Updated 2.25pm

Infrastructure Malta wants to build a roundabout that threatens arable land and the destruction of a 500-year-old reservoir at Burmarrad so as to benefit a supermarket developer, Moviment Graffitti claimed on Saturday.

Meant to serve as a “traffic-calming measure”, the roundabout will be built on the main road at the crossroads with Triq is-Sardin, next to a proposed Bonnici Brothers supermarket which will be on a site outside the development zone, the lobby group said.

The supermarket's application was submitted in 2018, however it was suspended for two years until the roadworks were announced, the NGO said.

According to Moviment Graffitti, Bonnici Brothers also have other plans for the area, with a planning control application that would allow for several residential blocks if the permit goes through.

The NGO's Andre Callus said Bonnici Brothers have reportedly received €7.7 million in contracts and direct orders from the government since 2020.

"We will not stop with laptop resistance and the filing of objections," he told a press conference attended by farmers and residents from Burmarrad, Qormi and Dingli who also feel aggrieved by Infrastructure Malta works on, or close to, their land.

"If you think you can roll over everyone and hide behind a planning process, you are erring," he warned.

"People have had enough. We - the residents, farmers and Maltese citizens - will stop this work through direct action. We are not afraid of bullies. You will not go through Burmarrad, Dingli and Qormi."

So far, 5,600 objections have been filed against the proposed Burmarrad roundabout, which forms part of Infrastructure Malta’s second phase of the Burmarrad junction project.

According to the agency, the project plans have been modified to minimise the impact of the new junction on the reservoir, following discussions with one of the farmers using it, however, the ever-increasing objectors insist that simple vibrations could easily damage the old, hand-dug and hand-built reservoir, while also polluting the rest of the water supply for farmers from Burmarrad to Salini.

Tilling the land for centuries

On Saturday, 74-year-old Phyllis Mangion said her great grandfather Filippu Cascun and his descendants had tilled the land for generations.

She recalled returning home from school and her father asking her to first help him in the fields and then finish her homework by lamplight. Her generation had passed on the skill to younger descendants, including Cane Vella, her nephew.  

She said she was devastated and questioned why the authorities did not respect the farmers, urging the Infrastructure Malta to reconsider its plans.

"We do not need another supermarket in the area. There are already enough for the few hundred who live in the area.

"Food does not come from supermarkets, but from the land we have tilled all our life."

Her nephew Cane said the project will negatively impact at least eight families whose livelihood depends on the agricultural land, and all those who consume their produce.

Phyllis Mangion and Cane Vella say the works threaten their livelihoods. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Despite speaking to the authorities, he has still not been given a guarantee that the reservoir and natural stream supplying it with water will not be damaged.
He also could not understand why the authorities want to squeeze another roundabout between two existing ones, instead of opting for alternative traffic calming measures, such as rumble strips and speed cameras.

'Using our taxes to steal farmland'

The same concern has been expressed by Qormi farmers. Infrastructure Malta plans to expand the Mrieħel bypass with a new flyover would also end up destroying a huge water reservoir in Qormi.

Farmers have called for consultation with all stakeholders to find alternative solutions and the project has been criticised by the Qormi Local Council, former prime minister Alfred Sant and president emeritus Marie Louise Coleiro Preca.

On Saturday, Marianna Calleja, daughter of Qormi farmers who have been tilling the land for at least a century and who also depend on a hand-dug reservoir which will be destroyed by the works, said Carnival festivities might have been cancelled "but the IM jokes are ongoing".

She said Infrastructure Malta had claimed that her family's reservoir contained brackish water.

"This happens when, because of the scarcity of rainwater, there is over extraction from the watertable. In such cases farmers need help with the supply of water, not the destruction of their only source of water," she said.

She urged people to say they had had enough of this theft of resources.

"Our taxes are being used to steal from our farmers who are providing food security," she said, also calling on politicians who did not agree with this development to do as Sant, Coleiro Preca and the local council had done.

'Development through destruction is a disaster'

Meanwhile in Dingli, Infrastructure Malta is planning on building a road on farmland to connect Daħla tas-Sienja to Sqaq il-MUSEUM.

Dingli farmer and resident Gerald Lapira told the Saturday press conference that "development through destruction is a disaster, not progress".

He too called on politicians, including President George Vella, who, he said, had urged for the caring of our environment at least four times since October.

"I urge leaders: people's eyes are on you, people don't forget... you will be asked to provide an account of what you left behind you for the benefit of our future generations."

The Dingli project would require cutting through a number of agricultural fields which are still in use.

Moviment Graffiti had filed a request for carob trees in Triq San Ġwann Bosco in Dingli to be declared a Tree Protection Area (TPA), however ERA board members voted down the request, with six votes rejecting the proposal and two votes for.
Both Infrastructure Malta and Transport Minister Ian Borg have defended the project, saying the new road is necessary for improving connectivity and access for residents.

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