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Tal-Balal project shows authorities' 'disdain' for planning rules - Church Commission

Church Environment Commission lambasts government for 'steamrolling'

The project went ahead despite no permit being issued. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The project went ahead despite no permit being issued. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Widening Tal-Balal Road despite having no permit in hand is a sign of the “disdain” being shown by public authorities, which are “steamrolling” over planning processes, the Church Environment Commission has warned.

This remark was made in submissions filed to the Planning Authority with respect to an application to sanction work to add two additional lanes to the arterial road between San Ġwann and Naxxar.

The representation was made during the brief public consultation period which ended on Wednesday. Work on the €4 million project started early last month and according to State agency Infrastructure Malta, it must be completed before the start of the scholastic year.

The project fuelled controversy after it transpired that no development permit had been issued.

Nonetheless, agricultural land was bulldozed, rubble walls demolished and trees uprooted to make way for the additional lanes. In total, the project will result in the loss of 9,000 square metres of land along the four kilometre route of Tal-Balal Road.

READ: Government believes it's above the law, says PN

Wanted to convey objections to the way the project was being rushed through

In its submissions the Environment Commission said it wanted to convey its objections to the way in which the project was being rushed through.

“There are evident signs of an increasing disdain from the public authorities towards a proper planning process which includes meaningful public consultation in the case of road projects,” it noted.

This approach did not bode well for public confidence in the handling of such projects, the commission added.

Doubts were also raised on Infrastructure Malta’s justification that it was rushing through the project to avoid disruptions when schools reopen after the summer holidays. 

“If the opinion of citizens is considered important and valuable, public authorities should have planned these works earlier so that the public can have ample time to study these plans and submit comments that are as informed as possible,” the commission said.

Moreover, complaints by local councils that they are not being notified on the timing of roadworks were also testament to the increasing disrespect being shown towards the public, it added.

Objections were also raised from a purely technical perspective. The commission noted that no traffic count data was presented with the planning application.

“It is inconceivable that in this day and age, projects are not based on factual hard data,” the Planning Authority was told.  In view of this the commission said it was not in a position to say whether the four-lane road widening was justified.

Other objections were made on grounds that the project was being carried out in the absence of a comprehensive strategy to address mass transport systems designed to reduce the dependence on private cars.

Given that work was already under way, the commission conceded that the authorities would most probably get on with the project despite any objections.

Consequently, it said the design should include safe, dedicated cycle lanes, pedestrian walkways and trees.

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