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Constraints on traffic planners

A row of trees along the hill near the Addolorata Cemetery, in Paola will be uprooted to make way for a €20 million project to widen the road and build an underpass at Santa Luċija roundabout. This would mean hundreds of trees, including old cypress trees (which are supposedly protected) being destroyed or replanted elsewhere with uncertain results for their survival.

The project will also lead to the loss of a significant stretch of agricultural land in Tal-Ħorr Valley, which separates Addolorata Cemetery and the nearby houses in Paola. Moreover, two rows of trees on either side of the hill, from the Palm Street junction upwards, covering 650 metres, will also have to be removed. The majority of trees on the other side of the junction, along the upper part of Tal-Barrani Road, are scheduled to be replanted elsewhere, with the remainder being uprooted.

This is tree Armageddon. The Environmental Resources Authority has raised some concern about some aspects of Transport Malta’s design but its voice has been rather muted. It could be argued – and, no doubt, that is what Transport Malta will say – that this crucially-important new carriageway to ease traffic flows along a notoriously congested traffic junction will be welcomed with open arms by the thousands of drivers plying that route daily.

It can make that argument but there is a crucial question to answer: do the Maltese hate trees, as some assert, or is it political and governmental incompetence that has left this country with one of the lowest proportions of tree cover anywhere in Europe?

Trees are part of the living system. They propagate and grow and have a role in the ecological balance. They provide desperately-needed shade in the hot summers. They enhance the aesthetics of a place and can screen the many unsightly urban developments that mar so much of Malta.

The Maltese islands need afforestation projects for ecological, aesthetic, economic, social and recreational (in the sense of enjoyment of nature in new wooded areas) reasons. The Marsa multi-level junction will simply worsen matters in that sense.

Sadly, there was initially only a belated response to Transport Malta’s plans to denude so much of the Addolorata hill and Tal-Ħorr Valley of their beautiful mature trees. But NGO Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar and biodiversity expert, Alfred Baldacchino, have taken up the cudgels on behalf of all those who still value the aesthetic and ecological presence of trees.

Their voices go to the heart of one of this country’s biggest problems: our planners only focus on the use of vehicles and their increasing presence on our congested roads without seeking alternative, long-term, more environmentally-sensible ways.

No efforts appear to have been made with this ambitious road project to compensate for the loss of trees in the area. Token efforts to replant uprooted trees are not only costly but also likely to fail.

While the importance of the new multi-level junctions at Marsa for improving traffic flows cannot be underestimated there must be much tighter control over the destruction and replanting of trees in the area and elsewhere. Striking a better balance between transport needs and the green aesthetics and ecology of Malta should be paramount.

The Environmental Resources Authority must impose the necessary constraints on the traffic planners now before it is too late.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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