Controversial road widening in a Rabat valley is “in line with applicable road works permits”, Infrastructure Malta has insisted after ERA, the environment watchdog ordered the job to stop.

The Environment Authority said on Tuesday the government road agency’s work had been carried out without the necessary permits, resulting in “environmental destruction”.

According to the authority, construction material placed on land colonised with natural vegetation to widen the existing roads had physically changed the valley profile – reducing it in parts to a “roadside trench” – and harming its natural water flow.

However, an Infrastructure Malta spokesman told the Times of Malta that the work was being carried out within the footprint of the existing road and in line with the necessary road works permits. These permits, he said, were the only authorisations required for the work.

“However, Infrastructure Malta is taking note of the environmental concerns being raised and is consulting the applicable authorities to discuss any additional measures or interventions that may be necessary,” the spokesman added.

The ERA failed to respond to questions on whether it would be ordering Infrastructure Malta to remedy the damage in the Rabat valley and whether other rural road widening work was covered by permits.

Part of an effort to reconstruct rural roads

Times of Malta reported on Tuesday about environmentalists’ concerns that country paths in Wied l-Isqof and Wied is-Sewda were being turned into “highways”, with concrete poured over both sides of the paths to widen them.

Pictures of the work showed concrete spilling off the road and into a water gutter on the side of the country lane.

Infrastructure Malta said the work was part of an effort to reconstruct over 40 kilometres of rural roads that had been left in a state of disrepair for many years.

It said it was committed to continue improving the quality of the Maltese road network, including countryside roads mostly used by farmers to access their agricultural lands.

Meanwhile, a country lane in Luqa is the latest to have fallen victim to the concrete ‘assault’.

Country lanes around Triq il-Karmnu have been ‘upgraded’ over the past months by Infrastructure Malta. The Luqa local council hailed the work in a Facebook post as improving accessibility for farmers as part of a €150,000 investment.

Shadow environment minister Jason Azzopardi said he had been contacted by various eNGOs over the last few days about what experts in the environmental field termed as “irreversible and huge damage” being caused to Malta’s biodiversity to disproportionately widen the valley pathways.

Dr Azzopardi said he had written to the chairman of the parliamentary environment committee to put the subject on the agenda and discuss the matter with eNGOs.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino has argued that the work would have a detrimental effect on farmers due to the increased traffic that could now pass through the lanes.

Nature Trust in a statement 

Nature Trust Malta welcomed the action taken by ERA.

"NTM hopes that this will serve as an eye-opener to increase awareness that our rural landscapes must be respected, and that all wildlife, including wild plants and their accompanying fauna, forms part of an intricate relationship serving not only to colour our countryside lanes but also to help manage and control water runoff and provide shelter to a multitude of organisms many of which are beneficial to agriculture as they are pollinators or natural predators (such as snakes and hedgehogs)," the NGO said. 

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