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'They just turned up and bulldozed our property’

Tal-Balal landowners say they received formal notice of works after they had started

The Tal-Balal road project aims to alleviate traffic around Mater Dei Hospital and the university for vehicles approaching from San Ġwann and Naxxar. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The Tal-Balal road project aims to alleviate traffic around Mater Dei Hospital and the university for vehicles approaching from San Ġwann and Naxxar. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Owners of the land adjacent to Tal-Balal Road are fuming over the failure of any State entity to inform them that part of their private property would be taken up to widen the thoroughfare.

Aggrieved landowners who spoke to this newspaper on the condition of anonymity expressed disbelief at the manner in which the entire project, spearheaded by Infrastructure Malta, was being rushed through.

“We received a formal notice in writing of the start of works on our property when parts of it had already been bulldozed and the soil cleared. Nobody bothered to inform us in advance of these plans or start talks on expropriation,” they said.

Launched last month, the widening project aims to alleviate traffic around Mater Dei Hospital and the university for vehicles approaching from San Ġwann and Naxxar.

It immediately fuelled controversy when it transpired that works had started without a development permit. This prompted criticism from the Church Environment Commission, which has accused public entities of showing disdain for proper planning processes.

Meanwhile, the agency has submitted an application to sanction the ongoing works, which it aims to complete by the start of the scholastic year in a few weeks. Despite the tight deadline, plans have already been revised, as originally only a southbound lane was going to be added. Last week the agency announced that it would be adding another one in the opposite direction.

According to Infrastructure Malta, a total of 9,000 square metres of land will be required to widen the road, most of it government owned. The agency is insisting expropriation talks with owners of private land had started earlier this summer but acknowledged they had not concluded.

The only ones who were alerted in advance were those whose land was leased from the government

However, The Sunday Times of Malta is informed that a significant number of the private owners are complaining that contrary to what the agency said, they were left completely in the dark about the plans and no talks had been held whatsoever.

Sources said the only ones who had been alerted in advance were those whose land was leased from the government. On the contrary, the private owners only learnt about the project once works had started – and they were totally ignorant of the fact that some of their land or premises were to make way for the construction of two additional lanes.

The aggrieved parties told this newspaper that their principal objection was not about the project itself but the manner in which it was being handled.

“Why did the government not inform us in advance that part of our property needed to be expropriated? What is this rush to complete the works without even informing us about the level of compensation we shall receive?” one owner wondered.

Owners were also angry about having been served with a formal notice when works had already reached an advanced stage, with boundary walls demolished and soil within their property limits already removed.

While many of the landowners seem resigned to accepting the situation, a handful filed a formal objection to the Planning Authority during the public consultation period, which lasted just six days.

St Michael’s Secondary School is among the parties that filed an objection. In its submission it noted that the widening of Tal-Balal Road would result in the take-up of part of its premises on the outskirts of San Ġwann.

A private firm across the road, RMCR Co Ltd, also filed an objection, pointing out that a tidal traffic system would be a better solution. It suggested straightening the proposed route to minimise the impact on third parties.

Objections were also raised by the owners of a plot of agricultural land known as Ta’ Seraqha in the limits of Għargħur. Apart from pointing out that part of Tal-Balal Road would run right through their land, they lamented that works had already been carried out without the necessary planning permits and without their knowledge.

They also complained to the PA that protected bay laurel (rand) and fig trees in their fields had been destroyed.

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