Trees earmarked to be uprooted as part of the controversial Central Link project have been given a stay of execution, but not for too long.
A spokesman for Environment Minister José Herrera told Times of Malta that he had temporarily hit the brakes on permits to remove hundreds of trees.
“After discussions with the Environment and Resources Authority, it was deemed appropriate to temporally withhold the processing of permits to uproot trees as part of the Central Link project,” the spokesman said.
He was replying to questions sent after Times of Malta was informed that Infrastructure Malta, the entity overseeing Malta’s various road projects, could be seeking to press ahead with uprooting trees, despite the Central Link project still being subject to an ongoing appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal.
The ministry spokesman said no permits for uprooting would be issued until a decision was made and communicated by the Environmental and Planning Review Tribunal [deciding on the appeal].
“While the ministry wants to re-affirm its position that it considers this project of national importance, one cannot ignore there are ongoing appeals to be decided by the EPRT and, hence, it does not want to prejudice the outcome of this process,” he said.
The Central Link road project to widen key roads linking Rabat to Mrieħel has proven extremely controversial, due to the plans requiring more than 500 trees to be uprooted and several hundred more transplanted.
The planned removal of trees has sparked outrage among civil society, which held demonstrations along the Attard bypass in protest.
According to the permit currently being appealed, 549 trees are set for uprooting and a further 237 for transplanting, although Infrastructure Malta has said it was trying to reduce the uprooting to about 440 trees.
By way of compensation, the government is planting 766 trees, including 130 Aleppo pines and 84 olive trees.
Trees to be planted will have to be at least threemetres tall
That number, however, is the absolute minimum that the authorities are allowed to plant and less than half the 1,649 trees which Environment and Resources Authority regulations actually demand.
The environmental impact assessment for the project said the government could make up for the shortfall by paying €500 for every tree short of the 1,649 it fails to plant.
Infrastructure Malta said the trees to be planted would have to be at least three metres tall and that the contractor would have to ensure the trees were maintained for five years.
The EIA, nevertheless, states that the impact of the uprooting will be “significant, permanent and adverse”.
“Most of the tree species that will be uprooted have established a cohesive long-term eco-system, in some cases even older than 50 years of age,” the study notes.
“Such trees provide a substratum, shelter and various forms of food resources for a variety of animal and non-animal species.”
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us