Updated 3.20pm with PN statement

Mosta’s mayor has reversed a decision to uproot and transplant 12 mature Ficus trees from the town’s square, following a public outcry that included a request by the prime minister to reconsider the decision.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday morning, Mayor Christopher Grech said that he and his fellow Labour councillors had taken note of people’s wish to keep the trees in the square rather than transplant them. 

Judas trees that were originally going to be planted in the square will now be planted in the Santa Margarita area of Mosta originally intended for the transplanted Ficus trees, the mayor said.

Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Wednesday afternoon that he had met the mayor as well as Andre Callus, Moviment Graffitti activist who was briefly arrested by the police on Tuesday. 

The mayor's announcement drew a line under a council decision that attracted national attention after demonstrators shielding the trees were manhandled by police officers called to the site.

Both Labour and Nationalist Mosta councillors had voted in favour of transplanting the trees and the council subsequently got the Environment and Resources Authority's permission to do so. 

But as anger mounted and the square embellishment's architects dissociated themselves from the transplanting decision, Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition Leader Bernard Grech both called on their respective representatives to reconsider the decision.

On Wednesday night and under pressure from their party leader, PN Mosta councillors filed a motion for an urgent council meeting. 

Councillors from both sides had remained silent about the decision and uproar. On Wednesday morning, the mayor broke that silence by announcing the reversal.

An activist sits in a hammock, having spent the night alongside the trees. Photo: Daniel TihnAn activist sits in a hammock, having spent the night alongside the trees. Photo: Daniel Tihn

“The Mosta square project was designed for the people and is being done for the people. So I have no problem with taking into account people’s wishes for these Ficus trees to be incorporated in the project,” Grech said.

Protest outside council to go ahead

Moviment Graffitti, which spearheaded efforts to protect the trees from being uprooted, welcomed the mayor's change of heart as a "great victory for the community".

"People have again shown that they can bring about change when they fight against those who want to barge over them," the activist group said.

A protest planned for Wednesday evening outside Mosta local council offices would go ahead, it said, allowing activists to celebrate the victory, call for councillors to assume responsibility for the "obscene" decision and call for reform of the environmental regulator, ERA, "which clearly is not serving its function of protecting Malta's environment."

Construction rubble surrounds exposed tree roots. Photo: Daniel TihnConstruction rubble surrounds exposed tree roots. Photo: Daniel Tihn

Graffitti activist Andre Callus reacted in similar fashion, emphasising the value community activism holds.

"It is true that there are those who feel omnipotent, that there is a lot of greed and that our authorities are rotten. 

"But it is also true that there are thousands, tens of thousands, who want change, are willing to work for it and capable to achieving it," he wrote following the decision. 

PN: Mayor bowed to our pressure

Later on Wednesday, Mosta PN councillors issued a joint statement in which they said that the mayor's decision to reverse the transplanting decision was down to their pressure.

"The visit that PN leader Bernard Grech paid to the site as well as the unanimous call by PN councillors for an urgent council meeting yielded the desired results," the councillors, led by minority leader Keith Cassar, said. 

The statement made no reference to the fact that PN Mosta councillors had also approved a council decision to apply for a permit to transplant the Ficus trees. 

That permit was issued by the ERA on November 6. 

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