Works to widen Tal-Balal Road between San Ġwann and Naxxar are forging ahead even though no development permit has yet been issued by the Planning Authority.

Moreover, State road agency Infrastructure Malta is adamant this project must be completed by next October in time for the start of the new scholastic year.

Unveiled at the start of this month, this project is part of a large-scale infrastructural programme to alleviate traffic congestion in major arterial thoroughfares through the construction of new roads and widening of existing ones. In this case, the objective is to improve access around Mater Dei Hospital, the University and San Ġwann industrial zone.

The announcement of the start of works by Transport Minister Ian Borg, however, took many by surprise as prior to their commencement, there had been hardly any mention of such plans.

A search on the PA’s website confirmed that by the time of writing no development permit had been issued. Instead, the only pending application found was for the placement of adverts on existing light poles, filed by Enemalta in December last year.

No indication on when the permit would be in hand

A legal notice enacted in 2016 exempts certain road works from a full permit, but this waiver is only valid on condition that the project is within the existing footprint. In the case of Tal-Balal Road, however, this is not the case as it will result in the addition of a new lane for southbound traffic.

Vague replies

In view of this the Times of Malta sought to clarify the matter directly with Infrastructure Malta, but the initial reply received was rather vague.

“In view of the urgency and national importance of this upgrade, Infrastructure Malta is liaising with the [Planning] Authority to complete these processes as swiftly as possible to ensure that road users can start benefitting from this new infrastructure in time before the be-ginning of the academic year in October,” a spokesman said.

Asked to be more specific, he confirmed the agency was still seeking a development permit to be able to encroach on adjacent land. He added that for the time being only interventions within the existing footprint were being carried out such as the removal of the central strip.

While no indication was given on when the permit would be in hand, by the time of writing not even a planning application would show up when doing a search on the PA’s website. Yet, in its reply the agency reiterated its commitment to complete the entire project this summer.

The spokesman noted that once completed, travel time along Triq Tal-Balal would be reduced by up to 40 per cent while emissions would decline, presumably due to less congestion.

The project, extending from the Birguma Bypass roundabout in Naxxar all the way to San Ġwann, comprises new lanes and facilities for cyclists, improved junction designs and an up-graded street lighting system.

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