Saturday, 27th July, 2019
Alfred E Baldacchino
On July 18, the Planning Authority approved the Attard Central Link Project for which the EU is going to contribute €55 million.
There were a lot of questions and doubts on this project which everybody hoped a meeting would iron out. Not only were these not answered but even more doubts were cast.
The meeting was opened by the Infrastructure Malta CEO, Engineer Fredrick Azzopardi, representing the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure. He tried to convince those present that this Central Link project has many benefits. Stakeholders subsequently expressed more doubts and asked more questions, confirming the lack of public consultations.
Here is a résumé of the questions:
Those present for the meeting asked how such a project would be beneficial for full-time or part-time farmers, and those involved in animal husbandry.
There were also questions about the loss of 22,000 square metres of agricultural land and the subsequent loss of jobs due to this land being destroyed.
There were concerns about the fruit and crops in the area since these would be covered with additional emissions that would disperse across the adjacent fields.
The biodiversity of the area was also a point of concern seeing as this was facing the destruction of more than 550 trees, many of which are protected, and the loss of their contribution to climate change and the ecological niches of which they form part.
Questions were asked about the hydrological system feeding Wied is-Sewda, along with the farmers’ cisterns and the disruption of natural water flow destroyed by the project (which was unbelievably referred to as “flood water”).
Not to mention the concerns about the psychological and physical health of residents in the vicinity and beyond Attard, including those residing in Siġġiewi and Qormi, given the increase in noise pollution and toxic chemicals that the project is sure to cause.
There was also the question about the cultural heritage of the area and the number of historical constructions that would be threatened, some dating back to the times of the Knights of Malta.
Will the towers being built close to the Malta Financial Services Authority, nonchalantly approved by the lack-of-vision, commercially minded PA – definitely beyond the carrying capacity of the area – be the main beneficiaries of the public land being taken up and the EU funds being spent?
None of the social and environmental elements mentioned above is going to benefit from this EU-funded project.
None of the questions were answered by the CEO of Infrastructure Malta. None of the concerns put forward were even addressed. The Environment Impact Assessment presented gave a very superficial indication of the project’s negative impacts.
The chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, as silent as a grave, in a later interview in the press (July 19) was quoted as saying that “he had nothing to add” because none of the comments raised by stakeholders during the meeting changed anything from the ERA’s report.
He called most interventions against the project “emotional”! He also justified the project “on the basis of national interest”.
In yet another section of the press (July 19), Environment Minister José Herrera said that “the authority (ERA) would be vigilant and in a consistent way, [fulfil] its duties to offer the greatest elements of protection to our natural capital, and this with the means and parameters established by law”.
So long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction
The Infrastructure Malta CEO said that this project, according to his economist’s report, will “give back” €16 savings for every €1 spent without even saying how. His economist did not refer to any externalities or the hidden costs that would be borne by the public and the environment. No wonder all the above questions asked were ignored by the CEO.
With regard to the uprooting of trees, he told the press, with hand on heart, “they are using the ERA compensation system of planting trees for those uprooted”, and that the “trees to be planted as compensation will have to be at least three metres tall”. This implies they will all be imported irrespective of the possible dangers of diseases and other invasive species they may bring with them, contrary to EU recommendations as administered by ERA.
Farmers were up in arms when they heard the Infrastructure Malta CEO say that they had been consulted, and could not keep from emphasising that this was a blatant lie.
This is how decisions are taken in Malta – a final late meeting on decision day without the stakeholders being properly consulted, despite this being a requirement whenever EU funds are involved.
All stakeholders and the public have to be involved and consulted so that they are part of the decision rather than just being informed of the decision after it has been taken. Consultation does not mean planting political individuals amidst the public and stakeholders and having them clap every time their minister’s wishes are supported.
The bottleneck at the roundabout beneath Saqqajja Hill will not only remain as it is but will become worse because of the heavier and faster volume of traffic that will be introduced, as advertised by the Ministry’s billboard in Attard.
How on earth can one imagine that the bulk of this traffic has to make its way up Saqqajja Hill where there are only two carriageways? No explanation whatsoever was given by the Infrastructure engineer.
Unbelievably, the EU is dishing out €55 million to the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for this particular project, while stakeholders and the public have to depend on voluntary contributions to protect the country from environmental and social destruction.
If there were no EU funds, there would not be such useless environmental destruction taking place. The impression one gets is that, so long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction.
ERA, the competent authority recognised by the EU for the protection of the environment, gave its endorsement of this environmental destruction because most of the questions asked, according to the ERA chairman, were “emotional”.
On its website, the ERA says that it is committed “to safeguard the environment for a sustainable quality of life”. There was no confirmation of this whatsoever from the ERA chairman during the meeting, which took place on a very black Thursday for the Maltese environment, with the blessing of ERA.
Can anybody with a real national, social and environmental conscience, and without any political influence, be blamed for losing all confidence in ERA?