Minister Ian Borg has placed the onus of deciding whether addressing environmental issues or the traffic problem is more important on the public, after being asked whether he believes infrastructure should take priority over agricultural concerns.
“Lovin Malta’s readers can answer that question,” he said. “I’ll leave it in the hands of the public to judge.”
The government’s push to expand the country’s road network regularly causes controversy, with the introduction of wider lanes coming at the price of agricultural land. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the recently approved Central Link project, in which 549 trees are facing the axe.
Protests have been called as the public voice their discontent, with people planning to tie themselves to trees this coming Sunday.
Speaking at the opening of the Tal-Balal project, which was itself a subject controversy, with its hotly-disputed cycle lanes and land reclamation, Borg said that he welcomed discussion.
“Obviously, when you have a country that hasn’t seen any sort of investment in its infrastructure for a long time, everything you do is going to be controversial, but there is nothing wrong with it,” he said.
Praising the finished project, Borg explained that it was essential to address the bottlenecks in key traffic zones, and increase facilities for other modes of transportation, whether that’s for buses, pedestrians or cyclists.
“We noted the criticism of cyclists on the Tal-Balal project, but if we took more land to build cycle lanes that we would have been controversial for other reasons.”
On Central Link itself, the Minister faced questions as to why the government was opting to replant the absolute bare minimum required by the Environment Resources Authority.
The government has long justified the removal of trees with promises of replantation. However, with the project planning to uproot 549 trees, 272 of which are protected, the government has proposed to replant just 776 trees, far short of the 1,649 trees stipulated by ERA.
Rather than follow the recommendation, the government is instead opting to pay ERA a sum of €441,500 for the downward revision, bringing the vote of ERA Chairman Victor Axiak seriously into question.
“On Central Link, a lot of things are being said that aren’t true, including the claims that we are touching trees from Mdina to Attard. Whoever wants to say the opposite can do that, they’re just not telling the truth,” he said, adding that the after the project, there will be an increase in landscaping.
“Next to Central Link, there will also be the Malta National Park, where there will be a green landscape the size of 60 football pitches while Environment Minister Jose Herrera will also announce another project soon,” he continued.
Asked again why the government elected to go down the avenue of the least possible trees, the Minister passed the buck onto experts and failed to answer the question. “What is certain is that there will be more trees,” he said.