The Malta Independent 13 November 2019, Wednesday

Central link – the undisputed facts

Tara Cassar Tuesday, 5 November 2019, 09:39 Last update: about 8 days ago

Last year, in early July 2018, the call for tenders for the construction of the Central Link project closed.

The public consultation period on the planning application had not yet even opened. A year later, in July 2019, the mammoth road-widening project was approved by the Planning Board.

Several residents, and eNGOs, are appealing this project mainly because it goes diametrically against the 2006 local plans which regulate the matter.

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To be clear, it is true that in the 2006 local plans, a 30m wide corridor stretching 1.3km along the edge of Attard (from Triq Tumas Chetcuti to Triq Oliver Agius) was ear-marked for a possible bypass.

However, it is absolutely not true that the 2006 local plans made provisions for the widening of the road extending from the western end of Triq Tumas Chetcuti to the Mdina/Zebbuġ roundabout leading to Rabat, into a 4-lane bypass. Nor did the 2006 local plans make provisions for the widening of the road from the eastern end of Triq Oliver Agius to the MFSA junction in Mrieħel, into a 6-lane bypass, as was approved in the Central Link road-widening project.

The Central Link will lead to the asphalting of a 4km stretch of land that falls outside the development zone (ODZ), which goes well beyond the reserved 1.3km corridor.

Through this road-widening, 48,466sqm of agricultural land will be lost. Under the 2006 local plan this land is meant to be protected and preserved in order to ensure the retention of its distinct rural landscape and to support the livelihood of the farmers dependent on it. Instead, through the Central Link project, farmers are being pushed out of their fields, in order to accommodate more cars. The impact of the project on these farmers was completely ignored in the Social Impact Assessment.

The very impetus behind the possible bypass provisioned for in the local plan of 2006 was to remove cars from Attard’s urban core and away from residents. This was to be achieved by limiting access along the existing road network, that connects Mrieħel and Rabat through Attard via Triq in-Nutar Zarb and Triq iz-Zagħran, to residents and people travelling to Attard, thereby removing a substantial number of vehicles from this densely populated urban area.

The Central Link project outright fails to do that.

Instead of moving the cars outside of the urban core, the Central Link will turn these roads into a unidirectional bypass.  As a result, hundreds of residents would now become land-locked, sandwiched between a bypass along Triq TumasChetcuit/Triq Oliver Agius to the South, and another bypass along Triq Iz-Zagħfran/Triq in-NutarZarb to the North. Through this, the Central Link is impoverishing the health and safety of hundreds of residents.

The 2006 local plan also clearly states that, should the bypass option be chosen, a number of bus prioritization measures must be applied. Here, the Central Link project fails again. Buses were not prioritized. There is no strategic bus corridor. ‘Selective bus detection’ systems, that identify buses and slow down approaching vehicles to make it possible for buses to exit bus laybys, were also not included.

Infrastructure Malta in fact reduced the number of bus stops from 18 to 11, and then – in a move which short-changes non-car users – reduced the number of pelican crossings from 14 to 9.

The uprooting of trees (549 in total, 272 of which are listed under the Tree Protection Regulations) was also not provisioned for in the 2006 Local Plans. To mention one example, twelve of the Aleppo pines being uprooted along Triq l-Imdina lie in an area scheduled as a Listed Ecological Area under the 2006 Local Plans. This entire ecosystem will be asphalted over through Central Link.

As if the environmental, health, social and infrastructural shortcomings weren’t enough, the Central Link will also have a devastating impact on cultural heritage.

In all ,13 vernacular buildings, that stand in the way of Central Link, will be lost. Five of these buildings are recognized as being of distinct heritage value, three of which form part of the ‘Taħtir-Raħal’ hamlet at the southern end of Attard.

A heritage expert described the hamlet as being ‘one of the distinctive landmarks of the village and its cultural landscape’, made up of winding roads that cluster around the early 18thcentury chapel of Saint Paul.

The loss of historical buildings within this small hamlet (bizarrely proposed to be dismantled and stored for an undisclosed period) was never conceived in the 2006 Local Plans. Contrarily, the 2006 local plans (still applicable today) designated ‘Taħtir-Raħal’, as an Urban Conservation Area, to ensure its protection and preservation. Prioritizing a bypass over a hamlet is not preservation.

The thrust of the Central Link is the very opposite of what is projected in the 2006 local plans that are being misinterpreted and skewed by those hell-bent on pushing forward this monster project. 

A decision on the appeal lodged by residents and eNGOs will be given by the tribunal on Thursday 7th November 2019. Residents and eNGOS will continue insisting on sustainable infrastructure carried out in accordance to plans and policies and not on unsustainable, outdated and unscientific projects - the likes of which have long been discarded in other countries.

Tara Cassar is an architect focusing on planning policies and environmental issues related to land-use, active with a number of local eNGOs.

[email protected]

 

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