Updated 6.45pm

Work on the controversial Central Link road widening project cannot begin until at least one further month, to allow time for an appeal to be heard from residents and NGOs.

The request to suspend the permit of the project was approved during an Environmental and Planning Review tribunal hearing on Tuesday.

Members of the tribunal took the decision to freeze the project, since once started “the development is not easily reversible.” 

Designed to ease traffic congestion between Rabat and Mrie─žel, the project has attracted significant backlash from residents and environmental activists. 

The Infrastructure Malta project has led to protests from environmental groups over plans to uproot hundreds of mature and protected trees, demolish some buildings and encroach on nearly 50,000 square metres of farmland. 

Eight NGOs and seven residents argued that all works should be suspended pending an appeal against the entire project.

They argue that it is full of inaccuracies and misleading statements and that planners gave the go-ahead on the basis of unseen documents.

'Propaganda'

Commenting on the decision, Claire Bonello, the lawyer representing the appellants, said that while they had been given a very strict timeframe for the appeal they were prepared for the sittings to proceed.

Since the project had been given the go-ahead she had been inundated with calls and emails and personal requests to carry on with this case. 

“It seems that the public is not swallowing the propaganda, the billboards, the deceptive advertising in favour of this project, because the reality on the ground is that this is not a long term solution, it is not even a short-term solution but will be contributing to even more traffic,” she said.

She asserted that she would make sure that all the money and support that she received from the public to appeal this project will be well spent.

Due to its status as a national project the appeal will have to be heard and decided upon within a month.

During this month there will be at least three appeal sittings during which witnesses will be called by both parties to provide evidence.

Government to summon ERA as a witness

The Environmental Resources Authority (ERA), which has been criticised for having approved the project, will act as a witness of the defendant.

Dr Bonello was also granted permission to hold a site visit during the appeal, so the members of the tribunal “can see for themselves the site that they are going to destroy.”

Last month, the ERA said that it would not be issuing a permit for Infrastructure Malta to uproot trees until the appeal is decided. 

Asked by Times of Malta for a comment on Tuesday’s hearing, a spokesperson for Moviment Graffiti said that the decision was just, since there would be no sense in appealing when works on the project had already commenced. 

Furthermore, she said the organisation were positive that people’s pressure works. “We’ll continue the fight as we owe it to the people who contributed to the crowdfunding and to our future.”

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