Anyone who plants a tree will be responsible for its care, new protocols for public tree planting that come into force in January will dictate.

A protocol for the planting and maintenance of trees, developed by the Environment and Resources Authority, will soon be published, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia said.

Farrugia said that while it is expected that 2021 will break the record of planted trees, he received daily e-mails about trees that had dried up and died.

Tenders establish that trees must be taken care of for three years from being planted, but he questioned what happened after.

Farrugia was addressing a conference on Greening our Grey – Redefining Urban Spaces by the ministry and the Planning Authority on Tuesday.

He said the conference would provide “one clear blueprint” for the formulation and implementation of urban greening that would be a “gamechanger”.

The conference served as a platform for key stakeholders to come up with ideas on urban greening policy, and Farrugia urged them to challenge the status quo.

IPCF to be replaced

He said a new structure for the main stakeholders will be set up to oversee the blueprint’s implementation, replacing the Intelligent Planning and Consultative Forum (IPCF) once it presented its results.

In his opening address, Farrugia also questioned how the PA could “get out of its comfort zone” and said its Development Planning Fund, financed through applications, planning gains and other fees, and used to support urban greening projects, needed to be revised.

Every entry had to be questioned, Farrugia said, adding that “we can do better”.

The DPF has been reformed to encourage more green projects, and this year, agreements for almost €5 million worth of initiatives have been signed.

Farrugia floated the idea of having irrigation systems passed with other services under roads, as was the case in Dubai’s Sustainable City, the first net-zero energy development.

'I am a pragmatist'

He also suggested the Lands Authority should identify small spaces – even a street corner – to plant a tree.

Farrugia said that “while it is good that we dream that we can reduce cars and replace carriageways with trees, we cannot be idealists.

“I am pragmatic,” he said, “and the roads and the number of cars are not going to change until we introduce mass public transport, but we need not wait for that.”

Minister Aaron Farrugia speaking on Tuesday.Minister Aaron Farrugia speaking on Tuesday.

Keynote speaker, architect and urban designer Antoine Zammit said the fact that the Maltese were car-dependent could not be used as an excuse that not much could be done, pointing out that things had been “facilitated” for vehicles on the road and made worse for people.

Referring to the indelible connection between greening and transport, the senior lecturer in spatial planning, urban design and governance said green streets have made way for road widening, becoming less safe for vulnerable users by encouraging speeding cars.

Following a study of 43 localities, he said some streets were wider than necessary after being reduced to one-way traffic, but they were resurfaced by Infrastructure Malta without being rethought, retaining their width and narrow pavements, with the impact being speeding cars.

Zammit spoke about “grand design” and argued against what is known as Space Leftover After Planning - Sloap - referring to green pockets under flyovers.

“Green infrastructure cannot be an add-on. It is not just about greening the grey, which results in a colour we do not want,” he insisted, insisting it had to be “a conscious decision and not by default”.

In Malta, it was a case of integrated green-grey infrastructure – lots of grey and an attempt to green through, for example, green walls.

Castille Place and St George’s Square in Valletta were spaces designed with green infrastructure in mind – but were more of a showcase for the surrounding buildings than areas for the public.

Zammit said the focus should be on the socio-economic value that green infrastructure could generate.

He stressed on the importance of front gardens in greening infrastructure, saying many have been paved over with the blessing of the authorities, but should be retained and tied to bank guarantees.

He also warned against using green infrastructure as a smokescreen for hidden agendas, such as allowing developments to add more floors.

The founding architect of Studjurban called for more radical decisions and forceful policies, as well as the coordination between ministries to ensure targets were not jeopardised by other entities.

It was easy to blame mindsets, but infrastructural changes must first be made, and these will have the power to bring about cultural changes once in place, Zammit maintained.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.