes, concrete mixers etc that will be servicing the big projects. The needs of the thousands of residents of Pembroke, Swieqi, St. Julian's, Paceville are totally ignored and they will be made to suffer from polluted air and unending noise forever, in order to give birth to an infrastructural project that will only benefit the business community” Cassola said.

Part of the project, from the plans, would indeed run a road right to the Corinthia, db Group and Villa Rosa projects, and seems to intend to expand the road there.

The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has weighed in on the application, noting that the initial review of the documents as received indicates actual and potential impact on a number of cultural heritage sites and features. These features include - Gardens that are part of the scheduled palazzo in the Spinola area;  Ghar Harq Hammien and its surroundings including archaeological features; Scheduled rifle ranges at Pembroke with their protected natural environs; Scheduled Military Parade Ground and Military Complex at Pembroke; Cluster of Scheduled Monuments at Spinola Junction and Historical Civil Engineering Works along the sea-front.

It notes, on Harq Hammien Valley, that it is an Area of Ecological Importance and Site of Scientific Importance. “The area also has a degree of archaeological sensitivity, as evidenced by the cart ruts identified along the northern ridge of the valley. The proposed tunnel crossing the valley requires further information to assess its impact. Specifically, section drawings of the tunnel and visual renderings of the pedestrian link will be required for the assessment.”

In terms of the Harq Hammien Cave, it notes that it may be impacted by the works. “A clear methodology is to be indicated, with provision to avoid any damage and fissures extending into the scheduled site.  The Superintendence notes that this area and the features within it are already subject to potential impact from the proposed development of major hotels and hospitality facilities in the vicinity. Planning is to ensure that the cumulative effect of such development does not cause damage or destruction to significant cultural or geological features.”

The Superintendence also took note of “the pressing need for the compilation and presentation of information on cultural heritage features that fall within the scope of the proposed works. Such information should further guide the designer of the proposed project to ensure adequate routing and methodology, so as to safeguard the cultural heritage.”

 The Superintendence further said that a project of such scope and extent will require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), or an equivalent exercise. “The Planning Authority is to ensure that such an Assessment will include assessment of the cultural heritage features within the scope of the project, including archaeological features and the built heritage. Given the presence of Harq Ghar Hammiem, the assessment is also to include an adequate geological assessment. The Superintendence will comment further on this application on receipt of amended drawings and further information.”

The Environment and Resources Authority however has not yet asked for an EIA, instead only asking for a Project Description Statement.

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