The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

Rabat promenade gets the green light from Planning Authority

Albert Galea Thursday, 9 July 2020, 15:21 Last update: about 26 days ago

An application to construct a promenade on the outskirts of Rabat overlooking a picturesque valley was given the green light by the Planning Authority on Thursday.

Despite 1,156 objections and arguments against the project by the Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak, the project was approved. Axiak voted against, along with NGO representative Annick Bonello and Gilmour Camilleri.

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The project was initially meant to come before the PA board two weeks ago, but the sitting had to be postponed after the authority’s online meetings system struggled with the amount of people who wanted to attend the meeting.

Filed in 2018 by the Transport and Infrastructure Ministry, the project envisages a promenade being constructed along Triq Tat-Tabija, Triq Gheriexem in Rabat, and will involve alterations to the carriageway, the construction of a promenade, the installation of infrastructural services, paving works, installation of street furniture and the provision of parking spaces.

It will also see uprooting of 16 trees, including one which is believed to be amongst the oldest fig trees on the island, and the loss of almost 2,000 square metres of ODZ land.

The site overlooks a valley known as ‘Wied tal-Gnien Hira’ and this particular area is scheduled as an Area of High Landscape.

“The site is currently a local access road going around the northern edge of Rabat. The road leads to the Nigret recreational area and Għajn: The National Water Conservation Awareness Centre from the Domus Romana. Triq Tat-Tabija and Triq Għeriexem currently have a total of 15 formal parking spaces and four bus stops. The outer side of the road does not have any pavements, whilst the pavements along the inner side of the road are fragmented and some of the stretches of the road are narrow,” the case officer’s report read.

The Case Officer’s report reads that the existing carriageways will be modified to better accommodate the traffic passing through these roads, but the proposed widening will not create any additional lanes.

Objectors in the meetings argued strongly against the project, citing archaeological factors in the area which is the same area of the archaeological hotspot of the Roman Villa.

Activists insisted that archaeological investigations should be carried out before the permit is granted, and not after – a point which led to Gilmour Camilleri voting against the application.

Camilleri, who is one of the new additions to the board, also lamented the lack of a social impact assessment.

Rabat mayor Sandro Craus – who is also an OPM official – voted in favour of the project, and actually suggested that those opposing the project should shoulder responsibility if any deaths occur because the current road is structurally unsafe in place.

The suggestion earned a stark rebuttal from Annick Bonello who said that their objections were based on heritage and ecological considerations, and that nobody was protesting the need to strengthen the road.

Botanist Timothy Tabone made a passionate appeal against the project due to the loss of the trees below it, including one of the oldest and largest fig tree on the island – comparing the loss of this tree in particular to the loss of St. John’s Co-Cathedral.

Both residents and farmers lamented at the lack of consultation on the project, with one resident saying that she had only heard of the project from a PA notice appearing on the site. To this, the project architect said that discussions had been held with the Rabat local council.

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