The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage (SCH) has told The Shift that it “has not been consulted in any way” about the metro project, with one archaeology expert who spoke to us describing the proposal as “insane”.
The heavily-marketed metro project, estimated to cost at least €6.2 billion and spanning a total of around 35.5km spread out over three underground railway lines, was a proposal recently announced by government that has not yet undergone any form of impact assessment bar the commissioned design’s own ‘feasibility assessment’.
Malta is widely known around the world for its wealth of archaeological heritage. When the SCH was asked whether it believes undiscovered remains that would be unearthed during any eventual tunneling for the metro proposal could pose a problem, a spokesperson for the heritage watchdog stated that “the nature of the proposal is such that discoveries of previously unknown cultural heritage will be made during works”.
“If discoveries are made, the SCH will deal with them in the same way that it does with all other discoveries made on a daily basis. It is possible that the works uncover cultural heritage; in such cases, one must balance between the preservation of the cultural heritage and the need to provide infrastructural projects of national importance,” the spokesperson added.
The SCH also maintained that Environmental Impact Assessments would help to clarify just how much exactly the project will benefit or otherwise impinge on public interest.
Should works be stopped due to any discoveries flagged to the SCH, besides considerations of spiralling costs and logistical difficulties, whoever is awarded the project would also suffer from delays as the SCH would have to “embark on an exercise to find solutions with the project’s architects and engineers to protect cultural heritage of superior significance that would warrant preservation by modifying plans if possible”.
“In cases where this is not technically feasible, mitigation strategies would have to be identified. Shifting of archaeological features would be taken into consideration as a measure of last resort where this is feasible and the cultural heritage discovered warrants such treatment,” the spokesperson added.
An independent archaeological expert argued that they are especially taken aback by the fact that the proposed project goes directly through archaeological heritage hot spots such as Paola, Tarxien and Cospicua.
“You can’t even sneeze in these areas without accidentally hitting archaeological remains, they’re everywhere,” the archaeologist said. “I am looking at this in horror, it’s insane to the point where I don’t even know where to begin. The worst part of it all is that based on what was proposed so far, they’re spending all this money to service one, densely populated part of the island.”
The archaeologist also bolstered the statements geologist Peter Gatt gave to The Shift in an article published on 9 October, stating that “Malta’s geology does not permit a metro” and that many of the 26 planned stations and tunnel links are set to go directly beneath densely built areas and village cores featuring old houses.
Gatt had explained that Malta’s geology consists of relatively weak limestone that is prone to ‘discontinuities’, known more simply as cracks in the rocks which could prove problematic for the structural integrity of any tunnels that may be built for the project.
“There are also problems with mostly residential areas like Balzan and the fact that many such areas have a village core composed of old houses lacking in integrity; what are they going to do, are they going to evacuate people in Balzan before they start digging?” the archaeologist said.
“I also don’t get how they threw out the idea of a mono-rail because, according to their own website, such a system would have disrupted village cores, a contradictory statement given that they are proposing to instead dig beneath those same cores and disrupt them in that way, instead.”