The Malta Independent 13 November 2019, Wednesday

Central Link appeal rejected, NGOs will take matter to court

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 7 November 2019, 13:45 Last update: about 5 days ago

The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has voted against the appeal filed against the Central Link Project, and in favour of allowing the project to get underway.

Futur Ghambjent Wiehed lawyer Claire Bonello, who was representing the appellants on the case, said the NGOs intend to take the case to court and appeal this decision at the next level.

The Central Link planning application had originally been approved by the Planning Aurhority Board in July, despite many objections by Attard residents and environmental groups. 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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Fifteen eNGOs and residents had then filed an appeal against the controversial 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 Environment and Planning Review Tribunal had ordered the suspension of works on the Central Link Project pending the outcome of the appeal, which was decided today. The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal confirmed the permission for the Central Link project by rejecting the appeal.

Following the decision, Claire Bonello said: “We are disappointed but not at all surprised by this decision. The hearings in this appeal were extraordinarily strange. We were not allowed to cross-examine Infrastructure Malta, which is the applicant. This goes beyond planning and environmental reasons and verges on breaching the basic human right to a fair hearing. In no tribunal, unless it is a kangaroo court, do you have a situation where a party is not allowed to bring forth evidence and question an agency. Infrastructure Malta is not above the law,” she said.

“Moreover we were not allowed to bring call forth witnesses from the department of contracts to testify about the tenders awarded before the application was being considered.”

She referred to news reports from 2018 where the government had announced it was going ahead with the Central Link project despite the regulator admitting that the feasibility study into other options had not yet been finalised. “There you have it black on white. These voluminous studies were not available to the public at any time before the appeal. Any information we were able to bring forth was due to our persistence through freedom of information requests and not in this forum.”

“We would also like to point out that during the process, when we cited our children’s health as some of the appellants have asthmatic children, we were told that we should be ashamed of ourselves for bringing up this issue, and that we were using our children for some kind of gain or advantage. This was shocking and impinges on the impartiality of the adjudicators. We are going to appeal as this kind of forejudging cannot be expected to take place.”

Within 20 working days the NGOs have to file the appeal before the Court of Appeal, she said. “There are even constitutional issues arising from this case,” she said, adding that they are also considering filing a constitutional case.

Asked by this newsroom whether they have a way to stop the works until the court cases are concluded, she said that the works starting before the judicial process would conclude is a realistic prospect, but added that they will try to take legal measures to stop this from taking place.

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