The Malta Independent 22 July 2024, Monday
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U-turn: Mosta Mayor says ficus trees will remain in square

Wednesday, 15 November 2023, 11:58 Last update: about 9 months ago

Updated with a PN statement at 15:30

Mosta Mayor Chris Grech on Wednesday afternoon announced a u-turn over the local council's decision to uproot a number of ficus trees near the locality's parish church after significant public pressure.

"The Mosta square project was designed for the people and is being done for the people. That is why I have no difficulty in considering the people's wishes if these ficus trees can be incorporated in the project," the Mayor said on his personal Facebook page.

"For this reason, I and my fellow PL councillors who are in the majority, took note of the desire for the trees that are currently in the square not to be planted in another part of Mosta, but remain there," he said. The Mayor said that the project was designed for the community and “this is why we are listening to what the community has to say."

The original decision to have the trees removed sparked uproar not only among Mosta residents, but also among environmental activists, some of whom took direct action to stop works throughout Tuesday and then sleeping next to the trees overnight.

The local council only announced that the works were to take place at 10pm on Sunday, the night prior to the trees being butchered in preparation for their removal. The landscaping plan under which the trees were to be removed and transplanted elsewhere had the unanimous support of the local council at the time. The architects behind the Mosta square embellishment project on Tuesday said that they had nothing to do with the decision for the trees to be uprooted, and indicated that it was not within the site of their project.

Moviment Graffitti, on Tuesday morning, blocked the works from continuing, and one activist - Andre Callus - was handcuffed and dragged away by the police to the Mosta station on Tuesday afternoon. He was released soon after. Callus, who is also a Mosta local, had told this newsroom that there was no basis for his arrest as everything was being done peacefully.

As the activists pitched their tents to defend the trees overnight, the PN's Mosta local councillors - who are the minority on the council - sent a letter to the Mosta Mayor asking for an urgent meeting of the council to be held on the trees situation.

Prime Minister Robert Abela meanwhile told journalists in comments in the evening that the local council should always seek to listen to its residents and act accordingly.

The message seemingly arrived at Mosta's mayor Chris Grech's doorstep sometime on Wednesday morning, as he took to his own personal Facebook page to announce the backtracking from the council's original decision. No reference was made to the PN's councillors' request for an urgent meeting on the matter the day prior in his post.



Mayor Grech wrote on his personal Facebook page that the oak trees that were meant to replace the Ficus trees in Mosta’s square can be used to “beautify the area of Santa Margerita”, specifically Triq l-Imsaqqfin. 

He also said that for the square project, “many trees will be planted” in an effort to beautify the square.

“This is an ambitious project that I joined with my friends despite all the obstacles we encountered because we know that the Mosta community will benefit from it”, the mayor said. "It is a project that we designed for the community and that is why we are listening to what the community has to say.”

Grech continued speaking about the square’s infrastructural project, saying that “the scope of this project is not only to beautify the square, but also to provide more accessibility to the people.”

Furthermore, he mentioned that another project is planned for the area behind the Rotunda “so that the centre of Mosta can benefit from the most beautiful projects to be enjoyed by the people, increasing the greenery in the urban centre and to bring out the beauty of the Rotunda which we are so proud of more.”

The mayor did not comment on, or refer to, the protests which took place throughout Tuesday as activists sat around the trees to stop works from taking place, nor did he condemn the arrest of the activist who had been protesting at the scene and was later released.

Moviment Graffitti, which led protests on Tuesday, said in a statement on Facebook that this is a major victory for the Mosta community and another piece of evidence that change can be brought when one fights against those who want to bulldoze the people.

The NGO said that the protest scheduled for Wednesday evening in front of the Mosta local council would still take place in order to celebrate the victory, to insist that the mayor and the local council shoulder responsibility for the “obscene decision” which was only reversed because of the resistance of the people, and to call for a reform in the country’s environmental authorities – especially the ERA.

The Nationalist Party meanwhile attempted to take credit for the saving of the trees, saying that the mayor had caved in to pressure by the party, Mosta residents and “other organisations.”

The PN’s minority leader Keith Cassar together with its local council members and candidates said in a statement that it was a fact that the visit by PN leader Bernard Grech to the site and the PN councillors’ request for an urgent meeting had left the desired results.

“The Nationalist Party assures everyone that it will continue to work in favour of the best interests of the locality and its residents, and will continue to listen to their complaints, suggestions and aspirations to truly carry out a politics of service,” the party said.

The party failed to provide any explanation as to why its local councillors had also voted for the trees to be removed when the local council first discussed the matter.


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